29 August 2022

It is interesting to note that most modern thinkers do not see a particular goal in sight for the purpose of the world or every person’s life. To them, motion is just motion without any particular goal or end in sight.

Joseph Pieper, the author of ‘Abuse of language, abuse of power’ has this to say:

‘Whenever someone contemplates reality in pure pursuit of knowledge and without regard for immediate practical purposes; whenever someone, oblivious of possible usefulness, disadvantages, danger, or even death, is able to say, “So it is; this is the truth (e.g. “The Emperor has no clothes!”) – then we witness, in an eminent degree, human freedom in action’.

Pieper is arguing that man’s achievement of his ultimate end requires some kind of existence beyond this temporal earth-bound realm.

The telos (goal) of the beatific vision of God – the thought of seeing Him face to face one daly – impressed upon Christians that the intellectual life is not simply its own end but contributes to a larger goal, the glory of God. We see in the book of Ecclesiastes the preacher’s struggle with the ‘meaningless’ of life as he observed and experienced various areas in life on earth, and had to conclude ‘all is vanity and a chasing after wind’.

It may come as a surprise that Aristotle, a great philosopher in history, spoke of a telos to the nature of things in general, and to the nature of human life in particular.

Even contemporary intellectual thinkers, like Roger Scruton and Allan Bloom, resist the acidic scepticism, and nihilism of the contemporary intellectual milieu. They both believe in the possibility of meaning, the reality of truth, and the necessity of actually teaching central texts and engaging in meaningful discussion about the ‘permanent things’.

Steve Fuller of the University of Warwick is among the many who have argued that it is the Christian vision of reality – particularly in the Protestant form – that was the heart of the origin of modern science.

Ultimately, the notion of a telos or a goal that informs all of human life finds its most significant theological rootage in the Bible and, flowing from that, the Christian intellectual tradition. If Christians could recover the vision of where we are headed, we might see a genuine gospel-centered renewal of the intellectual life in our own day.

Augustine offers one of the best theological examples of how Christians might recover a meaningful and fruitful life of the mind. Indeed, he construes the intellectual life in a gospel-centered and eschatologically oriented manner.

As one writer wrote: “It is the insight of the whole line from Rousseau to Nietzsche that reason undoes itself because it undoes God, without whom reason – as every other interesting virtue – is groundless…”

As the gospel loses hold on a culture – or as people lose hold of the gospel – the rationale for the use of reason (and the intellectual life more broadly) becomes inexplicablel (cannot be explained).

We must not lose hold of the gospel and we need to fulfil the mandate given by our Lord Jesus to ensure that many, influenced by sin and wrongful culture and intellectual pursuits, be given the opportunity to hear the gospel and to repent, and believe.