... Paul doesn’t seem to make much headway at Athens. Some have used this fact to try to argue against education. The gospel, so the scenario goes, doesn’t play very well around the “educated.” Some pit education against a deep faith. “Don’t go to seminary or you’ll lose your faith.” “Don’t go to a secular university or a Christian liberal arts college—you’ll lose your faith.”
There is something deeply troubling about this kind of argument. Is true Christian faith really this vulnerable to thinking? Wouldn’t the most natural implication of that line of argument be that Christianity isn’t true, and that you have to be ignorant to have faith? Surely Christianity is in trouble if learning inevitably makes you lose faith!
There are probably educational institutions that are only interested in listening to new ideas, as Luke describes Athens (Acts 17:21). Perhaps they are more interested in unraveling your ideas than in building up an understanding of the world that works and is helpful. We can hope most Christian universities are places where the exploration of truth is done in the context of faith—faith seeking understanding. Hopefully, ideas are built up and not only subjected to scrutiny.
At the same time, the law of averages suggests that all of us inevitably grow up believing in a mixture of true and false things. At least some of what we start out centering our faith on must surely be in need of correction, just given the law of averages. Education, when it is done well, allows us to look at what we believe with a critical eye. It should allow us better to distinguish between what is solid and what is flimsy.
True faith is not afraid of questioning, because it has a confidence that what it believes will hold up against the evidence. And if we believe that God is a God of truth, then we must believe that God generally stands on the side of the most likely conclusion. There are potential pitfalls here. Sometimes the evidence is misleading. Sometimes we do not have enough evidence to draw a firm conclusion. It is completely appropriate to suspend judgment in some circumstances, especially on the issues of most importance or when we do not feel equipped to make a judgment.
There are those who would say that truth is not a matter of evidence at all, but that we must simply stand on certain assumptions—“presuppositions”—that we will not change no matter what amount of evidence may come against them. Again, this approach makes sense to a point, but what if our assumptions are wrong? Even our assumptions about the Bible are filled with traditions we have inherited from other people. I’ve never heard of any recent theologian to whom God appeared in person to tell them which presuppositions were unassailable. Rather, these theologians have inherited these presuppositions from other theologians, including presuppositions about the Bible.
There must surely be a point, then, when the evidence seems to mount to such an extent that we must re-examine even our presuppositions. Otherwise, we run the risk of mistaking human traditions for God’s truth. We should never examine our presuppositions carelessly or rebelliously, but cautiously and collectively alongside God’s people. We work out our understanding with faith, fear, and trembling (Phil. 2:12). We start with faith and seek additional understanding. God is a God of truth, so the truth cannot unravel our faith if our faith is legitimate...