Charles Malik was a Lebanese diplomat and Eastern Orthodox Christian who, among other accomplishments, was instrumental in shaping the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In 1980, Malik was invited to speak at the opening of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. His address was called “The Two Tasks,” with the two tasks being to save the soul and to save the mind. His words are as incisive for us today as they were more than three decades ago:
The greatest danger besetting American Evangelical Christianity is the danger of anti-intellectualism. The mind as to its greatest and deepest reaches is not cared for enough. This cannot take place apart from profound immersion for a period of years in the history of thought and the spirit. People are in a hurry to get out of the university and start earning money or serving the church or preaching the Gospel. They have no idea of the infinite value of spending years of leisure in conversing with the greatest minds and souls of the past, and thereby ripening and sharpening and enlarging their powers of thinking. The result is that the arena of creative thinking is abdicated and vacated to the enemy. Who among the evangelicals can stand up to the great secular or naturalistic or atheistic scholars on their own terms of scholarship and research? Who among the evangelical scholars is quoted as a normative source by the greatest secular authorities on history or philosophy or psychology or sociology or politics? Does your mode of thinking have the slightest chance of becoming the dominant mode of thinking in the great universities of Europe and America which stamp your entire civilization with their own spirit and ideas?
It will take a different spirit altogether to overcome this great danger of anti-intellectualism. . . . Even if you start now on a crash program in this and other domains, it will be a century at least before you catch up with the Harvards and Tuebingens and the Sorbonnes, and think of where these universities will be then! For the sake of greater effectiveness in witnessing to Jesus Christ Himself, as well as for their own sakes, the Evangelicals cannot afford to keep on living on the periphery of responsible intellectual existence.
This excerpt comes from Charles Malik, The Two Tasks (Westchester, IL: Cornerstone, 1980), 29-34. It also appears in Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, which is where I read it. The video of Malik’s address at Wheaton in 1980 is also available here (thanks to John Mulholland for pointing me to it).
[Photo credit: Longroom in the Old Library of Trinity College, Ireland via lonelyplanet.com]