Snobs for Christ: On Intellectual Snobbery in the Church

Jan 14, 2020 | Article, Christian Living, Ethics, Podcast

I can only be honest—this week’s post will likely be a bit of a rant.

I am really tired of educated people thinking they have a monopoly on truth. (How’s that for a loaded statement?)

Ok, so there’s nothing wrong with education. Nor is there anything wrong with having the truth. What’s wrong is when someone thinks they have the truth in virtue of their specific education.

It’s really sad how often I see this kind of thing within Christian circles.

Brothers and sisters will absolutely lambaste each other not on the merits of their claims, but on the mere contents of their view!

We have the necessary ability to make distinctions. We can understand the difference between orthodoxy, heterodoxy, and heresy. We very clearly, in most cases, distinguish where certain evangelical views land on that spectrum.

When a person denies the trinity, they are by definition not Christian, and are guilty of heresy. Though it could be argued, I would say when a person holds to conditionalism as opposed to the eternal conscious torment (ECT) view of hell, they are heterodox on that issue. When a person affirms the virgin birth of Christ, they stand within orthodoxy.

These are careful distinctions we have to make in order to operate effectively (and biblically, mind you) within the body of Christ.

Snobs for Christ

I see nothing wrong with having an education. Right now, I have an educational “bucket list,” if you will, that I would love to complete one day. This includes doctoral-level studies.

At this time, I am unable to make this a reality. Will the day come? Perhaps. However, I’m not even sure how much it matters in most cases, for a couple of reasons.

(Disclaimer: I’m obviously not claiming education is bad, nor are those who have one. I support education, and wish I had more. More on that in a moment.)

Reason 1. Intellect/Understanding ≠ Education Level (There are Dumb, Educated People)

I’m sure there are plenty of studies that demonstrate that, at some level, those who receive more education are “smarter.”

There are some disciplines that emphasize critical thinking. For example, a professionally trained analytical philosopher might have some tools in the intellectual tool belt that most laymen don’t.

But, not necessarily. Believe it or not, some of the brightest minds of days gone by were autodidacts (i.e., self-taught learners). Ever heard of Ben Franklin, Michael Faraday, or Bill Gates, to name a few?

Of course, there are some specialized areas of knowledge within certain disciplines that the general public does not really have access to—however, there’s no reason self-studied laymen can’t understand how to craft sound arguments, how to understand most scientific claims, etc.

So while it’s certainly true that those who receive an education could or should be “more intelligent” than those who do not, that is not necessarily the case.

Reason 2. Credentials are (Apparently) Meaningless

I can think of two examples right off the top of my head that are contentious among scholars within evangelicalism right now: New Testament literary device theories and the origins debate.

With respect to the former, those familiar with the debate1 may or may not know that I have tremendous respect for the parties involved. Nevertheless, claims abound regarding the intellectual ability (concerning the issue being debated) of the dissenting side.

I’m sorry, but this just isn’t the debate. Are the claims reasonable? That is the question. You may land differently on that question than me, but it doesn’t change the facts.

Our goal is not to count scholarly heads, neither is it to investigate credentials. Let’s determine whether or not the arguments for/against are sound.

With respect to the latter, a recent comment I observed (which admittedly served as the spark to write this piece)2 from a Wheaton college professor claimed that no “honest” or “real” scientist holds to young age creationism for scientific reasons.

In fact, he went so far as to say that those Christians who “twist” and “distort” good science should be “shunned.”

I’m sorry, but this is insanity. It demonstrates ignorance, a lack of integrity, and raises the question whether this man belongs in a Christian university in the first place.

Disagree with the view? Fine. But his claims are false. I don’t care how long he has been a college professor or how much education he himself boasts. His claims are false, they (poorly) judge character and motive, and fail to make the distinction between the language of heresy (“shunned”) and orthodoxy/heterodoxy.

You may not agree with them, but this list alone lays to rest the idea that a creationist cannot hold multiple Ph.D.’s and be quite well educated and even respected in their field!

Yet, careless and absurd comments like this professor’s are made all the time. I’m not about to work toward credentials merely to be affirmed by others. Because at the end of the day, those credentials (apparently) don’t matter.

To those who have the privilege of an advanced degree: Use it responsibly, and don’t be a snob for Christ.

To those who don’t: Never stop learning, never stop reading, and never stop proving the snobs wrong.

Anti-Intellectual Liabilities

I want to conclude by making sure you don’t carry my thoughts here further than they are intended to go.

If you’ve spent any time at all interacting with my work, you know good and well that I heavily criticize anti-intellectualism in the church.

By no means do I advocate for this, and there are those who undermine their own claims to knowledge by an intellectual appeal to this vacuous posture. (Which is sorely ironic.)

The thing is, we should not think in terms of a false dichotomy whereby to be intellectual is to be a snob and to be anti-intellectual is to be gracious. This is demonstrably false in many cases, and one simply does not follow from the other.

Here’s the bottom line, then: Be gracious and committed to the development of your mind.

Gracious intellectuals are some of my favorite people in the world, personally. They are committed to real dialogue/debate (rather than ad hominem-spewing-matches), and communicate with intellectual rigor and precision.

We should all strive to be more like that.

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  1. See here and here for an introduction to the issue.
  2. Unfortunately the comment is no longer available.

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