Paul Metzger’s soon-to-be released book Consuming Jesus traces how evangelicalism became what it is today. One of three historical influences he mentions is anti-intellectualism.
Metzger offers D.L. Moody as an example of someone who influenced evangelicalism in its early stages. Moody was theologically orthodox, but his theology “was ambiguous to the point of seeming not to be theology at all.” He demonstrated an irenic and ecumenical spirit in controversy, and didn’t want theological debate to get in the way of effective Gospel preaching. Metzger praises this spirit, but says that this downplaying of theology may have led to a lack of theological depth in his followers.
Metzger also argues that evangelicals reacted against theological liberalism by retreating to independent Bible churches and institutes, thereby abandoning modern education and culture.
This has lead to what Mark Noll describes in his book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind: “The evangelical ethos is activistic, populist, pragmatic, and utilitarian. It allows little space for broader or deeper intellectual effort because it is dominated by the urgencies of the moment.”
Elsewhere, John Stott quotes the Canadian Mordecai Richler, who says: “What scares me about this generation is the extent to which ignorance is their armor. If know-nothingness goes on much longer, somebody will yet emerge from a commune having discovered…the wheel.” Stott says, “The same scepter of anti-intellectualism rises regularly to haunt the Christian church. It regards theology with distaste and distrust.”
Later in his little book Your Mind Matters, Stott writes a profound prayer that captures what the alternative could look like:
I pray earnestly that God will raise up today a new generation of Christian apologists or Christian communicators, who will combine an absolute loyalty to the biblical gospel and an unwavering confidence in the power of the Spirit with a deep and sensitive understanding of the contemporary alternatives to the gospel; who will relate the one to the other with freshness, authority, and relevance; and who will use their minds to reach other minds for Christ.
I can think of a few people who fit that bill, and people can’t get enough of their teaching.
Another good book on this topic, by the way, is Habits of the Mind by James Sire.
I think Metzger is right in saying that evangelicals tend to be anti-intellectual, but I’m open to arguments. Maybe we haven’t seen enough of the type of people that Stott prays for, so we don’t even know what to look for. I pray we’ll see more.