Though our movement has aided millions in their search for spiritual health, latent within her genius are characteristics that make her especially vulnerable to the dangers of anti-intellectualism. Of course, one scant article cannot deal adequately with each of these in depth; this task would command a volume of its own. Because some will insist on misunderstanding the aim of this piece, let me say it one more time: I do not view these factors as fundamentally anti-intellectual. Rather, they are only prone to being misjudged in relationship to the life of the mind; especially when not balanced out by other important building blocks, they stunt one's desire and/or ability to use his or her intellect for the advancement of the kingdom and the glory of God.
(1) Many of the early Pentecostal leaders lacked education. This, of course, did not disqualify them from laboring for the Master. It did, however, set the standard for those who became their followers, for seldom will a student rise above his or her tutor. Several early Pentecostal leaders spoke openly of their disdain for education. It shouldn't come as a surprise to us that most of these had little formal education themselves. It seems to be our nature (no matter how saintly we are) to place little value on what we do not possess.
What's more, the schools that were deemed "colleges," which some of these attended, were frequently little more than tiny institutions that offered courses only up to secondary school level. Sometimes the curriculum was merely a loosely-knit program of indoctrination with proof texts. Pentecostal educator William Menzies states that one reason for the lack of general educational was the fact that these schools were more interested in "spiritual development rather than academic excellence."
Historian Edith Blumhofer informs us that in the 1930s and 1940s, preparation for ministry through Bible school training was still held as suspect among many Full Gospel people. In addition, a high percentage of those who enrolled in Bible institutes "had not completed a high school education, and some had never begun one." As if this combination wasn't challenging enough within itself, there were problems finding educated Pentecostals to teach at the schools. Even as late as 1944 (43 years after Topeka's outpouring), the professors at our best Pentecostal colleges possessed only an average of 3.9 years of post-high school education, and many of these had been schooled in institutes much like the ones they now taught in.
Again, I'm not suggesting that institutional higher education necessarily makes or breaks one's ministry. Nor am I signifying that attending establishments of higher learning deems one "pro-intellectual." It is common to find university students, and even professors, who are pro-education (perhaps "pro-information" is a better term), yet anti-intellectual (though I think it's impossible to find a person who is anti-education, yet pro-intellectual). So, not only were many of our early leaders anti-educational, they were also uneducated. This, in turn, shaped our movement in its embryonic years, steering it away from a deep respect for the life of the mind in general. The idea of educating the whole person was not foreign to the early Pentecostal movement but was severely dwarfed, and thus we still experience some of its influences today.
(2) Some of the doctrines adhered to by Full Gospel believers afford special opportunity for the promotion of anti-intellectualism. Here is a list of some beliefs that fall into this category: (a) the baptism of the Holy Spirit; (b) the verbal gifts; (c) the Rapture; (d) sanctification; and (e) altar theology. At first glance, these tenets may seem far removed from the issue at hand. With patience, I hope the reader will come to see my point.
(a) The idea that a "baptism by the Holy Spirit" is a type of cure-all is still somewhat common among our people, even though it was more prevalent in earlier days. One such aspect of this is apparent in our formative era when Charles Parham taught that those baptized with the Holy Spirit, marching in God's last-days army, would help the body of Christ to avoid "wasting thousands of dollars, and often their lives, in vain attempts to become conversant in almost impossible tongues which the Holy Ghost could so freely speak." Few, if any, believe this today, yet related to this mentality is the concept that if the Holy Spirit "teaches all things," "leads into all truth," and delights in using "ignorant and unlearned men," then why unnecessarily put yourself through the rigors of mental and intellectual discipline?
Furthermore, as Pentecostals we have strong convictions about the priesthood of believers and its connection to "the baptism." One of the potential drawbacks that can accompany the vital doctrine of lay priesthood is the belief that those who have been baptized in the Holy Ghost need not be concerned with earthly teachers. I once heard Billy Graham say, "The smallest package in the world is a person who is all wrapped up in himself." When Spirit-filled believers see themselves as the custodians of Full Gospel truth, a real temptation arises to overlook the vast reservoir of wisdom that God has deposited into other custodians. Thus, the blessing of the priesthood, instead of becoming a larger, richer gift to the world and the body, devolves into a pile of small independent packages all wrapped up in themselves!
