The Church––Tallest and Most Spectacular of All Ivory Towers

Your neck is like a tower of ivory,
Your eyes like the pools in Heshbon
By the gate of Bath-rabbim;
Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon,
Which faces toward Damascus.

–– Song of Solomon 7:4 ––


In terms of the spread of the Gospel, there is no top-down/bottom-top order. True, historically, the socially and economically humiliated believe the Gospel more readily than someone who’s purview is distorted by riches and fame (Lk. 1:52). Yet, the Holy Spirit moves as the wind; we are often wrong about who we think He may save next. In the New Testament, prominent individuals came to faith just like the lowest class of untouchables. Two examples would be Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus (Jn. 19:38, 39). Cornelius the Roman centurion is another instance of a well-to-do individual believing in the Gospel (Acts 10:1).

So, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise (Gal. 3:27-29).”

Though the Gospel itself is not for the rich or for the poor, but for those who, by the Spirit, recognize their desperate need for God’s grace in Christ, the Lord has equipped His Church to take this Gospel to other parts of the world (Matt. 28:18-20). The Church does not have the prerogative to exclude various audiences from the proclamation of their Gospel. After all, we are commanded to a non-partial disposition (Jas. 2:9). If we show partiality, we are in grievous error, and this works for both the poor and the rich; for both the layman and the academic. Just as those in the Church flock to third-world countries and to the highways and byways of their towns and cities, the Bride should not exclude the academic audience from her Gospel work.

In fact, there’s absolutely no excuse for the Church to back out of academic conversation. If anyone has the  answers to the haughty philosopher’s objections, it’s the Church! If anyone has the firepower to demolish worldly philosophy and vain argumentation, it’s the Bride of Christ, whose “neck is like a tower of ivory.”

The Ivory Tower is Ours

In our day and age, the “ivory tower” figure of speech refers to those who isolate themselves from reality. But, at the risk of being anachronistic, the term “ivory tower” was first found here in Scripture before it was ever used anywhere else. In the original sense, the Reformed tradition has commonly seen the Song of Solomon as a poem of love from Solomon to His favorite bride. However, in the allegorical sense, it is a picture of Christ in relation to His Bride, the Church. It’s the Church who possesses the tower of ivory. It’s hers, no one else’s. If we’ve let secular academia have it, it’s our fault!

Over the past 200 (or so) years, the Church has stepped out of the academic ring. We’ve taken our gloves off; we’ve given up the fight. We have become really good biblicists and really bad followers of 1 Peter 3:15. More importantly, we’ve ignored the first great command, to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Matt. 22:37). We’ve given up thinking for the sake of comfort and outward piety.

It looks pious to write of the academic audience as pagan or rebellious against God. Yet, we’re not so quick to do the same thing with the poor who are also in rebellion against God, or the ignorant who hate the Lord. We feel compassion for the latter, but have told the former, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool (Jas. 2:3).” We have shown blatant partiality.

Not only this, but God has declared those who reject Him are fools! How could the Church possibly allow the foolish to control the broader intellectual discussions? The early church was known for its intellectual rigor, as elementary as it was at the time. Like a new born fawn, the Church was beginning to stand on its wobbly legs, but it was not shy in the presence of the affluent (yet foolish!) philosophers. The Church grabbed hold of the ivory tower in its earliest years and held on to it through the  the Middle Ages up through the post-Puritan era.

Unfortunately, this intellectual dominance would lose out in the face of the Enlightenment (the En-darkenment is more like it). Kantian metaphysics won the day, and the Church submitted herself to the demands of Kant’s Critique. Rather than saving a Christian metaphysic, instead of successfully rescuing the phenomena, the Bride was content to let its objectivity slip into the noumenal realm.[1] Metaphysics, then, became useless––a conversation for time-wasters and pagans. How could anyone establish a metaphysic if that which the study of metaphysics (being or existence) seeks to uncover is the very thing we cannot know?

Kant and his followers took the ivory tower from us. Oh! how loose our grip must’ve been! We gave academia to the dogs and the prowling lions. The unsuspecting lambs were led to the slaughter, to the guillotines hidden within the ransacked University court yards. The ivory tower continues to look attractive from the outside, but inside, it’s a den of vipers.

