The problem of anti-intellectualism in the church and some solutions

I found this article from a talented Christian blogger named Eric Chabot while perusing Brian Auten’s latest weekly apologetics bonus links. You might want to bookmark his blog if you haven’t already. His topic this time is how to remedy the anti-intellectual climate that exists in the church.

Introduction:

Over the years I have had the opportunity to teach apologetics. Apologetics is the branch of Christian theology that offers reasons for the truthfulness of the Christian position/worldview. Most of the classes I have taught are about 8 weeks long. After the first class I can guarantee that the hands will go up. Several students lament that their local congregation has zero interest in apologetics. When we start to discuss the reasons for problem, one issue that always surfaces is that there is little emphasis on the discipleship of the mind. It is apparant that many in the Church have been taught to that it is more spiritual to be simple- minded. In other words, don’t think so hard. God is only pleased by simple faith.

That’s tough talk.

And here’s an excerpt I really liked:

It could not be more evident to me that one of the reasons that Christians are discipled into anti-intellectualism is because of poor exegesis.

Let’s look at some of the Scriptures that can be misunderstood as speaking against anti-intellectualism:

[…]2. Colossians 2:8: “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” Some have concluded from this passage that Paul is commanding people to avoid secular studies or philosophy. If we look at this passage in context, Paul was dealing with a proto-Gnostic philosophy that was threatening the Colossian church. If Paul had not had a vast understanding of philosophy, he could not have addressed the problem in the Colossian church. It is important to note that Paul quoted pagan philosophers in Acts 17:28.

Some people in the church make a big fuss over this passage, insisting that all thinking is to be discouraged. I find that sort of evasiveness very self-serving since the passage is clearly a warning against bad philosophy. One wonders if the people who take this passage as a justification for lazy emotionalism would pass on all food if I told them not to eat the spoiled food. One of the best ways to distinguished good philosophy from bad philosophy is to study philosophy.

More:

4. Matthew 18:3-5: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.”

In interpreting this passage, it is important to note that Jesus challenged his followers to be like children morally, not intellectually. Christians are called to exhibit childlikeness in being sensitive to evil and sin, in being humble and contrite in spirit. Jesus contrasts the need for humility with tough-mindness in Matt. 10:16, when He says, ” Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.” (3)

Read the whole thing, send it to your pastor.

By the way, if you would like to read my post on this topic, which I think is really worth reading as well, then just click here. Send that to your pastor, too.

17 thoughts on “The problem of anti-intellectualism in the church and some solutions”

  1. “… the passage is clearly a warning against bad philosophy. … One of the best ways to distinguish good philosophy from bad philosophy is to study philosophy.”

    Wise words, and (altering the word philosophy for other subjects, on occasion) applicable universally.

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  2. Wintery Knight, you’ve been making a lot of good points about anti-intellectualism, laziness, and other problems in the modern church. I’ve appreciated your posts.

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  3. I volunteer with a church youth group. I sometimes teach the Sunday class for the high schoolers and lead a small group of guys. This week I am teaching on the problem of evil. The two weeks following that I am teaching on science faith issues. I intend to cover the topics of creationism, age of the earth, are science and faith at odds, and evolution.

    I have two requests for readers of this post:

    1. I could use some recommendations of an outline, posting, curriculum, or other form of assistance to prepare for the science faith classes.

    2. I would like to continue teaching these students to think clearly, critically and Christianly in all of areas of life. Again the request of is for a well done curriculum I can use. I have done much reading and listen to about 25- 30 hours of podcasts a week (I work as a carpenter so I can listen and pound nails at the same time), My concern is that I don’t have the time to develop lessons from all the great teaching available. Plus, why re-invent the wheel anyway? There must be something already available, but I have not been able to find it.

    I hope this request is appropriate for this posting. I read much of what you write, Wintery. I appreciate your time and effort greatly. Keep up the fantastic work.

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  4. By the way Wintery Knight,
    Thank you for this post. It is a breath of fresh air. I have on and off the last ten years (broken time with the Marines reserve and what not) taught apologetics in college settings and one of the most frustrating thing for me is how some Christians come from a church background that teach it is not Christ like to “argue” or engage in debates, etc. Last year at a Christian club in a community college, I had one girl in the middle of a semester teaching weekly apologetics tell me “We should not argue, because Jesus never argued.” I found out as I talked with her more, that her pastor was telling her this, and wanted to speak to our club to “just love” people instead. With that type of prevailing attitude, I spent the rest of the semester going over the exegesis of the New Testament to show that Jesus did get involve in apologetics dialogues, and so did the Apostles. I have to confess that I was rather discouraged and hurt that by the end of the semester, this same girl can only say what her pastor said…never mind all the passages we went over, never mind that I spent incredible hours of exegesis in hundreds of pages in exegesis for my thesis on the apologetical tactics of Jesus…it’s sad how people would invoke WWJD against apologetics, when clear exegesis and exposition of Scripture reveal otherwise. Anyways, I digress (my longest comment on here)…I thoroughly feel you with this post!

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  5. Thanks for the great suggestions. I will be using Please Convince Me. Also, the book review of On Guard was great. I am going to order a copy. From the review it looks like a great resources or perhaps as a textbook for a class. Thanks again.

    SLIMJIM, I have heard that argument also. I would be most interested in hearing how you responded to this position. The apologetic tactics of Jesus. I had never considered that statement before, but obviously He did use apologetics and therefore tactics. Is any of your work available?

    But don’t be discouraged be the one, perhaps you had a significant impact on the many. And, maybe your work will continue to have an impact on many more if it can be made accessible.

