18 December 2009

Evangelicals, Faith, and the Life of the Mind (WSJ)

The Wall Street Journal has a very interesting article today by Jonathan Fitzgerald: Winning Not Just Hearts but Minds : Evangelicals move, slowly, toward the intellectual life.

It mentions Comment magazine, for which I write a column, and Mark Noll's book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, which was a great influence on me in the 90s.

This article makes a perceptive distinction between a real intellectual and an "intellectualist" -- one who puts on that sheen but doesn't really wear it from the inside. I'll muse further on that thought. A true intellectual wants to learn for the love of learning, not for any external purpose (e.g., to appear smart so he or she can win intellectuals to Christ). Being an intellectual is not mutually exclusive with being a devout Christian, as some have thought. Read the wonderful classic The Love of Learning and the Desire for God by Jean Leclercq, a study of monastic culture and how its excellence of the mind led to a deeper faith, not a casting away of same. Intellectualism can lead people away from faith, but it need not.


Rosie Perera said...

Jim Hagan (a friend of a friend on Facebook) had this excellent comment about the article:

"Years ago during a Q and A someone praised Os Guiness for being a Christian intellectual. He didn't claim the title. In one sense the world has an interest in labeling evangelicals as 'anti-intellectual.' I think Os's response was correct. We don't need to enter the public square and say 'look at me, I'm brainy too!' Anyone who self-styles themself 'an intellectual,' evangelical or not, may have a problem. I think the answer is to engage culture with our gifts and as proverbs says, 'let another praise you and not your own mouth.'"

Iambic Admonit said...

Great thoughts. Don't worry about the label, just do the good work of the mind. However, I can think of one advantage to choosing to call oneself a Christian intellectual (OK, two): first, stating one's intention to join with and engage with the life of the mind from the vantage point of faith. Second, calling other Christian to leave their emotionalism and so on and to investigate reason and writing. To fight against the stereotype of Christians as dummies by raising the collective educational experience of the Church.