Recently (and this is trendy among many evangelicals) I had an evangelical pastor, on Facebook, challenge me with this question (I paraphrase): “yeah, how is academic Christianity working out for you?” usually, he noted, “those Christians committed to academic Christianity fail at cultivating a healthy Christian spirituality in the process of being academic.” Beyond the typical and pervasive anti-intellectualism that this springs from I see more going on here. There is this constant repose upon a sort of mysticism among evangelical Christians in the main; a mysticism that is coupled with an American (or Western) individualism wherein someone’s Christianity is ultimately a private thing that is based upon their experiences of God that they come to through ‘quiet times’ or more collectively through corporate worship services at church on Sundays. To me this is a tragic posture!
Sometimes I wonder, when confronted with this attitude, especially as that has been directed at me, who these people think I am; or who do they think others (like me) are? Do they think we are some sort of special class or hybrid of Christian (in the negative)? Speaking personally, my drivenness into so called ‘academia’ comes from deep personal crisis. Without getting into the details of those crises (which I’ve done elsewhere) it is indeed such crises that have continuously pushed me deep into ongoing bible reading, ongoing theology reading, and the earning of degrees in these areas. Indeed, it is only in seasons of drought (which honestly these have almost become non-existent for me) where my Christian spirituality has suffered. You see, I believe, and I KNOW, that we are in a spiritual battle (cf. Eph. 6.12), and that the devil’s means are ideas (cf. II Cor. 10; Rom. 12; etc.). To stand fast in the power of the LORD (cf. Eph. 6.10) is not to abstractly name and claim the ‘armor of God,’ instead it is to actively be involved in an attitude and action of doxology (worship). To worship God with all that we are (as the dominical teaching calls for) means that we are actively involved, as part of the priesthood of all believers, in growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ (II Peter 3). There is no growth without food, and the food we have been given is the Word of God. But I’m afraid that people have collapsed the Word of God into their mystical individualist experiences and made the Word of God an adjunct of their own petty wants. These accusers, because of their absolute individualism and other insecurities, have failed to recognize the Pauline teaching that the Word of God comes inclusive of teachers (cf. Eph. 4); this is what a proper understanding of sola scriptura entails.
For some reason, or for many reasons, these antagonists of Christian learning have absolutized their laziness and made it a spiritual virtue; and then they deploy this virtue over against anyone who isn’t equally lazy. There are academic Christians, not to be outdone, who have sort of lauded in this sort of classification only to reinforce their status as an academic Christian over-against the antagonists I’m referring to. But why would we do that; why as brothers and sisters in Christ would we accept this notion or classification of academic Christian only as that is based in a lowering of the bar for so called non-academic Christians? Why would we allow the majority of the body of Christ to languish in their individualism when the Lord of the Word calls for repentance for all who sleep? There is no gate-keeper here, but Christ alone!
Ultimately this is a spiritual warfare reality, and it needs to be identified as such and rebuked. Without the cultivation of robust Christian theological ideas in a doxological frame the devil will beat us as Christians to bloody pulps. We have armor, and it is only those who rigorously fight by putting that on through meditation upon God’s Word, making use of the teachers he has provided, who will actually have the possibility to walk in some modicum of victory over the principalities and powers. So I say to my antagonist: Repent! Or: Get thee behind me satan!