Girding up the Christian Mind
In his address called The Religious Life of Theological Students, delivered at Princeton Theological Seminary on the 4th of October 1911, Benjamin B. Warfield stressed the need for servants of God to be both learned and religious. The man without learning, Warfield noted, no matter with what other gifts he may be endowed, is unfit for his duties. Because he was addressing students in particular, the burden of his lecture was on their “religious” or spiritual life—that is, Warfield was warning these students about the dangers of studying apart from worship, of seeking knowledge apart from godliness. Severing knowledge and godliness is indeed perilous to the soul. Apart from godliness, knowledge merely puffs up into vanity and pride; apart from knowledge, godliness proves thin and unstable, tossing one about by every wind of doctrine.
Considering our own context broadly, it is perhaps the latter danger that faces the church of Jesus Christ most urgently—namely, the pretense of seeking godliness apart from knowledge. Without taking the time to rehearse the anti-intellectual trends of our age, by now cliché, it is manifestly the case that with the church’s mounting capitulation to secular culture, God’s people have increasingly been marked by the antipathy to learning so characteristic of that culture. Accommodating (as well as generating) an essentially passive posture, entertainment has established itself as the medium sine qua non for all communication and interaction, whether the substance of such is politics, education, or worship. In today’s society, the lawyer whose presentation demands rudimentary logic, let alone sustained thinking, will lose his case. In the church, even the harmless talks that have replaced sermons are often broken up by video and theatrical interludes—anything to avoid the offense of asking worshipers to flex their little gray cells. In fact, much of the rigor of theological education itself has been methodically phased out, with once standard courses such as logic, the biblical languages, and systematic theology either no longer required or abbreviated into irrelevance by many institutions of higher learning. No surprise, then, the lack of demonstration, clarity, and logical flow plaguing much of the preaching and many of the books of today’s evangelical church. Yet, as Christ is called the Logos, the One who came to reveal truth, the church’s need to ever be engaged in the business of truth is inescapable.
This issue, of course, has been faced to one degree or another by every generation of Christians. The desire for revel over reason can be seen not only in Nietzsche’s penchant for Dionysus, the god of drunken ecstasy, over against Apollo, the god of rationality, but even in the wilderness, in the Israelites’ will for dancing around the golden calf rather than waiting upon the Law of the Lord. The role of the mind in the life of the church has always been crucial. Apart from the revival of learning that took place with the Renaissance, for example, it is very doubtful whether Luther would ever have picked up his mallet. Because his case was biblical, moreover, it was also intellectual: spurred on by public debates, books, and pamphlets, in addition to preaching, teaching, and crafting catechisms.
The apostle Peter understood well the spiritual dangers of our natural bent toward intellectual laxity. In a beautifully poetic passage, he calls upon Christians to “gird up the loins of your mind” (1 Peter 1.13). This clarion call to action is in keeping with the journey metaphor Peter employs throughout, having already addressed his epistle to “the pilgrims of the Diaspora.” As a shepherd under the Chief Shepherd, Peter desired to guide faithfully the flock of Christ through the wilderness of this age. Often along a journey, pilgrims must be encouraged to quicken their pace; in the first century context, this would involve tucking up one’s tunic or “girding up.” As ours is a spiritual journey, Peter thus calls upon Christians to gird up intellectually. Not only so but when the apostle refers particularly to “the loins” of one’s mind (loins signifying the source of vitality), he is calling upon us to harness not merely some strength of mind, but the core of our intellectual powers for the faith. This girding up the loins of our mind is incumbent upon us as we have been vouchsafed the revelation of the gospel in Scripture—glorious truths and realities into which angelic eyes have long desired to peer (1.12). Because girding up our minds is also vital to the pursuit of holiness (1.14-16), we are brought back to the inseparable pair of knowledge and godliness. Simply put, a slack, undisciplined mind will not produce godliness.
Historically, the progress and influence of the church have been associated with solid theological schools. One thinks of John Calvin’s school in Geneva, Luther’s lectern at the University of Wittenberg, and the legacy of Charles Hodge at old Princeton. In this same strategic vein, and advancing stoutly the goal of Ligonier Ministries to “further equip Christians to know what they believe, why they believe it, how to live it, and how to share it,” Reformation Bible College opened its doors in Fall 2011—with much thanksgiving and praise to God. RBC’s curriculum is rigorous, as deliberately focused as its leaders are passionately resolute: we want to see the Reformed faith take root and bear fruit in the next generation. We want to equip our college students to be the godly leaders of their age, engaging and influencing both church and society for Christ—whether these students become technicians, pastors, engineers, musicians, missionaries, or homeschooling housewives. Biblical, systematic, and historical theology, apologetics, church history, biblical Hebrew and Greek, the masterpieces of philosophy, literature, and music—these are some of the means by which we seek to shape and sharpen minds. At RBC, we aim for our graduates to become mature, discerning disciples grounded in truth—and we understand what is at stake. Peter’s letter goes on to remind the church that our adversary goes about “like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (5.8). No empty rhetoric, then, when our catalog states: “This is no time for Christians to be fainthearted or weak-minded.” An education that does not equip for godly engagement with the ideas and powers of this age—and this for the sake of Christ and his kingdom—whatever else it is, is not a Christian education. Nor is any other education Christian that does not have the Bible as its foundational source and ultimate measure of truth.
At Reformation Bible College, we hold a simple yet robust conviction that the Word of God is indeed all-sufficient. Therefore, whatever re-hashed “ism” the atheistic universities spew out, whatever ideologies turn the political sphere, whatever ills plague the church as she is “by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed,” the singular response remains the same for every generation: we need a greater knowledge of the Word of God. We, therefore, ask you earnestly to join us in praying that this Bible college will be blessed mightily both to gird up and to renew young minds. Soli Deo Gloria
Dr. L. Michael Morales is professor of biblical studies at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.