Dangers of Anti-Intellectualism in the Chinese Church

May 02, 2017 05:05 AM


The anti-intellectualism movement in the Chinese Church is worrisome. Using Apostle Paul's words that "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up" in 1 Corinthians, the advocates of this movement put love and knowledge against each other, thinking that much knowledge will surely cause people to become arrogant. Furthermore, some of them even reject theological knowledge.

Is their sentiment reasonable?

After God created mankind, He gave them the responsibility to take care of the world, commanding them to "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground (Genesis 1:28)." Human beings need knowledge and reasoning to complete these tasks so the Creator gave them rationality. In order not to disappoint the Lord, who gave them important tasks, human beings need rationality and to make effort in studying various fields.

So how should we understand Apostle Paul's words? Paul is not an anti-intellectualist. He had been trained very well in the law since he was young. Having studied under the famous scholar in Jerusalem, Gamaliel, Paul understood the Old Testament deeply. Besides, his hometown, Tarsus, was home to Greek philosophy, especially the Stoic school.

Paul had learned much knowledge. He had been influenced heavily by Greek philosophy. Many scholars believe that Paul's letters contain many Stoic terms, including philosophical concepts and topics of discussion, which implies that the apostle Paul was a great scholar on both Hebrew and Greek culture.

On the one hand, when Paul said that knowledge puffs up, he was referring to the arrogant people who claim to have knowledge. On the other hand, when he said that love builds up, he did not put love and knowledge against each other; but, talked about the order of priority between them.

We must be alert to anti-intellectualism, because this idea will harm the church badly in two ways.  

First, anti-intellectualism is a breeding ground for heresies.

Deeply influenced by traditional fundamentalism and Pietism, the Chinese church attaches great importance to inner life. But over the past few decades, the Charismatic Movement emphasized the importance of emotional side in faith to the extreme and greatly impacted the faith. When the ideas of Charismatic movement and pietism held by many Christians go to the extreme, it will inevitably bring about anti-intellectualism among them.

Anti-intellectualism led many people to reject the knowledge outside of the Bible, being proud of "reading the Bible and the Gospels only without caring for the happenings in the world". This phenomenon caused many people to become ignorant and distort the "Bible", developing a form of blind faith. Though they think of themselves as being godly, they do not know the truth. As a Puritan theologian declared "Ignorance is the origin of heresies, not the mother of godliness." In order to understand the truth, we need to have a wide range of knowledge.

Second, believers' anti-intellectualism gives a bad impression of the church on society. Currently, the vast majority of people in China have been influenced by atheism. As a result, a large number of people are either atheists or believe in folk religions. The ideas that there is no God in the universe and human beings evolved from apes have taken the position in people's heart firmly. For them, religion is opposed to modern science similar to how opium is seen and the anti-intellectualism in the church, that is, Christians' rejection of scientific and cultural knowledge, will undoubtedly reinforce the public's prejudice against Christianity.

It can be said that anti-intellectuals provide a realistic model for anti-religious people, leading people to believe more firmly the propaganda they hear. As a result, more people will keep a distance from the Christian faith and the church, which failed to bear a good testimony. Therefore, if Christians want to preach the Gospel and bring people to the Lord, can they afford not to learn scientific and cultural knowledge? Otherwise, how can we eliminate the prejudice of people in society putting religion and science against each other without awareness to scientific and cultural facts?

Translated by Alvin Zhou

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