“Anti-Intellectualism” and Fundamentalism: A Friendly Rejoinder

Recently I posted a review of the book Promise Unfulfilled by Dr. Rolland McCune. I suppose one would call it a mixed review since although I applauded the book’s intentions and appreciated some of the chapters, I recounted a few misgivings as well. You may read what I wrote here.

In one of my criticisms of the book I made this remark:

“…the most glaring fact about this chapter is McCune’s reliance upon the very people whom he criticizes in his book! The names of Nash, Marsden, Brown, McGrath, Demarest, Davis, and Schaeffer (who is identified as neo-evangelical later on) are appealed to for the substantiation of the writer’s data and critique. And while a writer may legitimately quote an author with which he disagrees, it should be recognized that no fundamentalist is called upon in this chapter – an indication at least that the charge of anti-intellectualism against American fundamentalism does contain enough adhesive power to call any critic of neo-evangelicalism to a little self-examination once in a while.”

When I wrote this section I knew that if I used the term “anti-intellectualism” I might upset one or two people. That was not my intention. But I decided that the word belonged in my paragraph because it was an apt description of what I was concerned about in that part of my critique.

A Christian brother, Frank Sansone, who writes the blog A Thinking Man’s Thoughts kindly contacted me to let me know that he had taken issue with this part of my review. Frank raises two questions in his article that I would like to address in this post. My reasons for doing this are; a). Frank puts his finger on an important issue, and b). because I think that notwithstanding he has unwittingly misconstrued what I was trying to say in my review.

Frank’s first disagreement with me is summarized nicely thus:

“What is so glaring about quoting from people within a movement to help make a case against the movement?”

Well, nothing! But that is not what Dr McCune was doing in the first chapter of his book. What he was doing was succinctly placing a philosophical backdrop for the rest of his book; a book aimed at chronicling the “failed strategy of new evangelicalism.” But in painting his canvass McCune was relying on the scholarship of those whom he was going to criticize in the rest of his book. This struck me as ironic. Perhaps it struck him so too. For, at least in terms of the content of his opening chapter, what came out was that new evangelicals had filled a crucial lacuna in conservative thinking! But I will return to this point later.

On the same point Frank continues, ” It seems to me that this is actually a good strategy, rather than a glaring weakness. Calling a proponent of an idea or position or institution as a testimony against that very same idea or position or institution seems even more condemning that merely quoting from opponents or stating your own case.”

But my brother has misconstrued my point. I was not alluding to any “strategy” on Dr. McCune’s part, but, rather, a necessity, which is quite a different thing. Why was it necessary for a Fundamentalist to go to New Evangelicals for support for his thesis in this chapter? My answer is that fundamentalists have not done the necessary work in the realm of Ideas that the first chapter required, and, might I add, that the Christian worldview deserves!

Dr McCune was not citing these new evangelicals to point out their declension from Biblical orthodoxy, but – and this is important – because of the good work they had done in this vital area.

Now, straight away I realize that there will be some reading this who have pegged me as a new evangelical, but they would be wrong. Allow me to digress a little. I am an Englishman who has been living in the states for the past 11 years. I have always felt uncomfortable with the label “Fundamentalist” because it does not characterize those who I would align myself with spiritually (viz. John Owen, Andrew Fuller, CH Spurgeon, JC Ryle, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones). These men were “evangelicals” but not “new evangelicals.” There is nothing wrong with fundamentalism per se, but I believe it has some inevitable cultural traits which I do not share by virtue of the fact that I am not American-born. However, I do not mind being called a fundamentalist and, in fact, have been an assistant pastor at a BBF church. You can peruse my Statement of Faith here.

Now to the second question.

Frank’s second question asks, “Why does a lack of writing or a lack of being published equal “anti-intellectualism”?”

I reply, “As it relates to an individual (e.g. Prof. Brokenshire) it doesn’t!” But that is not what I am saying. What I was referring to was a movement, viz. Fundamentalism. Let me illustrate:

It is common knowledge that in evangelical/fundamentalist circles many young men and women are going off to colleges and universities ill-equipped to engage the flurry of worldly thinking they will come across. As a result of the pressure of fending off the powerful ideas of secularism and pluralism with the “feather-duster” teaching found in most churches (fundamentalist churches included), many of these young people “loose” their faith. While it is true that many good ministries have sprung up to counter this trend, these ministries are usually “new” evangelical. Where are the fundamentalist ministries? (and books and articles?). Forgive me, but it is simply a cop out to say that every fundamentalist scholar chooses to “put their lives into people, not pages.” Have we learned nothing from the Reformation about the importance of “pages”? Should worldview issues, cultural and philosophical apologetics, or, indeed, theological engagement with anti-Christian philosophies be done? If it ought to be done then it ought to be done by fundamentalists. You see, brainpower is not the issue. Engagement is the issue. And if the fundamentalist movement has made this such a low priority throughout its history, I say, that is a symptom of what may justly be termed “anti-intellectualism.” Maturing saints and winning souls is great, but it cannot be done at the cost of misology in the publishing arms of the movement. Both are important. In point of fact, both are but parts of the whole Christian worldview! So, as our Lord said, in another context, “these you ought to have done, and not left the other undone.”

