January 31, 2006

John Stott (1921–2011) on Anti-Intellectualism

The spirit of anti-intellectualism is prevalent today. The modern world breeds pragmatists, whose first question about any idea is not "Is it true?" but "Does it work?" Young people tend to be activists, dedicated supporters of a cause, though without always inquiring too closely either whether their cause is a good end to pursue or whether their action is the best means by which to pursue it.
John Stott, Your Mind Matters (Downers Grover, IL: IVP, 1972), 7–8.


Keith said...

Tony, nice post. This is surely a problem, especially among the Church (I say this because we, the Church, have been called to love God with all our mind.") But what do you recommend we do about it?
For what its worth, I'd like to plug two books on this specific issue: J. P. Moreland's Love Your God with all Your Mind, and Mark Noll's The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.
If you have time, I (and I'm sure many others) would be interested to read whatever thoughts you may have on countering this problem. Thanks for your post.

Tony Byrne said...

Hi Keith,

I've own both books, but I've only read Moreland's. As you know, it is very good. Part of the solution is to get quality books in the hands of people so that they learn to think worldviewishly. The Moreland book, along with others, can teach us how to ask ourselves and others the right questions. As Stott suggests, we are not asking the right questions. There's something fundamentally wrong with our priorities if we are not asking what is true, good and beautiful. It's only when one has the wisdom of God in Christ that such questions ultimately make sense.

The first solution is to get people in the church converted by a true gospel proclamation. After this, we need to train them to adopt biblical priorities through regular and systematic expositions of entire books of the bible. This should be coupled with discipleship or mentoring (wise counseling - wink, wink) so that believers learn how to see larger worldview issues at stake in how they live. Our life goals and passions need to be joined with solid Christian thinking or discernment.

We should be able to recognize the emptiness and irrationality of the pervasive existentialism in our culture. So many people are joined to various causes for the sake of personal significance, but they have no basis for thinking that their pursuits are objectively true or good. "Whatever works" seems to boil down to "whatever gives you a personal sense of significance." So long as your pursuits aid the public consensus about what is good and staves off suicide for awile, then that's deemed good.

The pervasive "whatever works" mentality is utterly incompatible with a Christian view of reality. Pragmatism, as with any other conception of things contrary to Christianity, amounts to self-referential absurdities. Steve Wilkins' book Beyond Bumper Sticker Ethics (IVP) would also be good for the church to read. As he says, "If actions are judged by their consequences, then decisions about the goodness of our actions are dependent on knowing something that is still future (the result). And because the future is, by definition, unknowable, we are left in a kind of ethical limbo until we know whether the results we anticipate come to pass." Also, he says "utilitarianism cannot tell us at what time in the future we can judge whether a decision was a good one." I would recommend that Christians read Wilkins book, as well as Arthur Holmes book on Ethics (IVP). These resources, along with the ones you mentioned, would be helpful for us to learn to think Christianly about all things, particularly about a Christian view of ethics.

We need to study to know the mind of Christ, pray and mentor each other while in genuine community. That seems to be the solution to the anti-intellectualism problem that Stott brings up, as well as a solution to everything else wrong in our church and/or public life. In doing those things, we will be true salt and light for Christ's sake to the glory of God.

Tony Byrne said...

Hi Keith,

I said, "wise counseling - wink, wink" above because I initially thought you were Keith Plummer of The Christian Mind. He's a Christian counselor. I just clicked on your name and saw that you are a different Keith. I will be sure to check out your blog ;-)

Anonymous said...

Hi Tony,

I guess an answer to those who are only concerned with "does it work" and not "is it true" could be: if you don't examine the truth of what you believe how do you know you're not trusting in a "spiritual placebo" - something that appears to work but all the while you think its making you healthy you are in fact dying.