Whenever I bring up the topic of the importance of culture and context in understanding the Scriptures, folks sometimes respond with: “What about new converts, or uneducated people?” Aren’t you putting the gospel out of reach of the “non-scholar masses?”
However, Christian anti-intellectualism is a work of the flesh just as much as sexual immorality. Only it is more dangerous as it has been given tacit approval under a form of perceived superior spirituality in large segments of the Body of Christ.
From the first second of a REAL conversion a human is indwelt by the Spirit and that is good enough for kingdom fruitfulness!
I have the privilege of working with a church where new converts are present in good proportion and have seen this with my own eyes. This blog is not rhetoric and philosophy for me. They are amazingly effective, transformed, and empowered, operating in the gifts of the Spirit, and they don’t know Genesis from Revelation . . . in the beginning of their walk.
It’s because they are REAL, SPIRIT-BORN, SPIRIT-REGENERATED, SPIRIT-EMPOWERED, NEW CREATION converts. They’re not the phony-baloney “with every eye closed, every head bowed, no one looking around, the room dark, soft music playing, slip up your hand, embarrassed-of Jesus-from-the beginning, emotionally guilted and shamed into a “response,” biblically baseless, FALSE CONVERTS of western fundamentalism. The new converts I am around know Jesus and His love and power from the first second of the new birth. New creation life . . . works. Period. It’s just not seen very often in our punch- their-tickets-like-immigrants -at-Ellis Island theology of evangelism: “ca-chunk, next!”
New converts and “uneducated” folks can share the life and love of Jesus unhindered because they are partakers of the indwelling Spirit. New converts haven’t had a chance yet to be filled up, and messed up, with “Bible stuff” that is rubbish. In many ways, they are freer and unencumbered to minister effectively, not having any “Bible doctrine” they have to “defend” . . . yet!
First century apostles and new converts had an advantage we do not have: they shared common language, culture and context. They were not charged with trying to understand 2,000 year old writings from another time, language, culture, and context. To act as if this gap does not exist between ourselves and the Bible, and to downplay its importance, is simply naive.
Bible worship propagated by the imbalanced, out of proportion, and over-exposed pastor/teaching gift (defined as westerners do, inaccurately) is indeed, a grave and pervasive problem. However, if someone is going to presume to teach from the Bible, and expect others to conform their lives to what is being taught, then a 8th grade equivalent education (the real average in the USA) and the “anointing of the Holy Spirit” is NOT ENOUGH.
People downplay the importance of scholarship when they read from Bibles translated by scholars and use resources written by scholars, just to preach from the pulpit: “You don’t need an education. We don’t need any of that, we just need the Holy Spirit and anointing.” It is true that everyone does not have to be a scholar, but it is also true that you may have to be willing to learn from one, or yield to one. Christian anti-intellectualism is disingenuous and hypocritical.
What is really being done when Christian anti-intellectualism is pushed, is the perpetuation of ignorance often under the guise of some self-perceived form of superior metaphysical spirituality, and the setting up of a cult-control center where people are dependent on the authority of one person in the pulpit, rather than being equipped to challenge what that person in the pulpit might be saying or teaching.
Christian anti-intellectualism is based in fear of what one might not properly understand at a given moment. Folks don’t know how to be well in Jesus without having a “ready-answer” for everything. So when something comes along that challenges long-held beliefs and practices, it triggers a deep fear response:
“Oh no, I may be wrong! Maybe I was wrong in the past! Oh no, maybe what I believe today is wrong! Oh no, then how can I have any assurance if I don’t know that everything I believe at this moment is right? Oh no, let’s double down on what I understand today!”
It is somewhat embarrassing to need to point out that the folks like that have their intellect as their God. The very thing they accuse scholars and intellectuals of. Jesus, me, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are all I need, is simply a lie based in insecurity, though it makes for catchy amen-moments from thundering fundamentalist pulpits. It is saying in fact: “I am an island of understanding, getting “direct downloads” from heaven,” and the like. It is a horrible spiritual posture that reflects the individualism of American/western evangelical, fundamentalist culture not any biblical precept or kingdom principle.
We are not islands. We are woven into the fabric of the eternal life of Christ, in the Eternal Bride of Christ with everyone who has ever gone before us, the present generation, and the generations yet to come. We are one with each other in ways that can make some Protestants squirm. When we fail to read the great minds and scholars of previous generations, or our own, (especially from those without our own tradition!), to learn from them, to be challenged by them, and to adapt and change our beliefs and practices as the result of being educated by them, we are the proudest of the proud. We are saying to those who have gone before us: “We don’t need you.” It is an anti-incarnational, anti-Body, anti-unity, anti-church, relationally dis-integrated philosophical posture of an independent spirit . . . death grip on a KJV Bible not withstanding!
One of the greatest moments in my recent life happened when I wept my way through a book about the indwelling and the image of God written by a Greek Orthodox writer. Oddly, I am starting to weep as I write this, just thinking about that moment. I had an encounter with the Lord. (Yes, a metaphysical, supernatural, spiritual encounter in the manifest presence of Jesus. That’s for all my charismatic friends out there who think rationalism and the supernatural “things of the Spirit” are incompatible!). I had to put the book down several times as I was literally weeping so hard that I literally could not continue reading it. Weeping for two reasons: weeping in amazed joy over the depth of insight, and sobbing in deep, gut-level, repentance for decades of Protestant Reformation-based arrogance (Those “smells and bells” people, how can they know anything? They are not committed to “the Bible” like we are . . . [sic]) and for being one of the very people I just referred to in the previous paragraphs. It was me.
I have been forgiven, healed, and set free to learn from greater minds than mine–regardless of whatever label they may carry or uniform they may wear– the subjective fruit being that my own mind is improved as a result of partaking of those who have gone before me, as well as those currently around me. I am not afraid of what I do not know. Learning new things and abandoning old ideas, doesn’t make me nervous. It doesn’t mean I automatically reject what has been, nor swallow everything I read, nor jump on every passing fad that someone is espousing at the moment. But the reorientation of my inner life to a more accurate understanding of Christ and Him crucified, is a daily, moment-by-moment, living, reality for me. It’s a life of perpetual re-gospelization–free of the elitist, hyper-spirituality-induced cycles of elation and disappointment set up by the teachings I received in my Latter Rain/Charismatic youth. I am sincerely thankful for my spiritual cradle and the hands that rocked it, but I am glad I am out of it, and not rocking one myself.
Part of the problem for so many groups is that it has been years if not decades since they have seen any REAL converts in any significant numbers. Where new life is present, there is so much life and love there is no time for internal Bible squabbles. There is often so little REAL and HEALTHY DISCIPLESHIP occurring, so little REAL EQUIPPING of the saints, (rather eternal infancy and dependency on the preacher/teacher) that groups become calcified teaching centers or philosophy societies around the Bible, with soul-attachments to personalities, rather than kingdom incubators for the transforming life and love of a Risen Lord, designed to fill the universe.
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