Anti-Intellectualism

From BelieveTheSign
Doubt-is-not-unbelief.png

This article is one in a series of studies on the reasoning and the Message - you are currently on the page that is in bold:


One of the offshoots of blind faith is anti-intellectualism. This is rampant in the message.

If you ask a message believer why they believe the message, they are likely to respond with a simple, “Because I just believe it!”

A Jehovah’s Witness believes the Watchtower Bible and a Scientologist believes in the writings of L. Ron Hubbard, but that doesn’t make them true.

The Bible isn’t true because I believe it, the Bible is true and that’s why I believe it.[1]

...even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:15b-16)
I know God gave you a brain, but it would be terrible if you actually used it.

The call to comprehend

Paul writes in Ephesians:

Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.[2]

We are being told here that we need to to [learn to] comprehend what is the will of the Lord. The verb “to comprehend” (syniēmi; cf. the noun “understanding,” synesis, in 3:4) sets a slightly stronger accent upon intellect or intellectual grasp (see Eph. 3:18–19) than other verbs denoting the act of gaining knowledge. The use of the related noun in Eph 3:4 should also be examined:

When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ...[3]

Perceive (learn about) and insight (understanding) translate two related terms, the verb “to grasp, perceive, know” and the noun “insight, grasp” (see the verb “to understand” in Eph 5:17). "you can perceive my insight" may be expressed as ""You can learn about my understanding" or “you can find out how I understand” or “you can come to learn how I regard”.[4] This all involves the use of one's intellect.

Ephesians 5:17 demonstrates that, despite the emphasis placed upon the practical orientation and theoretical limitation of knowledge, Paul is not anti-intellectual; the saints are encouraged to make use of their reasoning power.

Paul is stressing the following three things in learning to understand or comprehend:

  1. “Comprehending” includes, or is included in, the learning “by experience” (dokimazō) mentioned in Eph 5:10.
  2. Comprehension is an ongoing process and always an unfinished business—especially when the “will of the Lord” is its object and total “submission” of the self (Eph 5:21) its essence.
  3. The man who “understands” (ho synhiōn) is silent in the “evil time,” according to Amos 5:13. Eph 5:17 may include the advice to learn by listening rather than by speaking too much.[5]

The proper use of reasoning

Many in the message and, indeed many Christian fundamentalists point to this scripture to oppose any attempt at using reason to understand the Bible:

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
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? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.  For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,  but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,  but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.[6]

The wisdom that Paul rails against is “of the world” (v. 20), but nothing in this paragraph may be taken as grounds for anti-intellectualism. Yet Paul surely stands staunchly against godless intellectualism. Verses 21–25 point out that such godlessness may take three different forms, each increasingly more subtle. People may simply reject God outright (v. 21). Or they may look for God in the wrong places, demanding miraculous signs or engaging in speculative philosophies (vv. 22–23). Or they may remake Him in their own image, not recognizing the qualitative difference between God and humanity (v. 25). With respect to signs, God may choose to grant them in hopes that people will thereby believe (John 20:31), but he seldom if ever supplies them on demand, and he insists that people have enough evidence for belief without them (John 20:29).[7]

There is a kind of an anti-intellectualism among many Christians; spirituality is falsely pitted against intellectual comprehension as though they stood in a dichotomy. Such anti-intellectualism cuts away at the very heart of the Christian message. Of course, there is a false intellectualism which does destroy the work of the Holy Spirit. But it does not arise when men wrestle honestly with honest questions and then see that the Bible has the answers. This does not oppose true spirituality. So Paul writes, “I’m not ashamed. I’m not ashamed of the gospel because it will answer the questions of men; it is the dunamis of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.“ [8]

Sound and careful logic must be applied to Scripture to yield a full and mature understanding of the spiritual truth God has revealed. This is no denial of the sufficiency of Scripture. The formula is not Scripture plus philosophy, but Scripture interpreted by careful, sensible, thoughtful, Spirit-directed reasoning. That is the essence of discernment.

