“Just let go…and let God.”
Theology is never formed in a vacuum. It is very important to look at the environment from which a theological idea is formed. I have often heard people say “I just need to let go and let God.” People usually say this type of thing when they have reached the end of their rope, or are tired of attempting to understand the meaning of specific instances in their life. Why do we say this? Where did this idea of “letting go…and letting God” come from? And what does it mean? I think a little history will shed light on these questions;
Before the 20th century America had been a “protestant” friendly nation (intellectually speaking). This all changed as there was a shift at the university level and in culture as a whole. One issue directly tied to the purpose of this post concerns the universities and their shift in focus on education- towards the practical sciences and managerial theory rather than the old moralism of “the past.” Following this shift came the reaction of the cultural ‘taste makers’ which was to push evangelical Protestants out from the academic arena.
The intellectual impact of this shift had massive impact on the evangelical mind. Mark Noll describes these implications well in his book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.
He writes of the “major problems” for the life of the evangelical mind. “First, it gave a new impetus to general anti-intellectualism” and this shift “had a chilling effect on the exercise of Christian thinking about the world.” (115)
With the historicity of the Bible and supernaturalism being called into question by the cultural elites of the ‘new America’, this might have seemed like the logical move for Christians- escapism. But, while the reaction of many Christian’s rightly promoted a supernatural worldview they failed to give proper attention to the world.
Noll rightly argues that “the problem came not with the goal, but with the assumption that, in order to be spiritual, one must no longer pay attention to the world.” He then quotes Martyn Lloyd-Jones;
This anti-intellectual movement “contributed to a reduction of interest in biblical theology and deeper scholarship. No Christian in his right mind will desire anything other than true holiness and righteousness in the church of God.” He continues that the proponents of the anti-intellectual movement “had isolated one doctrine, holiness, and altered it by the false simplicity contained in the slogan, “Give up, let go, and let God.” If you want to be holy and righteous, we are told, the intellect is dangerous and it is thought generally unlikely that a good theologian is likely to be a holy person…”
At its very core this anti-intellectual ideal has escapism as its end. So while the universities and culture began to buy a more naturalistic and skeptical bent in their worldview, Christians “escaped” the world rather than answering it’s objections. So when it came to the difficult questions of life, questions that would ideally be met with an intellectually sufficient answer… the answer became “just let go, and let God.”
In the end, it seems that “keeping oneself unspotted from the world” became translated into reduced space for “academic debate, intellectual experimentation, and nuanced discrimination between shades of opinion” since the “world” had shifted into intellectual skepticism with no room for a supernatural worldview.
The saying “give up, let go, and let God” became a clever way to say that ‘if we use our minds too much we might loose our faith.’ Which, in my own mind, is an illogical statement. Sure, our minds have been forever scarred by the horrible reality of sin, but human intellect has not been completely devastated. Think about it…