“When our methods for serving God are founded upon our own intellectual strategies and pursuits,
we are in danger of an anthropomorphized Kingdom of heaven.”
s a student at a liberal arts college, one of the perspectives that I have absolutely rejoiced in adopting is a worldview in which Christians should be trained and educated in order that they can use their God-given talents to advance the interests of the Kingdom, whether this be in science, politics, business, education, or any other possible field.
But one of my chief concerns in such an environment is a lurking notion of a Kingdom of Christ that is not led and dictated by Jesus, but one that is constructed primarily by His people. When our methods for serving God are founded upon our own intellectual strategies and pursuits, we are in danger of an anthropomorphized Kingdom of heaven. Within the educated church, I often witness a guiding process of thought in which, rather than humbly seeking God’s providential guidance in all aspects of their lives, Christians simply believe that they are responsible for every action, every outcome, every solution, and every answer produced . . . while throwing in a prayer here and there as a kind of side help. And most of the time, this theology is not explicit or blatant but manifests itself in the most subtle manner: Prayer begins to lose its power and is merely a repetition of words attached to the beginning and end of our Christian meetings; we move God into the corner of half an hour in the morning and half an hour before bed; we cease to believe in the miraculous work of God in our world. Our work no longer revolves around God and the revelation in His Scriptures, but around our own leadership abilities and critical thinking.
In writing about the theological mind, Thomas F. Torrance, a late Scottish theologian, is quick to point out that we often disremember the fact that as death closed its grip on humanity, our minds fell to the sin nature that is distorted, broken, and in rebellion against God. Now, we do not deny the amazing cognitive functions that humans can and have demonstrated from the lunar landing to Hamlet — but unless someone is willing to step forward and proclaim the all-sufficient righteousness of his or her mind, the reality is that our cognitive and intellectual abilities, even as Christians (simul justus et peccator), are inherently tainted in their bent against the divine standard by which we were created.
And if it is in fact the case that even the Christian mind cannot escape the sinful consequences of the Fall, then a Church that is built upon our own strategies, intellect, and education is one that is intrinsically fated to collapse in on itself. The biblical witness testifies to this fact in passages such as Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (as well as countless others, such as John 15:5 and Matthew 23:37). When a body, organization, government, or Kingdom ceases to be of God in its actions, it is fundamentally contradictory. From the curses and exile of Israel (Deut. 28; 2 Kgs. 25; Lam. 1–5) to wrongdoings in the clerical arena throughout the history of the Church (the Crusades, indulgences, and anti-Semitism, for example), we see instances in which that reality has manifested itself. Although these examples may not be exactly parallel to those which may occur in a higher educational institution, the underlying notion of self-dependence and belief that plagued so many Christians before us remains the same.
Here is the challenge of the intellectual Church: to understand the proper role of critical thinking and education in the work of the Kingdom of heaven, while maintaining the core belief in not merely a spiritual or metaphysical reality of God, but an actualized reality of God in our world, work, and lives. God’s agency must not be removed from our functional theology, that theology which governs and informs our daily Christian walks. And what a challenge indeed, as it requires faith: faith to believe and have hope in that which we have not seen (Heb. 11:1). Faith like Abraham, who believed God was able to fulfill His covenant promise and to whom it was counted as righteousness (Rom. 4:1-12). And he or she who has faith as small as a mustard seed can tell a mountain to move from its place, and it will do so (Matt. 17:20).
Oscar Muriu, the head pastor of Nairobi Chapel in Kenya, posed these questions during the Biola Missions Conference in 2012:
Too many of us under-challenge God in our prayer life. How is your faith — and how is your prayer life — challenging God today? What impossible prayers are you praying right now? And do your prayers make God sweat when He hears you pray?
Rather than reading these questions literally, let us really grasp the principle behind them and examine ourselves personally and corporately. Do we really believe God to be the God of the impossible? And if so, do we act upon that belief in our lives? I certainly find myself lacking in that department more personally than theologically, and I therefore find myself crying out with the father whose son was possessed with an unclean spirit:
And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. (Mark 9:20-27, emphasis added)