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Johnson: Evangelicals focus on the heart at expense of the mind

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Twentieth-century evangelicals have so focused on bare emotion and “winning the heart” that they are no longer contending intellectually for the faith in the public square, Phillip E. Johnson said during a recent conference at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Johnson, professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley and author of several books on Darwinism and evolutionary naturalism — including “Darwin on Trial,” “Reason in the Balance” and his latest, “The Wedge of Truth” — served as guest lecturer for the “Equipping for Ministry in Today’s University Culture” conference at the Louisville, Ky., campus.

In an interview between lectures, Johnson said he has grown increasingly frustrated at evangelicals’ lack of boldness in defending their faith.

“I am frustrated by many evangelicals who are indifferent to ideas, who don’t understand that ideas have consequences,” he said. “[Many] think they can preserve their faith by walling off a Christian subculture and somehow keep that independent of the mainstream culture — the public schools, the television networks and so on.

“Of course, that mainstream culture infiltrates that Christian subculture, and the Christians have no defenses when it does. Their immune systems are inactive because they have not tested themselves against the infections from the mainstream culture. What has happened in the 20th century is that Christians have largely abandoned the whole world of ideas and the academic world and the public stage in general to agnostics, to the evolutionary naturalists.”

Johnson teaches law at the University of California, Berkeley and was a law clerk for Chief Justice Earl Warren in the U.S. Supreme Court. Currently, he travels the world teaching seminars on Christian apologetics, critiquing evolutionary naturalism and postmodernism.

Johnson addresses audiences in both secular and religious schools as well as churches. He hopes to aid evangelicals in proclaiming the truths of their faith with confidence and avoid being intimidated by supposed “scientific evidence” that debunks the Christian doctrine of creation.

“[Christians] are pretty good with feelings and the heart, but not so good with ideas and facts and knowledge,” he said. “There is no reason why Christians have to be dumb. They can be well-educated, they can be very smart and they actually have a better starting place than the other side does.

“What I want to do is to help them take on that job, to realize that they can do it very well if they are willing to discipline themselves to learn what they need to learn. The goal of the conference is to arm and equip people like that and to encourage them so they can create out of the student generation a whole new army of young people who can make an effective Christian witness and who know what a good argument is.”

Johnson believes many Christians have bought into the false belief that religion and science are polar opposites; a great deal of them unwittingly hold to secular ideas that are diametrically opposed to orthodox Christianity.

“I think many of them are often completely confused about this, so they believe the Bible when they are with Bible people and they believe science when they are with science people,” he said.

Johnson sees the doctrine of creation as the natural starting point for Christian witness. He said “creationism” is a derisive term which evolutionary naturalists use in attempts at demeaning evangelicals.

“The secular world tells us that it’s a simple fact that the creating was done by nature and that’s why the whole concept of sin, for example, has dropped out of their vocabulary; it doesn’t make any sense when you were created by natural forces that don’t care what you do.”

Johnson said it is critical for Christians to point out irrational beliefs within Darwinian evolution, such as the concept that man simply evolved from nothing. This, he said, fails to connect with reality. Johnson added that beginning with a sovereign Creator who designs the universe according to his well-ordered plan is much more consistent with the world around us.

Evangelicals need not be intimidated by those who rail against the faith by saying science has given mankind all the answers to ultimate reality, Johnson said. He urged Christians to study their own doctrines and be able to speak for what they believe and why they believe it.

“The real data for science, the real knowledge that comes from science points to the need for a creator,” he said. “So we have to understand some science, but we have to understand our own doctrines as well.”

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  • Jeff Robinson

    Jeff Robinson is director of news and information at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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