Kevin Bauder on Anti-Intellectualism

by May 17, 2011ChurchLife, Culture6 comments

Years ago, Kevin Bauder’s address “A Fundamentalism Worth Saving” was helpful and influential for me.

Recently, I found my mind going back to some of the points in a Nick of Time article he just put out. I have a feeling these thoughts will stick with me, too:

Admittedly, high culture—and especially academic culture—can provide an occasion for arrogance. People who invest years of their lives perfecting their mastery of an art or a learned discipline tend to become a bit testy when critiqued by dilettantes. Furthermore, they sometimes assume that their study grants them authority outside their areas of expertise. Even within those areas their competence may actually be less than they imagine.

Yet avoidance of high culture is not exactly a prophylactic against pride. Ugly as pride of intellect may be, it is not noticeably less sinful than pride of ignorance. Who, after all, is more arrogant: people who believe that they have a right to express an opinion because they have invested years of effort in the study and mastery of their subject, or those who believe that they have a right to express an opinion simply because they occupy space?

As for the objection that one had better spend his time winning souls, it supposes that those who spurn high culture will actually employ a comparable amount of time in witnessing or other spiritual pursuits. The fact is that they rarely do. People who refuse go to the concert hall or the art gallery do not simply go to church. They also go to the ball game. Those who reject education rarely give themselves only to evangelism. They also watch television or go fishing. That is not necessarily a problem: ball games and fishing are enjoyable and legitimate activities, but they are hardly more spiritual than hearing Mozart or looking at a Rembrandt.

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  1. Todd Jones


    This series has provoked much thought for me too over the last several days. My struggle is in dealing with my two selves. “Pride of intellect” may not be “noticeably less sinful than pride of ignorance,” but I can’t stand before the Lord as someone who was merely less arrogant than his anti-intellectualist counterparts. The humility Dr. Bauder calls for is so hard to see–on either side of the intellectualism fence.

    Congrats on your completion!

    • Mark L Ward Jr

      That’s a struggle every Christian on every side of every fence faces. May God give us all grace to submit to one another in love.

  2. Don Johnson

    Actually, isn’t this point a false dichotomy?

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  3. Todd Jones


    You’re certainly right. But (if I may paraphrase out of context) both forms of intellectual pride are broad roads, and many there be that walk therein; and strait is the road and narrow is the way that leadeth to intellectual humility, and few there be that find it.

    What does it matter whether I have the right to an opinion? I’m pursuing education not to gain opining rights but to find out ways to help others answer burning questions. (At least this is my prayer. I too am tempted to pride on both sides.)


  4. Mark L Ward Jr

    Yes, Bauder is not saying that his description in this excerpt exhausts the possibilities. There can be, by God’s grace, humility among both the formally educated and those who did not have or take that opportunity.

    Todd, I do think the Bible supports the idea—in general—of having a right to an opinion. It does so by praising the value of listening to older and/or wiser people (Prov 13:20, etc.). It does so by giving teaching and leading authority to elders (Eph 4; 1 Pet 5). It does so through the story of Rehoboam and his friends (1 Kgs 12).

    People who have burning questions would indeed be wiser to go to you with music questions than to go to a junior-higher who sits on the back row in their youth group. Right?

    Where Protestants differ from Catholics on this question is that final authority resides in Scripture, not fallible teachers and counselors. Each Christian, as a high priest before God (1 Pet 2:9), has not merely a right but a solemn responsibility to read and obey Scripture according to the best lights God gives him.

    I recently counseled someone whose elder left their church in California over doctrinal disagreements and started a new church in the same city. He was confused by the theological disagreement between the pastor and the elder. I told him that since the Bible commands him to submit to his elders, he now had a responsibility to do his best by God’s grace to understand the theological position of each man, pray, and make a decision.

    I often think of a comment made by Andree Seu in a World magazine article on her decision to don a headcovering at church. “I appreciate scholarship, bit it is rarely conclusive. The question is this: When push comes to shove, do I go with Christian peer pressure or with God’s Word as I see it? All my obediences to received practice are suspect when I balk at the one point where conscience makes a contrary demand. It’s when there is disjunction that my true allegiance shows.”

    Happy to keep the conversation going,


  5. Don Johnson

    well, I agree that there is plenty of pride to go around.

    I was more referring to Bauder’s article than anything said in the thread, just to be clear.

    Basically, I just don’t buy his arguments that there is some kind of Christian calling to high culture. It seems to run contra to the approach of Christ, meeting people where they are, and contra 1 Cor 1, not many might, not many noble.

    I don’t think the pursuit of excellence is a sin, and if one is gifted musically, which I am not, it is commendable to develop one’s gifts to the best of ability and opportunity. But to insist the same is a mandate for all believers, or ought to be a major concern of the church… well, I think it goes too far.

    Of course, I could be misunderstanding what Bauder is saying, but having read a good deal of him over the years, I think that is the direction he is heading.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3