Revealed religion once again is being summoned to fight for its life. There is no need for panic. This is not a new battle but just another round in a long-continuing contest. Every generation has had to face attacks on “the faith once delivered.” And if we are now seeing the emergence of new attacks from both without and within the Church, we need be neither surprised nor dismayed. The enemy has new tactics, perhaps even a new visage. Yet we face the same old battle between faith and unbelief.

The lengths to which the opposition will go is evidenced by the wide acceptance of Bishop A. T. Robinson’s book, Honest to God. Robinson and others less well known are prepared to abandon every major tenet of the faith, including the very existence of the biblically revealed God, in order to accommodate themselves to an age when historic Christianity is declared intellectually “indefensible.”

This apostasy is not without practical results. Moral absolutes go the way of theological dogmas. Thus one Scandinavian cleric recently announced that the Church must stop condemning premarital intercourse in order to be relevant for a generation 80 per cent of which opposes its narrow-minded morality.

This latest attack on the faith unquestionably springs from human speculation. It is “new” only in its outward guise. It may offer a new “solution,” but like its eighteenth-century forefather, rationalism, and its first cousins, deism, liberalism, and agnosticism, it presumes to find the biblical faith unacceptable on an intellectual basis.

As in a refrain, we are told that the human race is coming of age—a claim Thomas Paine made almost two centuries ago. The simple, naïve religion of our forebears will not do. God is but a projection of the human mind. To our fathers he was the explanation of the mysteries of the universe. But we have unraveled these mysteries by scientific investigation and no longer need God to account for them. God, we are told, was merely a father image. An insecure race concocted him to calm their fears. Now we have grown up and do not need any Father in the skies to watch over us. Religion is for weaklings.

The Need Of A Weak World

Yes, religion is for weaklings. That is precisely the point. And it is illogical, if not outright absurd, for a world that is falling apart to dismiss Christianity because it is for the weak. Crime increases at a rate four times greater than that of population growth because people are too weak to walk the path of integrity. Mental patients fill more hospital beds than all other sick people combined because people are too weak to face the stresses of life. The race is so immature that heads of nations wrangle like spoiled children. Humanity is weak; men need God.

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Not only is it true that religion is for weaklings (as the child learns in earliest Sunday school days, “Little ones to Him belong; they are weak, but He is strong”); it is also true that religion makes weak men strong. Men of religious faith (weak men transformed) were the hardy pioneers who built this mighty nation, carving it out of a wilderness. Some of their descendants, lawless hoodlums, godless and dissolute, prowl in our asphalt jungles, a threat to everything their forefathers built.

Irreligious people who are supposedly strong are often only untested. When everything goes fairly well they are strong, but a heavy affliction may often change their views. Then they find hope and comfort only in God.

This “weakness” of those who accept religion, used as an argument against God, is actually evidence for him. It shows that man was not designed to be self-sufficient. The Creator put basic needs in man that can be met only by a meaningful relationship with God. Yes, religion is for weaklings. Therefore, who of us can afford to be without it?

As for our vaunted intellectual superiority, let us remember that this is not the first generation to profess itself wise. Such an attitude was ancient history even in the days of the Apostle Paul, and in the first chapter of Romans he pictures the results of that attitude. Creation plainly reveals a great Creator. But man fails to live according to this revelation and refuses to glorify the God he knows exists. In need of some authority, godless man exalts his own intellect. Having deposed God, he installs his own mind on the empty throne.

Professing himself to be wise, he becomes a fool. He begins to serve money, power, fame, appetites. Then he begins to defend immorality as freedom and descends to perversion and utter degradation. This is no longer mere immorality or a lapse into sin. It is rather a complete denial of the principles of morality and capitulation to libertinism. Such people feel no shame; indeed, they glory in their lusts. Like the Sodomites, they demand absolute moral abandonment as their right. This whole process of deterioration may not occur in a single generation; yet it is the ultimate end of much unbelief.

Thus it is no surprise to Bible students that men who deny God because they deify their own intellectual biases go on to defend the “new (im)morality.” Some already espouse complete libertinism. When will such men realize that unbelief is no mark of intellectual superiority? Consider the overbearing smart aleck who rejects the entire Bible because no one can explain to his satisfaction where Cain got his wife. In citing this “proof” of Bible error, he only parrots what he has heard. Many better intellects could explain this “problem” to their complete satisfaction. His unbelief is no evidence of his intellectual superiority or of biblical error, but only of his own limited understanding and unlimited pride. Likewise, a problem that bothers the wisest of us might be no problem at all to an even greater intellect. Humility admits that God may understand some things we do not comprehend.

