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Bridging the Intellectual Void

By Glenn Dunehew
Published March 31, 2008

Many of the great scientists of the past several hundred years were Christians. During their day, Christian thought prevailed. Of course, there were some popular writers and philosophers who were not Christians; but Christian thought was the mainstream, and ministers were considered the best educated people in the community.

As author Richard Lovelace states, “The leaders and shapers of the Reformation, the Puritan and Pietist movements, and the first two Awakenings included trained theologians who combined spiritual urgency with profound learning, men who mastered the culture of their time and were in command of the instruments needed to destroy its idols and its innovations.“1

Today, however, the local minister is not held in high regard, or considered a man of great knowledge. He is, instead, viewed as archaic and out of touch with reality.

The goal of the Church and its ministers should be to pull down the idols of their culture through the preaching and the practical application of the gospel. But without a clear understanding of current thought and knowledge, this is impossible. Without a clear understanding of socialism, its structure, its economic basis, and its general philosophy, its corrupting influence cannot be brought down or destroyed. As a result, many churches today support socialism simply because of their minister’s word. Without a clear understanding of biblical morality and ethics, how can we take a stand on issues such as abortion, AIDS, values clarification, or homosexual rights? Without this clear understanding in the pulpits of America, where are we headed?

During the Reformation, the progress of Christian thought was greatly reflected in the many scientific discoveries and inventions of that era. However, in the 1600s men turned their attention more to exploration for profit rather than for the glory of God. The results of their greed for land led them to corrupt the new society that had been established in America. These decadent years demanded a response from local ministers both in England and in the American colonies.

These idols of greed and avarice had to be subdued by Christian thought. This is, primarily, what brought about the Great Awakening at the turn of the 18th century. This movement altered every area of life in our nation – including the philosophical and scientific community. It also paved the way for the creation of the American system of constitutional government.

At the turn of the 19th century the effects of the Great Awakening were waning. Again, philosophical and scientific questions began to face the Christian community. God’s answer to these “new innovations” was the Second Great Awakening. The resulting waves of thought brought about reformation in civil rights as well as the conduct of society as a whole. This changing of thought tore the United States apart, bringing about a war of brother against brother. But this Second Awakening brought the scientific and philosophical communities back into the confines of Christian thought for a brief period.

The next spiritual awakening in our national history was the Prayer Revival of 1858, a spontaneous, lay-directed movement of daily prayer meetings for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This movement was accompanied by the Welsh Revival of 1904 on the other side of the Atlantic.2 These noted revivals were marked by the increased participation of non-trained ministers. Although this awakening greatly increased the number of people propagating the gospel, few individuals totally prepared themselves for the philosophical battle that lay ahead.

According to author J. Edwin Orr, these movements “led to a progressively shallower spirituality among evangelicals and to a loss of intellectual command. This loss of intellectual mastery proved to be a critical weakness, since the secular humanist worldview – which had been under construction since the days of the Enlightenment – was receiving powerful reinforcement from the teachings of Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud.“3

A changing world was grasping for answers, and yet the Church was devoid of educated men and women who were filled with the power of God. The intellectual vacuum left by these last awakenings demanded a response from the Christian community. Basically, three major ideas offered the most serious challenges: Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, Darwin’s theory of evolution, and Freud’s theory of the inner man.

Moral Relativity

Einstein’s theory of relativity was not intended to move into the philosophical realm, but rather to apply to gravitational fields and Newtonian physics.4 In fact, Einstein believed in moral absolutes and acknowledged the existence of God. However, by the 1920s, “the belief began to circulate that there were no longer any absolutes: of time and space, of good and evil, of knowledge, above all of value.” 5

Because of the intellectual void among Christians, these ideas on moral relativity went unchecked. The morality of America and Europe was at stake – and this void allowed immorality to be cultivated without any serious questions about its ultimate results on society. The next step was predictable: men would try to do away with God.

