And then they read the classical philosophers… the Church Fathers… the Protestant Reformers… the Enlightenment thinkers… Alexis de Tocqueville and Edmund Burke and The Federalist Papers and Blackstone… Carl F.H. Henry and Herbert Schlossberg and Thomas Oden and Christopher Lasch and Abraham Kuyper and Os Guinness… and biblical exegeses and commentators and historians and scientists whose exacting and exhaustive study open up new vistas of knowledge… and have conversations with serious people who, having reached the age of 40, are a bit more tempered in their approach to life and learning… and real maturity begins.
These comments are more than a bit autobiographical. As a young man (an increasingly distant state of being), my intellectual self-confidence spilled joyously into intellectual pomposity. My mind was a grand world, comprehensive and integrated and satisfied, capable of taking on all comers and informing them of their rightness, wrongness, or simple stupidity.
I am no longer young. Although there are aspects of my youth I miss (supple knees, for example), one I consider with some grief and embarrassment is the intellectual pride I wore as a badge of honor. It was, in reality, a bludgeon of ignorance and injury.
It is good for young people to have strong views, to foster a muscular curiosity, to have opinions of sufficient iron as to sharpen those of their peers. And there’s nothing like the invigoration of intellectual discovery, to grasp something difficult and understand it for the first time, to internalize a great truth or work through a knotty philosophical or theological problem. These things make one feel alive and construct the very lens through which one views life itself.
Yet in our time, the advent of the internet has enabled myriad bright young people, including bright young Christians, to opine with both dogmatism and profligacy. Had the Internet been around when I was in my 20s, no doubt I would have been one of the blogosphere’s chief users – and offenders.
All Christians can rejoice in the many young believers who are writing so thoughtfully and with such art and frequency. Many young men and women I know are using the web to advance critically important arguments in fresh and clever ways.
Christian faith is blessed by young men and women like these. Older Christians should rejoice that the Lord is raising them up and be sufficiently humble to learn from them. Holding younger Christians in contempt simply because they are young is expressly forbidden by the Word of God (I Timothy 4:12). Such contempt is as much a form of pride as any other kind. Like the corpse of dead Lazarus, it stinks.
My caution is only that in an era when so much is at stake in our culture, and when so many young Christians have been cruelly wounded by the brokenness of their families and the excesses of past sin, younger believers not forget that although their voices are new, the truths they proclaim and issues with which they wrestle are not.
Humility and servanthood are terms I dislike, because I’m so bad at applying them to my own life. Yet one’s utility to the Prince of Life is only as extensive as one’s humility and servant attitude. This does not mean that we cannot be confident in proclaiming the truth; rather, it means we bear always in mind that the truth is His, not ours, and that the ministries we occupy are for Jesus’s sake, not our own.
Charles Spurgeon wrote of his own pride that “it is a miserable, wretched affair.” This echoes in the very heart of my own heart. It should for all Christ-followers. Young, middle-aged, or old, let’s remember that intellectual pride is rank in the nostrils of God, and keep remembering that until the day we see our Redeemer, One Who though existing in the very form of God humbled Himself to the point of dying on an instrument of debasement and cruelty, a wooden cross.
If we want to be worthy servants of the King, whether we are emerging or retiring, let’s begin at, and keep returning to, these eternal truths.