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Belief does not require intellectual mediocrity or dishonesty, but only intellectual humility. The faith of the French genius, Blaise Pascal, demonstrates this. The Encyclopaedia Britannica describes Pascal as “a man whose genius gives him a unique eminence among modern thinkers.” In even more glowing terms, the Americana calls him “one of the greatest and most comprehensive geniuses that the world has ever known.” At the age of sixteen, Pascal astounded the greatest authorities of his day by his mathematical ability. Two years later he invented a calculating machine that could add, subtract, multiply, and divide. His achievements ranged from laying the foundation of mathematical calculus to establishing the first public omnibuses.

There was a time when for Pascal the intellect was supreme, as is evident in a letter he wrote to Queen Christina of Sweden. But at the age of thirty-one he had an encounter with the living God that transformed his life. “The God of the philosophers and the scholars” gave place to “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob … the God of Jesus Christ … to be found only by the ways taught in the Gospel.”

“I have separated myself from Him,” cried Pascal. “I have fled from Him, denied Him, crucified Him.” But henceforth “let me never be separated from Him. This is the eternal life, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and the One whom Thou hast sent, Jesus Christ.” From then until the day he died, Pascal sought to persuade intellectuals to trust in Christ. He maintained that belief was as reasonable as unbelief, and that one had nothing to lose and everything to gain by trusting Christ.

The Rich Man’S Danger

Christianity does not condemn intellectual excellence any more than it condemns material affluence. But it recognizes the inherent danger in both, the danger of idolatry. The rich man (either in goods or intellect) may, instead of humbly thanking the Creator for his gift, feel he does not need God. Thus he worships the gift instead of the Giver, the creature instead of the Creator. This danger is both real and great. In fact, Jesus said that it is harder for a “rich” man to enter the Kingdom than for a camel to pass through a needle’s eye. “But,” he continued, “with God all things are possible.”

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Today’s intellectuals, many of whom are inside as well as outside the Church, have need to recall the experience of our Lord Jesus at the hands of the intellectuals of his day. Why was it that not one of the apostles was from the intellectual class? Paul indeed was a notable exception. But for Saul to become Paul, the camel had indeed to pass through the needle’s eye! Jesus’ choice of his apostles was not arbitrary. If he chose no intellectuals, it was because none was spiritually fit. As Paul said, “not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise …” (1 Cor. 1:26, 27).

And so it will be with modern intellectuals who reject the God of the Bible. He will set them aside to dazzle one another with their fruitless debates, while he goes about his work in the world through common men who do not think they know more than he does.

Christ was no more acceptable to the intelligentsia of the first century than he is to the intelligentsia now. “None of the princes of this world knew [at that time, the divine wisdom], for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:8). The intellectuals were all in the dark. They could have given a dozen reasons for rejecting the “untenable claims” of Christ.

In Matthew 11:25 and 26 we read, “At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight.” The wise and the prudent today also must be converted and become as little children that God may reveal unto them his truth.

God has deliberately arranged it thus. (“So it seemed good in thy sight.”) Why? Because not everyone has the vaunted wisdom of the intellectual. Shall God so order his truth that it may be understood only by the intelligentsia? If it were intelligible only to geniuses, they would inescapably have the advantage. But anyone, whether slow-witted or brilliant, may and must come to God only through humility and simple faith.

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Much is said these days about making our message relevant. But we need to ask, Relevant to whom? Is Christianity only for the gifted student or philosopher? There can be no argument against translating the solid substance of biblical teaching into plain, contemporary language. But to twist that substance into vague, speculative wanderings is not relevance. Nor can it meet the need of the masses!

So the battle rages. Let those of us who have the necessary mental capacity rise up to debate the wise of this world. But let us “beware, lest any man spoil [us] through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Col. 2:8). The battlefield of life is littered with the remains of men who “knew” too much and believed too little.

T. Leo Brannon is pastor of the First Methodist Church of Samson, Alabama. He received the B.S. degree from Troy State College and the B.D. from Emory University.

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