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.
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.
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.
There are smart, substantive things to say about the problematic relationship between evangelicals and the academy. But those go in the direction away from Miller. An academic led evangelicalism is something of a chimera; if anything, the gulf between the academy and the church is still as wide as ever.
I wasn’t planning on saying anything about Miller’s post. But a former student asked, so here you have it.
First, Miller’s suggestion that Jesus chose laborers is a helpful reminder to the academically inclined that it’s the fruit of the Spirit that’s the metric of heaven, rather than the number of publications. There is a tendency among younger, college-educated evangelicals to presume that the Kingdom of God comes attached to an advanced degree, but that’s simply not the case. The wisest people I know have degrees, but it’s not clear what role their formal education played in their pursuit and acquisition of understanding. I could go on, but you would do better to read Milliner for more.
Second, Miller apparently hasn’t heard of St. Paul, who chastens everyone’s expectations for what Christianity should look like. The fellow could raise people from the dead, but was also a world class academic. And I don’t use “world class” lightly. To chalk the brilliance of this book entirely up to divine inspiration is simply Docetic. I’m convinced Paul could hang with the brightest of ’em–he was, among other things, an academic’s academic.
Third, blaming academics for church divisions makes me think Miller has never been inside a church. The most anti-intellectual of churches still manage to split, and it’s not because they’re listening to the Ph.D’s. It’s because contrary to Miller, disagreement about “what gets things done” is just as likely as disagreement about the right beliefs, and when people disagree the possibility of genuine division occurs. If we all managed to reach the land of happy harmony about how to solve poverty, it would have been gone a long time ago.
Fourth, I’d love to know when “the government…controlled the church.” Really. I’m not being rhetorical here. I really would like a footnote here to find out how Donald Miller knows this. Because at the end of his piece he offers this lament: “Aren’t you a little tired of scholars and psudo-scholars fighting about doctrine?” I’ll bite. I am tired of fighting about doctrine. So can we have a little quarrel about history instead? Because dismissing academics for disagreeing while making dubious, unsubstantiated historical claims is the path to demagogouery. If you’re going to suggest that disciplines oriented toward discovering and articulating the truth (rather than, you know, “getting things done”) have led us astray, I think you’d better make double-sure you’ve got the facts right in doing so.
Fifth, if only academics could read when the printing press was invented, who was reading all those pamphlets it started churning out, pamphlets that fostered the Reformation? Maybe the medieval church banned books for peasants because, you know, the peasants can and would read them? The printing press was a massive success because there was a massive market for reading. That wouldn’t have been the case if no one could read.
People wonder why I say that the younger evangelicalism is just like the old, except with hipper garb and a different pragmatic focus. Miller’s interested in stopping poverty, while the seeker-sensitive folks wanted to get people in the door to get saved. But accompanying both is still that damnable tacit anti-intellectualism, an anti-intellectualism which justifies confusion and ignorance by cloaking it with the guise of harmony, peace, and poverty reduction.