Thursday, June 13, 2013

Scripture and Anti-Intellectualism

Stanley Hauerwas, in his book The State of the University: Academic Knowledges and the Knowledge of God writes in one of the appendices about the spirit of anti-intellectualism present in American seminaries and churches. Seminaries have taken the tack that "The [congregants] do not care what you know. They want to know that you care." (206) This attitude is widely prevalent, in not only the seminary faculty members and administrators but in the churches that financially support these seminaries and in the orientation and character of the students seeking admittance. 
"The problem with many of our students, however, is not that they are ill prepared, but that they are just lazy. They have felt 'called' to the ministry because they often like 'to work with people' but it has never occurred to them that the work they are to do with people in the name of Jesus Christ means more than being a nice person. Indeed I suspect the reason why so many leave the ministry or find themselves in such compromised positions in the ministry is due to the unrelieved boredom of facing a life-time of being 'nice.'" (207)
I've never attended seminary, so I cannot vouch firsthand for the criticisms Hauerwas provides regarding seminaries themselves (though I do not doubt they are accurate in many cases), but I do find that anti-intellectualism in the church has spawned students of a certain cast of mind who prefer to avoid rigorous study. There are no doubt a lot of factors and influences that go into this phenomenon, and Hauerwas mentions several, but the most interesting one to me was his observation on the way in which seminaries treat Scripture in coursework:
"Too often it is assumed that scripture is dealt with in Old Testament (which unfortunately should really be taught as Hebrew Bible) and New Testament courses, which means those who teach systematic theology and ethics are freed from making scripture constitutive of their work. . . As a result, too often students think what they learned in their scripture courses is more certain than theology because the latter is largely a matter of 'opinion.'" (208)
This segregation of the "sub-disciplines" in seminaries effectively sidelines certain areas of academic work as being of lesser value or importance. Seminaries who are aware of this phenomena must squelch all false dichotomies between rigorous theological work and pastoral ministry / service, and do so because they have a firm understanding of the relationship between exegesis and theology. The necessary unifying factor here is the authority of holy Scripture over holy reason. Scripture does not tolerate boredom or laziness, as Augustine says in De Doctrina Christiana.

[Stanley Hauerwas, The State of the University: Academic Knowledges and the Knowledge of God, Blackwell Publishing 2007]

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