Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Endless recursion: the bible, theology and anti-intellectualism

AKMA linked to my previous post which combined some ruminations on anti-intellectualism and rates of biblical literacy. His comments and some time have given rise to the following thoughts:

+ Is there necessarily something about 'knowing' which discourages wonder, which mitigates against responding to what is there? We can get so wrapped up in systems and certainties and domestications that we miss the ways the Bible is fuzzy around the edges, the way it leaves some questions unanswered, the ways it is studiously unclear at points and resists our mastery and we miss the wonder and awe and surprise of it all - as well as the way it haunts and troubles. To put it another way, an interpretive scheme which purports to explain it all not only fails, but also places us at the centre - and the work of the Holy Spirit is one of de-centring. How may we be the church living with Scripture in such a way that we can both communicate what is known - communicate the gospel - and yet also not in such a way as to create a subculture of systemic certainty which supplants the Bible?

+ There is a deep, deep irony between (on the one hand) people who would identify themselves as fundamentalist, people who claim to love the Bible, not knowing it better than others, and in some cases worse, and (on the other) Christians of various stripes and non-Christians thinking they don't know it well, but being interested in it and wanting to know it better. The study is right - and what AKMA noticed but I failed to mention - that this is an amazing teaching moment, apparently for everyone. It makes the anti-intellectualism in the church just that much more scandalous.

+ I just finished reading and reviewing Virtue and the Voice of God by Daniel J. Treier, and one of the more helpful notions he suggests is that theology is an activity of every member, and not just the theological guild. The tasks of careful thinking about the gospel and the reality of God and creation are not reserved for a group apart from (or over against) the church, but are undertaken by everyone in many various ways - although it might be undertaken in specialised and exemplary ways by those who are called and gifted in this way as a service to the church; but this is a difference in degree and not kind. This would be the opposite of anti-intellectualism, if it were fulfilled.

+ Finally, for the sake of clarifying, while I do not wish to withdraw anything I said the other day about intellectual and other gifts, I do wish to expand a point slightly. Anti-intellectualism is particularly nefarious because, in fact, we are always thinking, always trying to make sense of the world around us, and often doing so in light of our faith. Anti-intellectualism serves either 1) to leave that thinking, dull, shallow or unchallenged when it could be sharp, deep and responsive or 2) to underwrite someone simply claiming 'God says thus and such; obey' which fairly ends the conversation and repels thinking - when in fact the claim (and the 'God saying') are themselves wrapped up in thinking. The first leaves life unquestioned and unredeemed and is faithless; the second leaves leaders unquestioned and communities untransformed and is idolatry. In either case, we must entertain the question: in whose interest is anti-intellectualism?

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