‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty’ — that is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know. (John Keats)
For the Intellectual Worshipper, the truth of God contains great beauty and leads to worship. The more they study Scripture, the deeper they delve into theology, the closer they observe God’s preserving and guiding of his people throughout history, the more majestic and beautiful God becomes to them. Each new insight leads them to new wonder as a new piece God’s glory and complexity is unveiled. It is the fulfillment of the last part of what Jesus said was the greatest commandment: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37).
“The Intellectual Pathway doesn’t have anything, necessarily, to do with being smart.” That was the comment of my husband, Carlton, explaining this Worship Pathway last week to our community at The Well. This is, perhaps, the most common fallacy about this Pathway—that somehow theology is for academics and bluestockings. Carlton then quoted the famous first line of A.W. Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy: “What comes into our mind when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” We are all theologians, whether we know it or not. The questions are only how well that theology conforms our transcendent God has revealed about himself—and if it leads us to worship.
Of course, there are pitfalls that lead off this pathway. Proverbs 3:5 (another verse my husband quoted on Sunday) says, Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding… It is very easy to be diverted to dogmatic details—to think you have God all figured out, and how He fits into your system. Paul (no mean thinker himself) reminds us: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God [1 Corinthians 8:1-3]. Another possible reading of verse 3: But whoever loves truly knows. Once again—nothing to do with being smart. If this pathway leads only to a display of our own intellectual prowess or our superior system, it is no longer a Pathway to Worship, but a dead end.
This might be a good moment to note: all of the Sacred Pathways have their pitfalls. Traditionalists can end up just going through the motions, or somehow trying to placate God through ritual. Sensates, Contemplatives and Enthusiasts can emphasize their own personal experiences over a true focus on God. Ascetics and Activists can become judgmental of those less disciplined, or less concerned about justice, than they are. Whenever our worship practices, whatever they be, become in any way more centered on us than God, they have ceased to be Sacred Pathways for us. When this happens, God says to us, as he said to the Israelites of old: I hate, I despise your [religious festivals]; your [assemblies] are a stench to me [Amos 5:21]. Substitute any worship practices that have become all about you in the brackets, and you will understand how God feels about them.
A deeper study of Scripture and theology should be a springboard to more exalted worship of God. I like the metaphor used by Rob Bell in Velvet Elvis: theology, instead of being like a wall that we construct with propositions brick by brick, should be seen more like a trampoline, with each new facet we learn acting as a spring added to the mat to make it more taut and buoyant. Thus, our theology is built not as a monolith to our own understanding, but as a dynamic means to propel us higher in worship and farther in mission. (Note: I recognize Rob Bell is not well-regarded these days in evangelical circles for some of his views—but I still think this is an apt metaphor.)
The two books I have written—Rest and Risk—both came out of new understandings of God that changed my view of Him. He was still the same, but I saw him differently, and that resulted in deeper worship. In the first book, I recognized how seeing the work of a timeless God as truly finished could not only enable my own rest, but also propel my purpose as I joined that work. And in the second book, a deeper understanding of how God’s transcendence and immanence led to him being my greatest Fear and the reason to not to fear anything else. The main reason I have written both of these books is not just to help people rest better or take more risks—but to see that they can do that because of a deeper understanding of who God is.
And this leads to another generalization about Sacred Pathways: whether they are our preferred Pathways or not, there are aspects of each of them that we called to follow as worshippers of God. Not only Ascetics are called to practice self-discipline. Not just Contemplatives should practice God’s presence. Creation should be recognized as reflective of God’s glory by all, not just Naturalists. We are all called to serve one another humbly in love [Gal. 5:13], not only Caregivers. All of these Pathways to worship are not only open to us, but are urged by God’s Spirit to follow. And thus, we are all called to be students of God’s Word, and carefully conform our idea of God to more closely approximate the Self-portraits He paints there. After all, as Tozer reminds us, it is “the most important thing about us.”
And maybe, as we look at this Truth—the Truth that is also a Person—we will also find Beauty, and be moved to worship. As Carlton helped us do last Sunday, we may follow Paul down the Intellectual Pathway that led him to exclaim—after penning eleven chapters of tightly reasoned theology and the history of God’s gracious dealings with mankind—his wonder at the greatness of a God who far outstripped his understanding:
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay them?”
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)
This is Part 5 of a series on Sacred Pathways. To read the introduction to this series, click here on “Finding your Worship Pathway.” Part 1 is on The Sensate Pathway, Part 2 is on The Ascetic Pathway, Part 3 on The Contemplative Pathway, and Part 4 on The Traditionalist Pathway.