Monday, February 04, 2008

Anti Intellectualism and Pentecost

One of the most bothersome things to hear as a Pentecostal (AG) Minister is the resounding anti-intellectualism that reverberates in our camp. There is a constant clamor from our pastors that we should by pass the intellect all together. While there are certainly elements of our faith that bypass our intellect (ie., praying in the spirit, etc) there is a biblical imperative to love God with all our mind. So why is there so much anti-intellectual noise?

Well, bias for one- we have seen recently that there are forces in the intellectual arena that are driven by bias. One need only read Indoctrination U or some such book to see that there are blatant slants in our univerisities that sque information to the left (usually). These are usually driven by some political, social, or economic agenda. I mean, come on, how many times do we have to be condescended to by some liberal politician who tells us that our faith shouldn't affect our politics (all the while campaigning in some church!). Or how many times do we have to have some ivory tower intellectual look over his glasses at us "pitifully ignorant evangelicals" and repeat the often quoted but unsubstantiated studies that reveal that there is some genetic link for homosexuality (there is, in fact, none proven yet).

Then there is liberal scholarship that exhibits a set of assumptions that undermine the scriptures they are pretending to study. For instance, the anti supernaturalism of some or the late date for the gospels; or the extremism of higher criticism...etc. It is easy to rail against the intellectuals that seem to poison the pool of our theology.

And what are we to make of the hundreds of graduates from our higher learning institutions who, after spending tens of thousands on seminary educations, are still il-equipped to do ministry? Obviously their massive intellects aren't helping us reach the lost and dying world around us.

But what we need in Pentecostal circles is not a lack of intellectualism but inflamed intellect. Inflamed with passion, creativity and surrendered to the service of the King. There are a few scholars who have begun to show us how to passionately follow God with our intellect. Can this passionate intellect drive the pastoral ministry? Can we return to "Thinking with the scholars and talking with the people" as Luther demanded? Will it translate into church growth? Or does ministry die on the altar of pragmatism?


Paul M. Harrison said...

I think the elephant in the room here is the Bible itself. In all of the anti-intellectualism I have ever encountered in the Pentecostal church, people had Bible verses or distinctly Christian reasons for being that way.

On more than one occasion I have been accused of having a "spirit of intellectualism" or a "spirit of reason" as if these aspects of humanity are demonic.

I have been demonized, "You are blinded by Satan and under his spell" so that they can dismiss any conversation outright as Satanic deception, and the ever famous, "You don't have the Holy Spirit and are spiritually discerned, so you don't understand the things of God." These people pretend they have some gnostic form of inner-knowing that gives them some invisible truth that cannot be scrutinized or discussed.

There is the famous, "Knowledge puffeth up" and "Where is the philosopher of this world?" and of course, "The wisdom of man is foolishness to God."

Seeking understanding and asking questions is seen as pride, and we are to "have faith like a child" and believe without and despite the counter evidence. When Jesus is continually railing on his disciples for their lack of faith and being slow to understand, people who love him don't want that rebuke, so their own doubts, questions, and intellect are ignored and demonized.

Because Pentecostals began as sort of mom and pop churches who needed no denominational accountability or theological training (because they are called by God) there was a lot of anti "book learnin'" taught - especially because book smarts will only lead you to the modern culture you are denying - evolution, liberalism, higher criticsm, etc. After all, it was you Pastor Dave who told me years back never to get my theology from farmers in Tulsa who talk to Jesus in their living rooms, and that has always stuck. Pentecostals put far more weight on spirit revelation than natural learning. "You have the Spirit and have no need for a teacher."

I found that particular subculture of anti-intellectualism insufferable and the people in it obnoxious, so I generally avoided it and respected much more the intellectual tradition of Christianity - namely apologetics, theology, church history, philosophy, and places that allow freedom of inquiry and clarity of thought.

Intellect by no means will answer everything or save us, but neither does it do any good to demonize it and live opposed to or be afraid of an essential part of yourself. Apologists quote a whole lot of other biblical texts supporting reason. "Come, let us reason together." "The Bereans examined the Scripures." "Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength." "Study to show yourself approved." "Always be ready to give a reason for the hope that lies in you." "Teach sound doctrine."

These people are generally called heritic hunters, Pharisees, and religionists who live by the letter and not the Spirit by generic Pentecostals.

Somehow Pentecostalism has to marry intellect and its belief about the supernatural without compromising anything or being divorced from reality. In my experience Pentecostals are so hungry for the supernatural that they cut corners to endorse carnival acts as genuine representations of the supernatural power of God, and they see clear examination of these things in and of itself a hinderance to it happening.

Perhaps you can name or recommend Pentecostal scholars you respect (Most of which will not be found in the Charismatic section of Christian bookstores).

Pastor Dave said...

Sure -Rick Nanez's book Full Gospel, Fractured Minds is a good book on this subject. Also from and evangelical point of view. Mark Noll's book Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.

BTW- neither is a heretic hunter. And neither is guided soley by reason.

Paul M. Harrison said...

Man, I was pretty sure Wayne Grudem would make your list. I didn't know Noll was Pentecostal. There is a great treatment on Creationism and the end times in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.

Paul M. Harrison said...

I made a short youtube video on heresy hunters and added a video response to it of the TBN crowd condemning their critics to hell or cursing them with their anointing if you are interested:

I read Richard Spencer's book called "Heresy Hunters" where he blasted the methods used to expose Bob Larson, Mike Warnke, and of course Hanegraaff's methods used on Word of Faith teachers.

As the video explains (and I only had ten minutes to cover the most important stuff) charging people with heresy hunting is usually a slanderous emotional response used in place of actually answering the research, case, and charge of heresy presented. It is a deflection, it is evasive, and it attacks the motive of the person.

If Walter Martin writes Kingdom of the Cults and researches and heavily footnotes the abberant teachings of Mormonism he is a hero, a scholar, and best-selling author. But if he turns that same good research on Copeland, all of a sudden he is a nit-picking, slandering, heresy hunter who attacks fellow Christians, can't research correctly, misquotes and takes people out of context? I find this suspicious.

I agree that there are ethics in how someone presents their research and findings, and I think Hanegraaff is just as slanderous and sensational as the people he criticizes, so in my case, I try to duck under the radar of the rhetoric and name-calling and just ask whether or not the research is good, the case is made, and if there is a specific and detailed response to the criticism.

It seems that when people want to fight to defend their subculture, they are pulled into rhetoric wars, but when people are looking for truth, they don't care about the battle lines, just good information.