Intellectualizing The Gospel

By Larry Ray Hafley

A new slant has been put on an old slur against the gospel. For years, men who are not content to be bound by the word of God have charged that the will of God cannot be limited to a pattern of logic, reason or under-standing. They have argued that Christians have reduced the gospel to tidy little boxes of legal propositions, to a series of mathematical equations, to a strict set of scientific formulae. We have, they trumpet, transformed the truth in Christ from a spiritual relationship of the heart into an academic religion of the head.

This, they say, leads to an inflexible, intolerant system of rigid rite and rote. When this occurs, staleness and stagnation result and members become robots who go through precisely prescribed acts, like a dog and pony at the circus. There is, they avow, no heart, no spirit, no joy, no love in such a religion.

The latest twist on this old theme says that saints are guilty of “intellectualizing the gospel.” It is the same old tune with a new verbal verse. “We have sought to limit the work of the Holy Spirit by binding him up in our conveniently compartmentalized Bible. We have restricted God. We will not allow the Spirit to do his work in our hearts and shape our lives because our intellectual religion tells us he cannot or will not. We have confined God in the jail house of a book and have thrown away the lock and key.”

Their solution? Dismantle the system. Rid yourself of the concept that the New Testament is a pattern. Use the word of God as a guideline, not as a guidebook. Do not be afraid to let the Spirit take over your life, even if what you are doing seems contrary to what you have been taught. Such fears are just the residue of your legalistic, party spirit mentality, left overs from your old, ironclad “head knowledge” days, before you were released into the real freedom of the Spirit.

“After all,” they continue, “God dwells in our heart, not in our head; we serve a Savior, not a system; we pray to a Person, not a party or a pattern; our faith is in the Man, not in a plan; we come to the King, not to a constitution; we obey the loving Lord, not a lore of legal law; we are cleansed by the cross, not by a creed.”

Anytime anyone anywhere states that we are guilty of “intellectualizing the gospel,” mark this down: That person has a doctrine and/or a practice that he cannot sustain by the Bible. There is something he wants to believe, something he wants to do, for which he cannot find authority in the word of God.

Did Jesus “Intellectualize The Gospel?”

John 6:44,45

No man can come tome, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.

It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father. cometh unto me.

In the chart above, Jesus said, “It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God.” Where was it “written”? In Isaiah 2:3, the Spirit said, “He (God) will teach us of his ways, (Result?) and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” Thus, the ways, the law, the word of the Lord is taught. Because of that, because it is taught, “we will walk in his paths.” If it is not taught, we cannot walk in his ways. Supplementing this, Jesus said, “If any man will to do his will, he should let the Spirit take over by putting his intellect in neutral and simply go with the flow.” Is that what Jesus said! No! “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine” (Jn. 7:17). How shall he “know of the doctrine”? Isaiah said he would “know” it because he would be taught it.

Again, where was it written that “they shall be all taught of God”? Jeremiah said that the Lord would “put (His) law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts” (Jer. 31:33). How did God “put (His) laws in their mind” (Heb. 8:10)? “Take my yoke … and learn of me” (Matt. 28:19). “Go ye therefore and teach all nations” (Matt. 28:19). “Every man therefore that hath heard and learned of the Father, cometh unto me” (Jn. 6:45).

Jesus said, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (Jn. 8:32). In other words, one escapes the pollutions of the world “through the knowledge of the Lord” (2 Pet. 2:20). Was Jesus guilty of “intellectualizing” freedom from sin?

The Son of God taught that one has eyes to see, ears to hear and a heart (where his law is written) to under-stand. By this process, one is converted (Matt. 13:15). Even the devil knows that the word of God in the heart leads men to understand, believe and be saved (Lk. 8:11,12; 2 Cor. 4:4). Indeed, “faith cometh by hearing,” and one trusts in Christ “after” (not before) he hears the gospel (Rom. 10:17; Eph. 1:13).

