Not only is legalism a problem for evangelicals, but so is what Robert Webber calls “intellectual spirituality” (84-87 in The Divine Embrace). How does this manifest itself?
Bob tells his own storied adventure into intellectual spirituality as a seminary student who became enthralled with Calvin. “I wanted,” he says, “to know God.” He mastered Calvin and invited those who disagreed with him to debate him. He defended Calvin’s burning of Servetus. “I thought my advanced knowledge made me more spiritual than those who did not ‘know’ the full system of truth” (84).
Origins: spirituality as knowledge is rooted for most today in the Enlightenment. Evangelicals at times reveal a variant on Descartes: “I think about the knowledge of God, therefore I know God.” Study of the Bible leading to mastery of the Bible became spirituality.
The challenge of liberalism encountered this intellectual spirituality. Its intellectual pursuits led to an incredulity in the texts and to a gospel reduced to love; evangelicalism’s led to a “I can prove it all” spirituality. Webber talks about how derisive he was toward liberals and Catholics and the Orthodox.
The point: knowledge is not spirituality. Knowledge is important.
Intellectual spirituality is rooted in my story not God’s story. There is a difference between knowing about God and knowing God. The former is not the latter; the latter always involves the former. Knowing God involves contemplating the mysteries of God’s grace.
Next Monday, pp. 87ff on experiential spirituality.