Are you an Intellectual or an Intellectualist?
“Former president of the United Nations General Assembly and a devout Christian, gave a speech at Wheaton College called ‘The Two Tasks.’ To the audience assembled for the dedication of Wheaton’s Billy Graham Center, he said: ‘The greatest danger besetting American evangelical Christianity is the danger of anti-intellectualism‘. This idea was picked up by historian Mark A. Noll 14 years later in his 1994 book ‘The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind’. The ‘scandal’ of the title, he said, was ‘that there is not much of an evangelical mind‘” (Wall Street Journal Article: “Winning Not Just Hearts but Minds”).
The article goes on to discuss John Mark Reynolds’ take on this and how he differentiates the intellectualist from the intellectual. The intellectualist, who is a typical evangelical person, is “more concerned with appearing to be an intellectual than with actually being so”.
Sad to say, John Mark Reynolds has analyzed the issue correctly. Anyone who speaks on intellectual terms in Sunday School or with evangelical members typically gets pummeled or else ignored.
Now, not all evangelicals are intellectualists. Some acknowledge that they are not intellectual and yet do not care to make any effort to be so, some are not intellectuals but desire to become one, and there are even some who are intellectuals, growing more and more in knowledge of the Word but also in Spiritual and Theological matters outside of Scripture. Then, there are those who think they know it all, but they know very little – what Reynolds called an intellectualist. According to Reynolds, these are the people that need to do some self-evaluation. In my opinion, they also need to broaden their horizons and not be as dogmatic in their thinking.
Now, maybe you think I am being a little harsh, maybe you think I am being a little arrogant.
So let me critique the other side as well.
Intellectuals are also in danger. The first danger is that an intellectual will become arrogant in his intellectual thinking. This is something in which I am sure to be at fault. However, in the 2 yrs of philosophy courses I have taken, the more I learn, the more I realize how little I actually know.
The second danger is to become so intellectual about everything that we forget that God is real and we can have a relationship with Him. Analytical thinking and logic is good. However, we can so easily get caught up in trying to prove God’s existence or trying to prove the Trinity, or trying to make sense of the infallibility of Scripture and so on, that we forget that God wants to have a relationship with us and we ought to be spending our time growing closer to Christ and fighting against the enemy. There does not need to be logical proof for this. No analytical thought is necessary. Not that you can’t be logical about the relationship, you most certainly can, but what I am saying is that to reason about the relationship does not necessarily help us grow. What helps us grow in the relationship is to actually spend time with God, not constantly reason about Him.
Now STOP. Please don’t think I am going back the other direction and saying that intellectual thinking about God is wrong. After all, that is probably the fault most of us carry. I am simply saying that being an intellectual is pointless if there is no relationship at all. Also, being anti-intellectual is also quite stupid because being intellectual concerning theological matters helps us to build the relationship that we have. Being an intellectualist is even worse because it is simply arrogance in one’s own ignorance.