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  6. Dear all,

    Though I am not a Christian, I do have extensive interactions with those who profess to be Christians and I do my own research on this religion. Many of my Christian friends. They always tell me that to be a Christian is to have a personal relationship with Jesus. Such a notion sounds like an American Chick-flick to me and I find it strange. Furthermore, I have encountered many other beliefs which I find to be strange to my ears (not exhaustive): King James Bible is perfect and inspired and is the only Bible you should read, we should abstain from Alcohol, movies and television, not to watch television on Sundays and on Christmas. Hence, I have always perceived Christianity to be more of rules and regulations. This apparently conflicts with the “relationship with Jesus” notion. As I am an intellectual person, I do perceive that many of my Christian friends accept those rules and regulations without giving much thought to what they believe.

    Hope someone could enlighten me on this.

    Regards,
    David.

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    1. David,

      Thanks for your response to this post. I am a Christian and have been for over 30 years. I am more intellectual than touchy-feely. The whole “personal relationship” thing is often blown out of proportion. The Christians you have been interacting with don’t represent all of us. As with any group of people, categorized in whatever way one chooses, there are extremes. Most of the intellectual type Christian ministries that I follow don’t use the King James as a primary translation for example. Here are a few examples of Christian teachers that are very intellectual, don’t think the King James is the only reliable translation, etc: William Lane Craig – website reasonablefaith.org; J Warner Wallace – website pleaseconvinceme.com, Apologetics315.com and Greg Koukl website str.org. STR is an acronym for Stand To Reason. Spend a few hours looking over the information on these sites. I think you will have a much different perspective of what Christianity is about from an intellectual viewpoint. Of course, this blog by Wintery Knight is among the finest places to find well thought out writings on many subjects from a Christian point of view.

      After researching these sites, if you wish to discuss this further, I would be happy to do so. Perhaps you would be willing to share an email address with me via a private message to Wintery or something.

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    2. David, holy snark. What kind of weirdos have you been hanging out with? Most Christians I know are concerned about science (big bang cosmology, fine tuning, fossil record, astrobiology/habitability, origin of life) philosophy (morality, evil and suffering, religious pluralism, mind, hiddenness of God, concept of God, philosophy of time) and history (Bible, resurrection, textual criticism, archaeology, ancient history) and then thinking about what public policies promote prosperity, security and liberty. We think about things like how to defend the humanity of the unborn to someone who doesn’t accept the Bible, or explaining which family arrangement is best for children, or whether teacher unions or school choice are better for children’s education, and so on.

      The King James only people are weirdos. Anyone who cannot give you an explanation for general moral teachings in the Bible is a weirdo. People who cannot defend God’s existence or the resurrection without appealing to the inerrancy of the Bible are weirdos.

      The reason why people talk about having a relationship with God is because it gets them out of having to do any thinking about whether the real God exists and what the real God is like. What ends up happening is that the person just projects his personality onto God and God’s job becomes making them feel good and making him liked by others. They don’t let God’s existence or character change them in any way. They avoid the thinking and the studying because they don’t want to learn anything about God that might be binding on them – e.g. – they don’t want to know that God expects Christians to be able to give reasons for their faith, as in 1 Pet 3:15. Much better to invent nonsense about relationships than to have to understand the big bang cosmology or origin of life chemistry or which books of the Bible were written when and by whom. Even in relationships, you have to care what the other person is like, and then re-prioritize your goals to account for their needs and goals. But the relationship people think you can be in a relationship without KNOWING anything about the other person. It’s stupidity. The only way to really be in a relationship is to know about the other person – what they like, what they don’t like, what they want to achieve, and who is opposing them, and so on. And that knowledge of God’s existence and character comes through thinking and studying and debating.

      My advice to you is to watch lots and lots of William Lane Craig debates. That should cure you of the goofy church view of Christianity.

      William Lane Craig vs. Peter Millican:
      https://winteryknight.wordpress.com/2011/12/19/video-of-william-lane-craig-vs-peter-millican-debate-on-does-god-exist/

      William Lane Craig vs. James Crossley:
      https://winteryknight.wordpress.com/2011/04/24/william-lane-craig-and-james-crossley-debate-the-resurrection-of-jesus/

      William Lane Craig vs. Sam Harris:


      William Lane Craig vs. Christopher Hitchens:


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  7. What is your take on 1 Cor 14:22-25?

     
    But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all,  
    the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.

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  8. As someone who has personally experienced anti-intellectual, anti-intelligence hostility within the Church, I can definitely relate to this article. Frankly, I’m really sick of people indirectly telling me that it’s a sin to have a brain (and outright apostasy to use it).

    Early in my Christian walk, my then-pastor told me that there was no place for reason within Christianity.

    Early in the 21st century, an elder of another church told me that I shouldn’t study the Bible, but should just read it devotionally. A couple of years later, another elder (in a dig against me during a Bible study) proudly stated that he never studies when he prepares for a Bible study or to preach a sermon on Sunday mornings, but just waits for the Holy Spirit to tell him what to say. Needless to say, his teaching and his sermons were largely incoherent and all over the place.

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    1. This whole blog thing that I am doing is my desperate rebellion against the church. I can’t get a thing done in there, so if I don’t work out here, I’ll never get anything done. There is a strong resistance to the use of the mind in the church, because it’s viewed as “divisive”. I think the basic cause of it is nothing in the Bible, but just a human desire to be pious and comfortable without having to give back to God our allegiance and support in the most effective way.

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