Free thinking, fearlessly open dialogue, a willingness to voice unpopular ideas: these are increasingly endangered species in a society ever more surveilled by Orwellian thought police. A new, fundamentalistic secular religion has emerged, with tenets that demand total adherence. To question the logic of any aspect of this secular creed—for example, a statement like “transgender women are women”—is to be branded a hateful heretic. Books that logically challenge prevailing orthodoxies are being banned by Amazon. There are countless more examples.
You know it’s bad when atheist hero Richard Dawkins is disowned by an atheist organization (which explicitly defines its purpose as including advocacy for “freethinkers”) over a tweet where he (very cogently) questioned the new orthodoxy on transgenderism. Rather than engaging Dawkins’s entirely reasonable tweet on its own terms, the American Humanist Association saw it as grounds for retroactive cancellation. Nothing says “advocacy for freethinkers” like canceling someone for a thought that goes against the grain.
In a strange twist, Christianity—long accused of being narrow-minded, anti-intellectual, and afraid of difficult questions—has the potential to fill a growing void in Western culture. In a world where we increasingly walk on eggshells—unsure when, if, and how we’re allowed to speak publicly on contested issues—Christianity can become a grace-filled haven for curious questioners, doubting dissidents, and anyone seeking truth in a world where partisan narratives take precedence.
In short, Christianity has an opportunity to again become the most fertile intellectual ground—as it was for most of the last 2,000 years (until fairly recently). Why? Because a truly fruitful intellectual culture must be built on unshakeable, transcendent foundations—which Christianity has in God’s Word. Without this, all discourse about “truth” is arbitrary and devolves into power struggles. All claims become mere ammo for inflicting injury on one identity or another, rather than bricks for building in a shared intellectual project.
Scriptural Foundation Should Inspire Intellectual Curiosity
The secular approach to discourse results only in deconstruction—as we’re seeing. With no ability to gain consensus on truth, secularism can only cancel, condemn, ban, silence. It’s fundamentally destructive. But the Christian approach can be constructive because there’s a solid foundation on which to build. This is why, in my “Wisdom Pyramid” rubric, Scripture is the foundation. God’s infallible Word functions both as a horizontal, “solid ground” foundation and as vertical scaffolding, keeping the structures above it rightly ordered. We can build knowledge using all sorts of materials—books, the arts, nature/science, reason, community, lived experience—but none of it will be structurally sound, in the end, unless it is built on an unshakable foundation.
God’s objective, transcendent, true-for-everyone Truth is not a constricting, check-your-brain-at-the-door truth. It’s a liberating, world-expanding, galvanizing, purposeful truth that gives a common vocabulary and telos for intellectual pursuits. As Jesus says, it’s the truth that “will set you free” (John 8:32). This liberating truth is what inspired the founding and flourishing of Oxford, Harvard, and most of the great universities. It’s the truth that undergirded the world-changing discoveries and revolutionary ideas of Johannes Kepler, Nicholas Copernicus, Blaise Pascal, Isaac Newton, and many others. It’s the truth that, for countless artists, writers, and philosophers, provided life-giving illumination and impetus to explore.
As C. S. Lewis famously said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it but because by it, I see everything else.”
God’s Word is the settled truth that unsettles our intellectual complacency and compels us to plumb the world’s mysterious depths. It’s a framework through which we can read and study widely and know how to evaluate the relative merits of an idea. It gives us bearings to navigate a fallen world glutted with ideas—some true, some false—in a way that doesn’t turn into a nomadic, frustrating wander.
Challenges for the Church
In recent history, though, many Christians have failed to see Scripture as the catalyst it should be for profound intellectual energy and curiosity—and that’s a scandal.
Christians should remember, as R. C. Sproul pointed out, sola scriptura does not mean the Bible is the only authority for the Christian, but that it’s the only infallible authority. In our intellectual wrestling we should certainly start with Scripture, but we need not stop there. The Bible’s infallibility frees us to learn from, and critically evaluate, mankind’s fallible creations. For this reason, biblically literate Christian communities should be the most intellectually fertile communities on earth. That this thought sounds audacious demonstrates how far we’ve strayed from the intellectual richness of Christian history.
Still, our cultural moment presents the church with an opportunity. Most university campuses are now homogenous monoliths of speech codes and groupthink. Far from fruitful spaces of idea exchange, our social-media “commons” have become frightful fields of landmines where one contrarian step—as Richard Dawkins found out—can trigger a reputational bomb. What if churches and Christian institutions became the most exciting, grace-filled spaces of intellectual vibrancy?