Anti-intellectualism: The Trojan Horse Within the Church

trojan horseWe are in trouble. We no longer possess, as a culture, the ability to think well about the things that matter most. When it comes to thinking about the nature or existence of God, the purpose of life, or the morality of war, homosexuality, or abortion, we are guided more by our feelings than reason. When we want to find knowledge, largely, as a culture we look to scientists and not philosophers or theologians. As a result, our culture is fixated on image, celebrities, experience, slogans, and thirty-second sound bites. We no longer possess the ability to think well about things that matter most. And the church is no different than the broader culture it finds itself within.

But this is not how it is supposed to be. Over 2,000 years ago, Jesus spelled out how His community of followers was to understand themselves:

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?” (Matthew 5:13)

The world has lost its saltiness. It is in decay. It is everywhere cracked. Further, Christianity and the church have largely been marginalized, existing on the edges of a now secular society without a public voice. And the Christian witness and conscious is muted, because our lives are as fragmented as our neighbors.

According to J.P. Moreland, this decline all began with the emergence of anti-intellectualism in the church beginning in the middle 1800s.[1] As Christians began to become intellectually shallow and theologically illiterate, we lost our voice and withdrew from culture, carving out space for faith as a private, subjective experience.

But, this anti-intellectualism is a scandal. It is a sin. It is unbiblical. And it is, according to Moreland, the “Trojan horse”[2] within the walls of the church.

We must change. We must begin to cultivate a Christian mind once again. We must reject false-dichotomies (faith or reason; sacred or secular; head or heart) and seek Christian wholeness as apprentices of Jesus. In doing so, we will love God will all of our being, as God intended (“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”- Matthew 22:37) and we will re-establish our Christian voice and conscious in a world that desperately needs a Savior that can satisfy both head and heart.

To see how I think philosophers can be of service to the church in helping us to love God with our minds, see my essay posted at The Gospel Coalition on “Why The Church Needs Philosophers and Philospohers Need the Church.”

For more, listen to my talk on Loving God with Your Mind.


[1] J.P. Moreland, Love Your God with All Your Mind (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2012 ed.), chap. 1. See also, Mark Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1994).


[2] Moreland, Love Your God with All Your Mind, 35.

21 Responses to Anti-intellectualism: The Trojan Horse Within the Church

  1. Mike says:

    Hey Paul! Good thoughts here – I am wondering about the historical reference point of some time before the mid 1800’s when Christians were super intellectual in regards to their faith. This isn’t an argument, I’m really just wondering. Was there a period where the average Christian was extremely intelligent about their faith? If so, how long did this last? For sure, Christians led in areas of science and Philosophy, but that’s just a small percentage, wasn’t it?

    • says:

      Hello Mike–if you read Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, you’ll get a good handle on the historical source of the anti-intellectualism. Noll locates it in the 1st and 2nd great awakening and the focus (there) on immediatism, emotionalism, and personal conversion. All of these utlimately undermined the life of hte mind over time. Up until the middle of the 1800’s Christian ministers were the presidents of most of our higher education institutions. With the secularization of the academy between 1850 and 1930, Christian’s no longer were the intellectual giants in any field. Thankfully, this is changing, as many Christians are again taking seriously the life of the mind. I hope that helps a bit! warmly, Paul

  2. Matthew Reese says:

    Hi Paul,

    This article is both true and well spoken. My current MA thesis work in philosophy has exposed a number of false dichotomies in the last 300 years. I can’t agree more that Christians too have heavily relied on a number of false distinctions. If you have any resources specifically on the historical roots of any of the three false dichotomies in Christian thought, I would really appreciate it!

    – Matthew

    (PS. You and I actually met at a CRU conference about 4 or so years back. I’m glad to see your success fighting for truth.)

    • says:

      Hello Matt–great to hear from you–can you remind me where we met? How fun! In terms of these false distinctions, the work of Francis Schaeffer and Nancy Pearcy comese to mind as does Arthur Holmes book on the Fact/value distinction. Anytime we try and pull apart Christ’s Lordship over all, I think we will tend to fall into some of these false distinctions…where are you doing your MA thesis? warmly, Paul

      • Matthew Reese says:

        It was briefly after you spoke for a breakout session at a CRU winter conference (between 2008-2011). I’m currently at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. I’ll definitely aim check out those resources. The Fact/Value divide has been a central issue for my own work and, for what its worth, I can’t express how much damage it has done… I’ll add each of these as well as Mark Noll’s book to the wishlist!

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  4. Mike says:


    Hi, as a Biola grad & current Talbot student, encouraging rigorous thinking about life warms my heart! Now here’s the “but” – I agree with the meta diagnosis &, in part, that learning how to think logically is a step in the right direction, but that assumes a “top-heavy” anthropology (man is primarily mental consciousness).

