Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Response to Donald Miller's Anti-Intellectualism

In this recent blog post, Donald Miller makes some proposals. I'd like to interact with them on a per paragraph basis.

DM: "The church in America is led by scholars. Essentially, the church is a robust school system created around a framework of lectures and discussions and study. We assume this is the way its supposed to be because this is all we have ever known. I think the scholars have done a good job, but they’ve also recreated the church in their own image. Churches are essentially schools. They look like schools with lecture halls, classrooms, cafeterias and each new church program is basically a teaching program."

ME: If only that were the case, but as J.P. Moreland states,

"Since the 1960s, we have experienced an evolution in what we expect a local church pastor to be. Forty years ago he was expected to be a resident authority on theology and biblical teaching. Slowly this gave way to a model of the pastor as the CEO of the church, the administrative and organizational leader. Today the ministers we want are Christianized pop therapists who are entertaining to listen to" (Love Your God With All Your Mind - The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul, ch.10, pg.188-189, emphasis mine).

So we have a bit of hasty generalization here on the part of Miller, a fallacious statement which he will go on to elaborate as a problem. I wish he had been more specific as to how the "scholars" had done a "good job" in his view.

DM: "The first disciples were not teachers, they were fishermen, tax collectors and at least one was a Zealot. We don’t know the occupation of the others, but Jesus did not charge educators with the great commission, he chose laborers. And those laborers took the gospel and created Christian communities that worked, that did things and met in homes and were active. They made speeches, for sure, but so do businessmen and politicians and leaders in any number of other professions. Educators make speeches and do little else, except study for their next lecture. I wonder what the first disciples would think if they could see our system of schools, our million lectures, our billion sub lectures, our curriculums and our lesson plans. I think they’d be impressed, to be honest, but I also think they’d recognize a downside."

ME: If I strained long enough I would have developed hemorrhoids in trying to find a single hint of an imperative along the lines of choosing only "laborers" as church leaders in Jesus' selection of His first disciples. Another fallacious assertion in the form of a non sequitur.

Also, demoting the work of educators as seemingly "non-work" is pretty much an arbitrary move on the part of Miller. What would qualify as real work in his view? Doesn't he view himself as an educator, too? If not, then what with all the books he has penned? What of this particular blog post itself—isn't it meant to educate on the merits of non-education? I trust the inconsistency is pretty obvious to spot.

DM: "Church divisions are almost exclusively academic divisions. The reason I don’t understand my Lutheran neighbor is because a couple academics got into a fight hundreds of years ago. And the rest of the church followed them because, well, they were our leaders. So now we are divided under divisions caused by arguments a laboring leadership might never have noticed of cared about. Practitioners care about what works, what gets things done. They have to agree because there are projects on the line. Educators don’t have to agree at all. They can fight and debate and write papers against each other because, well, the product they are churning out is just thought, not action."

ME: The reason an auto mechanic doesn't understand the intricacies of excising a tumor from a cancer patient is because he is not a medical doctor—and can't you hear the cancer victim rejoicing over that fact! Given Miller's line of argumentation, the auto mechanic has much right to play doctor on anyone because division is evil. Perhaps he hasn't reached that part of Scripture where Paul rails against the Judaizers for perverting the Gospel (Gal. 1:6-10), in effect dividing over orthodox and heretical teaching.

I would hate to be practiced on by "practitioners" who know nothing about what they are practicing.

DM: "So why are we led by teachers? After all, the church and the school system are the only institutions in our culture led purely by academics. Well, the reason is the printing press. The government once controlled the church, but that ended when the printing press was invented and people could read the Bible for themselves. And the scholars were the only people who could read, so they got the job of church leadership by default. So church leadership went from fishermen, to government workers, to scholars. I wonder who’s next? I’ve got money on music executives, if only because they’re all looking for work."

ME: Church leadership by leaders qualified by knowledge of Scripture only began in the 15th century? Then this Pauline injunction must have been neglected for so long prior, "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15). It appears that for Paul, working as a church leader necessarily entails knowledge of Scripture and the ability to dispense of it in the right way. Quite the converse of Miller's proposal.

DM: "Because we’ve been led by scholars for so long, we have slightly distorted ideas about Christian discipleship. If you want to grow in Christ, you should study more. Christian growth, then, is an academic path. And like educators, we only advance to become higher level educators. The point of learning is always teaching which produces further learning and then more teaching. The only difference between the church and another educational institution is that nobody ever graduates from the church. We just keep going to school."

ME: How does one grow in Christ anyhow? Peter states, "Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen" (2 Pet. 3:14-18). What's Peter saying here? Simply that the believers are to guard their doctrine from lawless posers who are out to destroy them through the introduction of twisted teachings (sound familiar?), and that their growth in Christ is founded upon knowing Him in grace and knowledge, thereby presupposing sound doctrine. Miller probably hasn't gotten to Peter's letters yet in his daily Bible reading plan as well.

DM: "In the great commission, Jesus graduated his first group of students. He pushed them into the world and said, you don’t know everything, but you know enough. You’ll have a guide and that guide will be with you always. Go and teach the world to obey my commands. Because they were fishermen and tax gatherers, they went and did it. Did Jesus teach them for three years? Yes, he taught them by doing, in action, with people, by touching stuff, not by taking over a school and recruiting educators. I wonder what they would have done if they had been professional scholars? My guess is they would have talked the command into a tailspin, dissected it into a million pieces, then divided themselves into different intellectual camps, and built a bunch of schools to teach their various interpretations."

ME: Is this Miller's way of saying that the early disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and that they went out and did their work "in the power of the Spirit?" If so, does this mean that the Spirit magically animated the disciples' ministry apart from the use of ordinary means, i.e. through the preaching of the Word? He is quite vague here. What is this "touching stuff" business? In fact, Christ's modus operandi was quite scholarly, with his emphasis on teaching (preaching of the Word, i.e. doctrine) and the administration of the Sacraments: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:19-20).

DM: "So maybe if you’re a doctor or a plumber or a carpenter, you should lead the church. Maybe the church needs some of you who don’t write and speak and teach for a living to step up and put some action to our faith. I wonder what your churches would look like? Maybe you could meet in homes, appoint some elders, pray for each other, read the Bible to each other, and then just serve your communities and each other in love. Maybe you wouldn’t need a classroom at all. Go ahead, lead. You’re qualified. You’ll have a guide. You’ve graduated."

ME: No one in his right mind would entrust his physical body to someone devoid of a medical degree, to say the least. Miller suggests that one's soul is of such negligible value that even the average Joe is capable of ministering to it. Consequently, no Christian in his right mind would agree to anything that Miller has suggested in this blog post as well.


  1. I have to question whether this Donald Miller person (who is probably a big wheel that I have, embarassingly, never heard of) has been in an American church. "The church in America is led by scholars." What a laughable statement. Even the sorta scholarly fellas in charge of most reformed churches I've attended seem faintly embarassed about, y'know, knowin' stuff...most of the American church treats unvarnished ignorance like the sign and seal of true piety.

  2. Kassandra, it's a reflection of the Zeitgeist. Anti-intellectualism is the "flavor of the month" in current contemporary culture, so is it any wonder that those in the church who are confused about the relationship of Christ and culture would gravitate to the imbibing of cultural ideals?


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