Are you finding intellectual enjoyment in the Church?

Theologian Charles Hodge, a critic of Darwin's...
Theologian Charles Hodge, a critic of Darwin’s theories, also praised Darwin for his intellectual honesty. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Because of reading several polls on why people are leaving the Church, I’ve maintained for a while part of the issue is the lack of grounded intellectual discourse. While congregational members may have questions, often times, they are discouraged from asking them. At seminary, I met one pastoral student who loudly railed against questions and easily stated he would deny congregational questions their validity. This is measured out accordingly into our curriculums and often times in the sermons. Please, for the love of God, don’t ask questions. And this is admittedly my current bent.

It was Calvin who began the tradition of wearing academic robes in the Church. Why?  Because Church was supposed to a place of learning. This is why the catechisms were taught to children early — because it taught doctrines, writings, and the such. Now we seem content with a poor study set with a focus meant to do what?

Anyway, when someone on Fb posted this last night, two remarks met my immediate notice and agreement.

Because the people who teach me and who ask me hard questions and who I want to live like and learn from are outside of my church.

And

Because I am not expected to contribute to the intellectual climate of the church community, and I am not expected to work hard at the practical things, although being young and available I am the most able to work hard and being hungry intellectually I also have the most need to contribute.

Let us not deceive ourselves — since the Sunday School industry started in the 1940’s, along with changing views of the role of the Church and the life of the Christian, we have seen a remarkable decrease in the intellectual Christian and church attendance. Frankly, instead of Spurgeon, Hodge, and Lewis, we have Todd Bentley, Joel Osteen, and anyone who picks up a bible calling himself a preacher. I don’t have to agree with Charles Hodge to appreciate his intellectual prowess.

I understand and sort of appreciate that Sunday sermons with an intellectual content, small groups, and other educational venues at Church are not everyone’s cup of tea, yet we seem to strive for the lowest common denominator. Are we really afraid to teach? Why can’t we teach a bit more about King David? Or Jesus? Or Judges? Why can’t we teach people, starting small, to grapple with their faith and to question it?

How much better would we be if we had taught questioning our faith instead of absolute intellectual surrender when the New Atheists and Ken Ham arrived?

I am not saying that the current trend is the same as the anti-intellectualism of fundamentalism, although passively, it is rather similar. We have a strong intellectual tradition in the Mainlines. Let’s return to it.

as a side note, anything said here about my current church would seem like a platitude. 

Enhanced by Zemanta
Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

6 thoughts on “Are you finding intellectual enjoyment in the Church?”

  1. One of the traps into which the 20th century religion in American life fell was walking hand-in-hand with public education in turning out and then perpetuating a cheap, obedient, patriotic, and largely mindless workforce. Within this anti-intellectual environment, both students and parishioners were expected to sit down, shut up, and listen to the experts.
    .
    Much the same attitude also undermined the criminal justice system in which jurors were expected to intellectually kowtow and genuflect to supposed expert testimony and interpretation of legal matters in an arena where words and actions lost their common sense meaning. Of course, one result of the smoke and mirrors legal system has been an embarrassing array of wrongful convictions defended by officers of the court supposedly paid out of the public purse to insure justice.
    .
    These days, much of the American public is questioning established religion much as it questions the status quo in education and politics. Having wallowed with swine, the church now finds itself sullied. Although the current round is skepticism is healthy in the long run, it causes those too closely associated with the current scheme to circle the wagons and take potshots the perceived wild savages circling them.

  2. Joel,

    You need to found a church that’s filled with young people coming alive to new intellectual questions, and engaging in robust discussions while sipping lattes till dawn. I believe Michael Patton is trying to create Christian coffee houses like that and has created two so far. You should apply to get into that apologetic scene.

    As for Spurgeon, Hodge and Lewis, you could perhaps edit a best of anthology of their thoughts in e-book form or audio form on podcasts or youtube, and try to drum up more interest in their work. One wonders what Spurge and Hodge would have thought of your memetic criticism. Lewis would probably find it interesting, but not that interesting. I don’t think you’d inspire Lewis to write a book titled Mere Mimesis.

    As for Spurgeon and evolution, don’t get Spurgeon started, apparently, not a fan.
    http://www.spurgeongems.org/vo​ls31-33/chs1911.pdf
    http://sharperiron.org/2007/08/24/spurgeon-on-the-bible-and-darwinism-part-1
    http://www.spurgeon.org/downgrd.htm
    http://gen1rev22.blogspot.com/2011/07/darwins-vain-theory-charles-hatton.html

    1. Well, that is one view I guess. The point about Chuck, Chuck, and Clive is not that I am in agreement with them (as I pointed out), but that they thought through things. They thought about things. They didn’t have a coffee house either.

      As far as Lewis and my book (not sure the reason for the swipe), I’m not sure. Given his need to make myth and examine linguistic discourse between author and audience, who knows. Maybe he’d rather enjoyed it.

  3. Know More Than I Should has a good point about the connection of the church to public education.

    Here is an example of “intellectualism”;

    Over the centuries Christians have been led into situations that bring them far from their Savior. Part of this problem I see as having its origin in the Hellenistic academy. At the end of Alexander’s empire, Israel bounced between Seleucid and Ptolemy influence. However, both were Greek (Hellenistic) and this cultural influence had a significant effect. We can see a snapshot of it Acts;

    Acts 5:34-39 Then stood there up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people, and commanded to put the apostles forth a little space; And said unto them, Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what ye intend to do as touching these men. For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nought. After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed. And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.

    Gamaliel can be seen as a sort of Socrates. The academy can be seen as a sort of arena where the smartest people contend to win the top spot. This is rather how people today compete to get into Harvard. One observation that can be made is that in this environment there is much to do about being “right” so as to miss what is true. After listening to Jesus (who is truth) for three years, the best Gamaliel could come up with was, “If it be of God”. The best this whole academic process could come up with was “if”.

    I think a lot of the grief we Christians inflict on each other is a result of having spent too much time walking the path of Gamaliel rather than the path of Christ. One consequence of walking this path is the blindness of self-righteousness that is illustrated in Luke 18. Here the Pharisees are described as contemptuous of others as a result of their own self-righteousness.

    The anti-intellectualism of the fundamentalists of 100 years ago was more pointed at those who felt themselves superior and had accepted and promoted heresies. It was not so much an antipathy toward the intelligent but a repudiation of subverted intelligence.

Leave a Reply, Please!