    I like that u *do* say we must reject false dichotomies (faith or reason, head or heart), but that was right after imploring folk to “cultivate a Christian mind once again.” All I want to say, piggyback on ur post perhaps, is that anthropologically I’m not sure man is primarily a “Thinking Thing”. If that’s true then I’ll want to affirm intellectual Christian cultivation, but I also want to exhort churches back to the “heart” (traditionally speaking, emotional, sensitive & spiritual sensitivity) in hopes of anchoring the sometimes sterile, hifalutin “right thinking” That’s often presented in black & white propositions but lacking emotional color, depth & substance that propositions often cannot capture.

    Not sure if that made sense, but all I’m trying to say (not very well) is I’m not sure thinking is what should be put at the top of the list anthropologically speaking, especially when considering emotional hot topics like war, sexuality, abortion, etc. While emotions don’t “drive” this car, we don’t stuff them in the trunk either but we transform them too (cultivate Christian sensitivity) like we do our minds.

    In short, I wonder if culturally right now it’s less a matter of thinking & perhaps more a matter of breaking through the cold hard ground of emotional brokenness… an emotional apologetics of sorts 🙂
    ps: look forward to reading ur 4views book on abstract objects!

    • says:

      Hello Mike-great to hear from you. I would agree that man is not merely a thinking thing, nor merely an emoting thing, etc. but, following the Hebraic conception of “heart”-we are all of those things (and more besides). So, yes, I am, in this post, working to correct one problem, but you are correct, if we don’t think holistically about human nature, we might over-correct in the wrong direction! Blessings to you and your studies. I look back at my Talbot days with fondness!

      warmly, Paul

  5. Brennan says:

    This is an awesome post. I concur 100%. I love Christian apologetics and have a passion for it. In fact I started reading Dr. William Lane Craig’s “Time and Eternity” today and was struck by his statement that the reason why “it is incumbent upon the philosophical theologian to articulate a doctrine of God and time is that a great deal of careless writing has already been done on this topic. The question is not whether orthodox believers will address the issue, but whether they will address it responsibly.” Carrying the same effect was his statement from “The Only Wise God” that “someone desiring to learn more about God’s attribute of omniscience would be better advised to read the works of Christian philosophers than of Christian theologians.”
    The realm of thought and intellectual pursuit has been nearly abdicated entirely to the secularist and other world views. If I could throw my two cents in as to the contributions of this regress, or at least why it hasn’t changed much in the recent generations, is that grace has become cheap. “Cheap grace” as Bonhoeffer said. It is easy to be a Christian in the US. In a place like Saudi Arabia you really have to believe Scripture – grace is very costly. For many in the US church is a harmless pass-time, a social gathering, or even just an impotent delusion. It costs one nothing to be a Christian in Pennsylvania or Nebraska, but it costs one everything to be a Christian in Pakistan or Nigeria.
    Cheap grace, interpreting the Word into oblivion, relegating the “hard questions” to a series of self-refuting statements (just ask a compatibilist about God’s sovereignty and man’s free-will), or designating them to those “intellectual elites” is the name of the game. Should we expect anything less disastrous when our own pastors especially those of the “seeker-sensitive, consumer churches” have not even bothered to confront these questions nor desire to? We ought to thank Almighty God that we do not have a worse current state of affairs!

  6. Ian McKerracher says:

    What I have heard from various sources, is that the decline in thinking is a result of The Enlightenment. If man is elevated to the measure of all things,God must decline in importance. What that be the understanding that you would share?

  7. Because I haven’t read Moreland’s book, I have a question:

    When identifying culprits in the decline of Christian intellect, were the 19th-century movements you and Moreland identify reactions against the rise of secularism from the Enlightenment and the new “Scientism” (for lack of a better name) that was sweeping the culture?

    I suspect various believers reacted to the rise of the worship of science in the culture, and the corresponding assault on the veracity of Christian ideas. I would be surprised if the anti-intellectual Christian movements arose in a vacuum.

    • says:

      Hello Phil, you are correct, the anti-intellectualism didn’t arise in a vacuum. The best discussion on how this all unfolded is Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. He will link the development to things like the Englightenment, revivalism, the identifying of politics with Christianity in early America, emotionalism, individualism, and more…warmly, paul

  8. Harold says:

    Mike/Paul – one effective way of bridging the emotion/intellect divide is with story. When discussing the problem of evil I use a personal story. When I was a young child and very prone to strep throat, my mother would take me to the family doctor. Such visits inevitably led to a shot – which I hated and would fight against. How could the mother who loved me even become a traitor and help to hold me down for that most painful experience? The story helps to illustrate several facets of the intellectual problem in a way that people can readily identify with emotionally. It builds a bridge for talking about our being “inside” the problem and only wanting an emotionally satisfying response (actually just ONE response, NO shot, NO pain, NO evil). Then it also allows a transition to a different perspective as I grew older and took my children for a shot to make them well and give them life. Perhaps God has a bigger perspective and purpose. We need good stories as a springboard to first connect our audience and hen take them an intellectual step further.

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  13. Joel Tay says:

    The verse about salt losing its saltiness is especially interesting because in the Greek, it can also be read as if salt has become moronic/foolish. Keeping in mind that in Jewish Tradition, salt is often used to denote wisdom, the reading provides some food for thought when we say that if the salt has become tasteless/foolish, it is good for nothing except to be thrown out.

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