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Why Highly Educated People Often Reject Jesus

Last week, I quoted this from an unknown author, “It’s often the rich, the educated or the religious who reject the call to follow Jesus, because it’s an offense to the sensibilities.”

Many years ago, I received a call from the president of a well known university in Michigan, who had heard the gospel message at an event. Curious about what he had heard, he called me upon the advice of the speaker who lived out of state.

We met for the first time at a local coffee shop and then for many weeks thereafter. He had lots of questions about the Bible, God, the creation account and what it meant to follow Jesus. Finally, a few months in I asked the question, “Don, do you believe Jesus was the Son of God, died for your sins and are you ready to confess that you are a sinner and pledge your highest allegiance to him for the rest of your life?”

His answer didn’t surprise me. “Clare, if I became an open Christian and follower of Jesus, there are many brilliant people at my school who will believe that by doing so, I lack the intellectual capacity to lead them. They have little use for religious people in general and Christians in particular.”

Eventually, Don did become a serious follower of Jesus, who led his wife and several children to faith as well. But Don was right. As Chuck Colson once said, “Hating Christians is the last socially acceptable bigotry in America.” Why that is, isn’t always clear. For sure the claim that Jesus rose from the dead or is the only way to God appears to many intellectuals, the ultimate arrogance. They also believe the idea that the earth was created in seven, 24 hour days, 6-10,000 years ago is proof positive that Genesis is a fable and therefore why bother reading any of the Bible? And aren’t there many ways to God? To claim your way is the only way is about a arrogant as you can get.”

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’” 1 Corinthians 1:17-19

I’ve found the people asking these kinds of questions aren’t generally atheists. Most are very likely agnostics. Agnostics believe there may be a god somewhere, in some form. A divine spirit, or moral force may exist, but there’s no reliable way to know who this deity is, or what he/she/it requires. So, without much thought many have drifted into believing in an “all-purpose” god.

I’ve nicknamed this deity, God of the Chamber of Commerce, or the Rotary – the all purpose deity Americans invoke at public events to bless their food and keep America prosperous and safe and to heal and protect their family and friends when they are in deep trouble and nothing else is working. They may also be people who grew up in the church hearing about God and “believe in god” at some level. But these generally aren’t people who really desire to believe in any deity to whom they will be required to give life’s highest allegiance.

Some may be open to God. But most of them I’ve met are bright, educated people who I think just don’t really want to believe in the God of the Bible, because their friends don’t and they fear the loss of respect, more than they fear God.

In some circles, to be strongly religious is synonymous with being both ignorant and close-minded – the ultimate sin. I think they ask the, “Is Jesus really the only way?” question not because they really want to find God. They ask it to prove the absurdity, and narrow-mindedness of religion in general, and Christianity in particular with the first clever argument they ever heard.

However, I believe there’s a far more subtle reason, many highly educated people are reluctant to follow Jesus. If they finally ever did land on truly believing in a god, any god, of any religion, then that’s it for their personal moral choices. Because if there really is a God and he’s made his will known to you, then you are duty bound to obey him. The god of the Chamber pretty much minds his own business when it comes to your personal, moral behavior unless it hurts others. However, the God of the Bible is an existential threat to your personal freedom.

So, how should Christians present the gospel to highly educated people? While I believe it is helpful to have some answers for why we believe the Bible is true and Christ was God, don’t be tempted to water down the gospel. Here are my simply steps:

  1. Explain the gospel (But be patient. Educated people are wary of simple answers.)

  2. Live the gospel (Demonstrate how following Jesus works in real life, in your life. )

  3. But remember it’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convince people it’s true. (Not yours, or mine!)

“When he (The Holy Spirit) comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.” John 16:8-11

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