Rick M. Nañez is author of Full Gospel, Fractured Minds? and is a missionary to Ecuador. An Assemblies of God minister for 20 years, Nañez has pastored several ethnic churches as well as traveled around the world teaching about the importance of the life of the mind. CT e-mailed Nañez at his home in Ecuador.
How anti-intellectual is Pentecostalism today?
This is a difficult question to answer. Though we are not as blatantly anti-intellectual as we used to be, we may be in greater danger than before, because today it's more subtle and therefore we're not as aware of it. Let me put it this way. After 22 years in the movement, I'm convinced that the problem is so serious that if we don't arrest this tendency at this juncture in our history, in the decades to follow, we might very well witness a global Christianity that is anti-intellectual. And, if the movement continues to grow as it has, this, in turn, could affect multiple levels of many cultures.
Is such anti-intellectualism simply to be expected when you put an emphasis on the Holy Spirit's ability to work through anyone, trained or not?
No. I really don't think that there's any fundamental discrepancy between the Spirit of God and the intellect of man. I don't think that anyone would argue against the fact that Jesus himself put more emphasis on the Holy Spirit's involvement in life and ministry than any other person in history. Yet this is the same one of whom it's said, in him "are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." So, in the person of Christ, we see the perfect balance of intellect and Spirit.
We all know that the Holy Spirit can work or speak through anyone, educated or noteven a donkey! But believing this doesn't seem to keep us from sending our kids to 12 years of school to get knowledge. Nor does it sooth our intellectual curiosity when we're searching the wall in the doctor's office to make sure he has some type of professional training. He may be full of the Holy Spirit, but we want to know that he has some "ole fashion learnin'" too.
Pentecostals, for the most part, are not prejudiced at all against medical knowledge, even though we believe that God can heal by the power of the Holy Spirit. Yet we seem to be prejudiced against the value of the intellect in light of believing that the same Spirit can help us with doing his work and will. This is a grave contradiction. When we assume that anti-intellectualism naturally comes with emphasis on the Spirit, we contradict ourselves by living and thinking otherwise in a hundred other areas of life.
How can anti-intellectualism be so bad when the Pentecostal movement has grown so rapidly? Obviously God has blessed it.
That's like asking, "How can smoking be bad for you, I know of a guy that smoked from the age of 10 and lived to be 95?" Or, like saying, "The Mormons and Muslims must be doing something right, just look at their numbers!" Personally, I do believe that God has blessed the Pentecostal/charismatic movement numerically due to their willingness to invite the third person of the Trinity into their faith-walk and to trust radically in God's desire to demonstrate his presence and help.
However, it's false logic to argue that everything in a person's, organization's, or movement's makeup is beneficial and acceptable just because of their success. I am a very imperfect person with errors in my thought, feelings, and actions. My past affects me and my emotions mess me around, not to mention that I live in a decaying, weak earth-suit. Still, God seems to be using me nevertheless. But the fact that God is blessing me as I stumble forward doesn't mean that he condones my faults, failures, and sins.
God has blessed the Pentecostal/charismatic movement in spite of our anti-intellectualism not because of it.
There is a benefit in being fools for God, right?
I think that the real trick is to understand the context of the statement that we are "fools for Christ." When Paul says this, he's really just parroting the wrong thoughts of the Corinthians, who thought they had become so wise. In reality, Paul was the wise one, the one willing to be misunderstood as he preached truth. Whereas, the arrogant Corinthians who thought that they were so gifted were the real fools. They assumed that because God allowed them to experience many spiritual gifts, that somehow they had merited these blessings. Having said this, we professors of Full Gospel faith need to be very careful lest we truly become fools by thinking that we are something special in light of God's special grace to us.
Paul never equates being a "fool for Christ" with ignorance, stupidity, or naïveté. While being this so-called "fool for Christ" he debated, argued, explained, persuaded, defended, and reasoned wherever he took the message of Christ.
Anti-intellectualism isn't only a Pentecostal problem, right?
In my estimation, the battle against anti-intellectualism is an ongoing global battle. Whether it's a secular society whose population says that the elite should think for them or a religious community who has fallen for old-fashioned pragmatism; whether it's evangelicals who are so busy building their material kingdom that they say they don't have time to study in order to share or defend their faith; or whether its Pentecostals who claim that the heart and head are enemiesit's all anti-intellectualism.
Though Pentecostalism has built within it some elements that make its adherents more susceptible to anti-intellectualism, I think that evangelicals struggle with the problem almost as much as we do. We have common roots in the pragmatic, revivalistic, and romantic era of America in the 18th century, so both our nation as well as our nation's homegrown movements tend to battle with the temptation to pit doing against thinking, and spirit against mind.