On a side note, I do not agree with Frank that the money isn’t there. It is there, but is is being spent (or not spent) on things that are given higher priority (I’ll move on before I get cynical).

In Frank’s last paragraph he sums up his second issue concisely:

“I just think that we need to re-think this idea that “scholarship” = “published” and its reciprocal, “unpublished” = “anti-intellectual” (or at least, “unscholarly”).”

Well, I fully agree, but here is what I was aiming at:

Low priority on issue X = Dearth of engagement with issue X = No voice on issue X = Anti-intellectual attitude as regards said issue.

Years ago, when I read Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind I remember feeling annoyed with his salvos against dispensationalism and young-earth creationism. I was guilty on both counts and still am. It is not anti-intellectual to hold to either view. It is anti-intellectual if I am either one and I do not seek to explore God’s fathomless truth from both perspectives. That is to say, if a segment of Christianity simply settles for dogma and neglects its own exploration of the truth, that segment or movement will stall and will look back one day to find that it failed to have a voice in its generation. We are to stand on the shoulders of giants, not stand by and simply ape them. I am saying that in some areas fundamentalism is infected with this kind of self-referential torpor.

How easy it is for us to want to be “intellectuals” and to parade ourselves in our borrowed finery before adoring novices. All the while He who searches the hearts is looking on in disgust! God forbid such a thing! For sure that sort of thinking caught hold with some new evangelicals (and I have seen it in some fundamentalists!). But when we have heeded the warnings, there is work to be done.

To return to my disputed paragraph then. What I was doing in pointing to the irony of a critic of new evangelicalism having to use those same brethren to bolster his positions because no one within his own movement has produced comparable work in that area, is this: Surely it behooves him (and us) to acknowledge the beam that is in our own collective eye in these vital areas before we become mote-removers (or plank-removers) to those who are so clearly in need of our correction.

I think that read in this light I can plead not guilty to both of Frank’s observations.

My thanks to Frank Sansone for his brotherly integrity in telling me about his article. May God bless him and his ministry.

Your brother,

Paul

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9 comments

  1. Dr. Henebury,

    Thank you for your response. I appreciate it. I don’t have a lot of time to respond right now, but I wanted to at least give a little bit of a response, for now.

    I am sorry for misconstruing part of what you were saying here. I did not intend to present you in a light with which you would not agree.

    I think I concede part of your point in regards to the use of new evangelicals to display the errors of liberalism. I should have read more carefully on this point. I also wonder why it would have been needed to have been so, but I do not think that this need is, by default, a lack of scholarship. This may be the case – and if “scholarship” = “published” then it probably is the case. However, I do not doubt that many of the arguments put forth by Wells, Marsden and others have been stated many times in Fundamentalist classrooms before (or at least concurrent with) the production of the written works of these other men.

    I would also suggest that the very fact that Dr. McCune was putting this work into print may have necessitated (or at least encouraged) the quoting from the published authors on these topics rather than merely quoting Professor Unknown at Fundamental University – even if you could find an a clear and accurate representation of how Professor Unknown made his point.

    In regards to the equation, “Low priority on issue X = Dearth of engagement with issue X = No voice on issue X = Anti-intellectual attitude as regards said issue”, I wonder if there is not an unsupported assumption in this equation – namely, that there is a “low priority on issue X” just because there is no published works regarding issue X. (Maybe I am reading this assumption into the equation.) I believe there has been engagement and emphasis on these issues by Fundamentalists – but, again, this engagement is not necessarily witnessed by or obvious to those who have not been in the classrooms. Sit through one of Dr. Barrett’s classes on Old Testament Introduction, for instance, and tell me that he does not properly deal with these issues and engage the errors in liberalism. I still think that it is a stretch to charge the movement with an anti-intellectualism.

    I have additional thoughts I may share when I have a little more time. I appreciate your interaction on this. It has been helpful.

    In Christ,

    Frank Sansone

  2. Dear Frank (please call me Paul),

    Thanks for the reply. I am afraid that you still do not see the main point I was trying to make. It has nothing to do with counting the noses of scholars and credentials, and it has little to do with what is taught in the classroom.