In short, anti-intellectualism is incompatible with genuine spiritual wisdom. Those who think of faith as the abandonment of reason cannot be truly discerning. Irrationality and discernment are polar opposites. When Paul prayed that the Philippians’ love would “abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment” (Phil. 1:9), he was affirming the rationality of true faith. Paul was saying that knowledge and discernment necessarily go hand in hand with genuine spiritual growth.

Biblical faith, therefore, is rational. It is reasonable. It is intelligent. It makes good sense. And spiritual truth is meant to be rationally contemplated, examined logically, studied, analyzed, and employed as the only reliable basis for making wise judgments. That process is precisely what Scripture calls discernment.[9]

Paul's hope for the Ephesian church was this:

The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints...[10]

The focus on the enlightenment of the mind introduces an important, but too frequently ignored, part of Paul’s thinking. Too many Christians are passive in their thinking and learning or have an anti-intellectual bias. Part of this is understandable, for “intellectualism” has often been destructive and arrogant, but Christians have recoiled with an anti-intellectualism that leads to ignorance. We do not ward off intellectual attack by being less thoughtful!

Christians are not the only ones guilty of anti-intellectualism. We live in a society that has largely stopped thinking. The complexity of life and the overload of information available today has driven us to trite television shows and spectator sports as our main areas of mental stimulation. This text does not suggest we should all be academics or that the solutions to life are all academic. But Christians must always grow in wisdom and in their understanding of life, God, and the relevance of their faith. Wisdom is practical knowledge for right living. The church should first of all be a community of thinkers—not thinking in distinction from action, but thinking as the basis for action. Ignorance is an ethical issue.

Historically, Christianity has led the way in promoting education and in starting colleges and universities. Now most of those previously Christian institutions have lost their attachment to the faith and are little different from secular schools. Pastors used to be respected as the intellectual and moral leaders in society. Now the intellectually gifted tend to go into business or science, and pastors are less and less competent leaders in any area. In the past, when the church has made significant progress—for example, at the Reformation or the great revivals—the best thinkers of the day provided the direction and force for the movement.

People like Martin Luther, John Wesley, or Dietrich Bonhoeffer were thinking pioneers who would not accept the status quo, but applied their minds to understanding the implications of the gospel. This kind of inquiring, analytical devotion to the gospel and life still is needed from all of us.

Unfortunately, much of modern Christianity is guilty of a drippy sentimentality, or worse, of sensationalism. With the latter, preachers sound more like religious professional wrestlers hyping an audience. We seem more interested in trying to create emotional feeling than in providing an understanding of God and wisdom for living. As a result, many of the world say to Christians, “Your thinking is too superficial for the complexity of the world in which we live.” Christians have reacted against the extremes of this world without thinking through the implications of their choices. This needs to change. A church should be a place for analysis, reflection, and reasoned discussion about the significance of the gospel. Christians should have a reputation as people who think.[11]

Anti-intellectualism in the message

If you follow anti-intellectualism to its logical conclusion, if and when your faith is tested, you can’t defend it, because you have divorced your spirituality from any connection to logic or reason. The only recourse is to throw out one shallow, emotional, logical fallacy after another, trying to cut the legs from under many things that a reasonable person believes to be true, in order to associate their beliefs with those “truisms”, scripture, science, etc.

Anti-intellectualists pride themselves on their blind faith, when in reality, it is an indicator of lack of faith! Hypostasis, the word translated as “substance,” in Hebrews 11:1, means “that which underlies the apparent; that which is the basis of something, hence, assurance, guarantee and confidence.” The English “substance” is built from a prefix and a root which together mean “that which stands under.” The famous 19th century preacher Charles Spurgeon said that faith consisted of three intertwined elements, a “triune faith” if you will: knowledge, assent, and trust. You can’t have faith in something you have no knowledge of.