Where does anti-intellectualism lead in the lives of Christians, and where does it lead institutionally?
Anti-intellectualism keeps us from affecting our institutions and their various departments with solid Christian thinking. It hinders our ability to think in terms of worldview, that is, to understand the hundreds of otherwise fragmented areas of life in a coherent way. If we are suspicious of the intellect, we are hamstrung when it comes to providing well-thought-out answers to difficult questions from critics and skeptics. Anti-intellectualism can also lead to dangerous forms of mysticism and a type of superstitious faith.
I believe that anti-intellectualism tends to lead Christians into relatively superficial spiritual lives, at least, in comparison to the impact they could make if they engaged in "thinking on purpose" for the glory of God. Also, mediocrity in the "life of the mind" leads the Christian subculture to criticize, fear, and condemn the secular institutions that their anti-intellectual, evangelical, and Pentecostal parents and grandparents abandoned the generations before.
The greatest problem with it is this: It flies in the face of Scriptures, which challenge us to prepare our minds for action, to train ourselves to give good reasons for our faith, and to learn to love God with all of our mind.
I was part of an interview with a major Pentecostal scholar in which he worried that Pentecostal colleges wouldn't have the ability to retain their Christian character because they, in essence, couldn't define their own beliefs and therefore couldn't tell when they had strayed from them. Have you seen that in your experience?
As a pastor, counselor, and youth-camp worker for many years, I've seen many dozens of examples of this. Your question is kind of like asking, "If a person doesn't know where they are, is it likely that they will get lost?" I walked 13 hours out of the Ecuadorian jungle recently, everything looked alike to me. Without the help of a native guide, I am certain that I could have wandered for weeks having little or no success of reaching my destination. My guide, the chief of his village, knew the territory, the flora, and fauna, and he knew every nuance of the slender path that we maneuvered on.
Our Pentecostal schools are at a crossroads in the jungle of academia. Students are coming to our schools who don't know why they believe what they've been told to believe. Many say they believe in doctrines that they've not experienced, and some have had experiences for which they have no theological explanation. And then there are the educators who confuse storing information and obtaining degrees with becoming a thinker or cultivating the "life of the mind." You combine this with almost effortless exposure to the wide-arching web of ideas on the internet, and you begin to understand the challenge of staying on the old proven paths.
Only through knowing the Chief and having a guide can we stay on the path. Though there are some wonderful things happening with the evangelical and Full Gospel youth of America, I think that we're still in grave danger of losing a generation in the relativistic jungles of our secular schools and in our Pentecostal institutions where personal preference, capricious feelings, and mere knowledge often masquerade as truth, the Pentecostal experience, and formation of the mind.
Is anti-intellectualism a problem internationally?
've chatted with leaders and laity in the Pentecostal/charismatic movement in more than thirty countries. In most places I've not only experienced the same attitudes toward the intellect among the laity but have heard time and time again statements from leaders that this is something that they're concerned about.
One of the reasons we struggle in the U.S. with prejudice against excellence in thinking is we tend to believe that in a democracy everyone's opinion is equal. In places like Latin America and Eastern Europe, there still lingers the idea that those in power are stationed there to think for them. And then there's Western Europe, where many believers buck against intellectual involvement in the faith as a knee-jerk reaction to the stark rationalistic intellectualism that pervades their culture.
I can think of examples around the world of well-balanced bodies of charismatic believers, of Pentecostal institutions that blend the liberal arts with power in the Holy Spirit, and of Full Gospel leaders who are full of the fruit of the Spirit and who fully participate in the life of the mind. And, yet, these are the exceptions to the rule, the few and far between. For almost as many reasons, different bodies of believers around the world battle with the sin of anti-intellectualism. For this very cause, I've written Full Gospel, Fractured Minds? and, for this reason, our hope is to translate the work into as many languages as possible.
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Also posted today is:
Our Anti-Intellectual Heritage | The history and beliefs of the Pentecostal movement, often shared by evangelicals, hold the seeds of a bias against the life of the mind.
Full Gospel, Fractured Minds? is available from Christianbook.com and other book retailers.
Our full coverage of Pentecostalism on the 100th anniversary of the Azusa Street revival includes:
A Wind that Swirls Everywhere | Pentecostal scholar Amos Yong thinks he sees the Holy Spirit working in other religions, too.
Africa's Azusa Street | East Africa has experienced Pentecost continually for nearly 80 years.
Stepping to Success | One reason Without Walls is one of the country's fastest-growing Pentecostal congregations.
Pentecostals: The Sequel | What will it take for this world phenomenon to stay vibrant for another 100 years?