As a Southern Baptist, I deal with generalizations and mischaracterizations from many of my ‘academic’ friends. But one thing that too often is truer than not is that we are anti-intellectual. We have a distrust of scholars, no matter the field, and it leads us to shun learning. And this is wrong…
I firmly believe that one of the most common and most accommodated sins in Southern Baptist churches is anti-intellectualism.
Two mindsets I have encountered contribute to this depressing situation:
1. “I don’t need to study. All I need is a personal relationship with Jesus.” I have heard this said many different ways, and this is only thing I can hear, “It is ok to be stupid as long as I feel good.” To repeat, this is wrong…
As a matter of fact, Jesus confronted this mindset during his ministry among the pharisees. At least seven times, by my count*, Jesus confronts them with this question, “Have you not read?” And it is a question that comes to my mind when I think about my own teenage years. My dad loves to share the story of my first college visit. After meeting with the coaches and touring the campus, I was escorted to the Dean of Science’s office to discuss academics. His opening question, “What do you like to read?” And I proudly answered, “Sports Illustrated.” I thought I nailed the question. Now that I have sat on the other side of the desk I can only imagine how badly he wanted to laugh out loud.
But do not kid yourself, it is not just the problem of a naive teenage boy, listen to this quote from Dennis Prager:**
One thing I noticed about evangelicals is that they do not read. They do not read the Bible, they do not read the great Christian thinkers, they have never heard of Aquinas. If they are Presbyterian, they have never read the founders of Presbyterianism. I do not understand that. As a Jew, that’s confusing to me…When I walk into an Evangelical Christian’s home and see a total of 30 books, most of them best sellers, I do not understand. I have bookcases of Christian books, and I am Jew. Why do I have more Christian books than 98 percent of the Christians in America. That is so bizarre to me.
2. “I wouldn’t do it if I was you, but if you must don’t let them take your faith.” I heard this phrase from several people in several different churches after I decided to attend Duke Divinity School. There was a real fear that by choosing to study God rigorously, I would somehow lose my faith (the theological issue of ‘once-saved-always-saved’ is not for today!). Again, what they meant and what I heard may or may not be the same thing. Yet, this is what I heard, “God can’t handle being rigorously studied because if you look hard enough will realize it is all false.”
Are there dangers to studying and academics? Of course, read Colossians 2:6-8 or 1 Timothy 1:4-6. But losing your faith is not one of them. Proverbs 2 explains that God not only gives wisdom but he also guards those who seek wisdom. We cannot recklessly absorb all that is out there nor should we believe all that we think, but we can and should ask God to give us wisdom. And wonderful news is, he promises to say yes.
*My count of course means I searched the phrase in Accordance.
**Quoted in Thinking. Loving. Doing.