Anti-Intellectualism in the American Church is Not a Spiritual Gift

trojan-horse  Over the past few months, even years, I have been wrestling with a gnawing issue on why the church is not amenable to apologetics. This is evidenced by the overwhelming anti-intellectualism that has been plaguing the church ever since 1859 when Darwin wrote his On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life as well as other influences.

This post is by no means going to be exhaustive, and I will be referring to others who have cogently written on this same subject. We share in this burden and are seeking ways to show that “ignorance” about why we believe is not a spiritual gift, nor is it found in Scripture.[1]

What I am going to share in this post is share a few cases where I myself have been engaging this phenomenon, and then post some concerns. Finally I will show how this mindset is going to be what one calls the “American Church’s Jailor“[2] by showing what harm this anti-intellectualism mindset brings to the church in America.  The approach will be found in answering four questions, with some answers being longer than others.

In the end, I will provide other postings on this subject so that you can research this further.

What is Anti-intellectualism?

When speaking of this subject, it is important to clarify terms.  Merriam Webster defines anti-intellectualism as “the state of opposing or [being] hostile to intellectuals or to an intellectual view or approach” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).  So in general, anti-intellectualism appears to be the suspicion or opposition toward any intentional cultivation of the intellect. This can refer to American culture and not just the church.  In speaking to the matters where anti-intellectualism has infiltrated the church, we see it in an opposition toward cultivating the mind, which has resulted in placing a stranglehold on the church.

In the practical sense, this anti-intellectualism has become a scandal and a sin that reflects a disobedience to the Great Commandment of Jesus in Matthew 22:37 in congruency with Romans 12:2. It is unbiblical and it is what J. P. Moreland considers to be the “Trojan horse”[3] within the walls of the church.

How Did We Get Here?  

Many of us who have been seeking ways to get apologetics in the church as a means of discipleship would agree with Moreland, who believes this decline all began with the emergence of anti-intellectualism in the church beginning in the middle 1800s.[4]  This was right around the time that Darwin wrote his Origin of Species.  The response of the church to his work is what I think, a pivotal point in the church both in America and in the Western world.

Christians became intellectually shallow being afraid to challenge the scientistic arguments put forth in Darwin’s scientific theories. This shallowness brought with it a theological ignorance which in turn caused the church’s voice to be withdrawn from culture, thus privatizing faith, making it subjective and experiential.

Add to this some of the events that followed the Great Awakening from the 1730’s to 1750’s.  The Christian church was not prepared for the philosophical thought that began to undermine biblical authority in the late 18th century. Attacks from the likes of David Hume (1711-1776) and Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) and German higher criticism on top of Darwinian thinking all came as a wave to assault the propositional Word of God and sound critical thinking.

What was the response of the church? Christianity continued to take the anti-intellectual approach to sermons. Preachers like Charles Finney delivered simple sermons during the Laymen’s Prayer Revival (1856-1858) that produced an emotional response in contrast to sermons that were reflective and doctrinally rich.

Moreland tells us that there was a downside in that while there were thousands of converts on the basis of emotion and warm fuzzy feelings, these new believers were not trained to think theologically and doctrinally.[5]

Experiences are fine when they are rooted in objective truth. But Pentecostals and Charismatics put the cart before the theological horse placing the experience primary over the Scriptures and placed the Scripture subjective to the experience.[6]

Much more could be expounded upon how we got to where we are today. Check out some of the links below for more treatment on the history of the church’s plunge into ignorance.

We see this all around us in many evangelical churches that pursue an experiential faith as opposed to a balanced “forensic faith” that allows for reason to validate the experience in worship. But what does this anti-intellectualism look like?

What Does Anti-intellectualism Look Like?

Over the years I have had the opportunity to observe this anti-intellectualism first hand. Remember that I mentioned earlier that anti-intellectualism is a state of opposition to the life of the mind. Let me pose a question to you as you read this:  “Can you tell me why you are a Christian without giving me your personal testimony of faith in Christ?”  “Can you tell me why you believe the Bible without telling me that it is God’s Word?

