Pastor’s Friday Comments (03.19.21)

Ideological labels are handy ways of identifying a person or group’s basic position in some area, but they are always far from precise and may be as misleading as they are helpful. One example, as I’ve written before, involves the labeling of some Christians as “evangelicals,” especially in the secular press.

A classic definition of an evangelical, specifically a Christian evangelical, is a follower of Jesus Christ who believes that part of his or her mission is sharing their faith with others. It is, I believe, a definition that fits every member of Parkway Baptist Church.

In modern discourse, social media, secular journalism, and popular understanding, however, the term has become associated with politically conservative, white members of churches to the right of Mainline Protestantism, including (perhaps especially) Baptists. This is a definition that fits some, but certainly not all, of our members. But, like it or not, when you tell someone today that you belong to a Baptist church, this is the pigeonhole in which you are likely to be placed.

Besides the political implications that make me uncomfortable, the factor connected with this label that bothers me the most is the assumption of anti-intellectualism. I have read a great deal lately in the secular press by people of faith who are dismayed by evangelicals’ blanket acceptance of all kinds of conspiracy theories and their refusal to listen to, let alone be swayed by facts, whether those facts are biblical, scientific, sociological, or mathematical (see “stolen election”).

Jesus told his followers that the greatest commandment was to love God with all their hearts, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30-31). The inclusion of the mind as one of the parts of our being with which we are to love God implies both that we have one and that we should use it. There is nothing about Christian faith that precludes using our minds. In fact, true faith demands it.

I’m not sure there is anything to be gained by trying to refute this labeling when you encounter it. What are you going to do, use bigger words? But you can ensure that, in your own life, the label doesn’t fit.

Be intellectually curious. Read books, articles, and posts that don’t conform completely to your own point of view. Be open to new ideas. Study something hard. You don’t need to be well educated to expand your intellectual horizons. You just have to expend some effort.

I’m grateful that most of the members of our family of faith are intellectual, whether they are comfortable with that label or not. That doesn’t mean that you aren’t also spiritual, just that you are willing to use the mind God gave you. I’m not sure there has been a time in the last hundred years when this was more important.