Saturday, May 19, 2012

Christian Fundamentalism and Anti-Intellectualism

"To be ignorant and simple now – not to be able to meet enemies on their own ground – would be to throw down our weapons, and betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defense but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen."
— C.S. Lewis 
By Cowboy Bob Sorensen
Edited September 13, 2016
This is a difficult article to write because supporting documents are difficult to obtain. Although there is a plethora of material that states, essentially, "Christian Fundamentalism is anti-intellectual", I am unwilling to use it because of anti-Fundamentalist bias. (Ironic, really, that liberal analyses decrying the anti-intellectualism of Fundamentalism are themselves slanted and illogical in their approach.) There are some problems and bad connotations associated with the Fundamentalist movement, but I am not interested in emotionally-laden terminology.

Therefore, this article will draw from my own thoughts, research and experiences. If people more knowledgeable  than I can either support or refute what I am saying, I would appreciate some good reference material if you can provide it.

This article will swing like a pendulum. If I am offending your point of view, wait a moment and watch me offend the other point of view as well. Keep going, and perhaps I will say some things that are satisfying as well.

Is Christian Fundamentalism "anti-intellectual"? Can be. However, the gospel itself can be considered anti-intellectual, since faith, when properly understood, defies human "reason".

Image credit: Freeimages / ettina82
I was surprised to see a rather good article on Christian Fundamentalism in Wikipedia, but I was suspicious of the section on the "Christian Right" political movement. The word "Fundamentalist" itself has become almost an epithet (and is actually used as such by angry misotheists, whether the target of their wrath is an actual Fundamentalist or not); it carries baggage. Some of the connotations are justified. Modern Fundamentalists have been known to be rigid and unyielding, elevating opinions and tradition over Scripture. Some can be very legalistic; if you play cards, attend the cinema, listen to "secular" music (or, horror of horrors, Christian rock music), do anything that they consider "worldly", you are in dire need of repentance — if you were ever saved in the first place.

Speaking in generalities, using my own experiences, perceptions and biases (though I do believe there is some truth in my observations), I will say that I have bad feelings around self-styled "intellectuals".  To be blunt, many have been arrogant. I am not anti-intellectual, but I am anti-arrogance. Some of these types seem to be self-absorbed tinhorns, intent on impressing others with the size of their brainpans. They are known for talking and writing about matters that are interesting to other intellectual-types, but escape the rest of us. There are caricatures of intellectuals who are great with mathematics, philosophy, politics, and so on, but cannot handle practical matters. Whether those caricatures are accurate to any large degree, I have no idea. But the perception of the learned but impractical Renaissance Man does exist.

It has been said that Christian Fundamentalism was a reaction to intellectualism. I can see some truth in that statement. Liberal theology is dangerous to faith. It had been happening for quite some time, and "scholars" were intellectualizing away the truth of the Bible and its reliability. They seemed to have a disdain for faith in the Word of God, and I wonder if they were doing this out of pride and the desire to please unbelievers.

Fundamentalists rightly point out that Jesus, the King of Kings, did not appear to royalty. He was born in a guest room, and his first visitors were shepherds (Luke 2.8-12). The entire message of the cross is anti-intellectual, since man cannot think and reason his way into a right relationship with God (1 Cor. 1.18-25, 1 Cor. 3.18-20). No, salvation supersedes wisdom and material things, because it is spiritual. How do we approach God? Through humility (Matt. 18.3-4, Rom. 3.23). How are we saved? By grace, through faith, a gift of God (Eph. 2.8-9, Heb. 11.6).

As I understand it, Fundamentalists rebelled against faith-destroying, prideful intellectualism. However, it appears that they over-reacted. Instead of being able to present reasons for our faith (1 Peter 3.15, Acts 17.2, 22-31), they relied on Scriptures like 2 Tim. 3.16 and took an attitude of Fideism. Biblically, the Fundamentalists were quite correct in most things, but they did not equip Christians to be able to defend or present their faith to those who had questions.

Christian Fundamentalism still exists today, but the Fideist approach seems to be waning. Thankfully.

Ironically, the so-called "New Atheist" movement with its arrogance and extremely vituperative approach is acknowledged by some to have helped Christianity. Professing atheists forced us to deal with their questions and objections, and to learn how to show that there are indeed answers. Today, the branch of theology called apologetics deals with those questions. There are many forms of apologetics. I do not believe that classical and evidential apologetics are sufficient on their own to win someone to Christ, however. (Reasoning from and within the Scriptures using these approaches is quite effective when it's done from believer to believer.) Presuppositional apologetics (refusing to take "neutral ground", and using God's Word as a starting point, Romans 1.19-22) is necessary for effective evangelism; we cannot leave the Word behind and let the materialistic, naturalistic presuppositions of the unsaved dominate the terms of the discussions (Heb. 4.12). Using the Word of God in addition to evidence is vital, and I hope you will read "Wisdom and Reason" for more information on that subject.

To be direct, although I believe in presuppositional apologetics, I do not fully understand it. (The fact that there are different approaches, from Van Til/Bahnsen to Frame to Clark, does not help.) Some aspects of the approach strike me as akin to Fideism, but I still strive to learn this approach because of my own adherence to and respect for Scripture.

There are Christian intellectuals who claim to believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God, yet they compromise on the early chapters of Genesis. They send a confusing message to seekers. The way I see it, "The Bible is trustworthy and the Word of God, sufficient for your salvation and spiritual growth. But do not believe the first chapters of Genesis, they are not history, but allegory". Ridiculous. (Three of my articles on the theological dominoes that this mixed message of compromise brings are "Theological Physics, Compromise and Homosexual Marriage", "Creation Sunday" and "Stumbling Apologists".) Fortunately, there are Biblical creationist organizations that do not compromise on the Word of God, and show that there are scientific and Biblically consistent reasons to believe the Bible from the first verse. 

This brings me to one of the watchwords of my life: Balance. On one side, we have the legalistic Fundamentalism that can believe for its own sake. On the other side, we have man-pleasing intellectualism that doubts the Word of God. I have consistently striven to encourage my readers to believe and trust the Word of God, and to present the gospel (Matt. 28-18-20). Our faith is reasonable and logical.