These are two questions that I ask to Christians who will let me survey them. Please know that I am not the enemy when I ask these questions. I have even sometimes asked permission of parents who have students that have graduated from the local Christian high school here in “the Burg.”

Do you know that almost none of those who are asked these questions can give me an answer that answers that “WHY?” question. I get the response of proverbial “crickets.” I get stuttering and stammering, to where I graciously let them off the hook to encourage them and build them up to seek on learning to take ownership of those answers.

Then there is the open hostility that I get (and my wife has as well) from Christians who tell us that apologetics is not necessary and that their kids are not going to be vulnerable to the attacks of their professors and peers in the collegiate setting.[7]

Josh McDowell has mentioned in a talk at a National Apologetics Conference that he would like to go up to someone in church, raising their hands in praise to God during worship, and ask them if they can define the God they are praising. He believes, as many of us, that not many if any can accomplish that.

Folks, we have a problem and that problem is that ignorance is not a spiritual gift nor is it a badge of honor in a post Christian culture. We need to bring back the life of the mind.  If we don’t we will see an exponential increase of problems.  What are those problems?

What Problems Does This Present for the Church?

Without going into a great exposition of problems, I want to refer you to my colleague, Brian Chilton’s post 8 Ways That Anti-Intellectualism Is Harming the Church. In that article he lists eight points that I think are very important. I will summarize each one with a sentence or two.

The first one is that anti-intellectualism limits the scope of who God is because it fails to examine, research and contemplate the very God we worship. Let me add here, the more you know about God, the more you love Him. The love that anti-intellectualists bring to the table is a shallow love that will not hold in difficult times.

Second, anti-intellectualism harms the church doctrinally. When the culture creeps into the church, the view of how God sees man has a tendency to weaken.  Social fads of pop culture start to take the forefront. Moving music with all the jump and excitement replaces lyrics that cause us to contemplate the nature of God and who we are before Him.

Third, anti-intellectualism harms the church apologetically. Ask those “Why” questions that I use for a surveying believers to see where they are, and you get what this point means. “The Bible says so” is only true for those of use who take that as our authority. It is not true for those outside the faith that reject it as authority. This is main reason why we need to evaluate contextual starting points in where we start our evangelism and our apologetics methodology.

Fourth, anti-intellectualism harms the church emotionally.  This is where the issues of understanding the problem of evil and suffering come into the mix. Bringing in the life of the mind on these issues keep us from superficial responses toward those who have lost loved ones.[8]

Fifth, anti-intellectualism harms the church philosophically. “Philosophy and theology are intertwined to some degree.[9]  Theology is the “queen of the sciences.” Philosophy is inescapable, since we either have a good philosophy rooted in mind of Christ or a bad one that, as C.S. Lewis says, need to be answered.[10]

Sixth, anti-intellectualism harms the church socially. In this volatile age, looking at the past few elections it is clear that Christian convictions are forgotten at the voting booth. It seems that many are led more by their political leanings or ethnic leanings rather than their Christian convictions. People today “listen with their eyes and think with their feelings.”

Seventh, anti-intellectualism harms the church evangelistically. Anti-intellectuals often consider faith to be the acceptance for which no evidence exists or is needed. Some view their faith as something that works for them, makes them feel good, or guarantees them a spot in heaven. Ask them for evidence of these things or ask what brings meaning and purpose to life and the best answer one might get is silence or an honest “I don’t know.”  Take that into the realm of evangelism and there is no difference between the Christian testimony and a Buddhist testimony.

Eighth, and lastly, anti-intellectualism harms the church spiritually.  It harms one’s view of salvation to where calls to salvation in forms of “dragging emotions to an altar” could lead to false professions of faith or a faulty thinking of what one believes it means to be saved.  It also harms one’s spiritual walk by allowing things into their lives which should not be present. When a well meaning believer confronts another in this scenario, the response is “I have faith and that is all that matters.”  Such a view stems from a poor or ill-equipped interpretation of faith.

Some Closing Insights

As I close this posting, there are a great amount of resources that I will list below this post. As I wrap this up, let me raise a couple of issues that I think we need to think upon that might help lead us to a forensic faith that is robust and ready to face the days ahead.  Let me list them knowing that each of them will lead to a blog post in and of themselves.

