The problem with keeping God in our intellectual box

God_in_boxWhen we come to Christ we become supernatural beings. Our natural was placed inside Christ’s supernatural. In fact, according to Paul, acting like a “mere human” is worldly behavior (1 Cor.3:3).

We’re primarily a spirit being that lives in a body. The Bible refers to us as having a “spirit, soul, and body” (1 Thess.5:23), not the other way around.

Our rational Western mindset comes from enlightenment thinkers who revered Greek philosophy, science and other intellectual pursuits. There’s nothing wrong with this, in and of itself. But the tragic result of this emphasis as a means to relate to God is a Christian form of humanism.

We believe in the inerrancy of Scripture but confine its practical application to the material, natural, in spite of its overwhelming supernatural implications.

Our “God box” becomes a quasi-deistic, closed-system that confines all spirituality to principles to be followed and doctrines to be studied.

So, as rational Christians we become, in effect, unbelieving believers. Our experiential reality and way of living isn’t much different than that of atheists. The only difference seems to be that we believe we’ll go to heaven when we die and they don’t.

As Bill Johnson has said, “We will always reflect the nature of the world we are most aware of.”

Charismatics and Pentecostals are often accused of being “anti-intellectual” because they emphasize the spiritual and revelatory. But these same accusers have no problem being anti-supernatural.

They see their view being “reasonable” and “well-grounded.” The supernatural is unreasonable, not for today– it’s to be feared, or worse, demonized.

But in our denial of the gifts of the Spirit given to edify in love, to help us “grow up into Christ” until we come into the “unity of the faith” (1 Cor.12:7; 14:3-5, 26; Eph.4:7-16), we’ve become divisive, even combative, in the name of “truth,” not realizing that Truth is a Person (John 14:6). God help us.

This is operating under the fallacy that Scripture can be fully understood by interpretative methods alone; it’s relating to God hermeneutically but not intimately.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with our intellect, logic or reason. God gave us our minds in order to bring spiritual truth into the natural realm. However, the mind makes a good servant but a very poor master when it comes to the things of God.

The problem with relating to God primarily with our intellect is that we will inevitably make Him in our own image.

We’ll never know the things that we don’t know we don’t know. We will put Him in a “box” framed by the limits of our mental constructs. The very nature of theology (science or study of God) is our attempt to wrap our finite mind around an infinite God.

But as Graham Cooke has pointed out, “The last time God was put in a box, if you touched it you died!”

Another problem with this intellectual pursuit is that God is Spirit. And He gave us a spirit to be in relationship with Him. Jesus said we must worship Him in Spirit as well as truth (John 4:24).

So, without spiritual revelation, we like to say things like, “We cannot possibly understand all that God has prepared for us,” putting that off until we die and go to heaven. We quote Paul….

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Cor.2:9)

But we leave out the rest of what he said…

But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit.
For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. ” (2 Cor.2:10)

Verse 9 is an Old Covenant mindset; verse 10 is the New Covenant mindset.

Paul also tells us in 1 Cor.2:13-14, if we want to understand spiritual things, we must discern them spiritually (bold-text added)….

“These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.  But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

Furthermore, we like to quote the Old Testament–that God’s ways are higher than our ways, His thoughts are not our thoughts (Isa.55:9). That was true, but now we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor.2:16).

Paul also said that he served God with his spirit (Rom.1:9), shouldn’t we?

We are defined by Scripture as “sons of God” when we are led by the Spirit of God, not by our intellectual understanding of God (Rom.8:14). But all this talk of being “led by the Spirit” makes us “first-worlders” nervous.

We’re rational, intelligent human beings. We prefer to figure out every contingency ahead of time, having it all laid out in straight lines.

We’re more comfortable going to school and studying about Him than learning how to abide in Him.

We configure ourselves together to maintain control, so that we aren’t wrong, or never falling outside of our “normal” expectations. But, in doing so, we forfeit “the deep things” of God that only come by revelation of the Spirit.

We fear doctrinal error more than having an anemic spirit.

Our life in Christ becomes more theoretical than experiential, but we call that walking by faith. But faith, by definition, is trusting in a world you cannot see.

Beloved, can we just be resolved that there’s nothing safe or “balanced” about our life in Christ? As Mr. Beaver said of Aslan in C.S. Lewis’s “Chronicles of Narnia,” He’s not safe…but He is good.

And I’m not suggesting that spiritual revelation supersedes, adds to, or contradicts what’s already written in Scripture. But, while God’s Word never changes, our understanding must change, and mature…until we think like Jesus (Eph.4:15).  And I don’t believe we’re there yet.

To quote Bill Johnson again, “God never violates His word. But He’s quite comfortable violating our understanding of His word.”




