The 20th century witnessed an evangelical backlash against traditional, or classical, education. In the face of growing secularism, Christians started a ton of Bible institutes and colleges to train their children. Their reaction is understandable. Much good has indeed come from such institutions (a genuine love for God, evangelistic passion, actional love for one’s neighbor, etc), though one can also spot harmful effects as well. Perhaps the major weakness of the Bible institute model is its general lack of rigorous intellectual training. Essentially, many Christians ceded the cultural space to non-Christians in creating their own Christian subculture.
One of the hardest hit groups was the pastoral corps, who were often encouraged to gain only an education in the Bible, if even that. Many times, pastors began the work of ministry without any formal training and any intellectual engagement with the classical tradition–history, philosophy, the sciences, rhetoric, math, etc, languages. Over time, it actually became a bad thing to have received extensive education, as this signaled that one cared more for the academy for the church and more for accolades than for a ministry. The result? Pastors who preached the Bible but who failed to develop thoughtful responses to the culture and failed to develop bridges to it through intellectual and personal engagement. The Christian church was never meant to be a ghetto. It was meant to be a city on a hill. The loss of interest cut the church off from the culture at a time when major philosophical shifts necessitated the witness of the Christian mind.
I’m thankful to be at a seminary where many young men want to rigorously educate themselves in order that they would be prepared to engage their world and build intellectual bridges to it. Pastors are to be the leaders of the Christian community on earth, and they ought not to lead it simply by a godly personal walk or excellent administration but by the exercise of a critical and thoughtful intellect. They ought to model for their people responsible engagement with the culture and show their people that we need not flee from the world or cower before it. Instead, we need to answer its questions, demonstrate the incredible coherence and beauty of the Christian worldview, and speak the gospel as the cure to its sin sickness and hellish fate. We need to turn away from a past that has mentally starved itself and raise up a generation of men full of passion for God and profundity of thought. It is no virtue to be smart, for sure. But neither is it a virtue to be foolish.