The Problem of Anti-Intellectualism

wpid-wp-1438962988862.jpegThere is a terrible amount of anti-intellectualism put forward in what is often called “fundementalistic” Christianity.  This attitude is often focused on Christians who engage in college-level educational courses in philosophy of religion, theology, etc. People who endeavor to understand the original languages, engage in hermeneutics, and  practice exegesis of the text, are often accused of seeking to use the “wisdom of the world.” They appeal to texts such as,

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. (Colossians 2:8, ESV)

And,

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (John 14:26, ESV)

And,

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth…(John 16:3a, ESV)

As well as,

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? (1 Corinthians 1:20, ESV)

What is funny is that these people who are opposed to gaining a positive hold on the philosophical arguments made in Scripture and the theological argumentation of the biblical texts are, in fact, taking both a philosophical and theological position that is indefensible and subsequently refutable and there are three reasons why this is so.

Reason 1

It is simply self-refuting because it is, in itself, a philosophical position. Anti-intellectualism is a philosophy, an opposing philosophy to what could be called intellectualism. This seems to based on the unfortunate fact that some self-identified Christians have gone off to colleges and seminaries unprepared for what they will encounter as they engage with the world. They have unrealistic expectations that are not based in facts, but in high-minded ideals. They have not been exposed to such issues as textual criticism, theodicy, and similar issues, and, as a result of not having this foundation built in the local church, they collapse into heresy and even apostasy. There seems to be a false belief that insulating oneself from these realities is somehow detrimental to one’s faith, when the simple fact is if one is looking for a reason to not believe they will find it.

Reason 2

They assert that studying hermeneutics and focusing on exegesis is damaging to the church. Utilizing a consistent hermeneutical principle and a consistent exegesis of the text is the only sure means of deriving the objective truths that are contained in Scripture. The truth is simply that people get into the rut of tradition and do not like having their personal interpretations ruffled. The truth of Scripture is objective in nature, and believers must seek to pull out those deep and abiding truths that expose us for who we truly are: sinners in need of a Savior. Believers have a responsibility to understand the Scripture as it was presented to its original hearers, in their context, and from there derive application to our present situations. What many of these well-meaning believers are actually appealing to is subjectivism, the very problem that leads right to the door of heresy and eventually apostasy.

Reason 3

It actually violates the command and example of Scripture for believers. Paul, in his second letter to his disciple Timothy, writes,

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.(2 Timothy 2:15, ESV)

The translated phrase “do your best” comes from a Greek word, which has been, in my opinion, more accurately translated in the King James Version as “study“. Further, we have the example of Paul’s interaction with the philosophers on the Areopagus in Acts 17, where Paul draws the gospel from what these men already knew and had experienced. The other Apostles are often cast as ignorant or illiterate, but in truth, in Jewish culture these men would have had a reasonable training in the Jewish Scriptures due to their religious upbringing, also they had the example of Jesus who gave one of the best examples of exegetical argumentation in Matthew 22:23-33, when he makes his argument based on the tense of a verb, in the original language. The positive precedent of Scripture and the positive directive of Scripture actually demonstrates the very opposite of those opposed to it.

Does this mean that I believe that every believer should go to college or seminary. No. In fact, the local church is supposed to be the place where Christians are educated, taught how to handle God’s word and how to think clearly and logically not only about Scripture but about life. Believers need to be taught how to handle God’s revealed word properly and respectfully and thoughtfully. Anti-intellectualism is simply a knee-jerk reaction to a problem that it causes.

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