Saturday, May 21, 2005

Battling Evangelical Anti-Intellectualism

Books in chainsThose more educated now tend to be significantly less religious; those more religious tend to be significantly less educated. For example, evangelicals are the only religious group in America that exceeds the national average of those not completing the eighth grade or high school. At the same time only 24.2 percent of evangelicals achieve some university training, compared with 68 percent of non-Christians.

Fortunately, it has not always been this way. The Puritans in the early period of America were renowned for their impeccable logic and a scholastic emphasis that permeated to every person in society. They considered religion a very complex, subtle, and highly intellectual affair, and their leaders (both Civil and Religious) thus were highly trained scholars.

Anti-Intellectualism has become the scandal of evangelicalism. Over the course of two hundred years, it has gradually become part and parcel of our evangelical identity. Yet today the failure to love God with our minds as well as our hearts is not only a sin – it’s a crippling cultural handicap in an age when ideas have greater consequences than ever.

Evangelicals who have failed to think Christianly in this era of the so-called "knowledge elite" and the "information explosion" have taken themselves out of the running for natural influence in culture. No amount of complaining about "the hostility of the elites" can alter the largely self-chosen evangelical banishment. Evangelicals can often be heard bemoaning "the liberal establishment," and yet, somehow we rarely seem to constructively participate in political parties, professional organizations, technical societies, non-church related community events, and a host of other places where our friendly presence could make "the establishment" a lot less "liberal." Instead, we are reactive and constantly negative, railing against the machine until we finally get what we deserve – ignored.

As a spiritually and theologically defined community of faith, evangelicalism is weak or next to nonexistent; as a subculture, it is stronger but often embarrassing and downright offensive. Unfortunately, we should not seek a strong subculture. To the contrary, we should be a scholarly counterculture that influences primarily by changing hearts and minds rather than sheer political might.

[T]wo factors – the growth of the education gap between evangelicals and secularists, and the lack of an evangelical public philosophy – lie behind evangelical ineffectiveness in public life. They result directly from the lack of a Christian mind. They reinforce some of the strategic errors evangelicals have made repeatedly in recent public initiatives:

  • First, evangelicals have concentrated their power in the peripheries of modern society rather than the center. We should actively begin to headquarter our coalitions, political groups, and other parachurch organizations in Washington D.C., New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

  • Second, evangelicals have relied on populist strengths and rhetoric rather than [intellectually] addressing [and convincing] the gatekeepers of modern society – those whose positions of office or responsibility enable them to stand at the doorways of public power and influence. This reliance has been a defining feature and recurring weakness of evangelicals in the religious Right.

  • Third, evangelicals have sought to change society through politics rather than through changing the culture. This does not mean that evangelicals should not become more involved in the political process as voters, supporters, and participants … they should. It means that we need to recognize that we will not bring about true cultural change by political force, but rather will change the culture by the intellectual influence that we exert when we constructively participate in the political process and our communities.

  • Forth, evangelicals have chosen to rely on a rhetoric of protest, pronouncement, and picketing rather than persuasion. By strategically focusing on persuasion, we extinguish rather than inflame anti-evangelical passions.

What is NOT being promoted here is "Christian Intellectualism" that comes with it’s own inherent sins and heretical baggage. Our intent is to fulfill the commands of Mark 12:30, with the scriptural balance of love, humility, and righteous cultural involvement.

Italized text quoted from Fit Bodies, Fat Minds by Os Guinness

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