Tuesday, July 05, 2016

So Dumb We Need a Pastor

How smart are you, and how much does being intelligent matter to your Christian life?

The other day, a discussion of IQ and what it means for human capabilities in various areas of life took a turn for the bizarre in the comment section of one of my favourite blogs. One of the wordier and more inscrutable readers said something that boiled down to this (I’m translating from intellectual-ese here):

“To be usefully involved in the Church requires a certain minimal level of reading comprehension. Important parts of the Bible are not instantly obvious to everyone. How smart do you have to be to understand it?”

I think Protestants find this an uncomfortable question because it undermines sola scriptura. They shouldn’t: pastors exist for a reason.”

It was, as you might well imagine, the last line that caught my attention.

As a Protestant, I don’t find such a question uncomfortable in the slightest. But it raises a number of points worth making about reading, understanding and following Jesus Christ:
  1. Sola Scriptura (“scripture alone”) has nothing to do with IQ, or even with the individual Christian responsibility to read and understand the word of God. It merely describes the belief (Protestant or otherwise) that the Bible is our supreme authority in all matters of faith and practice. As a small child, I accepted my father as the supreme authority in my life. I didn’t always understand everything he said, naturally, but somehow we got by.
  2. Until the mid-1500s world literacy had never exceeded 20% of the population, and was usually very much lower. Thus any idea that “reading comprehension” is a determinative metric in the Christian life needs a serious rethink.
  3. Jesus said “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”. Now of course he was talking about humility there, not reading comprehension, but it reminds me that highly intelligent people can be spectacularly stupid at times in the real world where it actually matters.
  4. The things necessary for life and godliness are had through knowledge of Jesus Christ. This was true in Abraham’s day (“God will provide himself the lamb”), when as far as we know there was nothing whatsoever to be read about the coming Messiah, and it is true in ours. People of nearly every age and intellectual capacity are able to grasp many — even most — of the truths about the Son of God incarnate. (Systematic theology is another story, but most would agree that merely being a theologian is no guarantee of godly character.)
  5. Pastors (in the biblical sense of the word) indeed exist for a reason, but I suspect the highly intelligent have need of genuine biblical pastoring just as much as the less intelligent do.
  6. Even if you qualify for Mensa, unless your area of scholarship is Greek and Hebrew, you remain every bit as dependent on the knowledge of others as the believer with an IQ of 85. We all need each other in the Body of Christ, no matter how smart we think we are.


  1. The guy who wrote this post is actually right: we can’t read the word of God for ourselves without some professional help.

    Now, if only we had a “Teacher” … someone who would not preen Himself as the king of the local church, make a bunch of doctrinal mistakes, lie and distort scripture in order to preserve his personal authority, bully the elders, run off with funds and sleep with other people’s wives, but Someone who was reliable … Someone who really knew what God wanted us to understand … if only we had Someone to lead us into all truth, and to reveal the things of God to us … Someone who would not speak from His own self, but would speak of Christ to us and illuminate our minds …

    If only.

  2. I always want to ask people who say things like this, "Do you really believe God plays favorites with the intelligentsia?" That is, are they really prepared to stand behind the view that God reveals Himself primarily or exclusively to those who have a certain level of education (which also implies a certain degree of opportunity and economic privilege) and those who don't have that, or access to teachers who have it, are doomed to be second-class Christians or just plain out of luck?

    Because that's sure not the kind of God I see in Scripture, either in the Old or the New Testament. In fact, I seem to recall that the Lord Jesus had a great deal to say about the spiritual blessings of the poor and humble, and not much time for those who prided themselves on their wealth and superior education.