Andrew Byers, in his very fine new book, Faith Without Illusions: Following Jesus as a Cynic-Saint, claims “cyncism is a sickness” and defines it as being contemptuously distrustful of human nature and motives. I don’t know about you but many of us grew up in or near a populist anti-intellectual evangelicalism, almost suggesting that mind and faith would not work well. Indeed, suggesting that if you got too smart you’d probably lose your faith. Faith, it was suggested, is simple and maybe best suited for the simple. “The dumbest farmer,” the saying goes, “grows the best potatoes.”
Mark Noll has called this the “scandal of the evangelical mind” and says the scandal is that there is no mind. Read his book: The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.
Is the problem the uber-intellectualism and doubt of professors or the anti-intellectualism of the church? [The latter, no doubt about it, in many, many settings.]
One of the major signs of anti-intellectualism is the shock of Christian-nurtured students when they encounter the Bible under the withering critique at a university or with friends. “I don’t know” goes only so far.
Then there are those who demean seminaries and suggest the best pastors don’t attend them, or that seminaries are where hot-blooded Christians lose their faith … and this too is a species of anti-intellectualism.
And the bottom-line approach to theology in churches so that today there are all kinds of Christians who wonder what the Trinity has to do with the Christian life. If you haven’t heard about it in years it’s unlikely that you think it matters! Intellectual Christians can often feel unwelcome in the Body of Christ. Sure, one of the problems here is what Chris Smith is talking about: biblicism.
Jonathan Edwards was brilliant but those who followed him became anti-intellectual. Revivalism and the bottom-line took over. What mattered was “doers” and not “thinkers.”
Byers observes that some of the most cynical Christians he has met came out of anti-intellectualism and were shocked by the power and compelling force of intellectual studies of the Bible and theology. They become disillusioned. They go to seminary and desire to “correct” the church — and they find again that the place to operate safely in the academy because the church is swarmed by anti-intellectualism. Cynicism again, unloving responses to laypersons … but what’s the problem here? Too much anti-intellectualism drives out so many talented young Christians.
The Jesus Creed teaches us to love God with all our mind. Is the church, your church, ready for it?