The Lord said that only those who do the will of the Father can enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 7:21). “If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death” (Jn. 8:51). “If a man love me, he will keep my words” (Jn. 14:23). “My mother and my brethren are these which hear the word of God and keep it” (Lk. 8:21). “Blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it” (Lk. 11:28).

How shall one know the will of God in order to do it? He shall hear it; he must be “taught” it; he must “learn” it; he must “understand” it (Jn. 6:44, 45; Matt. 13:15). Jesus said, “Whoso readeth, let him understand” (Matt. 24:15). The Spirit said, “Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand” (Eph. 3:4). Who, then, will charge God with “intellectualizing” his word, way and will?

Did the Apostles “Intellectualize” The Gospel?

The apostles said, “God … will have all men . . . to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:3, 4). They said this knowledge was in the word of God which they preached and pro-claimed (1 Thess. 2:13; Rom. 10:8). Did they “intellectualize” it?

If ever we could find a place, a portion, a pas-sage that would lend credence to the belief that we are not bound by things taught, learned, known and understood, but that we are free to be led by any fanciful whim (“every wind of doctrine”), it would be in 1

Corinthians 14. Instead, what do we find?

1 Corinthians 14 weds, weaves and welds learning and understanding and contrasts them with what is unknown, not understood. With learning and under-standing comes growth and edification (vv. 3-5, 19). Without learning and understanding comes barbaric babbling and charges of mental madness (vv. 11, 23). Even if one could speak with a divine revelation from the Spirit, he was to be silent if no one understood the language which he spoke (v. 28). This puts a premium on hearing, teaching, knowing and understanding! It in no way disparages or diminishes the use of one’s mind or intellect. Rather, it exalts it. But, as “we said before, so say I now again,” if ever we could expect to find an inkling or a brief hint to encourage us to “let go” of reason and understanding, i would be in the setting and context of 1 Corinthians 14. This chapter, that deals with the very gifts of the Spirit, that instructs those who spoke, worked miracles, effected healings and acted as divinely directed by the Spirit himself, teaches them not to do anything which will not lead them to knowledge and understanding of the written word of God (1 Cor. 4:6; 14:37)!

The apostles said that, when men turned away their “ears from the truth,” that they would be “turned unto fables” (2 Tim. 4:4). So, when one belittles under-standing of truth and speaks of “intellectualizing the gospel,” he has “turned unto fables.”

What did the apostles tell those who were “established in the present truth” (2 Pet. 1:12)? Did they tell them to relax and not quench or stifle the Spirit by appealing to the written word? Did they tell them to feel free to experiment a little, to take a vacation from their doctrinal correctness and see what might lie beyond the pages of a book? No, they wrote that “we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip” (Heb.2:1). They

said we should have the written word “always in remembrance” and “be mindful of the words which were spoken … by the holy prophets, and . . . apostles” (2 Pet. 1:12-15; 3:1, 2).

Paul told Timothy to “continue (not, `abandon’) thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; and that from a child thou hast known the holy Scriptures which are able to make these wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:14, 15). Paul said to continue in and “teach no other doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:3; 4:16). If the “intellectualizers of the gospel” party are correct, Paul should have told Timothy to “launch out by faith” and seek “God’s dream” for his life. He should have told him not to be bound by all the old doctrines he had learned, but he did not do so.

What if men urge you to not be tied to “pat answers” and a “pattern theology”? The apostles said such men are like false prophets of old who “speak great swelling words of vanity” (2 Pet. 2:18) “Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know (note that word?) these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness” (2 Pet. 3:17).

“Anytime anyone anywhere states that we are guilty of `intellectualizing the gospel,’ mark this down: That person has a doctrine and/or a practice that he cannot sustain by the Bible.”

Some Questions

1. Did the Bereans “intellectualize the gospel” when they “received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11)? Should they have been told that faith and salvation cannot be confined to a book (In. 5:39)? Should they have been admonished that faith is to be in the heart and not in the head? Should they have been warned that God’s promise of redemption cannot be found only in words that will make their human reasoning the standard of their subjective salvation?

