Reasons for Christian Anti-Intellectualism #3: Thinking My God is the Source of Understanding

This post is part of a series of posts about what it means to love God with our minds. In the process, I touch on a number of issues that are sure to raise questions. If you have questions for me regarding any of this, you can post them in the comments or feel free to contact me directly through this site or my Facebook Page.


I think there are three reasons Christians tend to be anti-intellectual, and I’ve covered the other two in previous posts. The first reason came from 1 Corinthians 2:1-2:

And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

1 Corinthians 2:1-2 NIV

In summary, I said that Christians wanted a simple message to proclaim to the world, but that our desire for simplicity often leads us to simplistic answers to complicated questions and to a preference for simplistic answers over proper ones.

The second reason came from another part of 1 Corinthians 2.

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began…. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.

1 Corinthians 2:6-7, 13 NIV

Based on this passage, Christians tend to think that spiritual truths are more valuable than other truths and that spiritual methods are more reliable than other methods. I mentioned a number of problems with that way of thinking in my previous post.

In this post, I will address the third reason Christians can tend to be anti-intellectual, and it is, in my opinion, the worst and most dangerous of the three reasons.

Thinking My God is the Source of All Understanding

Of course, something similar to this is supported by Scripture. Consider this:

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

Proverbs 9:10 NIV

Christians love this verse because it seems to put religious people on an intellectual pedestal over the rest of the world. I call it the doctrine of the Anointed Intellect, but really it’s just a form of arrogance. However, Christians find other passages in the Bible that seem to support the doctrine. In fact, going back to 1 Corinthians 2, we can find one right there:

The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.

1 Corinthians 2:14 NIV

Or consider this one:

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

2 Corinthians 4:4 NIV

It’s a popular Christian doctrine that non-Christian people just don’t think as well as Christian people do.

However, there are two huge problems with this way of thinking:

First of all, the passages indicating the blindness or the ignorance of the unbeliever are passages that are talking about spiritual matters alone. In 1 Corinthians 2, the topic is understanding the things that only come from the Spirit. In 2 Corinthians 4, the topic is understanding the “light of the gospel.” In neither case is it talking about “All Understanding.” In both cases, it’s talking about “Spiritual Understanding.” Only the people of God can understand the things of God.

The second problem is more dangerous, though. The second problem is the presupposition all Christians make that their understanding of God is the right understanding of God. That’s why I used the phrase above “thinking my God is the source of all understanding.” It’s not wrong to think that God is the source of all understanding because God in fact created all things, knows all things, and created our minds to understand them. However, it is arrogant to think that my understanding of God is the ultimate arbiter of all knowledge. Effectively, that way of thinking says, “If I don’t already know something to be true, or if it doesn’t make immediate sense to me, then it isn’t true because I have a relationship with the true God, and he isn’t telling me that it’s true.”

How arrogant, right?

Nevertheless, this is the sin of all religious people of all time in all places everywhere. It was the sin of the Pharisees who thought they knew God well enough to know that Jesus was a fraud. It was the sin of the Samaritans who thought they knew God well enough that they should worship on Mount Gerazim instead of in Jerusalem. It was the sin of Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu who thought they knew God well enough that they should worship him with a novel kind of fire (and were consumed by miraculous fire in return).

It continues to be the sin of us today when we say that our way of understanding God is the right way of understanding God and therefore our way of understanding the world is the right way of understanding the world.

Terrible Consequences

On top of the problems just mentioned, the doctrine of the Anointed Intellect leads to at least three incredibly bad consequences.

An “Anointed Intellect” Leads to Paranoia

If I believe that my relationship with God makes me more able to think clearly, then I can start evaluating truth claims not on the objective facts or the expertise of the one making the claim but on whether the claim comes from a fellow Christian, that is, another Christian who holds the same beliefs as I do. That’s problematic in itself, but it leads to a really dangerous place too.

If I believe that my intellect is anointed by God to get the right answers, then whenever I encounter another person who believes something differently than I do, I don’t evaluate their claims directly. Rather, I evaluate them as a person. Is the person a good, Christian person or not? All by itself, this places me in a position of antagonism against the person with whom I disagree, but my logical conclusions will take me farther down that path.

You see, if they are saying something different from what I believe, it must be from one of three places:

  • They are ignorant of the truth I know.
  • They are deceived because of their own spiritual weakness.
  • They are nefarious and are actually working against me.

I will try to inform them of the truth once to see if the problem is their ignorance, but if they don’t immediately change their mind to agree with me, I’ll conclude that one of the other two options must be true, and practically speaking, it doesn’t matter whether they are deceived or are actively evil because I know their deception comes from one who is actively evil… Satan. Paul told me the god of this age has blinded their minds, right?

The bottom line is that if I believe the doctrine of the Anointed Intellect, I will conclude that the world really is out to get me either consciously or by the deceptive work of Satan, and therefore, anything I don’t already know or agree with, if it comes from a non-Christian, or from a different kind of Christian, must be designed by Satan to destroy me, ruin my faith, or do damage to someone around me.

Christians who believe this literally walk around with a sense of paranoia almost constantly.

An “Anointed Intellect” Makes us Gullible

The second terrible consequence of the Anointed Intellect doctrine is that it makes us gullible and prone to believing all kinds of false teachings and conspiracy theories. You see, if I’m already paranoid, and if someone offers me an easy explanation for my feelings, then I’ll be tempted to quickly latch on to that explanation. It’s how all conspiracy theories operate.