About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 41 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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17 Responses to The problem with keeping God in our intellectual box

  1. It’s like the old East Indian story of the six blind men and the elephant. We are forever stuck in our own perception of the elephant as a trunk or a tail or an ear. Opening our worldview to the entire elephant would be uncomfortable, would drastically change our thinking, and would certainly violate our understanding of who He is. But oh, how it would free us! 🙂

    • Mel Wild says:

      Ha ha…good analogy. Jesus did a great Jack Nicholson in John 16:12 when He said, “You can’t handle the truth.” But He gave us the Holy Spirit so we could. It would be good to avail ourselves to Him so we can grow out of our “elephant’s ear” theology. 🙂

  2. Kathleen says:

    Mel, I’m in the middle of classes and I feel a bit like “butter spread across too much bread” to quote a favorite Hobbit. Finally having time to read through a blog or two and this was wonderful. Some very specific points jumped out at me: “the mind makes a good servant but a very poor master when it comes to the things of God.” (I need to write this across my computer frame and school notebooks) “We fear doctrinal error more than having an anemic spirit.” That I need to write on my Bible and journal. Really good stuff! Thank you thank you! It was great to sit and read something for my own pleasure and for His glory.

  3. Yes! Learning to abide in him is the most important lesson. Thanks for all your effort in putting these thoughts together. Our churches do suffer from the anaemic spirit of many!

    • Mel Wild says:

      Yes, abiding is a challenge for all of us because it’s not a high value in our culture, even though it was the one thing that Jesus actually did in His Father and told us to do in Him. While it is counter-intuitive to us, if we will pursue “staying put” in Him, the life we’re actually looking for is found there. And this is also where the Spirit empowers us and fills us for ministry. Thanks for your comments. Much appreciated. Blessings.

      • Kathleen says:

        This is the strangeness that I am mulling around in my head- it seems the more we “cling” to Him, the better equipped we are to be sent out by Him. Clinging is not a bad thing if we are clinging to His Lordship. Yet we tend to cling to the “put in a box” type of god….. yes still pondering all the treasures you laid out for us!

        • Mel Wild says:

          Good ponderings! What we cling to is His love and affections. Jesus said we’re no longer in a master-servant relationship but a friendship (John 15:15-17). Yes, He is our Lord, but He’s an affectionate, intimate Lord who desires relationship. And He’s brought us to our Papa, who loves us so much that when He sees us coming, runs toward us, wraps His arms around us and throws a party for us! This “place” is where we find His heart toward us and toward others. This is the place of rest waiting for us. And there’s no “box” there because His love is unfathomable–deeper, wider, higher and beyond all we can ask or think. So, we give up our trying to figure Him out and learn to enjoy the relationship. And what an adventure that is! Blessings.

  4. Cindy Powell says:

    “We fear doctrinal error more than having an anemic spirit.” Sad and scary but true so often. I hope and pray that is beginning to shift. Love the Graham Cooke quote too! Hadn’t heard that one 🙂 No, we’re definitely not “there” yet, but rejoicing in the fact that more and more people ARE beginning the journey.Your blog helps lots of them 🙂 Blessings!

  5. Mel Wild says:

    Yes, we haven’t “arrived” but at least we know we left!

    Whenever God opens our understanding to new ways of relating to Him, it almost feels like starting over. But this “growing up” must continue until we believe like Jesus. And I agree, many are waking up to new realities and new paradigms about our relationship with God and it’s exciting and so life giving. We’re finally learning what Jesus meant when He said, “follow Me.” 🙂

    Thanks for your encouraging comments. Much appreciated. Blessings.

  6. TK says:

    This is very well said. I think it is part of the reason why I left the religion I grew up in and am now searching. That doesn’t mean I don’t have a relationship with God. I just don’t have a place that fits with me.

    I found, in my old religion, that it had become all about going through the motions. I had a sort of wake up moment where I realized that, in my obsession with all the rituals and traditions, I had lost that spiritual connection. So now, I am looking for a place that fosters that. Still, I find my own reflection and participation in my personal relationship with God to be far more beneficial than going through the motions ever was. They serve no purpose if there isn’t spirit behind them.

    • Mel Wild says:

      That’s good, TK. You’re in a good place then. I think many are waking up to the real deal with a relationship with God. That’s why I wrote the post, “Losing my religion.” Keep “staying put” in Jesus, grow in your ability to receive and give His love, and you will eventually find that gathering place of like-minded believers who will help you grow even more, in the context of authentic community. I think this is what the Spirit in doing in the Church today, if we are open to it. And it’s better than we could ever imagine if we will just trust Him in it. Blessings.

  7. Pingback: The problem with being taught what to think (instead of how to think) | In My Father's House

  8. Pingback: How do we know truth? | In My Father's House

  9. FeetofPeace says:

    Reblogged this on Feet of Peace and commented:
    Ever wondered “who is this Holy Spirit?”

  10. stephen rice says:

    Spot on with what i am learning right now, this was great to see im not coo coo but as i was lost i got found. And see more and more in parts of a crazy God that carrys us ad we carry him i see it as God being the carryer of basketcases he carrys us to new places when our mind is out the way. Then he feeds us out of our basketcaseness of His glory. Just a thought im losin it and findin more. His essence. Has Touched Me.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks, Stephen. Your comments are much appreciated. Yes, He carries us way beyond anything we could ask or think. It’s limitless and liberating! Blessings.

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