2. Am Ito learn, know and intellectually understand that it is wrong to “intellectualize the gospel”? If so, must one teach me this?

3. Is one “intellectualizing the gospel” when he teaches and reasons against intellectualism?

4. Is there something you know about God’s will without the word of God (I Cor. 2:6-14)? If so, what is it? Can I learn it from you and intellectually know it? If so, how? Will you have to teach me with words, and will I have to use reasoning to understand them?

5. How did you come to the knowledge that it is wrong to “intellectualize the gospel”? Did that knowledge come to you apart from your reason and intellect?

6. Is it possible for one to be taught “in all wisdom,” and come to complete spiritual maturity by letting the word of Christ dwell in him richly (Col. 1:28; 3:16)?

7. Are the Scriptures, read, learned, known and under-stood, able to make the man of God perfect, completely equipped unto every good work (2 Tim. 3:16, 17)?

8. Is there anything about living “soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world” that I cannot read, learn, know and understand from the Bible (Titus 2:11-14  “teaching us;” Eph. 4:17-20″learned”)? If so, what is it, and how did you learn it?

9. Did Jesus and the apostles ever teach against “intellectualizing the gospel” in the same sense as you teach against it? If so, where? Also, if so, were they guilty of “intellectualizing the gospel” when they taught that such a thing was possible and expected you to read, learn, know and understand that it was possible?

10. When an ignorant, pagan, heathen Roman ruler said to Paul, “much learning doth make thee mad” (Acts 26:24), was he not, in effect, sounding the same warning that you are giving?

1 I . Is the word of God, hidden in the heart, able to keep a man from sin (Psa. 17:4; 119:9-11)7

12. What may we do in worship and service to God that we do not read, learn, know and understand from the teaching of the Bible (Matt. 15:8, 9)?

13. What work may a local church perform that will be pleasing to God that cannot be read, learned, known and understood from the teaching of the word of God (I Tim. 3:15)?

14. Does the Holy Spirit do anything today that he has not revealed to us in the Bible? If so, what is it?

l5. Does the Holy Spirit act or empower men to act today in ways that are contrary to his teaching in Scripture (2 Cor. 1:13)? If so, cite cases.

16. If the answer to questions 14 and 15 is “yes,” must we accept your claims, but reject those of Catholics (appearances of Mary, for example) and Pentecostals (raising the dead, snake handling, Oral Roberts’ visions, etc.)? If so, what measure, what rule, what standard (Phil. 3:16), tells us to accept your views and visions but to reject theirs?

17. Must one use his intellect and reason to distinguish fraudulent claims from genuine ones? If so, is this an example of intellectualizing against anti-intellectualism? Are you intellectualizing your system, your pattern, of anti-intellectualism?

18. Do you believe, teach and practice things contrary to sound words, “even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Tim. 6:3)? If not, how do you differ from those whom, you say, “intellectualize the gospel” when they strictly adhere to that same form of sound words? If, however, you do believe and advocate things not found in the “wholesome words” of Christ, should we “withdraw” ourselves from you, or join you (1 Tim. 6:3-5)?

19. Must one use his mind, his intellect, his reason and understanding, to handle aright, or rightly divide the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15)?

20. Will you use your mind, intellect, reason, under-standing and knowledge of the Scriptures to evaluate and reply to this article? If so, will you be guilty of intellectualizing when you do? If not, well, that is about what I expected.

0 how I love thy law? It is my meditation all the day. Thou through thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies: for they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation (Psa. 119:97-99).

Bow down thine ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply thine heart unto my knowledge. For it is a pleasant thing if thou keep them within thee; they shall withal be fitted in thy lips. That thy trust may be in the Lord, I have made known to thee this day, even to thee. Have I not written to thee excellent things in counsels and knowledge, that I might make thee know the certainty of the words of truth to them that send unto thee (Prov. 22:17-21)?

Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 18, p. 16-18
September 16, 1993