Anti-Intellectualism in the American Church

Product DetailsOver the past few years, quite a few Reformed and Presbyterian church planters and pastors have told me that many visitors end up joining their churches because it actually teaches and preaches solid, clear, biblical doctrine.   My own pastoral experience is the same.  I’ve heard people tell me that most of the churches they visit are very shallow and have little or no doctrinal content in the preaching and teaching.   These types of churches don’t necessarily preach heresy; they simply don’t preach the whole counsel of God – tough parts and all.  Of course many readers of this blog have also commented here and know the unfortunate truth that a big part of evangelicalism is only one theological inch deep.

In Fit Bodies, Fat Minds, Os Guinness examines the anti-intellectual attitude and atmosphere of American evangelicalism.  From doctrinally “lite” songs, sermons, and skits to disgust of education, seminary, creeds, and confessions, evangelicalism in the United States has broken the commandment to love God with our minds (Matt. 22:37).  I’ll come back to other sections of this book later.  For now, here are a few quotes to get you thinking (yes, use your God-given brain!):

“Failing to think Christianly, evangelicals have been forced into the role of cultural imitators and adapters rather than originators.  In biblical terms, it is to be worldly and conformist, not decisively Christian” (p. 14).
“Our passion [in this book] is not for academic respectability, but for faithfulness to the commands of Jesus.  Our lament is not for the destruction of the elite culture of Western civilization but for the deficiencies in our every discipleship as Christians.  Our mission is not the recovery of some lost golden age of purportedly better Christian thinking but the renewal of a church today that has integrity, faithfulness, and effectiveness in its thinking.  Once again thinking Christianly is first and foremost a matter of love – of minds in love with God and the truth of his world” (p. 19).
“Whenever evangelicals have an experience of direct, personal access to God, we are tempted to think or act as if we can dispense with doctrine, sacraments, history, and all the other ‘superfluous paraphernalia’ of the church – and make our experience the sum and soul of our faith” (p. 38).
And one more.
“The same factors that constituted the positive side of populism also conspired to make it opposed to history, structure, organization, tradition, class, hierarchy, education, and even doctrine.  By denying the distinction between clergy and laity, populism refused to defer to theology or theological training.  By rejecting traditional learning and showing scant regard for canons of orthodoxy, populism tended to take all ideas and experiences at their face level.  This opened the floodgates for heresy and newly created religions” (p. 46).
In that last excellent quote, by the way, Guinness is expanding on N. Hatch’s thesis in The Democratization of American Christianity.  I think that last quote is fascinating as well – consider how many cults and sects came out of the populist religion in the early 1800s.  It certainly isn’t a coincident that cults like Mormonism and the Jehovah’s Witnesses (among quite a few others) grew from the seeds planted in the populist American religious soil of the early 1800s.

By the way, you can currently get a used copy of this book (Fit Bodies Fat Minds) shipped to your door for well under $6.00 (via Amazon).  If you don’t own it, I would strongly recommend getting it!

shane lems

1 thought on “Anti-Intellectualism in the American Church”

  1. […] I am reading Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul by  J. P. Moreland;Dallas Willard. Kindle Edition, and am throughly enjoying the challenge of it. Now I find another book along the same lines I will have to get next.  I found it in The Reformed Reader blog  by the title above by Andrew Compton: 3/17/12 11:18 AM Reformed Reader Uncategorized Comments […]


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