Let’s take a plane flight as an example of the knowledge component:

If I am about to fly for the very first time, I might be very, very, nervous. Why? Because my faith in that plane to get me safely to my destination is very weak. If you are a frequent flyer, your faith is much higher, and you might share with me your experience, and to the extent that I accept that knowledge, my faith in the plane will rise. If the veteran pilot who was a former plane mechanic and an engineering enthusiast comes out pre-flight and spends 10 minutes sharing some of his intimate knowledge of the technology, the multiple levels of mechanical redundancy, the statistics of flight safety, and his absolute confidence in that plane, my faith may be increased substantially. Combine that with a few years of flying myself, and I may well be helping some other newbie get over their fear of flying.

What is the point of all of that? At no point did my faith in the plane go up simply by telling myself to “have faith” or chanting “planes are safe,.. planes are safe!!”. My KNOWLEDGE of the object of my faith increased. But knowledge is not the end all/be all of faith, otherwise the most intelligent folks in the world would be the most dedicated Christians. There has to be an ASSENT, an “amen” from the heart that accepts the validity of that knowledge. If my fear of flying reached phobic proportions, no amount of insight from the pilot, my friend, or any other source will increase my faith, because there is no assent, I have rejected the validity of the knowledge, however irrational that may be.

The trust factor is a byproduct of proportional and harmonious growth of knowledge + assent. The more I learn about the object of my faith, and the more I accept that knowledge, the more at peace I am with the expected outcome, though I cannot empirically know that it will be that way.. I have faith. And the higher the faith, the more assured I am, the less stressed I become, and I rest… in faith.

See the difference? Real faith is far from illogical. You can’t “defend the faith”, if your faith is some mystical notion that requires an emotional trigger for activation and an absence of resistance for survival. Paul didn’t walk around the Parthenon in Athens screaming “Jesus is Lord”. No! Paul was supremely gifted in logic, and is described by Luke nearly a dozen times, as “reasoning with his listeners”.

Recently one well known message minister stated that we can't prove God and we can't even prove that we have a brain. We believe we have a brain by faith alone.

But if you seriously believe that I don’t have proof that I have a brain, I will tell you that, having viewed an actual human brain myself, having seen countless scans of others brains, read literature about the brain, and seen evidence in my own thought that leads me to accept this coherent set of clues to an inducted, non-empirical, conclusion that, yes “I have a brain.” If you seriously believe that there is no proof of God, I will tell you to watch a single debate between a knowledgeable Christian apologist and an atheist. Though, again, empirical data cannot prove in a deductive sense, that God exists, you cannot bat an eye or study any subject at all without being in contact with a million inductive pointers that lead to his existence. Add to that the illumination of the Holy Spirit while seeking his nature through his Word, and accept Him at his Word… it’s called faith.

...And here is the final distinction between blind message faith and true Christian faith - Every scientific discovery brings more evidence of His existence and strengthens our faith in God. Every archaeological finding brings increased veracity to the providence of God in forming and protecting the canon of scripture for almost 2,000 years.

Meanwhile, every single discovery of fact in the life and ministry of William Branham does just the opposite, making the position of “message believer” an increasingly untenable position.


Footnotes

  1. Adapted from Rockadoodee.com
  2. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Eph 5:17.
  3. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Eph 3:4.
  4. Robert G. Bratcher and Eugene Albert Nida, A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, UBS Handbook Series (New York: United Bible Societies, 1993), 71.
  5. Markus Barth, Ephesians: Introduction, Translation, and Commentary on Chapters 4-6, vol. 34A, Anchor Yale Bible (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008), 579.
  6. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), 1 Cor 1:18–25.
  7. Craig Blomberg, 1 Corinthians, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), 56.
  8. Francis A. Schaeffer, The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: a Christian Worldview (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1982).
  9. John MacArthur, Reckless Faith: When the Church Loses Its Will to Discern (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994), 15–16.
  10. The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Eph 1:18.
  11. Klyne Snodgrass, Ephesians, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 88–89.


Navigation