Since Parham's day, many Spirit-filled believers seem to have used "the baptism" as a crutch to avoid engaging in demanding thought and study. Donald Gee addressed this issue numerous times over a span of forty years. Among the sundry statements made about this tendency is the following: "Many have a mistaken idea that the baptism in the Holy Spirit does away with all need of hard work, but it is not a labor-saving device. You might say, 'I suppose I won't need to study; I won't need to think; I won't need to pray now.'"
A shallowness and sentimentality seem to accompany many who lean only on the Spirit for their intellectual nourishment. Of course, the issue is not whether the Holy Spirit can or cannot provide every need; it is whether he will or does. Is the baptism meant to merely substitute for, or to complement, intellectual training? Are the gift of intellect and the gift of the Holy Spirit at odds, or do they come from the same source? These are vital questions concerning this doctrine.
(b) The second doctrine of Pentecostals that may promote anti-intellectualism is that of "the verbal gifts": word of wisdom, tongues and interpretation, word of knowledge, and prophecy. The very idea that foreign languages, the future, deep insights, and information, all otherwise unknown, can be mainlined into the soul and then gush forth through the lips of a believer can become a potent catalyst for anti-intellectualism.
One may think it frivolous, or even futile, to expend inordinate volumes of valuable time dissecting the twisted twines of history or forecasting the sociological trends of various mission fields if "revelation knowledge" falls from heaven like manna. Furthermore, Spirit-filled people can be dissuaded from burning the midnight oil in order to parse Hebrew verbs or poke around in heady hermeneutics if God freely grants his "informational gifts" of past, present, and future to the truly spiritual.
The teaching that these gifts bypass the intellect can easily promote an anti-intellectual bias. Think about it: It's tempting to forego meticulous intellectual exercise if God is inclined to provide the greatest of mysteries through disengaged minds. In fact, the very nature of this provocation is likened to the original temptation, which promised enlightenment, knowledge, and wisdom without participation in God's school of lifelong learning (Gen. 3:46).
I am not disputing that God is a God of supernatural revelation. He has revealed things to me that I would have otherwise never been able to uncover by studying. For these encounters, I am humbled and grateful. However, to assume that his supernatural gifts of revelation make the intellectual life obsolete is nonsense. None would dare pit a need for oxygen against a need for water. Both are of tremendous value, and one without the other creates major problems. When the language of pop-Pentecostalism is employed, such as "speaking in the Spirit" versus "speaking in the flesh," or knowledge filtrating through "the heart" versus "the head," the whole matter of the supremacy of "revelation knowledge" over "intellectual learning" is confused exponentially. But this seems to be the norm in the minds of many Full Gospel people.
As a case in point, consider the following statement by Charles Parham's sister-in-law upon speaking in tongues. She asserted that "floods of laughter came into my heart. I could no longer think words of praise, for my mind was sealed." Elsewhere, when referring to his ability to preach prophetically with the anointing, Charles Parham said, "Our minds took no part; we became but interested listeners."
Some may claim that the Bible itself uses the above terminology. In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul writes of "praying in a tongue" as praying with his spirit, and he refers to "praying with the mind" as praying in the learned language of one's present company. Paul does not, however, pit the human mind against the Spirit of God, as some assume. Nor does he even remotely suggest that speaking in tongues or any of the other verbal gifts are superior to speaking in one's native language; actually, his emphasis is quite the opposite. He promotes the use of the mind in public displays of the verbal gifts.
At times, God has deposited a word of wisdom or a word of knowledge into my mind, leaving it to me whether or not I shared this supernatural infusion with anyone else. These are humbling, sometimes troubling, sometimes exhilarating experiences. But we must be careful not to exchange rules for exceptions. That is to say, though God translated Elijah, we shouldn't quit our day job and wait for a blazing chariot. In like fashion, we must not evade the process of studying to show ourselves approved simply because God can and does give "revelation knowledge" and supernatural insight by way of his spiritual gifts. We are not apt to let a physician work on us if he claims to be led merely by revelation knowledge; we also demand that he possess some "old-fashion book-learnin'."
We seem to struggle with the idea that if something isn't logical, then it must be illogical; or that if someone is not anti-intellectual, then he or she must be a rationalist; or that if a certain event is not of a rational nature, then by necessity it is irrational. This forced dichotomy has tinkered with our thinking about thinking in a myriad of ways. Question: Is laughing and crying rational, emotional, or intuitive? They seem to be all three, and not one at the expense of the others. Is our mind physical, spiritual, chemical, or ephemeral? It seems to be all of the above and more.