First, I believe there is a disconnect between the biblical understanding of the heart and mind. We talk about “inviting Jesus into our hearts.” The heart that we’re talking about is not the muscle beating in our chest cavity but the seat our emotions. Emotions are a facet of the mind.[11]

Pastors, we need to go back to teaching that there is a relationship between the heart and the mind when it comes to the indwelling of Jesus in the heart and the mind of the believer.

Secondly, Christian high schools need to re-evaluate how they teach their courses in Christian apologetics.  Too many kids passing through the local Christian school are demonstrating an accidental faith rather than a forensic faith, which will make them prey from the attacks of the professors from the lectern in the collegiate arena.

I will share more on these in later posts. For now let me wrap this up. Thank you for indulging this post. If you have any questions or comments, you can comment below or email them to


[1] This includes Jesus’ words to Thomas at his appearing when He says, “blessed are those who did not see and yet believed.” (John 20:29b). This is not a prescription for “blind faith” or for staying in one’s, what J. Warner Wallace coins in his book Forensic Faith, “accidental faith.”

[2] Michael Sherrard, How the Church’s Anti-Intellectualism Will Be Her Jailor.

[3] J.P. Moreland, Love Your God with All Your Mind (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2012 ed.), 35

[4] See Moreland, chap. 1; See also Mark Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1994).  Another great source on this subject is Os Guinness’ work on this crucial subject, Fit Bodies Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don’t Think and What to Do About It, 1994.

[5] Moreland, chap. 1.

[6] Many Pentecostals and Charismatics did not have a systematic theology, but based their theology on experience. The mind had not been disfellowshipped in the church. Actually Wayne Grudem is the first charismatic theologian to put forth a systematic theology, Bible Doctrine.

[7] Numerous surveys ranging from Barna, LifeWay, and the Assemblies of God researchers are all telling us similar stories: 75-88% of the kids coming out of Christian homes are walking away from the family faith. This is one of the main reasons why Ratio Christi began and why there is a renaissance of apologetics since 9/11/01.

[8] Responses like “God’s in control” or “God has received another angel” to those who have lost loved ones are callous and unbiblical respectively.

[9] Brian Chilton, 8 Ways That Anti-Intellectualism Is Harming the Church.

[10] “Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.”; C. S. Lewis, “Learning in War-Time,” in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (Orlando, FL: Macmillan, 1980, rev. and exp. ed.), 28.

[11] See Mark 2:5-8.

Sources for Further Understanding of Anti-intellectualism in the Church

Eric Chabot, The Problem of Anti-intellectualism in the Church-Problems and Possible Solutions

Brian Chilton, 8 Ways That Anti-Intellectualism Is Harming the Church.

Paul Gould, Anti-intellectualism: The Trojan Horse Within the Church

Jonathan Hanna, Fideism No Longer a Viable Option. The Numbers Say It All

Andy Rau, Is Contemporary Christian marked by an anti-intellectual streak?

P. Andrew Sandlin, The Church’s Anti-intellectual Erasure for Christian Culture

Michael Sherrard, How the Church’s Anti-intellectualism Will Be the Church’s Jailor

Justin Taylor, 5 Theses on Anti-intellectualism



  1. In the spirit of intellectualism, I hope that you won’t mind me sharing a few grammatical errors that need to be corrected in this article.

    1) “The Christian church was not prepared for the philosophical thought that began to undermine biblical authority in the late 1800’s.”
    – I believe you meant “the late 18th century” since you followed that with dates from the 1700s and not the 1800s.

    2) “Much more could be expounded upon who we got to where we are today.”
    – It reads as if “who” should instead be “how”

    3) “We see this all around us in many evangelical churches that pursue an experiential faith opposed to a balanced “forensic faith” that allows for reason to validate the experience in worship.”
    – “opposed” should read “as opposed”

    1. Stephen, thanks for calling the grammatical issues in my post. I went back and looked at what you pointed out, and have made the corrections. Looks like my editor was asleep.

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