    What I am seeking to get across is that if something is really important to a person or, in this case, a movement, it will be seen in the kind of products with which the system wishes to be identified. If separation or evangelism is given high priority, then this will be reflected in the literature produced by the given movement. Or to get back to basics, if the publishing of serious books etc. is viewed as a desideratum within a given movement, again, one would expect to see it represented in its literary products. Take Reformed Theology as an example. It has a history of producing solid theological and apologetic works because it sees them as absolutely integral to its self-understanding. The same illustration may be used to define a movement like, in this case, fundamentalism.

    When fundamentalism is viewed according to this criterion its priorities become evident. It is then fair to point this out in a review of a work which criticizes (with justification) another movement.

    Dear brother, failure to recognize this fact is also a symptom of anti-intellectualism (I am not saying this of you), for it discloses a mindset which is impervious to the actual state of things. This, in turn can only lead to re-action not pro-action. Tom Pryde and others recognize this, and your respondent (Keith I think) picked up on it. It is a mindset, not of particular individuals necessarily, but a movement mindset. And it is perfectly appropriate to point it out in a review of a book like Promise Unfulfilled.

    I’ll say no more until I read your further thoughts on the matter.

    God bless you and yours.

    Your brother,

    Paul

  3. Paul,

    First of all, I am sorry that my previous post was written while I was logged in and working for something on the FFBC Blog. I hope readers will recognize this as unintentional and not assume that my comments here or on my own blog are automatically the views of the FFBC.

    I am not sure that I fail to understand you as much as you think, but perhaps I am incorrect in that belief. I do think we differ significantly, however, in what is viewed as “anti-intellectualism.” I am not sure we will come to agree on this, but I have appreciated the interaction.

    I think two comments reveal the differences in the ways we are approaching this. Early on you comment, “What I am seeking to get across is that if something is really important to a person or, in this case, a movement, it will be seen in the kind of products with which the system wishes to be identified.” I believe this is a telling statement and I would tend to agree with you on this, but come away with a totally different perspective.

    What is the product with which the system of healthy Fundamentalism wishes to be identified? I would agree that the answer would probably not be “written scholarly works.” I would hope and assume (perhaps with more charity than the opponents of Fundamentalism) that the product would be more along the lines of mature believers and healthy churches. I would also state, however, that not having a goal of producing written scholarly in order to be identified as “schaolars” does not equal being “anti-intellectual.” If a person has a goal that is focused on one thing, it does not necessarily mean that they are “anti” or “against” something else unless the two things are opposed. If I am focused on a goal of maturing the believers among whom God has placed me, that does not mean that I am “anti-other believers” or “anti-evangelism.” (In fact, I would assume that part of the process of maturing the believers among whom God has placed me will indeed result in other believers being matured and evangelism being done – but that is a side issue.)

    For instance, Dever is putting out some good stuff on the church right now, but it is not exactly earth shattering or any new scholarship, but I don’t think it would be fair to paint him as anti-intellectual because he has chosen to focus in an area of practical theology.

    The other comment that I think shows part of where we think differently is your comment that ” if the publishing of serious books etc. is viewed as a desideratum within a given movement, again, one would expect to see it represented in its literary products.”

    Is the publishing of serious books the thing that is to be desired of believers? Is the publishing of serious book the sine qua non of what it means to be an intellectual? If so, then surely your point carries.

    I would argue, of course, that it is not necessarily so. While the writing of scholarly materials is a great service to the body of Christ and I rejoice in many of the things that have been written and have benefitted from much, I find no command to produce scholarly writings. Though a written legacy may help to certify that someone is a scholar, I do not believe the written legacy is that which makes them the scholar – nor that the lack of the written legacy makes them anti-intellectual.

    I do not find a command for believers to write scholarly books or articles. I do find a requirement to study – to be diligent. I do find a responsibility to proclaim the Gospel and to make disciples and to train those disciples.

    I am not meaning this to come across that I am against writing. I just think that establishing a criterion that writing scholarly articles or books is the proof of scholarship and that the failure to produce such works is evidence of an anti-intellectualism falls short.

    If Luther had slaved away in the classroom in Wittenburg and never wrote anything, would he be considered anti-intellectual? If no one had recorded Calvin’s sermons and all of his writings had been burned, would he have been anti-intellectual? If Edward’s works never made it out of Northhampton would he have been suddenly anti-intellectual? I think it would be fair to answer “no” in all of these cases.

    I again want to clarify that I am not against those whom God has called and gifted to write, but I find it hard to swallow the idea that scholarly writing is necessary in an individual or a movement in order for that movement to not be charged with being anti-intellectual.

