“Sacred Pathways: The Intellectual”

October 26, 2014


Robin McGonigle

University Congregational Church

Oct. 26, 2014


“Sacred Pathways: The Intellectual”

Prov. 1: 5-7


Most of us, at one time of another, have considered what we would grab if our house was on fire and all the living beings were safe.  I know Eric would go back for the photo albums.  Adam would likely grab some of his Dallas Cowboy memorabilia or his collection of political pictures and autographs.  Ian would undoubtedly give his life for “Hoopy”, his favorite basketball.  After I rescued the cats, I’d probably be racing around gathering up books.

  • books on the shelves
  • books by the bedside
  • books in my dresser drawers
  • books in the office
  • books by the sofa
  • novels
  • devotional booklets
  • mysteries
  • historical romance books
  • and all sorts of theological and spiritual books


I’ve had a love affair with books dating back before I could even read!  It’s true – one of the games my mom and grandparents played with me as a child was reading a book and changing words or skipping words as they read.  I had memorized the texts of all my books and I knew immediately when they weren’t doing it right.


The items you intend to go back for during a fire say something about what you value in life.  And, those items may even be a clue to your preferred way to relate to God.


If you tried to rescue an item of symbolic value – a piece of jewelry given to you by someone – you might be a traditionalist.


If you went into the fire to grab your spiritual journal in which you wrote intimate thoughts about God – you might be a contemplative.

A caregiver might run into a burning building to rescue something precious to another person.


And if you went back with me to gather up precious books, you very likely have an intellectual pathway to God.

This is the final spiritual pathway in our series.  We have looked at:

  • The Naturalist, who finds God in the out-of-doors
  • The Sensate, who loves God through the senses
  • The Traditionalist, who experiences God through ritual
  • The Ascetic, who enjoys God in solitude and simplicity
  • The Activist, who sees faith in God as a call for justice
  • The Caregiver, who loves God by loving others
  • The Enthusiast, who celebrates a God of mystery
  • The Contemplative, who loves God through adoration,
  • And today, we are learning about the Intellectual, who loves God with the mind.


Now, sometimes intellectuals have a way of inferring that they are of superior ability because of their intellect, but remember that each sacred pathway is equally acceptable and each has potential drawbacks.  Intellectuals are no better at relating to God than any other temperament, and they are not necessarily “smarter” than other people.


Intellectuals might be skeptics or committed believers, but in either case they are likely to be studying (and in some cases, arguing either for or against).  These Christians live in a world of concepts.


Some intellectuals, depending on their personality type, may be shy or withdrawn and may avoid discussions about religious topics.  These folks may gain more from reading theological textbooks and commentaries than they will from listening to prayer.  “Faith” is something to be understood as much as experienced.  They may feel closest to God when they first understand something new about God.


Gary Thomas, the author upon whom I am drawing for this sermon series, tells about riding in the car with several people who were speakers at a denominational gathering.  “No, no, no,” one pastor said, shaking his head.  “I’m sure it was located in the northwest corner.”   “I’m sorry,” the other pastor said, “but I’ve always held to the southeastern view.”  The first pastor looked at a map one more time.  “No, couldn’t be,” he said, pointing to a location near the southeast corner.  “It has to be here,” and his finger moved up the map.


Thomas says that as he looked around at other cars, he could imagine the discussions inside – about the latest baseball scores, or a news item, or perhaps Hollywood gossip.  But he was relatively certain that not one carload in a million could possibly guess what was being discussed by the people in his car – they were having a heart-stopping examination of the location of the sheepgate in ancient Jerusalem!


Many of the books in the New Testament make especially strong arguments for right thinking as well as right living.  The intellectual as a spiritual temperament reminds us of the high calling of loving God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Our culture doesn’t always think of the mind when it thinks of love and devotion.  Drugstores don’t sell chocolate brains on Valentine’s Day, but the Bible is emphatic that our mind is one of the key elements that we can use to love God.


Our scripture today is from the Old Testament, and it implores the reader to believe that wisdom, knowledge and other pursuits of the mind are important aspects of what it means to love God.


Let the wise also hear and gain in learning,
    and the discerning acquire skill,
to understand a proverb and a figure,
    the words of the wise and their riddles.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
    fools despise wisdom and instruction.                                 Prov. 1:5-7


Solomon is known throughout history as a wise man.  And the way he loved God was to use his intellect to the glory of God.  Proverbs, which is attributed to Solomon, tells us to “cry out for discernment” and search for understanding “as for hidden treasures.”  We are told that “wisdom is the principal thing.”  In other words, right thinking – conforming our thoughts to the thoughts of God – enables right living.


Stop and think about how radical this is.  Right thinking enables right living.  This makes sense, and yet, it is counter cultural.  Our culture tells us to seek notoriety and financial security, ease and plenty.  But scripture tells us our first search, our primary calling, is to get wisdom and understanding.


Like any other spiritual path, the Intellectual path has a few potential drawbacks.  The first is the temptation to love debating theology.  I actually fell into this trap last week.  There were 4 of us discussing the issue of salvation.  2 of the 4 were my extended family members.  I disagreed with their understanding and found myself pretty angry that they hadn’t read anything or had any exposure to the concept of “universal salvation”.  I wanted to completely disregard their beliefs because I felt that they had not educated themselves appropriately.  In hindsight, I realize it was arrogant of me to discount their deeply held beliefs.


Another possible temptation for the intellectual is knowing rather than doing.  Knowing what is right is not a substitute for doing what is right.  In fact, the contrary is true – knowing what is right gives us a greater obligation to bring our life into conformity with our words.


The third temptation is to have an abundance of words.  Any of us who talk know that there are comments we wish we could take back or at least express in a better, more precise way.  We get tired when we teach too much, and our words and thinking can become sloppy.  That is why I write out my sermons, by the way – because it reduces the number of times I have to worry about saying something inappropriate or not thought out.  Reduces, I said, not eliminates!


Today’s intellectuals serve God by explaining what the Christian faith is and what the Christian faith means.  Both are essential.  If you are looking to expand your spiritual life, I would urge you to take some time with the Bible, or another book, to have a conversation with someone about a spiritual issue, or lead a small group on the topic of spirituality.  Expand your horizons and learn to relate to God in new and wonderful ways.