  • There’s something I don’t fully understand, but I think I should understand it.
  • Someone gives me a simple explanation that’s easy to understand.
  • They also give me an explanation why my enemies don’t want me to know the explanation.
  • Then, they remind me that the only real solution is for the lies to be exposed. All I have to do is spread the message.

All kinds of people are prone to conspiracy theories. It isn’t only Christians. However, Christians have the disadvantage that we are overconfident in our ability to understand things. We have an Anointed Intellect! If anyone can understand this thing, it should be us!

It’s intellectual arrogance and our own paranoia that makes us look for simple conspiratorial explanations for things we don’t understand.

An “Anointed Intellect” Makes us Evil

Yes. The doctrine makes us evil and not just because arrogance is itself evil but because it leads us to do terrible things and think they are good.

Here’s just one example from history.

Back in the 1920s, George McCready Price published a book claiming that the earth was young and that the flood of Genesis was the cause of all the geological realities we see in the world today. It was a fringe belief, held by very few Christians, and was strongly rejected in the 1950s.

However, in the early 1960s, a man named Henry M. Morris revived the doctrine and initiated the modern Young Earth Creation movement we see at work today. His claim was that unless a Christian believed in a young earth, that Christian didn’t actually believe the Bible. His claim was that any science opposed to young earth conclusions was fraudulent and evil.

Now, the question I have is this. Why did young earth creation gain no traction in the 20s through the 50s but find resurgence in the 60s? I don’t really know all the reasons, but I do know one thing. I know one way YEC was used to address a problem some people felt in the 60s—civil rights.

You see, if God created the world in 6 days 6000 years ago, and if everything in the early chapters of Genesis are to be taken as simplistically and literally as possible, we need to conclude that humanity hasn’t been on the earth long enough to have developed the different “racial” features different people have through merely natural processes. Rather, the YEC doctrine which required a fully global flood embraced the doctrine that God had specifically created the different “races” of humans for his own reasons. In fact, the claim was that Noah’s three sons each became the father of the three main races. According to this doctrine, Japheth moved to Europe and became the father of the white-skinned people. Shem moved to the Middle East and became the father of the olive-skinned people. Ham moved to Africa and became the father of the dark-skinned people. (In the YEC worldview, there is no consensus about where native Americans came from.) As a result, YEC doctrine was used to support two truly evil ideas:

  1. Because God specifically created three separate races, he must have wanted them to stay separate from each other. God must value “pure” bloodlines and therefore, people embraced YEC as one rationale for the promotion of segregation.
  2. Because Noah had once pronounced a curse over his son Ham, YEC can be used to claim that his descendants (people from African origin) are also under that curse to this day and should be seen as somehow subservient to the other “races” of people.

Neither idea can survive without the YEC interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis. But both ideas were able to thrive among Christians largely as a result of the resurgence of YEC thought in the 60s.

There are other examples of Christians being led to evil because of the belief in an Anointed Intellect. Some Christian parents have chosen to reject medical science and have jeopardized the health and lives of their children in the process either by using “natural” remedies instead of proven medical treatments or by rejecting successful vaccines. Christians are not the only ones guilty of this. Not too long ago, the measles ravaged a Jewish community in New York State and led to many deaths because they too had rejected vaccination for over a generation.

Simply put, the belief that we have an Anointed Intellect is nothing more than arrogance masked as something spiritual, and it leads to great harm even great evil in many ways.

Reclaiming Intellectual Humility

Two facts will help us reclaim intellectual humility.

First, some things are not spiritually discerned. Yes, there are things that the believer understands but the unbeliever doesn’t. Paul mentioned that fact in 1 Corinthians 2:14. Here it is again.

The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.

1 Corinthians 2:14 NIV

Don’t lose sight of the fact that the ignorance of the unbeliever extends only to the things that come from the Spirit because they are discerned only through the Spirit. However, if there are any truths that come from the world around us, those are truths that can be discerned by unbelievers and believers alike, and in fact there are many truths that come from the world around us.

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Psalm 19:1 NIV

Mere investigation of the natural world has brought about great human achievements. Natural science has enabled us to extend lifespans, deliver more babies, protect more mothers, feed more people and make life more comfortable and enriching.

Secondly, believers are not the only recipients of God’s grace. Consider these words from Jesus himself:

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Matthew 5:44-45 NIV

Jesus reminds his hearers that God himself has showered blessing on both the righteous and the unrighteous. This is what we call common grace, and it is the doctrine that God gives a measure of grace to literally every person on the planet. Each of us bears a bit of the image of God, and therefore each of us has something god-like about us, and therefore, each person can be a benefit to me whether they are a believer or not.

What is true about rain is also true about the intellect. God has given rationality and logic to all, and some will discover God through that logic, and some will discover nature through that logic, but all of us should humbly receive from the people around us whatever blessing God has brought into the world through those other people.

Christians are just like all other people. We are just as arrogant intellectually as others are, but we have given ourselves spiritual justifications for our arrogance, and in doing so have fallen pray to all manner of evil. That is how Satan devours us; by using our own doctrines to make us into despicable people who turn the world away from God and his love rather than drawing them closer to Him.

May we wake up to our own false doctrines and learn again to love God with our whole mind.

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