Just because something is physical ("using" the brain) doesn't indicate that it cannot be of a nonmaterial nature also. If we hurl our arm in front of our child when we hit the brakes while driving, we cannot say that this action is only physical; it also has to do with emotion, thinking, and instinct. In like fashion, we must be careful not to be so quick to argue that since spiritual gifts and other spiritual activities are not completely rational, they must not be rational at all. There is much work to be done in this area of concentration in order to help us to think better about the spiritual and intellectual dimensions of our faith walk, especially in the area of the verbal gifts.
To the five verbal gifts can be added our sometimes confusing approach and understanding of revelation, inspiration, and illumination. We have a tendency to juxtapose these three in a medley of arrangements. Add "the gifts" to this, and we get an interesting ad hoc mixture that, again, leans heavily toward minimizing the intellect. Sometimes I think that Plato is respected more than the apostle Paul. How so? In Plato's Phaedrus, he speaks of the dignity of "divine madness," wherein the god-given, enthusiastic state of being-beside-oneself is much preferred over the usual status of human reasonableness. He posits that while the ancient Greek prophetesses were speaking in ecstatic frenzy, they uttered so many amazing things; yet when they utilized their "mere minds," they were unable to say anything of great value. I think that more often than we realize, we entertain the same type of notion.
(c) A third prominent Pentecostal doctrine that can lend itself toward anti-intellectualism is the belief in the "Rapture" of the church. Now, it's not simply the biblical concept of a "catching away" of God's people that can promote detachment from cognitive endeavors. Rather, it's when one believes that this event will happen very soon and that time is running out. It's then that tendencies toward escapism can all too easily encroach. Rather than waste precious time preparing our minds, we must do the practical thing and just reach the lost.
In the end, this escapist way of thinking perpetuates not the Great Commission (for this is a mission of "making disciples," see Matt. 28:19), but only the winning of the lost, which is to be sure a great thing, but only a first step. Discipleship involves refashioning the whole person by way of disciplining the individual components of a new convert's life. This is difficult, if not impossible, for mentors to do if they themselves have not taken the time to adequately discipline their own spirit, body, and intellect. The case becomes even trickier if they attempt to focus on disciple-making while staring straight into the face of the eschatological clock.
"Jesus is coming soon" was, in many respects, the central theme of early Pentecostalism, and it no doubt was (and is) a very positive and vital biblical theme. Looking back on the Azusa Street meetings, a spokesman of the 1914 Hot Springs, Arkansas, cooperative gatherings stated, "Almost every city and community in civilization has heard of the prophecy which has been predominant in all this great outpouring, which is 'Jesus is coming soon.'" One may naturally question whether or not it is worth dedicating oneself to long-term learning if one believes that this is the "last revival" and that only a short-term future awaits.
In addition to the issue dealt with above, there is also a tendency to consider involvement in cultural affairs as a waste of time if the ship is sinking anyway. It has been put this way: "Why waste time and energy rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic?" To a substantial degree, this was J. N. Darby's approach to the secular world. Darby (18001882) was chiefly responsible for reintroducing pretribulation theology and, in turn, heavily influencing the early Pentecostal movement. He believed that the Rapture would take place soon and that the true church should not be involved in "secular" affairs. In the "last days," the church was here, not to transform the world, but to gather the lost quickly before God's wrath came on the apostate church. William De Arteaga says that for Darby, "the end times were so near that evangelization was no longer the chief thing, but the only thing. There was no time for the church to concern itself with social issues or even to teach the disciplines of the Christian life."
Teaching on the Rapture trickled into Pentecostalism's foundations, where it produced thoughts as to the lack of time to spare on relentless, private preparation and rigorous public debate. In 1908, William Seymour was snubbed by one of the more influential members of his congregation (Florence Crawford) for marrying, in light of the "fact" that the Rapture was so close. In 1988, a family that I was personally acquainted with succeeded in discouraging their son from attending the state university in light of the 88 "facts" pointing to the imminent Rapture of the church. These are the same folks who let their horses run wild "that day" so that the animals wouldn't starve in the corral when the family was gone. The Rapture did not take place, but a round-up of a different nature did. I believe that Christ will come at a moment we do not know, and I believe we will be caught up with him. I also believe, however, that until he comes, we must study to show ourselves approved and love the Lord God with all our minds.
