I just read The Gospel and the Mind: Recovering and Shaping the Intellectual Life by Bradley G Green. I’m wondering why it took me so long. Read it: I predict you will wonder the same thing.
I’ve read theories of knowledge before. I’ve never come across one that put it in such a theological and ethical light as this one does. It’s not epistemology, it’s ethics: the kind of persons we need to be in order to know anything truly at all.
And that kind of person, Green says, is a believing Christian, for all knowledge is mediated through Christ. Not that unbelievers know nothing, but they know little of the way things truly are. It reminds me of Chuck Colson’s question to a group of theologians years ago. “What is Christianity?” he asked. Their answers varied from, “The culture from which we sprang,” to “a living relationship with God in Christ.” He disagreed with them all. Their answers weren’t so much wrong, he said, as inadequate, for in truth “Christianity is the explanation for everything.”
Green would certainly agree that it’s the basis for knowing. And how little we know these days! He caught my attention right up front when he said,
Having gone through school and now made the transition to teaching at a small liberal arts college, I have discovered that others have had similar experiences. They have come to the realization that they have really missed something crucial in their education. … What I am speaking of is not simply a humility that comes with age. I am describing a more troubling reality among my contemporaries marked by a genuine ignorance of the past, lack of grounding in the cultural and intellectual inheritance of the West, and perhaps most sadly, no sort of remorse or recognition that this situation might be a bad thing.
We know so little. How many times, reading C. S. Lewis, have I thought, “who is this writer he’s alluding to?” Followed by the unnerving sensation that if I were really educated I ought to know. And yet I’m sure that few of us do.
Not Paying Attention
But it’s not about having a wealth of literary experience. It’s about knowing who we are, where we came from, why were here, and why it matters. Green argues that we cannot understand any of that without a grounding in both Scripture and history; and today’s culture knows very little of either.
It’s gotten even worse since then (the book was published in 2010), with the growing movement to reject the writings of “dead white men,” in favor of… What? Certainly there’s value in understanding other cultural perspectives, yet we have blanked our minds of any memory of who we all are, here in Western culture.
This is a theological failing as much as anything else. “One of the key burdens of this book,” he says, “is to suggest that without certain key theological realities and commitments, the cultivation of an enduring intellectual and cultural life becomes increasingly difficult, if not impossible. In short there is an inseparable relationship between the reality of the gospel and the cultivation of the intellectual life.” (Emphasis in the original.)
Reason Without God Undoes Itself
Indeed, the backdrop of Green’s book, he says, comes from Robert Jenson, who wrote, “reason undoes itself because it undoes God.” He also quotes Jenson saying “it is no accident at all that mystery-cults and esoteric wisdoms flourish in California or Minneapolis as once in old Corinth or Alexandria.” Which is a fair observation, and a telling one.
God is by his Trinitarian nature a God who speaks, a God who communicates, a God who models to us the use of language. Without him, not only reason but language itself is languishing. Postmodernism has stripped it of its meaning, its relation to reality. And logic has succumbed in its wake, again for a lack of connection with reality — with creation, that is. For as Green argues (and let the atheists hoot all they will), the doctrine of creation is essential to a doctrine of knowledge: “History and creation remind us that some things simply are and have their existence apart from our wills and intellect.” And thus there are things for us to learn, to discover, to know, and to speak of using real language with real meaning.
Education has turned gnostic, says Green; it denies created reality, thinking in disconnected theory instead. In fact on that point he anticipates a social movement few of us saw coming. “Whereas in gnosticism the world is to be manipulated and transformed by sinless man, in Christianity the world is to be ruled by man.” His observation on gnosticism there is a gem, and a near-perfect preview of the transgender movement. Transgenderism may be the ultimate version of the worlds’ being manipulated and transformed by man or woman, on the theory that their internal sense of self is in some way faultless — or one might almost say, “sinless.”
Gems like these pop up all over Greene’s book. Some of them are chilling:
It is almost as if we are intent on destroying ourselves. By ignoring the past — the recollection of which is essential to true knowledge, including knowledge of self – we are, in one sense, becoming less than fully human. And indeed, more than one 20th-century writer commented that modern man seems to have this sort of death wish.
The Condition of Our Culture
Green bookends this volume with Bruce Lockerbie’s phrase, “wherever the gospel goes the academy follows.” By implication, and by example, where the gospel fails the academy fails; where the academy fails, culture fails; and where knowledge fails everything falls with it.
This is the condition of our culture. This must become the mission of the Church: to restore knowledge; to restore regard for intellectual history; to restore regard for creation; to restore regard for what God has done in delivering his revelation in the form of a Book.
Read this book. It will help you understand all that we have to restore.