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Gene Edward Veith, Jr.

Having explored some of the intellectual and moral disagreements between Christianity and modern thought, we can turn from the negative to the positive. The Christian life and the Biblical world view can not only withstand critical inquiry, but they can inspire critical inquiry. Christianity is a positive advantage to the person who seeks knowledge and truth. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego proved themselves “ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters” at the University of Babylon (Daniel 1:21). Not only were Daniel and the others allowed to study at Babylon, but they excelled. Modern Christians may not be able to attain the same ratio over their unbelieving colleagues, but the principle seems to be that those faithful to the God of the Bible have an actual advantage in the pursuit of knowledge.

The intellectual resources of Christianity are vast and rich. Christians, though, must learn to draw on those resources; if they do not, it will be difficult for them to stand against the onslaughts of the unbelieving mind.

One of the Christian’s most precious, and often most underused, resources is the Church. The Bible teaches that a group of Christians becomes greater than the sum of its parts. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). When even two Christians come together in the name of Christ, Jesus Himself is there. In fact, groups of ordinary Christians make up no less than the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).

It is difficult to be a Christian by oneself, especially in a hostile environment. Christ ordained that the Christian is to be nourished and supported by other Christians. The local church, fellowship with other believers in one’s profession or field, the solidarity with the Christian Church through the ages, with its store of wisdom and with its great intellectual tradition—all of these manifestations of the universal Church can be a bulwark against the intellectual and moral temptations of the modern age. The Church can also offer support, direction, inspiration, and a rich, complex source of ideas that can provide a context and a foundation for one’s own studies. Christian students and thinkers need to take advantage of the spiritual and intellectual interplay that can be found in what the creeds refer to as “the communion of the saints.”


Being a part of the community that is the Church is extremely helpful in battling what may be the most subtle and damaging temptation of them all in academic, professional, or intellectual circles: worldliness. The desire to be accepted by colleagues, to be fashionable, to fit in with the dominant social or intellectual circle, is very powerful. Such desires may be innocent at first, but after a while they can make the Christian faith seem embarrassing, then an obstacle to full acceptance by the group. The desire to be intellectually respectable can lead to hybrid breeds of secularism and Christianity as seen in modern liberal theology or to sheer unbelief. The desire to be socially respectable can erode the sternness of Biblical morality into a free and easy tolerance that can come to excuse, both in others and in oneself, the rankest immorality.

Such peer pressure (which is just as common in adults as in young people, by the way) is what the Bible means when it warns against the temptations of “the world.” The Church can offer a counterweight, a good peer pressure, so to speak, that can keep a person from sliding away into conformity with an unbelieving world. Such conformity not only can be caustic to faith, but it is also stifling intellectually.

One form of peer pressure common in academia and other professions is that of social class. Peter Berger, the great contemporary sociologist, argues that there is a new elite in American society, a social class that is based not upon wealth, as in the old social classes, but upon information and the manipulation of symbols and knowledge. This new elite social class includes educators, journalists, artists, members of the helping professions, social scientists, and government workers. This new class tends to stress liberal social, intellectual, and moral values. It is thus in conflict with the old business class, with its more conservative, business-oriented values. Because academics and intellectuals find themselves in this particular social class, they will experience pressure to conform to its beliefs and symbols.

Berger points out, for example, how difficult it is for a faculty member in a typical modern university to admit having conservative values. Friends, colleagues, and the academic institutions themselves exert pressure upon the faculty member to exhibit the class values of moral libertarianism and progressive social theories. Such acculturation is casual and informal, but the small talk in the faculty lounge, the jokes, and the social atmosphere tend to enforce an ideology. Certain opinions and attitudes become symbols of right thinking, of solidarity with the world of intellectuals and scholars. As Berger points out,

The symbols of class culture are important. They allow people to “sniff out” who belongs and who does not; they provide easily applied criteria of “soundness.” Thus a young instructor applying for a job in an elite university is well advised to hide “unsound” views such as political allegiance to the right wing of the Republican party (perhaps even to the left wing), opposition to abortion or to other causes of the feminist movement, or a strong commitment to the virtues of the corporation.1

Believing in abortion has thus become a shibboleth for the new elite. The young instructor may never get a job at that elite university if such “unsound” views are detected. If the instructor does get the job, in a few years of acculturation in the faculty club, those “conservative” views may very well give way to ones that are more socially acceptable. The same pattern is no doubt behind the political phenomenon of conservative officeholders becoming more liberal to the extent that they become involved in the social life of Washington, D.C.

This class struggle, as Berger describes it, is also manifested in the contemporary Church. The mainline theological establishment