(d) The fourth doctrine that may promote a prejudice against intellectual coherence is our particular bent on "sanctification." The idea that "the flesh," "the world," and "the devil" are to be avoided at all cost often causes one to treat "the world and all that is in it" as an enemy. That is, wider culture is to be ignored or despised. Furthermore, because "the world" despised our movement in its early beginnings, we can fall into the trap of despising "higher society" in the name of "sanctification." In light of this, we make the critical mistake of scorning higher culture, thinking of it and "the world" as one in the same, or of calling that which is not explicitly Christian "worldly."
Consistency in this vein is impossible. We would be forced to ask whether driving a car, learning to write, brushing one's teeth, or playing a game of volleyball is Christian or not. With this mentality, spiritual schizophrenia finds an ideal nesting ground. This false view of "the world" has caused many Full Gospel people to come out from among the secular universities, the realm of politics, the arts, humanities, technology, and the sciences. When "sanctification" or "holiness" is strained through this narrow filter, not only do the pools of societal and cultural thought suffer, but so does the aggregate of critical thought among those in Spirit-filled ranks.
(e) The fifth doctrine courted by Pentecostal/Charismatic believers and apt to entrench anti-intellectual biases is that of "altar theology." The idea that an instantaneous blessing of cleansing and power can be received by faith rather than by the arduous process of "seeking" was heavily promoted from the 1840s forward. Donald Dayton says of this doctrine, "This teaching tended to evaporate the spiritual struggle more characteristic of 18th-century Methodism and encouraged immediate appropriation of the experience." This ideology carried over into 20th-century Pentecostalism and has manifested itself in numerous ways.
Americans in general are almost unhesitatingly seduced by convenience, pragmatism, and instantaneous results. In short, we strive to become a thoroughly microwaveable society. Add to this the belief that "the baptism," healing, salvation, and deliverance can all take place by depositing the problem on the altar, and you have a philosophical structure that can easily lend itself to a "gain with no pain" mentality. Closely related to expectations of immediacy at the altar is the whole idea of casting Satan and his influence from an entire city or nation in one fell swoop. If this simple formula is viable, it seems that Jesus would have used it for his beloved Israel.
I do believe that God grants phenomenal blessings to the hearts of the humble who cast their care on him. He is the gracious Father who loves to give good things to his children. Certainly there are times when Jesus pours out a blessing on our needy souls that are nearly impossible to imagine or contain. God has ministered to me at the altar, in my closet, in my office, and at the front of the church building. God has also used me on occasion while ministering at the altar to cast out spirits. But these realities do not, by necessity, mean that resolute mental activity becomes obsolete. Nor does it mean that delayed results are inferior to those experiences that sometimes seem to be within an arm's reach at the altar. Just ask Eve, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, and the steadfast soldiers of the "hall of faith" in Hebrews 11.
There are several other beliefs we hold that, when combined with an already-present bias against the intellect, amplify the problem. I can only mention them here: circular reasoning based on "the Lord told me," modifying our theology to fit our experience, forcing current events into a last-days context, confusion over the exact use of the spiritual gifts, "if it feels right, it must be the Spirit," name-it-claim-it theology, and our avid appetite for miracles.
If we already tussle with the temptations of anti-intellectualism, then when the above-mentioned beliefs coalesce, they form a strong argument against the case for intellectual achievement, cultural cultivation, and critical thinking. As you can see, all of the conditions are right for our own "perfect storm." And though we have advanced in our fight against anti-intellectualism, we are coaxed again and again to engage in a type of mindless spirituality.
The life of the Spirit surely finds even greater effectiveness as it dwells securely in the house of the intellect. With all that is within me, I state: If we would marry the power of the mind with the power of the Spirit, scholastic wit with heart-warming love, apologetics with the anointing, intellectual vigor with emotional vitality, and our contemplative capability with charismatic gifting, the positive impact that we could have on our culture and on the nations is beyond imagination! And we can rise to the occasion, for we, too, are a people of faith"A City of Faith."
Taken from Full Gospel, Fractured Minds? byRick M. Nañez. Copyright 2005 by Rick M. Nañez. Used by permission of The Zondervan Corporation.
Copyright © 2006 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Also posted today is:
Full Gospel's Fractured Thinking | The problems with shunning 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?
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