Too Smart to be a Christian

[This appeared first at]

September 30, 2016

Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”

1 Corinthians 3:18-19 NIV

The Apostle Paul comes back to this point over and over again in the first three chapters of 1 Corinthians, challenging what many claim to be wisdom and intelligenceapart from God as nothing but foolishness, claiming that even the foolish things of God (as if there are any) are far too wise for those who claim to be wise.  God’s epic response to Job and his friends in Job 39-41 is a humbling picture of the depths of the greatness of the knowledge and wisdom of Almighty God.  After God speaks, Job is utterly left speechless.

Recently, I was listening to a fairly well-known Christian leader share about a conversation he had with a man who claimed to be something between an agnostic and atheist; he wasn’t quite sure where he landed.  However, the comment was made to the Christian leader by the agnostic/atheist midway through the conversation:

“You seem way too intelligent to be a Christian.”

An interesting statement to say the least, especially when you ponder it a bit.

Now, I would certainly argue that the greater our level of intelligence, the more hinderances or obstacles we potentially have to faith.  In other words, the more knowledge we acquire, the greater the tendency for us to perceive that knowledge as some kind of power in our lives – power over others, or power puffing itself up in through pride and independence, where we perceive ourselves as a person who doesn’t need to depend on anyone because, well, to put it simply, we already have all the answers!  Most of us know, or at the very least, have observed this slippery-slope I speak of here.

Sometimes we can be too smart for our own good.

According to Jesus Himself, faith is a matter of simplicity.  When Jesus speaks of having the faith of a child (Matthew 19:13-15, Mark 10:13-16, Luke 18:15-17), He’s emphasizing how critical it is for us to hold onto a childlike dependence of our Heavenly Father; a Heavenly Father who I believe most certainly invites us into the adventure of learning all we can about the created universe – a universe that is not independent of God or absent of God, but a universe that bears His fingerprints, His handiwork, and especially His presence at every turn.  And yet, if we’re not careful, we can give too much credit to the creation, where in the process, we miss the Creator.  And sometimes the creation, because of the intellectual abilities given to us by our Creator, can somehow begin to mistake ourselves as the Creator.

It’s here that I’m absolutely convinced that when God commands Adam and Eve to not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in Genesis 2 (which, of course, they eventually do in chapter 3), it was to protect them from realities and seemingly limitless amounts of knowledge that they simply wouldn’t be able to handle.

Let’s go back to the comment made to the Christian leader who was seemingly too intelligent to be a Christian.  As troubling or as dismissive a statement as this may be for some of us, I find it to be unfortunately true in many cases.  When it comes to applying our intelligence to our faith, I wonder how much further along, or to put it in Biblical terms, how much more spiritually mature and developed we would be if we were to apply the same effort to our faith as we do to our work, our studies, our hobbies, or even our families?

[Let’s be clear: Jesus was never meant to be put on a priority list, where we say Jesus is first, family is second, work is third…and so on.  Jesus is meant to be the priority in ALL of those things, because ALL of those things should be a priority in our lives.  Jesus isn’t competing with them, but working for them through you.  Don’t make the mistake of trying to keep Jesus at the top of your priority list, because if you do, you’re priorities will always be out of order.  Instead, make Him the priority in all of your priorities.]

What if we applied ourselves fully to the study of the Scriptures, to a life of prayer, to making disciples of the people around me, and the sacrificial giving of my time, talents and money?  Could you imagine what God could do with that?

And yet, the unfortunate reality is that we live in a culture where casual Christianity is prevalent.  Our churches are too often filled with Biblically illiterate attenders, many of whom have had their hearts stirred by Christ at some point and time, but have never applied their minds to understanding Him and their energies to pursuing Him.  And so, the reflection to an outside world is an unintelligent populationwho’ve decided to use religion as a crutch to cope with life.

You see, the simple, profound and beautiful aspect of faith in Jesus (or religion, as some would call it) is that we indeed use it as a crutch, because we’ve just come to realize that we’ve all got broken legs and need something greater to lean on than ourselves.  So, is religion a crutch?  From this vantage point, I will always agree with the atheist or agnostic with an exuberant, “yes!”

When we consider the great minds Jesus has used to shape the faith and His Church through the centuries, it certainly minimizes the assumption that Christianity is for the weak-minded.  Theologians like Augustine of Hippo, Irenaeus, Jerome, Francis of Assisi, John Calvin, Thomas a’ Kempis, Martin Luther, including more contemporary theologians like C.S. Lewis, Karl Barth, John Stott, Albert Schweitzer, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer are certainly proof and of great encouragement that Jesus can use some of the greatest minds in the world to ignite an even greater passion for Himself.

As we continue our latest series through 1 Corinthians this weekend, we will be challenged to move beyond the elementary teachings of our faith, abandoning our complacent, casual Christianity for something greater, deeper, richer – a faith that “demands my soul, my life, my all.”  (When I Survey the Wonderous Cross, Isaac Watts)

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