There is in the church today a kind of unspoken fear of "thinking too much" and a tendency to brand intellectualism as unspiritual. The roots of this uneasiness are for the most part honest, seeing it is quite true that intellectualism, in and of itself, is insufficient. ("The Christian faith's contention with rationalism is not that it has too much reason in it, but that it has very little else." - Os Guinness)
However, it is leapfrog logic to say that intellectualism is consequently bad. The fact that you are only partly dressed wearing only a shirt is no reason to not wear a shirt at all. We are called to love God with - among other things - our mind. As Augustine said, Christians ought to "think in believing, and believe in thinking." (See also James Sire and Harry Blamires on this subject.)
It follows that a primary task of any educational institution ought to be stimulating critical thinking in students. Historically, this has proven a difficult assignment, as Christianity very easily tends towards dogmatism and the concentration of "truth" among the reigning elite. While it is true that "the faculty members of an institution carry the intellectual freight," they must make a conscious effort to use their knowledge as an locomotive engine to pull the other students along, not as a juggernaut to run them over.
In Luke 16, Christ is teaching about handling money. Now we know that money is the source of much confusion and sin in the world - "the root of all sorts of evil," as Paul writes to Timothy - and it must be handled carefully. It is dangerous.
However, we must be clear about this one thing: just because something has the capacity - or even tendency - to be corrupted, it does not follow that it must be intrinsically bad. Consider erotic love, or technology, or wine. We could multiply examples ad infinitum - the point is that too often we trade a hot potato for no potato and wind up going hungry.
I include intellectualism in this category - along with money and everything else. It's quite useful - and quite dangerous. (Most useful things are dangerous: think about it. We are constantly tasked with finding this balance, in everything from knives to nuclear power.)
Towards the end of the passage, Christ makes a curious statement; commenting on the actions of the Unjust Steward, He says "the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light."
The world is sinful. This is plain spiritual fact. For some reason, we Christians also seem to think of the world as stupid. This is not the case. The world is not stupid! On the contrary: if we are to take the verse above at face value, they tend to be smarter than we are.
What does this mean? Christ seems to be saying that in this area of money - (and similar areas, by extrapolation) - we can actually learn from the world. Not spiritual matters, mind you. Of course not. "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned." - 1 Cor. 2:14 But perhaps, as the Israelites plundered the Egyptians and went to the Philistines to sharpen their weapons, we can derive practical benefit from a pagan culture.
This in turn gives us opportunity to engage the world as salt and light. Christianity has never been - at least not substantially - an isolationist religion. Christianity is the story of real people meeting real needs with real love. Even among the most contemplative monastic orders there is this unmistakable emphasis on doing good as a necessary aspect of being good.
Perhaps the greatest challenge facing Christian Higher Education is how to institutionalize the thing and keep it from shriveling up. I don't say that because I'm fatalistic, I say it because it's history. These things (institutions) have a life-expectancy, and it's not lengthy.
As Chesterton said, in Manalive: "It is the fashion to talk of institutions as cold and cramping things. The truth is that when people are in exceptionally high spirits, really wild with freedom and invention, they always must, and they always do, create institutions." He is right. But there is a subtle qualification that remains to be made: it is not that institutions are "cold and cramping things," but rather that they become "cold and cramping things." They age. They break down. They die. Sometimes, they betray themselves before they die.
It is not necessary that we abandon institutions altogether, but only that we recognize when they have served their purpose, become dead weight, and need to be heaved overboard. There comes a point when the burning ferment of the new wine is too much for the old wineskins. If we want to go on with God, we must make new ones.
Yet another danger is pursuing education to the point of distraction. It is a valuable tool for building the house, but it is not the house. Or, to borrow a well-worded metaphor from C. S. Lewis, "[Education] is a weapon; and a weapon is essentially a thing we lay aside as soon as we safely can." (- Christian Reflections: Christianity and Culture) A weapon may be indispensable for carrying out the battle, but it is not the end we are fighting for.
Seek first the kingdom. All these things will be added.
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