Serving the Non-Western Church: Moreland's Advice for Christian Intellectuals

The phenomenal reach of the Gospel and growth of the church in the non-Western world is easy to miss for us on the other side of the globe. With the exception of the very earliest years of church history, the redistribution of the population of the Christian church in the last fifty years has been described as greater than any period in history. Prominent church historian and professor at the University of Notre Dame, Mark Noll, has commented:

A few short decades ago, Christian believers were concentrated in the global north and west, but now a rapidly swelling majority lives in the global south and east. [If a Christian] Rip Van Winkle wiped a half-century of sleep from his eyes [after waking] and tried to locate his fellow Christian believers, he would find them in surprising places, expressing their faith in surprising ways, under surprising conditions, with surprising relationships to culture and politics, and raising surprising theological questions that would not have seemed possible when he fell asleep.

With 75% of the population of the Christian church concentrated in the developing world, the work of organizations such as The Langham Partnership is vital in ensuring that growth in these countries is sustained by Biblical-grounded truth and Christ-exalting preaching.

And for us in the Western world, according to J. P. Moreland, this rapid shift should force us to reevaluate our own intellectual endeavours. At the recent national meeting of the EPS in New Orleans, the Professor of Philosophy at Biola University has challenged Christians whose principle vocation is the life of the mind:  thinkers, scholars, writers, researchers, etc, to reconsider their work in the context of the Non-Western church. Although no audio is available, Joe Gorra has recently posted the main points from Moreland’s address on the Evangelical Philosophical Society blog:

1. The church is exploding all over the world outside Western culture, and the disciples in these countries hold to an overtly supernatural worldview.

2. The emerging young intellectual leadership in these countries look to the ETS/EPS/SCP for guidance and help.  They read our writings and follow us.  They are confused and hurt when we advance ideas that undermine the commonsense, supernatural worldview of the Bible that they embrace.  Thus, we have a responsibility to do our work in light of how it impacts our brothers and sisters in these countries.

3. Here are four suggestions for how to better fulfill that responsibility:

– Work together with others to write books, produce edited works, and so forth.  The synergy of such efforts increases our impact and it models the importance of the body of Christ and cooperation among its members.
– Produce works that range from popular to technical, but be sure we do not look down upon those who work at the popular end of the spectrum.  The key is to find one’s role and play it well.
– Beware of living for a career and for the respect of the “right” people in the profession instead of living for the Kingdom and seeing one’s work as a calling from God rather than a place to re-assure oneself that he/she is respected.
– Require a burden of proof before one adopts a view, e.g., Christian physicalism, that if read by a brothers and sisters outside Western culture, would hurt their supernatural faith, especially if the view is not one held by a significant number of people in church history and if it is “politically correct” to adopt it under pressure from the academic community.

Worth considering. To be fair to Moreland, I don’t think he is suggesting that Christian intellectuals should fail to follow the evidence, wherever it leads. Instead I read his comments as a reminder that our intellectual endeavour – as much as our whole lives – come under the Lordship of Christ and should be directed toward the glory of God and the edification of the wider church. Knowledge and obedience are frequently related in Scripture (Eph 4:13; Phil 3:8-11; 2 Peter 1:5; 2:20) and obedience is not just a consequence of knowledge but an important aspect of it. Our knowledge is always a knowledge under God’s authority  and our quest for truth is not autonomous but subject to both the Christian community and Scripture.

2 replies
  1. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    I think a major concern for Moreland is that the church in the west regains a lifestyle of supernatural living, that is to have an expectation for and demonstration of miracles.

  2. Keith
    Keith says:

    Moreland, as usual, combines eminent philosophical insight with a deep practical faith, and evangelical fervour.

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