Thursday, October 31, 2013

Does the Church Alienate Intellectuals?

As a biblical scholar I will admit that it can be difficult at times to attend church. What I mean is, on the one hand my world consists of engaging biblical texts and theological topics at a level that many Christians won't. So attending a church service on a Sunday can be a bit like sending an adult to the childrens' Sunday School class. It's not that what is being taught is unimportant, it's just that I have already heard it before and I have different questions. 

On the other hand, I have always tried to remember that not everyone, including the pastor, gets to live in the world I do and that those in the pews around me don't have the same questions that I do. A few years back I was fortunate to have a pastor who was careful to meet the needs of the congregation at large, but demonstrated intellectual rigor in his teaching and preaching. He is also someone who would (and still does after retirement) talk with me about issues which allowed us both to learn from one another.

But not everyone is fortunate enough to have a pastor who is sensitive to the needs of those who we label the "intellectuals" (my readers will know my disdain for labels). Over at the Sojourners blog Stephen Mattson discusses the situation and what he sees as the problem. Here is bit of what he has to say.

In a world where people are craving inspiration, growth, and information, many churches maintain a cyclical pattern based on redundancy, safety, and closed-mindedness.
Unfortunately, many pastors and Christian leaders continue to recycle old spiritual clich├ęs — and sermons — communicating scripture as if it were propaganda instead of life-changing news, and driving away a growing segment of people who find churches ignorant, intolerant, absurd, and irrelevant.
As technology continues to make news and data more accessible, pastors are often failing to realize that they're no longer portrayed as the respected platforms of spiritual authority that they once were.
Instead of embracing dialogue and discussion, many Christian leaders react to this power shift by creating defensive and authoritarian pedestals, where they self-rule and inflict punishment on anyone who disagrees, especially intellectuals.
Intellectuals are defined as people who show a high degree of mental capacity. And while we often tend to associate intellectuals as professors clad in bow ties that attend fancy cocktail parties and publish award-winning books, there are no demographic, cultural, professional, racial, or gender restrictions on who can or can’t be an intellectual. There are no rules on who is and isn’t an intellectual — everyone has the capacity to be one!
Recently, it's been said that smarter people prefer not to go to church or believe in God, but maybe part of the problem is that churches won't let them in — or they’ve already kicked them out! There are many reasons why intellectual believers are often rejected by faith communities, but here are few of the main ones:
Mattson goes on to outline three areas that he views as contributors to the problem. What do you think? Is he correct? Are there other areas? Or is the problem with the intellectuals? 

HT: James McGrath


  1. I read this article, and on the whole I appreciate it. But it does present "the Church" somewhat monolithically. Churches are quite varied in their character, membership and worship. I do think that some are more equipped to deal with us cantankerous intellectual types. Yes, it is probably more likely that churches either aren't aware of us or don't know what to do with us, and so just ignore us. But that's not the case everywhere. Other than that small critique, I really liked what this article has to say.

  2. Interesting post. Mattson has some valid observations, even if they are a tad generic. I'm gonna need to chew on his point 3 for awhile. I'm not sure that what he perceives as positive things, i.e., church history, greek, hebrew, etc. are what the church today really needs. But, that's a story for another time. O, Dr. John,...I don't remember you ever wearing a bowtie.

  3. It isn't just intellectuals. I'm as far from that as the sun is the earth.

    Yet, average churches where I live also bore me. Thankfully, God has seen fit to guide me to a pastor who shares a desire to know Christ so much and works so hard that he has led our congregation into a massive theological switch in about 4 years, casting away doctrines that cannot stand the light of a valid textual rendering.

    Among other things, he has tried to join together, exegesis, theology and researcher efforts to advance his congregation and the kingdom.

    We've lost about 50% of our membership due to it. The other 50% are a transformed group, IMO, for the much better.