Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Water Down Intellect

Written by: on January 31, 2015

Noll in his book, Jesus Christ And The Life Of The Mind, states that, “For Christian believers who pursue an academic vocation, Paul’s letter to the Colossians should be a central text, especially for how it expands upon the Christ-centered creation of the world.” [1] From this Scripture, we can model Paul’s example as one who continuously seeks knowledge. Throughout the Bible, we find that we are called to be continuous learners about God and His will for our lives. The Bible is not just a handbook for life; rather it is God’s way of revealing Himself to mankind.

Early in his life, Jesus modeled the importance of learning about God through the Scriptures. He used the Old Testament Scriptures as he taught. The apostles also illustrated this. In fact, Paul was educated in Jerusalem. His education included Greek culture, Hebrew Scriptures and traditions. He attended the rabbinical school of Gamaliel.

Noll focuses on Christology as the foundation to gaining Biblical knowledge. “Christology (from Greek Χριστός Khristós and -λογία, -logia) is the field of study within Christian theology, which is primarily concerned with the nature and person of Jesus as recorded in the canonical Gospels and the epistles of the New Testament.”[2]  The first time that Jesus was shown as a learner in the Bible was as a young teenager, as He sat in the temple listening and talking to the Priests. Luke 2:46-47 (NIV) says, “After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.”

In 2 Timothy 2:15, we find that we are to “study and show thyself approved”. Early church fathers were able to learn more about Jesus by studying and analyzing Scripture. Early church documents, such as the Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed helped to define Christ’s deity and human nature. “The creeds concentrate with fearsome energy on the themes that define the heart of Christianity. They remain important for Christian scholarship because they have stood the test of time as faithful summaries of biblical revelation concerning the person and work of Christ.”[3]

Today, many American churches have watered down the biblical intellect of the people. Pastors no longer teach on nor use theological terms in their sermons. I do not remember the last time that I’ve heard intellectual rigor from the pulpit. The sad truth of our time is that the church and it’s leaders no longer see the need for the common lay people to have meaningful biblical training. We have bought into the world’s lie that we must always write or speak to a fifth grade level at all times. The truth is that most individuals will strive to wherever you set the bar. If we raise our expectations, then people will rise to meet the challenge. In doing so, they will experience the transformation that comes from a deeper understanding of Scripture.


[1] Mark A. Noll: Jesus Christ And The Life of the Mind (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2011), Kindle. Loc. 345

[2] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/christology

[3] Ibid Loc. 70

About the Author

Richard Volzke

8 responses to “Water Down Intellect”

  1. John Woodward says:

    Richard, I appreciate your insights into the learning that Jesus experienced throughout His life. His knowledge of Hebrew Scripture alone should give us pause to value learning. I couldn’t help but think of my pastor, who has grown our church from 200 to 1500 in about 20 years. It is sadly not because of his intellectual rigor and spiritual wisdom. It has been for his ability to make Christianity acceptable and comfortable and welcoming to anyone. It is sad to think that we have to reduce Christianity to grow a church (at least that is what so many think). But, this seems to grow a church of a certain kind of people…people who honestly aren’t going to ask tough questions, struggle with ultimate truths, and challenges to that truth. Therefore, they will ultimately not be people of influence and involvement in places that will really change society. I appreciate Noll’s work for raising the bar and lifting people up to the mind-stretching and awesome reality of God rather than lower our message to make people feel good. Oh, to hear sermon of depth and insight again! Thanks Richard for your wonderful insights.

  2. Richard,

    As I read your post, I was struck by the passage when Jesus was in the temple listening and asking questions of the religious leaders. “Everybody was amazed by his knowledge and answers.” I was amazed by the fact that he dared to ask the religious leaders questions. This made me think more deeply about the amazing interactions that went on in that temple. I would have loved to have been there. I wonder what kinds of questions Jesus asked? One can assume that they were thoughtful questions, pointed questions, heart questions.

    I find it strange that in many evangelical circles, asking questions is frowned upon. I recently talked with a friend of mine who told me that when he was in a college group at church, he was asked to leave the group because of his questions and doubts. You see, he was a leader in the group, and the pastor in charge of the group asked my friend to leave because “You can’t be a Christian leader and have questions and doubts about your faith.” My friend was amazed and hurt. Ironically, my friend is now a Bible teacher and is finishing his Ph.D next month. The youth pastor went on to start his own church but ended up splitting and ending in scandal. Interesting story.

    I think Jesus always asked good questions, as should we. There is never sin in good questions. The longer I am a Christian, the more questions I have. True faith is not about not having questions; rather, it is about believing even if one does not have all the answers. I am grateful that God allows me to ask as many questions as I like. Oh that more Christians would not be afraid to ask questions.

    • Richard Volzke says:

      The sad truth is that individuals are not allowed or encouraged to question what denominations believe or teach. If people question what they are being taught, they are labeled as troublemakers and asked to either be quiet or leave. I have experienced this type of “sin” (and lets be truthful, it is sin) first hand. While serving as an asst. pastor, I brought up an issue and was told by leadership to ‘toe the line’ and be quiet or leave. It is sad that many church leaders have the idea that it is wrong for the people to question what they are teaching or preaching. As for me, I want people to research and question what I preach or teach. Despite my years of training, I could be wrong and not know it. We must be open to feedback.

  3. Telile Fikru Badecha says:

    Richard, Thank you for your insightful blog. I certainly agree with you that preaching with intellectual rigor is a good thing. Also, the use of theological terms in sermons is fine, especially those found in the Bible. But, we have to make sure that we define them clearly so that the listeners can better understand our message. Blessings!

    • Richard Volzke says:

      Agreed. We, as leaders, must always define and explain terms that we know will not be understood by the people. We are to be shepherds; therefore we must teach and train others in what they need to know in order to move forward in their faith. We must set an example of being a continuous learner, and model curiosity and discovery to others.

  4. Liz Linssen says:

    Hi Richard
    I appreciate the scripture you quoted from 2 Timothy 2: 15 which encourages us to study and show ourselves approved. I also found your closing lines interesting: “The truth is that most individuals will strive to wherever you set the bar. If we raise our expectations, then people will rise to meet the challenge.” You make a good point. We have the responsibility to set the bar higher; to encourage others to learn and grow. After all, surely that’s what being a disciple is all about: learning to become like our master. Thank you Richard.

    • Richard Volzke says:

      I must attribute the ‘setting the bar higher’ concept to my wife. Dawnel is always telling me that I need to set the bar high for our children, because they are capable of doing that level of work. I will caution you that we must know the audience we are working with to understand how far we can push them.

  5. Michael Badriaki says:

    Richard, thank you for sharing your insights on the need for church leadership to embrace intellectual rigor. Indeed it is different for leaders to set the bar higher for there congregations most especially if their personal bars are low. Your post is a call for church leadership to practice a higher standard and approach of equipping the saint towards maturity. You mention that “The truth is that most individuals will strive to wherever you set the bar. If we raise our expectations, then people will rise to meet the challenge.”
    This is an important reminder and it is in line with Noll’s books.

    Thank you and have a great week!


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