Anti-intellectualism: part of our church tradition

Eline Van Asperen at Faith in Scholarship has some helpful explanations, inspired by a lecture by Andrew Fellows, about why and how churches often seem to be anti-intellectual.

Van Asperen notes that:

“Many Christians, as well as much of the culture around us, think that faith and reason stand in opposition against each other. Historically, this Enlightenment idea was influential in pietist movements, and it remains an undercurrent in many evangelical churches. On this view, reason is seen as weakening spiritual experience, and hence a vision of the Christian life emerges that celebrates anti-intellectualism. To be moderately anti-intellectual can seem to be taking the moral high ground, emphasizing simplicity in faith to avoid pride.”

She notes further that this has resulted in three things:

  1. “Knowledge is reduced to the pragmatic. Knowledge is only required when it is useful . . knowledge must yield good results, measurable outcomes, not ideas or certainty.” This is even a growing trend within universities where learning things on account of their “intrinsic value: beauty, truth, goodness, intellectual satisfaction, delight” is seen as significantly less than learning as preparing one for a job.
  2. Faith is reduced to a choice. One’s intellect helps one make the right choice – i.e., follow Jesus (well). The practice of apologetics fits under this: apologetics require a significant level of intellectual skill and knowledge, but it’s a pragmatic knowledge – its purpose is to persuade others to follow Christ. It is a limited intellectual exercise as it provides answers without leaving much room for questions, which are an important part of the intellectual exercise (as it is taught in graduate school).
  3. “Faith is reduced to the affective. Feelings and personal preference become the new criterion for truth.”

Van Asperen summarizes this by noting that “The problems of this view are a mental carelessness, a church that is trying to be relevant but becomes populist, and a worldly ethic – because sincerity is seen as more important than wisdom.”

Many of those connected to Campus Edge have close contact with those in evangelical circles, either through attendance at evangelical churches or having friends and family who participate in evangelical churches. The seeming disconnect between faith and reason can be felt very closely. Not only is it hard to explain their joy and sense of purpose in studying their discipline at such a high level, it is also hard for them to use the skills that they have learned there – the desire and ability to understand better and ask questions – as they desire to grow in their understanding of God, spirituality and faith.

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