Evangelical or Intellectual... do you have to choose?

A thought-provoking opinion piece appeared in the Wall Street Journal this week claiming that evangelical Christians lack intellectual ability. Evangelicals, Faith and the Life of the Mind is an interesting read, especially the comments. Personally though, don't you hate it when someone who claims to be an intellectual exhibits such narrow-mindedness and ignorance of the very thing he claims to be intellectual about? ... No offense intended Mr. Fitzgerald.


Clay said…
No, you don't have to choose. I find it amazing that there are people who think that we have to.

I've said this before (see it here), that there is a competing interesting between logic and emotion. To me, the key is balancing the two.

The author talks about Evangelicals being more experiential instead of intellectual. Yes, experience plays a part but how do we know how to interpret that experience without being intellectually connected to our faith? Anti-intellectualism leads to poor interpretation of experience which honestly, leads to Your Best Life Now.

For all the happy-happy, feel good, "God wants to bless you financially through sending me $100" charlatans, there are people like John MacArthur, John Piper, Alastair Begg, Voddie Baucham, Ergun Caner, John Stott, and more who intellectually contend for the faith every day. Just because they aren't popular and haven't become the face of a movement doesn't mean they don't exist. The author just didn't look very hard for it. Plus, I think few of these types of people are looking for validation from the intellectual community. If they want to debate, that's fine, but they aren't out spoiling for the fight.

The comments blow me away. The same person said, "Several years of study revealed to me that there are no answers in the Bible except those based on your personal choices. The Bible is simply a kit from which you build your own box.", and, "I have concluded that the only course of action is to marry Christianity to the mysticism of the East." Wow. Really? At the very least that's dishonest to both worldviews, beyond that it's heretical. You can't honestly and intellectually read the Bible and come to that conclusion.
Laura said…
Laughing and attempting to live my Best Life Now while turning my quasi-intellectual brain on mute.

You are so right... the gentlemen you listed, along with Ravi Zacharias, JP Moreland and many others, are not screaming "Look at me, I'm an intellectual" from the rooftops. They quietly go about their teaching and writing with brain fully intact.

Thank you for reading the article and comments, Clay. You are a good friend and like-mind to Alex and me.
Mrs. Edwards said…
I'm finally making my comment, weeks later. I read the same WSJ piece about the day before you posted this, so was interested in your reaction.

This topic has been on my radar since I read Mark Noll's The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind in the late nineties. Noll was a professor at Wheaton College when I was there, but I was not keen enough on who he was at the time to be smart enough to take all his classes! One of my biggest regrets. At any rate, his book makes some good points and in spite of the amazing list of intellectuals that your friend Clay mentions, Noll made a persuasive argument. I found in interesting that the WSJ piece remarked that the situation has improved since Noll's book (circa 1994).

The scandal that Noll wrote about was a trend rooted in even the 19th century and linked to the fundamentalist era. Christians responded to Darwinism defensively and this, in part, prompted a generation of Christians who scorned scholarship, fretted about liberals, and vacated academia. I think that our generation has seen a renewed interest in the great Christian intellectuals Calvin and Edwards and we see the effect of that in the renewed interest in doctrine by lay people.

I think the seeker movement embodies the sort of anti-intellectualism that is imagined as a scandal. In an attempt to draw in "seekers" too many congregations abandon deep study of Scripture and doctrine. I can tell you from first hand of experience of a large congregation near me where people are suspicious of too much Bible study, thinking that people obsessed with study and doctrine do not reach out and cultivate community.

At the same time, I think that the "scandal" is also seen in creationism-obsessed (accept six 24-hour days or else you don't believe in the inerrancy of Scripture) defensiveness of Christians that has prompted so many evangelicals to silo their Christian thought from their general thinking.

