What is a Christian view of the intellect?

Man is created in the image of God, and is therefore a rational being by nature (Genesis 1:26–27). Among the most fundamental aspects of rationality is the capacity to apprehend abstract ideas. For example, we can understand how there can be something like "humanity" or "justice." We can also understand things like colors and can grasp our own emotions. Man can also reason discursively. That is, we can understand that if all men are mortal, and Socrates is a man, then Socrates is mortal. Having an intellect (or intellectual capacity) is simply part of what it means to be a person created in God's image.

The intellect is the faculty by which we understand language and the Bible. Further, the intellect is what allows us to properly order things. In turn, this allows us to have wisdom and grow in knowledge of God. Thus, the Christian should view the intellect as intrinsic to human nature given by God.

When Jesus talks of the Great Commandment in Matthew 22:37, He essentially tells us it is to love the Lord with all of our being. Yet a false dichotomy is often presented wherein Christians think they must choose between their "heart" and their "mind." For example, some Christians think that engaging their faith by theological or philosophical means detracts from spiritual life or such is an attempt to remove the mystery of the Divine. It has been said that a person might have "head knowledge but lack heart knowledge." On the other side, some believers think that anything not reducible to a logical syllogism should be avoided. But any tension here should be avoided at all costs.

We should understand that God created man to use his intellect. In the beginning, God gave man stewardship over creation and important work keeping the garden of Eden (Genesis 1:28; 2:15). Further, God gave a command to man, which was clearly understood (Genesis 2:17). The very fact that God and man could communicate with each other from the beginning speaks to the rational nature of mankind. And as we look at the created order, we cannot help but see the work of God (Psalm 19:1–6). The sky does not literally say "made by God," but we conclude there must be an infinitely wise Creator of such beauty and order. The apostle Paul tells us in Romans 1:18–20 that God's eternal power and divine nature are clearly perceived in the things that are made. God desires that we use our intellect to seek Him, know Him, and serve Him.

At the same time, we must acknowledge that God Himself, and many elements of the Christian faith, are beyond the reach of the intellect alone. Without God's revelation in the Bible, we would never know about sin, salvation, heaven, hell, or things like God's triune nature or the incarnation of Christ. We must humble ourselves before God, acknowledging our sinfulness and finitude. When some Christians react negatively to "intellectualizing faith," they are speaking against reducing God to something captured and comprehensible by the finite human mind. God is infinite, and His ways are higher and better than our ways (Isaiah 55:8–9).

We cannot wrap our minds around God, nor should we try on pain of prideful sin and idolatry. We will never have a beginning-to-end knowledge of God. To worship God with our "heart" means that we must surrender all to Him, even when it does not make sense to us (i.e. it is not something we would conclude to do on our own). Consider the case of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22. This story is often criticized for its irrationality. Yet Abraham trusted God completely. As Hebrews 11:17–19 tells us, Abraham considered that God would bring Isaac back from the dead. This is just one example of why we are never wrong or irrational to trust God.

The Bible also tells us that God the Holy Spirit gives different gifts to believers (Romans 12:3–8; 1 Corinthians 12:11). Some Christians might be gifted by God for more intellectual pursuits, while others may be gifted in other areas. The entire body of Christ works together toward a common goal, to know Christ and to make Him known. We should embrace all the faculties that God has given us, never elevating one over the other.

Related Truth:

What does it mean that humanity is created in the image of God?

Are Christians supposed to defend the faith?

Does humanity truly have free will?

What was the effect of the fall on humanity? How did the fall affect our world?

What is the significance of the command to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength?

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