Right before I moved to Chico I started reading a book by Os Guinness called Fit Bodies, Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don’t Think and What to Do About It and so far I like it a lot. In the first section of the book, he goes over eight “isms” that he feels have contributed to the problem that led him to write this book. The first “ism”, the only one that isn’t actually an “ism” at all, is polarization. Guinness writes,

Ironically, evangelicals are often much more aware of other forms of polarization- “conservative” versus “progressive” in the culture wars, for instance, or “conservative” versus “liberal” or “modernist” in theological matters. But we are less conscious of this automatic polarizing tendency in our own hearts and minds and of its severe consequences. In 1853 an observer noted the widespread impression “that an intellectual clergyman is deficient in piety, and that an eminently pious minister is deficient in intellect.”

I read this and immediately I can think of people who I feel seem to balance the characteristics of intellectualism and piety, but I think that Guinness has a point that today the trend seems to be that people and, in my opinion, churches seem to choose to emphasize one side over the other. Do you think this is an accurate assessment of where the church is at today? If you had to put your church somewhere on the spectrum where would you put it?

6 Responses to Polarization.

  1. bryan2 says:

    this was pretty convicting.

    • If every member of your church were just like you, what kind of church would your church be?
    • If every member prayed like you pray, what kind of prayer life would your church know?
    • If every member served as you serve, what kind of ministry would your church have to hurting and
    broken people?
    • If every member worshipped as you worship, what would the dynamic of your church’s worship look
    like and feel like?
    • If every member witnessed, invited, and encouraged others to come just like you witness, invite,
    and encourage others to come, what would the outreach of your church look like?
    • Lastly, if every church member gave as you give, would your church have buildings to worship and
    serve our God?

  2. Casey L says:

    this reminds me of something i read yesterday. phil johnson shows (rightly, i believe) that orthodoxy (right belief) is inevitably related to orthopraxy (right living).

    check it out at:

    while i think that the polarization you mention seems to exist, in reality i’m not sure that it is truly so pronounced. piety coexisting with deficient belief is going to be false piety, while strong intellectual belief without putting faith into action is not true faith anyway. someone may be able to articulate the doctrines of the faith, but without life change it means that they don’t really believe them (james 2).

    this is where johnson’s brief article there is helpful. he distinguishes “right teaching” from “right belief.” the first will not always lead to true piety, while the second always and inevitably will.

    so i guess i’m saying that if the polarization exists, then maybe it’s more of an illusion than a reality? maybe the humble country minister has a greater knowledge than we give him credit for, and maybe the pompous university religion professor isn’t really as brilliant as he seems (proverbs 1:7).

  3. Casey L says:

    just skimmed over the book’s contents at amazon…interesting that he would include premillennialism as one of his “isms.” while it has led to some dumbing down (i.e. the left behind books being how people develop their eschatology), it seems out of place alongside the others. yes, there is a lot of stupid premillennialism, but it’s not like there’s not solid premillennial scholarship too (dating back to the earliest days of the church). i’m not sure i’d include wayne grudem, john macarthur, d.a. carson, or john piper (all premillennial in some form) among the “fit bodies, fat minds” crowd of today’s evangelicalism.

    that inclusion seems a little biased to me…it’d be interesting to see how he includes that in a reasonable manner.

    it’s funny too that he seems to be comparing modern evangelicalism to puritanism, which i understand often proposed postmillennialism as their eschatology (at least among american puritans), which to me seems to be the least intellectual of the major eschatological positions.

    okay, i’ll stop now since i haven’t read the book.

  4. bryangumpy says:

    I’m in a full agreement with you. To be fair though, Guinness does spend time talking about how most of these things were good things that got skewed. I haven’t gotten to the premillenialism chapter yet so I can’t say for certain that he’ll say that on that subject, but I know that it seems to be the trend thus far.

    I guess the way that I indentified with the idea of polarization is that there have been seasons in my life where I’ll be exhibiting one extreme over the other. I remember there were a few months where all I would do was read, read, read and I loved it. I’ve never learned so much so fast. Towards the end of it, I ended up being the worship guy on a high school trip to Mexico and remember feeling that I needed the reminder of what all my Bible study had been for, to glorify God and to help others do the same. On the other hand there have been times when it’s been the opposite. I’ll be plugging in and serving all week long and yet neglecting to study.

    Like I said, I’m in full agreement that faith without works is dead and that the “humble country minister” probably has done more book learnin’ than we give him credit for. However, it is a pitfall that, through God’s grace, I have had to get under control.

  5. Casey L says:

    i actually identified with the polarization statement too, in the same way you did. i’ve had times where i felt like i was doing so great because i thought i was learning a ton, only to turn around and realize that i wasn’t doing quite so well at regular obedience. so in times like that i’ve just realized that my “head learning” wasn’t real learning at all until it became “heart learning.”

    i think guinness’ point was a good one, though. a lot of people in the church do think that growing in wisdom and knowledge is an entirely separate matter from growing in sanctification, and that’s a dangerous mindset. at first i did disagree with the 1853 quote he offered, but i read it again and he wasn’t saying that it was true, just that it represents the general mindset. and i’d agree with that.

  6. […] agree with what Casey said about how piety coexisting with deficient belief is going to be false piety, while strong […]

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