Do you have light-bulb moments when you realize that a word or phrase has escaped your lexicon? They’re often accompanied by a revelation that you missed something interesting. It can be that way with ideas as well.
While writing a post on personal discipleship, I came across a podcast by William Lane Craig in which he mentioned “the life of the mind.” I didn’t bird-dog the phrase at the time, but it registered. Then, while reading Kenneth Samples‘ work I tripped over that phrase on his blog. Finally, I heard Clarke Morledge use the phrase in conversation.
As stated previously, I have an anti-intellectual prejudice—big thoughts are best communicated with small words. On the other hand, I might just be turning into a closet intellectual. Or maybe not.
This morning, after starting this post, I wandered into a hallway conversation with one of our church’s founders. At one point he said, “I really don’t like intellectualism.” To a non-intellectual like me that’s both encouraging and amusing. He is ridiculously smart—a college professor with a Ph.D. in chemistry. He then started quoting the Apostle Paul to make his case.
So how much faith did Paul place on his intellectual understanding—merely on what he knew—and how much did he appeal purely to the intellect in witnessing for Jesus Christ? Paul uses the word ‘know’ in 101 verses (according to the ESV). Here are some of the most profound statements Paul makes about intellect:
- For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. (Romans 7:18)
- Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. (Romans 8:26)
- And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
- For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. (1 Corinthians 1:21)
- For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:2)
- Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. (1 Corinthians 8:1-2)
- For we know in part and we prophesy in part, (1 Corinthians 13:9)
- For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)
- I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven–whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise–whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— (1 Corinthians 12:2-3)
- and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:19)
- that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, (Philippians 3:10)
- I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. (Philippians 4:12)
- which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. (2 Timothy 1:12)
Paul stuck his neck out on that last one. So much so that 2 Timothy should be the starting point for those seeking assurance of the Christian faith. Find out what Paul went through, and what he was thinking about as he awaited martyrdom. There’s a lot to think about.
“(The wise person will) be more than human. A man will not live like that by virtue of his humanness, but by virtue of some divine thing within him. His activity is as superior to the activity of the other virtues as this divine thing is to his composite character. Now if mind is divine in comparison with man, the life of the mind is divine in comparison with mere human life. We should not follow popular advice and, being human, have only mortal thoughts, but should become immortal and do everything toward living the best in us.”
Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle, 350 BCE
Scholars such as Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas interpreted and systematized the works of Socrates and Aristotle in accordance with Christian theology. German-born philosopher Hannah Arendt completed two of three intended volumes entitled The Life of the Mind before her death in 1975, and many others have taken a kick at the phrase as well (including Bernard of Clairvaux).
It’s not much of a stretch to appreciate that Paul, in writing to the Corinthians and others, was working in the wake of Socratic and Aristotelian influences on the Greek culture. One great example is 1 Thessalonians 4:11, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you,” which flew in the face of Greek Stoicism (which deprecated manual labor). But then Paul made tents for a living—a great encouragement to all of us non-intellectuals out here in the workaday.