Friday, September 17, 2021
Two problematic, contrary strains exist within American Evangelicalism. The first is a smug, smarter-than-thou, prejudicial and elitist intellectualism. The second is a lazy can’t-and-won’t-be-bothered-to-think anti-intellectualism. Both are bad. Both are a persistent threat to the growth of a disciple’s faith.
Which is the more toxic strain, though? That’s a good question, and a tough question. At first glance, it is hard to say. However, if forced to choose, I would would say the former is worse than the latter. Yes, I see smug intellectualism as even worse than lazy anti-intellectualism, because smug-intellectualism ultimately deceives more gullible people than lazy anti-intellectualism. In the long run, smug intellectuals are far more influential than lazy pew-sitters.
That said, the irony is that two strains (or trends) actually have a symbiotic relationship. The lazy are content to let the smug do the hard thinking for them. And the smug need the lazy to continue being lazy, lest someone seriously challenge their assertions. It would be bad if the smug were exposed as flawed. It would be especially bad if the smug were exposed as charlatans.
But they often are. They often are charlatans.
That is harsh, I admit. And perhaps it is a bit less than fair. Sometimes the smug are not entirely smug; they’re actually a mixed bag. They are indeed right about a lot of things. They have real integrity, to a degree. They have done their homework diligently and have come to the right conclusions. And yet, at the very same time, there are certain subjects and touchy topics where they lack integrity. In those particular areas, they have not done their homework sufficiently, nor have they come to the right conclusions. But the lazy ordinary folks, the hoi polloi, need not know that, should not know that.
The accompanying problem is that they, the smug, often achieve and then hold official positions of prestige. Once you have an honorary title and receive regular compensation, you are obliged to the institution, the guild, or the denomination. And you quickly realize it is best for your professional future not to contradict what everyone seems to know as capital T truth. Your colleagues and superiors will surely notice any deviance. So you tow the party line. And you parrot the pre-approved talking points.
These are the dynamics that routinely play out in schools, churches, and institutions. Breakthrough change often necessarily comes from a brave soul on the periphery. Numerous historical examples come immediately to mind. They were often seen as misfits and pests in their own time. But history ultimately vindicates them. More importantly, God ultimately vindicates them.