I think I would have reacted differently to the WSJ piece if I hadn't already read and thought about this. I think that the problem still persists among the masses of evangelicals. Case in point: I've seen a fascinating reaction to the movie Avatar in Christian circles. People don't recognize the false thinking of pantheism/environmentalism, don't see it necessarily as contrary to Christian thought, and play the legalism card if you suggest that Avatar is something you probably shouldn't let your kids see. (I haven't seen the film; this anecdote is based on callers I heard on Mohler's radio show as well as reader comments on Mark Driscoll's Facebook post that "Avatar is paganism.")

Here I am, back to this old post to make a comment, because I happened upon a quote that says briefly what I just attempted in too many paragraphs. In the Preface of God's Passion for His Glory; Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards by John Piper, I read this:

"In the vein of other concerned evangelicals in our day, Chapter One argues that modern evangelicalism is being doctrinally hollowed out by its love affair with pragmatism and numerical success. Edwards's relentless God-centeredness and devotion to the Biblical contours of doctrine are profoundly needed in our day."

The sentence contains a footnote which references a slew of books, including Noll's and also Os Guinness's Fat Bodies Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don't Think and What to Do About It.

I certainly am only a wanna-be intellectual, but take great hope in 1 Corinthians 2:14-16:
14The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment:
16"For who has known the mind of the Lord
that he may instruct him?"[d] But we have the mind of Christ.

Laura said…
Amy -

I will have to go back and read your comment several times to get it to stick in my brain. Now that I think about it, our experience with a seeker church is just what you described. However, I was not comfortable taking my negative seeker sensitive experience and applying it across evangelical Christianity as a whole.

In fact, although we went to a seeker sensitive church for several years, my overall experience with evangelical Christians has been the opposite. I have found most of my evangelical friends to be thoughtful thinkers who do not sit idly by and let someone else spoon-feed them their faith.

Your comment about creationism is also correct... Christians stand immovable on this one issue and thereby remove the possibility of sharing Christ with those who argue against them. Ineffective, and not a hill I'm willing to die on. While I do have a definite opinion on that topic, there is too much work to do to be caught up in non-essential matters and alienate folks.

Oh, so much more to discuss on this matter. Maybe Mark Noll's book is one I should dig in to. I do enjoy Os Guinness, too. In fact, I would add him to the list of intellectual evangelicals.

Thank you, as always, for great input!
Mrs. Edwards said…
Just to clarify, rather than applying an anecdotal seeker-friendly church experience to evangelicalism as a whole to conclude it is anti-intellectual, I would see the seeker-friendly church movement as an product or symptom of a century or more of anti-intellectualism, rather than a cause.

After I wrote this comment, I've been reading more of Piper's God's Passion for His Glory, which touches on this extensively as it focuses on a particular book of Jonathan Edwards's. I think that if your personal experience with evangelicals is that they are "thoughtful thinkers who do not sit idly by and let someone else spoon-feed them their faith" then you are very blessed to be surrounded by saints who think deeply! I know many dear-hearted people who love Christ and yet struggle to think deeply about how Christ should impact what they think about everything. As Piper suggests, it isn't just a character flaw of evangelicals. It is a flaw in our entire dumbed-down culture that has seeped into the church.

Keep in mind that I'm not much of a thinker myself and can only hope to fasten my mind on Jesus and on the right books to help me make sense of the world and integrate the truth of Christ into how I think about everything. So take all of this with a grain of salt! I'm no expert! Thanks for challenging me to keep thinking!
Laura said…
Great distinction about the seeker-sensitive model being a by-product of Christians allowing their minds to become mush. And, in my little brain, you are a thinker! I loved your phrase wanna-be intellectual - that is the shoe that fits me... so, we keep on doing exactly what you mentioned.

Thank you, cyberfriend, for being willing to teach me some tidbits and keep me moving forward in my mind.

I will say that early on in my life, before walking with Christ, I believed all Christians to be mush-brained... so, not sure why I'm even surprised at the article to begin with. :)
Mrs. Edwards said…
Thanks for engaging in this comment conversation with me! While there are some downsides to blogging, I've been so blessed by reading the thoughts of fellow-bloggers, particularly yours. You spur me on.

Popular Posts