    A couple of other quick notes (I hope 🙂 .

    I have heard a number of knocks against Fundamentalism for not addressing “XYZ” heresy or false teaching. (I am not saying that you are doing this.) As Dr. Doran pointed out a while ago on another blog (I can’t remember whose at this moment), the fact that there are not being books put out by Fundamentalists on these subjects do not mean they are not being addressed. For instance, I can’t remember how many Fundamentalist conferences over the last number of years that had sessions dealing with the errors of the emerging/emergent church and post-modernism.

    I also wonder if the seeming imbalance regarding writing about separation instead of about liberalism may have something to do with the respective realities of the circles among which people exist. Fundamentalists write on the issues of separation, or the errors of the church growth movement, etc., in part, because those are areas most under attack among those with whom they deal regularly. People tend to focus on addressing the issues that most effect them. I have a friend whose blog is mostly focused on dealing with Mormonism, yet I write very little regarding Mormonism. What is the difference? Todd ministers in Idaho, which is heavily populated by Mormons. I have been down here for three years and have yet to meet my first Mormon down here. (JWs are very common here, but not Mormons.) I doubt many Fundamental churches are facing issues with NPP or Open Theism, so the lack of writing books on these subjects is not much more out of balance than the relative lack of works on Mariolatry among American evangelical writers.

    Anyway, it is WAAAY past my bedtime. Thanks again for your time.

    In Christ,

    Frank Sansone

  4. Frank,

    I appreciate your cordiality and your mature thinking. I will have to leave the subject for the time being, but I would like to comment on a few of the items in your last post.

    Firstly, you say,

    ….”What is the product with which the system of healthy Fundamentalism wishes to be identified? I would agree that the answer would probably not be “written scholarly works.” I would hope and assume (perhaps with more charity than the opponents of Fundamentalism) that the product would be more along the lines of mature believers and healthy churches.”…

    My reply is twofold. I do not think the lack of good literature on a whole raft of crucial issues is a sign of a “healthy Fundamentalism.” And to make the gauge of fundamentalism’s “health” to be “mature believers and healthy churches” smacks of subjectivism. In my personal experience (for what it’s worth) I am not very sure that there is much of a difference between the kind of believers/churches produced by fundamentalism as over against conservative evangelicalism. This is a very questionable assertion.

    Next, you write:

    …”If Luther had slaved away in the classroom in Wittenburg and never wrote anything, would he be considered anti-intellectual? If no one had recorded Calvin’s sermons and all of his writings had been burned, would he have been anti-intellectual? If Edward’s works never made it out of Northhampton would he have been suddenly anti-intellectual? I think it would be fair to answer “no” in all of these cases.”…

    Well, my answer to this is simple. – They wouldn’t have even thought that way! The standard biographies of these men make that abundantly clear. That was not their mindset. But if they had not written then the Reformation would not have had the kind of intellectual impact on the West that it had. The Geneva syndics employed stenographers for Calvin because they set such store by his works. If they had all been burned that would have made no difference to their valuation of his writings. We can’t control providence. We can, to a great extent, control our priorities.

    Moreover, it was not the mindset of the Apostle Paul. He so clearly saw what the fundamentalist movement does not; that a written ministry is not a cozy option best left to others. All the great evangelicals saw this (I have in mind Owen, Baxter, and a host of others). They all realized that “the pen is mightier than the sword” if you w ill forgive the phrase. Not to see this is not a sign of good health.

    Then you state:

    …”I do not find a command for believers to write scholarly books or articles. I do find a requirement to study – to be diligent. I do find a responsibility to proclaim the Gospel and to make disciples and to train those disciples.”…

    No, there is no command to write scholarly books. But there are obligations to cultivate the life of the mind (e.g. 2 Cor. 10:5; 2 Tim. 2:15; Matt. 22:37; cf. Col. 1:18). In 1 Tim. 4:13 where Paul exhorts Timothy to “give attention to reading” he was making it a priority (cf. 2 Tim.4:13). If Timothy is to read then someone has to write. (BTW I have written on the Christian Mind a number of times on my site).

    You believe that it is too strong a charge to say that fundamentalism as a movement is somewhat anti-intellectual because they are, after all, not against writing on these subjects, they just don’t do it.

    In reply I would say that since the prefix “anti” (from the Gk. prep.) carries both a strong force (“against”) and a weaker force (“in place of” etc.) it is appropriate to use the term. Still, if you can think of a better one I have no problem there. My contention has been that fundamentalism per se has made the writing and promulgation of serious books a low priority.

