Nurturing/ Teaching Courses
Spiritual Formation Institute
Christianity and Intellectual
Dr Alex Tang
Does Christianity allow its members intellectual freedom? Does being a disciple
of Christ allow us the freedom to think? Jesus commanded his disciples to make
other disciples, instructing them about all that he has taught them (Matt
Did Jesus teach his disciples to think? “Who do you say I am?” Jesus asked Simon
Peter (Matt 16:15). That is a thinking question. Jesus started by asking who the
others thought he was, and then he asked Simon Peter that question. In the
gospel narratives, Jesus always taught the disciples to think, guided them to
come to the correct conclusions and to make decisions. That is intellectual
Does our intellectual freedom allow us to explore areas of knowledge that are
not considered “Christian”? How we answer this question is important. One answer
will lead to a wider concept of intellectual freedom. The other answer will lead
to books banning and burning.
The concept of intellectual freedom will imply that everyone will have the
freedom to express unorthodox or unpopular views, and the importance of allowing
to be made available these unorthodox or unpopular views. This will mean that we
allow our church members to be exposed to all types of knowledge, praying that
our church teaching is enough to help them discern what is acceptable and what
is not. I know this statement will make many of you uneasy.
What happens if these unorthodox or unpopular views unduly influence our
congregations? What if they contain some ideas that conflict with our church’s
teaching? Will it corrupt the younger Christians and our youth? Surely some of
these unorthodox or unpopular views should be so deeply buried that they will
not see the light of day. The church leadership should appoint themselves to be
censors on what their congregations should read or watch. In other words, there
is no intellectual freedom as we appoint ourselves as censors for the people of
Now what if other people think the same way as we do and appoint themselves as
the censor or the guardians of our intellectual freedom? And these people have a
different worldview than us? Does the pot then call the kettle black? The Home Ministry of Malaysia has been banning books for years.
Recently 109 books from one distributor were banned. see list. Why then do we get upset
when the government restrict intellectual freedom while we applaud when we
Christians restrict intellectual freedom on our own members?
I believe we should follow the example of our Lord. Jesus allowed his disciples
the intellectual freedom to learn and make the correct choices. Someone once
said, “All truth is God’s truth.” Moses was schooled as a prince by the
Egyptians. Daniel was trained by the Babylonian court. Jeremiah sent a message
to the exiles and told them to settle down and learn from their neighbours, the
Babylonians. As a result of this openness, the learning and wisdom of the Jewish
community in Babylon at that time was regarded as their golden age of learning.
We need to trust in the sovereignty of the Lord and of the work of the Holy
Spirit. As Gamaliel II said of the new Way movement, if it is of God, it will
endure. If not, it will fade away.
Christianity should allow its adherents intellectual freedom to explore. Of
course there is no such thing as absolute intellectual freedom. Even in the
United States, the Supreme Court acknowledges that there are certain exceptions
to the First Amendment (freedom of speech). These are obscenity, child
pornography, slander and defamation, state secrets, and ‘inflammatory speeches’
that will cause riots. Aside from that there are the freedom to think and
express one’s views.
Now why would the Home Ministry (KDN) ban Read –Aloud Children’s
classics, “Vogue”-Make-up, A History of God (Karen Armstrong), SpongeBob Square
Pants, Dora, The Malayan Trilogy (Antony Burgess) and People Watching:
Desmond Morris’ Guide to Body Language? How will these books corrupt Malaysian society?
It will require a lot of thinking to make sense of all this.
And there are much more for Christians to think
about nowadays: open theism, emergent churches, ancient evangelical future,
emigration, to name but a few such thoughts.
Soli Deo Gloria
“If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the
contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one
person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”—
John Stuart Mill, On Liberty
“He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from
opposition: for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will
reach to himself. ”— Thomas Paine, Dissertation On First Principles Of
"On Sunday evening, members of the Harvest Assembly of God Church in Penn
sing songs as they burn books, video and CDs that they have judged offensive
to their God."
Butler Eagle, March 26, 2001
|3 November 2006|
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