Engaging The Enemy…But On Whose Terms? An Assessment Of Responses To The Charge Of Anti-Intellectualism -- By: Mark A. Snoeberger

Journal: Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal
Volume: DBSJ 08:1 (Fall 2003)
Article: Engaging The Enemy…But On Whose Terms? An Assessment Of Responses To The Charge Of Anti-Intellectualism
Author: Mark A. Snoeberger


Engaging The Enemy…But On Whose Terms? An Assessment Of Responses To The Charge Of Anti-Intellectualism

Mark A. Snoeberger1

Open any critique of evangelical ideology by its opponents, and you will not read long before stumbling across a reference to the “anti-intellectualism” of evangelicalism.2 This criticism has been with us for better than a century now, and has become entrenched in the non-evangelical mind as one of the primary characteristics of evangelicalism.3

Most early fundamentalists were acutely aware of this charge, but refused to agree to the terms of liberal intellectualism and willingly acquiesced to exclusion from the ivory towers of the prevailing academy. Almost all were resolute in their forced “retreat to the hinterlands” of the intellectual arena.4 In the decades that ensued, fundamentalism spent time regrouping and formulating systematic

responses to academia.5 Some continued to be content functioning in exile from the prevailing academy, resulting in a crop of new, fundamentalist institutes and colleges.

Other evangelicals, however, resented this exclusion. As George Marsden puts it, they

felt keenly their lack of respect at the centers of culture. Academia was especially tightly closed. Only rarely did a bona fide conservative Bible believer gain a significant university position…. Universities were crucial to the future of the nation, and fundamentalist evangelicals could point to no nationally recognized scholar who spoke clearly for their cause. Most of their own scholars could gain little recognition outside the Bible conference circuit.6

To salve the embarrassment of this fate, a group of evangelicals organized in the 1940s and 1950s as the “new” evangelicals, a group that had as one of its chief objectives the demonstration to the prevailing academic elites that evangelicalism had jettisoned its anti-intellectualism. To meet this objective they had to prove that they had successfully separated themselves from their anti-intellectual fundamentalist counterparts. This they did by publicly “recognizing with a wry smile the truth in the liberal jibe: ‘Fundamentalism is too much fun, too much damn, and too little mental’!”7

The efforts of these early new evangelicals failed. ...

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