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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.


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4 thoughts on “Are you an Intellectual or an Intellectualist?

  1. A balance needs to be struck. On one end, we have ignorance (of which intellectualism is a part of) and on the other we have hyperanalysis of everything.
    It takes a level of humility to say, with educated certainty, that you do not know something. Likewise, it takes a level of wisdom to say that, with educated certainty, you know something for certain.
    You’ve seen that cute little fallacy of “There is an answer that is conceivable to this question AND I know what I’m talking about THEREFORE my conclusions are inerrant”. It is almost sickening at times to hear somebody reference themselves but discrediting most mainstream ideas.
    One remedy to the issue of a lack of intellectual-mindedness comes from there being a mistaking in what it entails. Thinking one into a frenzy of thought, classical logic, rhetoric and obscure language is not what being intellectual is about. It is about scouring one’s mind (and in turn the experiences, feelings, perceptions and paradigms associated) to come to a lasting conclusion.

    However, I do believe that in this fallen world it may be unwise to become a crusader for devout and studious thinking, since that same thinking can be applied to moral self-justification.

  2. ladydeathmaggot on said:

    I agree with most of what you’re saying Greg, but how is “devout and studious thinking” applied to “moral self-justification” or am I simply misunderstanding you?

  3. It’s simply misunderstanding and a potentially different perception. I’ll try to explain the perception and maybe you’ll see what I’m thinking.
    One of the most revelating and riveting things one can run across is the realization that a core component of their thinking is undoubtedly wrong. When hit with that realization, the person is thrown into a choice: accept being wrong or reject the new thought(s).
    In this situation, the more well-read, informed, and intellectually trained this person is, the more polarized the outcome. That is why there are men like Walter Martin and there are men like Richard Dawkins. They both were faced with an affront on their beliefs and both used their intellect in radically different ways.

    And to tie it back to your misunderstanding of what I said: I feel it is dangerous to promote empowerment without discretion, and I hold the view that any bit of intellectual capacity is empowerment. Instead, I think it is more prudent to promote optimism, altruism, love and faith. Which is what I think your ultimate goal is. So you’re not like, wrong or anything. It’s just a collegiate rebuke, which has as much gravity as a politician’s apology.

  4. ladydeathmaggot on said:

    I think intellect empowers us to make wise decisions. One of the problems with America is that the voters of our generation have been brainwashed by public schools to no longer think for themselves. If people were using their intellect, then at least they would be making decisions based on reason rather than on what people tell them. Intellect is certainly nothing without Charity and the Fruit of the Spirit etc., however, I think man is much more capable of making wise decisions concerning Love etc. if he has intellect.

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