Charles Darwin, by describing man as nothing more than a product of nature, concluded that man has no need for God. Evolution theorizes that God is simply an archaic, superstitious concept. Darwin’s theory not only legitimated some archaeological ideas that were circulating at the time, but managed to leap into the realm of philosophy. Evolution as a theory really has no power in the scientific realm alone, because it cannot be proven scientifically. But as a philosophy, applied to areas of life like economics or civil government, Darwin’s notion of the survival of the fittest “was a key element both in the Marxist concept of class warfare and of the racial philosophies which shaped Hitlerism.“6

We must ask this question: how could the idea of evolution move into such a position of prominence in intellectual circles without arousing even a cynical look from Christian thinkers? This is where psychologist Sigmund Freud comes to the rescue. In his worldview, a person who disagrees with a “scholar’s” analysis is suspect of behavior problems himself. Havelock Ellis, an experimenter in human eugenics, wrote to psychologist Carl Jung, “My inclination is to treat those colleagues who offer resistance exactly as we treat patients in the same situation.“7 In other words, dissent is a state unacceptable to intellectual thought. It is also a convenient way to avoid ideas which are “lacking” in scientific proof or other sources of factuality.

Paul Johnson, in his book Modern Times, said this of Freud’s ideas: “Later, the notion of regarding dissent as a form of mental sickness, suitable for compulsory hospitalization, was to blossom in the Soviet Union into a form of political repression.“8

Ellis went on to say, “Freud was not a scientist but a great artist.“9 Many find Freud outside of mainstream medical practice; yet those who first believed in his form of psychoanalysis were vocal in support of his ideas, and thus they gained wide popularity among the general public. Says Johnson, “He believed in a hidden structure of knowledge which, by using the techniques he was devising, could be discerned beneath the surface of things.“10 An exchange of “scientific” thought again replaced Christian thought – without a challenge from the Church.

“In the Freudian analysis,” says Johnson, “the personal conscience, which stood at the very heart of the Judeo-Christian ethic, and was the principal engine of individualistic achievement, was dismissed as a mere safety-device, collectively created, to protect civilized order from the fearful aggressiveness of human beings.“11 Thus an onslaught of ungodly ideas, more fierce than any form of external violence, began to take its toll on the modern world.

What happened to the Christian community during all of this? We stopped fighting ideological warfare.

The war of ideas is not just between nations, as British historian B.H. Liddell points out: “Lenin had a vision of fundamental truth when he said that ‘the soundest strategy in war is to postpone operations until the moral disintegration of the enemy renders the delivery of the mortal blow possible and easy.’“13 This is the underlying strategy of the communists. Is it not the same for the secular humanists in their quest for the minds of men?

The time has come for Christians to arm themselves for the real battle, and address the complex questions being asked by our generation. Richard Lovelace offers this challenge to us: “If a whole generation of young evangelicals can mature in their spirituality, and if older evangelical leaders can expand their vision, we have the potential for a new level of evangelical impact within the Church and on society.“14 The time is now, whether you are an established leader or one on the rise; “History may be considered as a series of stages in which one territory is substantially conquered for Christ; a contraction follows as the war is opened within a wider radius; and then a new Christian assault sweeps outward to widen the diameter of the realm of Christ.“15

As every area of thought and life is brought under the lordship of Jesus Christ, there will be an expansion of His dominion over every area of life. The idols of this world will be subdued for His glory. The time is now to be relevant to a changing society. General Douglas MacArthur’s words ring out loud and clear to us today: “The history of failure in war can be summed up in two words: Too late. Too late in comprehending the deadly purpose of a potential enemy; too late in realizing the mortal danger; too late in preparedness; too late in uniting all possible forces for resistance; too late in standing with one’s friends.“16

1 Richard Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life, (Downers Grrove, IL.: InterVarsity Press, 1979), p. 49.
2 Ibid., p. 48.
3 Ibid., p. 50.
4 Paul Johnson, Modern Times, (Harper and Row Publishers, 1983), p. 2.
5 Ibid., p. 4.
6 Ibid., p. 5.
7 Ibid., p. 6.
8 Ibid.
9 Ibid.
10 Ibid., p. 7.
11 Ibid., p. 11.
12 Ibid., p. 20.
13 Richard Nixon, The Real War, (Warner Books, 1981), p. 47.


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