Most of my readers are probably familiar with the Mises Institute and their Austrian Scholars Conference. However, the Ligonier Conference I attended this past weekend fits into a little different category. It is a conference put on by Ligonier Ministries of Orlando, Florida. It is named Ligonier because the whole thing started about 40 years ago in Ligonier Pennsylvania. It is a center of Reformed theology and teaching. Most of the people involved with it are Presbyterian and while I’m a Reformed Baptist, we agree on many other points of doctrine. My church, Grace Reformed Baptist, uses some of their teaching series in our Sunday School and Wednesday services. One of the giants of Ligonier Ministries is R.C. Sproul who is something of a celebrity among the kids (or at least my siblings) of our church. I think it was rather shocking for them to realize that I would actually get to see R.C. Sproul at the conference. Anyways…with that introduction, let me get into the real stuff…
The theme of the event this year was “The Christian Mind.” This was one of the main reasons I decided to attend because I feel like this such an important but neglected topic.
The conference started on Thursday afternoon with a great introductory lecture from R.C. Sproul. I disagree with him on several issues, but what I love about his speaking is his knowledge of philosophy, history, and the intellectual movements of history. His series called “The Consequences of Ideas” is amazing. It is a history of philosophy from a Christian perspective. It is an incredible intro to philosophy. Anyways, in his lecture he talked about the different philosophers who have tried to describe the relationship between thoughts and actions. And he summed that discussion up with the Bible verse, “as he thinks in his heart, so he is,” (Proverbs 23.7) as the Christian response to the thoughts/actions debate.
And then he talked about the mind and the will. This could have been a lecture at the Mises Institute. Even though he didn’t frame it in that way, he was essentially talking about praxeology and human action. At any point in time, we just choose between a myriad of options for action. And not only can we choose the option that we want the most, we must always choose what we want the most. If someone comes up to you with a gun and says, “give me your wallet or your life,” you still have the freedom to choose, though your choices have been limited. So this is a kind of determinism, as we can only do according to our strongest inclination. But it is self-determinism, and it is what defines human freedom. Applied to theology, because we are all naturally depraved, our strongest inclination is to rebel against God. That is why we cannot please God or live for Him in our natural state. He has to change our natural inclinations so that we can want to love Him.
Lastly, he pointed out that on the Judgement Day, God will not judge us by what is in our head but by what is in our heart. But nothing can get into our hearts without being first in our minds, and that is why the Christian’s mind is so important.
The second lecture was by Robert Godfrey and he traced the history of the church and anti-intellectualism in American history. He argued that America began to change with the election of Andrew Jackson, a populist. The power shifted from the “snobs to the mobs.” There was not only a political shift towards democracy, but this influenced all of culture. With the expansion westward, there was more emphasis on the individual and their independence. There was a cultural revolt against the perceived elites, the lawyers, doctors and preachers. The response to preachers was, “if the Bible is clear, why do we need the ‘experts’ to explain it?” The focus in religion also shifted from thinking to doing. This was partly because of the developing eschatology of the emerging denominations and there was more importance placed on social work and making this world a better place to live.
The opposition to Christianity did not come about because the Church was unable to answer the accusations of the secular world, but because the Church simply retreated and failed to answer. There are scholarly answers to the world’s attacks, and we need to be intellectually prepared to give these answers. And he ended with a quote from Calvin, “nothing is as arrogant as ignorance.”
The third lecture was from Albert Mohler. He points out that people rarely take the time to think about thinking. But as Christians we need to think about thinking because how we think will affect how we live. If we want to live faithfully, we must think faithfully. The Christian lives in the midst of a crisis in thinking. Since the fall, all humans have been rejecting and suppressing the truth. We can only embrace the truth through the grace of God. Then he listed 14 noetic consequences of the fall, or, 14 ways that the fall has affected the way we think:
- Faulty Perspective
- Intellectual fatigue
- Failure to draw right conclusions
- Intellectual apathy
- Dogmatism and closed-mindedness
- Intellectual pride
- Vain imagination
- Partial knowledge
The fourth lecture was delivered by R.C. Sproul Jr. on the scandal of the evangelical mind. The scandal of Christianity is that God took on flesh, lived among His creatures, lived a life of perfect obedience, died a humiliating death at the hands of his enemies, but rose from the dead three days later and forty days later ascended into heaven. This story is a stumbling block to world. And sadly, Christians have been offended that the world is offended at this story. Instead of recognizing that the world views this story as foolishness, Christians insist that the world accept this as a sensible story, though no one can accept it without the grace of God regenerating them. Also, Christians ought to be evangelical. That is, we believe the Gospel or the good news. But more than this, we must have a passion for sharing this Gospel. And sadly, we have become so caught up in criticizing the way everybody else evangelizes, instead of just getting to work and sharing the good news with a desperate and dying world.
For Reformed Christians, who often view themselves as the “brains” of the Church, we can try to mix our dross with the gold of God’s message. We need to have humility, and recognize that all we have is a gift of God and “but for the grace of God, there go I,” instead of trying to impress the world with our clever arguments.