The Church’s Anti-Intellectual Erasure of Christian Culture


By anti-intellectualism I mean suspicion or opposition toward the intentional cultivation of the intellect. It’s not limited to the church, by any means (the United States in particular is deeply anti-intellectual[1]); but I’m interested just now in its stranglehold on the church. Before I subject it to a withering assault, however, I’d like offer two qualifications. Most Christians aren’t called by God to be scholars, and most couldn’t be even if they wanted to because God didn’t gift them with exceptional intelligence. God needs all sorts of workers in his vineyard, and he doesn’t privilege intellectuals. Nor should they pride themselves when surveying their less intellectually endowed fellows: the fact is, the car salesman and beautician who work for God’s glory are no less significant in the kingdom than intellectuals.

Second, it’s understandable why so many Christians degenerated into anti-intellectualism over the last century. In the last third of the 19th century the movement of theological modernism and liberalism argued that the Faith can’t be intellectually credible in a world that privileges reason and science. This would have been news to the early Enlightenment Christians, many of whom worked with the conscious expectation that reason and science would confirm Christianity.[2] In any case: by the late 19th century the church was infested with elites in pulpit and seminary who denied truths of biblical revelation on the ground of intellectual integrity.[3] Many Christians responded with the attitude, “If that’s what intellect does to Faith, I don’t want it in my faith.” So they retreated from the intellect. They’ve been suspicious of higher education. They see no problem in allowing unbelievers to monopolize (for example) nuclear physics, advanced economics, and law. Some of these same Christians complain about Darwinism, socialism and secular courts. But these evils don’t happen magically, and they aren’t combated magically. They are propagated by (unbelieving, or inconsistently Christian) intellectuals and must be supplanted by consistently Christian intellectuals.

There are two big problems with Christian anti-intellectualism.

First, and more importantly, abandoning intellect is surrendering one of God’s great gifts to man. It’s a form of ingratitude, pious as it may sound. Many of the same anti-intellectuals who trash intellect would be up in arms if you suggested the church abandon pastors and teachers. They are God’s good gifts to the church. But intellect is equally his gift to his people. To be an anti-intellectual Christian is no better or worse than being an anti-emotional or anti-volitional Christian. In a real sense it’s to be half a Christian.

Second, however, and even more relevantly for our purpose, reason is a kingdom-extending tool.[4] And without it, there simply can’t be Christian culture, which involves spheres in which cultivation of the intellect is essential: education, technology, law, science, economics, politics, and so forth. Arguing that you want Christian culture without intellect is like saying you want a symphony without musical instruments — good luck. For three or four generations now Christians have imbibed anti-intellectualism, and we’re now paying the bitter price — as unbelieving intellectuals shape our culture,[5] and it’s not Christian culture.

[1] Richard Hofstadter, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (New York: Albert A Knopf, 1970).

[2] Alvin T. Schmidt, Under the Influence (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 218–247.

[3] John Dillenberger and Claude Welch, Protestant Christianity (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1955), 213.

[4] John Jefferson Davis, Foundations of Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), 117–143.

[5] R. Albert Mohler, Jr., “The Cultural Revolution on the College Campus — Why it Matters to You,” http://www.albertmohler.com/2013/10/01/the-cultural-revolution-on-the-college-campus-why-it-matters-to-you/, accessed October 4, 2013.

From the author’s Hindrances to Christian Culture


4 thoughts on “The Church’s Anti-Intellectual Erasure of Christian Culture

  1. Pingback: Anti-Intellectualism in the American Church is Not a Spiritual Gift | Rob Lundberg

  2. Pingback: Anti-intellectualism: why it's a problem in the evangelical church

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