Revival of the Mind (part 2)

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Revival of the Mind (part 2)

What historical events brought about the anti-intellectual undercurrent within evangelicalism? 

A thorough study of this question would span hundreds of pages, so a quick sketch will have to suffice. Bypassing important connections such as Descartes, the Enlightenment, and Immanuel Kant, we’ll begin with Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834)—known as the father of modern theology. Schleiermacher emphasized the importance of subjective feelings within Christianity. Since he rejected the authority of the Bible, he felt this move was necessary in order to maintain his Christian faith. Dr. Paul House writes, “Partly based on his reading of Immanuel Kant, Schleiermacher concluded that religion consists chiefly of intuition and feelings that lead people to have a sense of and a desire for the infinite, which he broadly defined as God…This emphasis on feeling as the essence of religion remains his most enduring legacy.”

During the 19th and 20th centuries, liberal and conservative theologians drank deeply from Schleiermacher’s well. Liberal theologians emphasized life over doctrine because, like Schleiermacher, they rejected the major doctrines of the Bible. Surprisingly, many conservative theologians were influenced by Schleiermacher as well. Take, for example, a theologian from my own tradition (Southern Baptist), E. Y. Mullins. Mullins rejected Schleiermacher’s view of the Bible, but wrote, “Schleiermacher restored Christianity to the inner life of men…. The witness of the spirit within was of the utmost importance—experience and not theory [became] the basis of certainty.” Mullins concluded, “Schleiermacher restored the experience to its place as an authority, and legitimized mysticism in the Christian churches…” More could be said about Mullins’ influence, but clearly this thinking makes internal feelings a source of authority, which inadvertently lowers the authority (and need) for the Bible and its doctrines. Dr. Gregory Thornbury warned that a faith based on feelings rather than God’s revealed word cannot endure. The Apostle Paul did not point to his inward subjective feelings as proof of the Gospel; he pointed to the brute historical facts of Christ’s death and resurrection.

As many academic theologians with German-sounding names were busy shredding the Bible and essential Christian doctrines, the emphasis on inward experience gave evangelicals a safe retreat from the increasingly hostile world of rationalism, skepticism, and scientism. Rather than sharpening the mind for battle through the hard work of study in order to “…destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God…” (2 Corinthians 10:5), we fled the battlefield. We retreated from the life of the mind, and by doing so, abandoned the universities (how many Christians are leading thinkers in our universities?). This abandonment may turn out to be our undoing, since the cultural influence has shifted from the church to the university. The university, with its current commitment to philosophical naturalism, continues to render cultural acceptance of the Gospel and the historicity of the Bible implausible.

Thankfully, there were (are) some evangelicals who girded their minds and fought. Many left us books pointing out the soft underbelly of our opponents–if only we would come out of our emotional cocoons (and turn off our TVs) long enough to read them.

Next week we’ll examine how the Second Great Awakening and the Finney Revivals contributed to the anti-intellectualism among evangelicals.


Article by Pastor Billy Elkins