Intellectual Freedom

Anyone familiar with our culture understands the fact that we have a massive amount of information at our fingertips—but is that access necessarily a good thing? It’s often the case that abundance leads to apathy. In a very real sense, the inundation of data has numbed our thought processes and desire for depth. For believers in a skeptical arena, though, it is more crucial than ever to portray a Jesus who is sound, well-thought-out, and competent by the way we live.

As we move into the sphere of intellectual freedom, think about how you think. There’s a rather unflattering line we all fit into at some point between one end (being shallow and silly, not valuing deep thought at all) and the other (being prideful, holding the mind up to a level of idolatry). If we were made up solely of our brains, the image and diversity would be incredible: millions of malnourished individuals, and millions more too gorged to move. I once heard a speaker claim that university professors are a strange breed “because they see their bodies merely as vehicles for their brains.”

The mental world has become extremely polarized. Hollywood has made intellect sexy, showing scores of characters who are known for their brains (think real stories like A Beautiful Mind and The Theory of Everything and fiction pieces such as Limitless and Sherlock Holmes). Contrast that with statistics that over the last 15 years, our attention spans have dropped from 12 seconds to 8 seconds (and the comforting fact that goldfish have an attention span of 9 seconds!), largely thanks to smartphones and internet access in general.* So Hollywood shows us smart people, but reality shows us intellectually stunted people because of a culture fed partially by Hollywood.

The point is, the way you think matters … not because you need a movie made about your genius or to gloat as you tell jokes no one else understands, but because we are called to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, strength, and mind. Allowing our brains to dwindle away to nothing (or to conversely equate knowledge with personal worth, pursuing it relentlessly to give ourselves value) provides a meager sacrifice on the altar of our lives. Intellectual freedom is broadening our mental horizons not so that we will selfishly gain any esteem or worth from it but so that we can better love God and love people.

If you struggle with finding your identity in knowledge, rest in the fact that your worth, value, and purpose are only truly found in the Lord. Intellectual freedom is knowing you can learn because you already are loved, not to become loved. It might seem like a small shift, but removing yourself from that scrambling pace to a point of peace is the difference between gulping for air as you drown and breathing peacefully on the beach.

Scripture has quite a bit to say about our thought lives:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.

(Romans 12:2)

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

(Philippians 4:8)

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

(2 Corinthians 10:5)

Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.

(Romans 1:28)

Here are some questions to help you process how to personalize intellectual freedom:

  1. Where are you on the mental spectrum above?
  2. What does Scripture say about a healthy view of the mind? (Hint: if you don’t know and you aren’t willing to look it up, you may be farther left on the spectrum than you wanted to admit…)
  3. How often do you intentionally and humbly stretch yourself mentally (by reading, listening, engaging, etc.)?
  4. Do you equate your personal worth with how much you know?
  5. How could you better love God with all of your mind?
  6. Where do the people you hang out with most fall on the spectrum above? How does their company affect your thought life?


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