    Just think about it: where are the standard works on systematic or biblical theology from the fundamentalist movement? Where the books on apologetics and worldview? On hermeneutics or ethics? There have been a few good commentaries (Custer, Barrett), but not many.

    What then? I say this is a symptom of an anti-intellectual attitude or an indifferent mindset within fundamentalism generally. This is one of the things that separates it (pun not intended) from the likes of the Reformers and Puritans. You say that it is not. We shall have to respectfully disagree with each other.

    Frank, you may have the last word if you want it. I have enjoyed our discussion immensely and I want to wish you a Merry Christmas before signing off…

    Your brother,

    Paul

  5. Great conversation. I’ve enjoyed getting to know your work Dr. Henebury — even though I can’t even reluctantly accept dispensationalism. And, as I’ve told him at his place, Frank is a very decent fellow.

    I hope it’s not out of line to enter the discussion. If it is, please delete my comments quickly — I’ll take no offense.

    Dr. Henebury, (obviously) I agree with your comment that started this discussion. I especially think that you are on track in this follow up post when you write: “You see, brainpower is not the issue. Engagement is the issue.” Don’t you think, though, that the lack of engagement is a necessary result of the fundamentalist strategy? The fundamentalists viewed (view?) engagement as “compromise” and “desiring respectability”, and they thought the focus ought to be on separation.

    Frank, you wrote: “I do not find a command for believers to write scholarly books or articles. I do find a requirement to study – to be diligent.” So, I wonder, what are we to study diligently? Of course the Bible should be preeminent, but if we are to study anything else, it has to exist. It has to be created. The prohibition of stealing necessitates private property, doesn’t the command to study similarly necessitate writing?

    You also wrote: “The fact that there are not being books put out by Fundamentalists on these subjects do not mean they are not being addressed. For instance, I can’t remember how many Fundamentalist conferences over the last number of years that had sessions dealing with the errors of the emerging/emergent church and post-modernism. ” But, have these errors been addressed in a thorough, disciplined, scholarly fashion? If so, who did the scholarship, and why don’t they publish it?

    Peace

  6. Paul,

    I agree with you that this has pretty much come to an end, but I have enjoyed the conversation.

    A few quick comments of clarification and a small rebuttal.

    My comment on “healthy fundamentalism” was not a comment on the relative health of fundamentalism versus conservative evangelicalism, but as to distinquish the fundamentalism that I am referring to from its not-so-healthy fringe.

    Further, my comment on the product of healthy fundamentalism was in reply to your comment on the nature of the product with which a movement (or individual) wishes to be identified – I think this is more clearly understood if you include the very next line of my statement:

    “What is the product with which the system of healthy Fundamentalism wishes to be identified? I would agree that the answer would probably not be “written scholarly works.” I would hope and assume (perhaps with more charity than the opponents of Fundamentalism) that the product would be more along the lines of mature believers and healthy churches. I would also state, however, that not having a goal of producing written scholarly in order to be identified as “schaolars” does not equal being “anti-intellectual.”” (Italics added to try to clarify.)

    In other words, I was not arguing or asserting that Fundamentalism is the only place where we find mature believers or healthy churches. Instead, I was arguing that the product that Fundamentalism should desire to be identified with would be “mature believers and healthy churches” rather than having the desire to be identified with “scholarly written articles and books.” (I recognize that these are not mutually exclusive, but I am trying to clarify the point I was making.)

    Regarding the mindset of the Apostle Paul, you comment the following:

    “Moreover, it was not the mindset of the Apostle Paul. He so clearly saw what the fundamentalist movement does not; that a written ministry is not a cozy option best left to others. … Not to see this is not a sign of good health.”

    I will, of course, trump your Paul with Jesus. (You probably saw this coming 🙂 .) If the written ministry is so necessary in order for good health or to not be “anti-intellectual” (even with the weaker sense of “anti”), then what do we do with the earthly ministry of Christ? Christ did everything purposefully, yet, He “left it for others” to write.

    Thank you again for the conversation. It has been enoyable.

    Merry Christmas to you, as well.

    Frank

  7. Keith,

    I will answer you briefly because you raise a great question.

    I think you have put your finger on something I was trying to quietly advert to in my original review (remember that?). I hinted at it, for instance, by comparing McCune’s opinion of Machen and Schaeffer. I think there exists a “pick-and-choose from behind the fence” mentality which is fostered by foggy views on separation.

    Is separation important? Absolutely it is (“evil communications corrupt good habits”), but we must be alert to artificiality and subjectivity, and we must beware of introducing patterns of thought that induce unnecessary wariness of certain pursuits.

    Is that PC enough?

    Your brother,

    Paul

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