How to Get it Back

But, we must remember this one thing: the ivory tower is still ours. In fact, it’s not merely ours, but God’s! He ultimately owns it, and we must take possession of it once more. The Lord once drove the money changers out from where they did not belong. Those Christians called to academic excellence must do the same with God’s ivory tower. The University, the academies were started by the Church, they were hers, and surely, they are hers to reclaim. But, how do we do this? I submit there are three things that must be done:

The Church has to stop downplaying academic excellence and theological & philosophical discourse

Today, there are pockets within the Church where it is dangerous to think. I have witnessed this first hand. This has to stop. To be hostile toward thoughtfulness is to be hostile to Jesus’ very own command to love the Lord with our minds. We live in God’s world, surely thinking on it is a good thing. We should not choke those who wish to do so simply because we do not feel the calling to think too deeply about the things of God. We need to create an environment which cultivates questions and thoughtful answers; disagreements and fruitful responses. We need, once again, scholastic reasoning in accordance with God’s revealed truth, in nature and Scripture––both of which are equally authoritative.[2]

Families need to foster an environment of Christian learning within their households

Catechesis is a truly lost art. Because of this, children become less than academically inclined, at least in terms of the study of divinity. Our youth have lost the ability to reason about their faith and they have lost interest in the answers the Church has given them over the last several years. We have been lazy in our approach to discipleship, especially when it comes to discipling our own children. Rather than spend as much time with their children as possible, parents have opted to send their kids to daycare or schools where they are indoctrinated with the latest worldly thought.[3] Yet, even if children do attend public schools, daycares, etc., parents must make every effort to educate their children in the way they should go (Prov. 22:6).

More than this, we have confused concise and understandable teaching with simple-mindedness. It is one thing to teach children in ways they can understand; it is quite another to teach them only the simple things of the faith, which is the easiest to do (Heb. 5-6).

Churches need to see themselves as the center of intellectual growth rather than pushing that responsibility to the seminaries

Seminaries are great. I go to one! I just got accepted at Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary to begin work on my Master of Theology degree. Seminaries are great places for men to grow in the areas of ministry they’ve been called into. Yet, sometimes it appears as if seminaries are picking up the slack of local churches. Some may reply and say seminaries are run and operated by the Church, ultimately. Yet, the tendency of many local churches is to allow deeper theological education to take place at the seminary level rather than fostering that education within their own walls. For that reason, seminaries are good insofar as they pick up where the Church has left off. However, their present prominence and emphasis may represent deeper problems, such as the downplay of intellectual rigor within local churches themselves.

Seminaries should always exist, either within the four walls of the church or without. Men called to ministry are also called to a more devoted study than the lay-person. But if seminaries must remain outside the four-walls of the Church, that should not serve as an excuse for local churches to stop answering the tough questions or cease from teaching theological curriculums to their people.

Ending Thoughts

The Church itself ought to be the tallest and most spectacular of all ivory towers. It ought to be the think-tank that controls the intellectual discussions which inevitably and eventually define the thought of the common populace. The Bride is the first one to be called an ivory tower as far as we know. Rather than running from that tower, we ought to attack it, re-capture it, and maintain it just as the apostles, the fathers, the medieval theologians, the Reformers, and the Puritans did.

Modern Christians––you and I––come from spiritual parents who cared deeply for theological precision and the submission of the Bride’s heart, soul, mind, and strength to God in Christ. All of our powers, all of our being as the Bride of Christ, ought to be thrown toward glorifying Him in every aspect of our constitution. We are His and we have been called to see Him as ours in every vestibule of the Christian life.

The Lord Himself has given us the means to recapture the ivory tower. We have His revelation in both the book of nature and the book of Scripture. We have been endowed with reason which, if used properly, is submitted to the laws of God’s world and the Scriptures. We should cultivate, rather than extradite intellectual development; we should catechize our children and foster this mindful growth in our homes; and we should see the Church as the means by which God has ordained the spiritual and knowledgable growth of His saints rather than (primarily) para-church ministries or seminaries.


[1] For Kant, things in themselves (noumena) cannot be known, only their appearances, or our perception of those things (phenomena) could be the object of our knowledge.
[2] Though both nature and Scripture are equally authoritative, they are not equally informative. Scripture reveals the only sufficient knowledge unto faith and Christian practice.
[3] I do not mean this unqualifiedly. There are quality Christian educators out there. Unfortunately, this is not the norm. Moreover, there are families in which both father and mother have to work. I want to be sensitive to this as well. Unfortunately, however, rarely do both parents have to work. We should begin asking ourselves, “What creature comforts could we part with so our children could learn at home?” For some, there is no answer to this question, both parents simply must work in order to make ends meet. For many, on the other hand, it would be a matter of selling a car, downsizing a home, etc.

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