Briefly Noted: On Intellectual Snobbery

In a recent edition of The Chronicle Review, Rey Wojdat, chairman of the hospitality programs at Broome Community College (NY), argues for mutual respect between the intellectual and vocational disciplines within the academy.[1] In the article, Wojdat is pushing back against a tendency for those within the more intellectual disciplines to view vocational degrees as menial, and those within the vocational disciplines to view intellectually-oriented degrees as being removed from reality and unhelpful for society. He states, “Balance is key; mutual respect for intellectual and physical labor is essential for us to prosper and advance as a society. Yet we still marginalize nonintellectual work, both in academe and in the larger culture.” And yet, in Wojdat’s essay, the emphasis falls on correcting intellectual snobbery.

The marginalization of “nonintellectual” work, Wojdat surmises, stems not only from American society’s emphasis on obtaining a college degree in order to truly flourish, but also from our tendencies toward pride. He recounts Mike Rowe’s testimony before the U. S. Senate in 2011. Rowe, host of the Discovery Channel series Dirty Jobs, lamented that Americans have “elevated the importance of ‘higher education’ to such a lofty perch that all other forms of knowledge are now labeled ‘alternative.’” Rowe’s testimony intended to show that a nation of (mostly) consumers is not a nation that will sustain itself for long. People still need to make, grow, and fix things, and these skills require knowledge and training.

Wojdat hones in on pride as a primary cause of this sort of marginalization. Those of us who are more intellectually oriented, he avers, tend to view trained laborers as those who settled for an inferior trade which doesn’t require “expertise.” Yet expertise runs both ways. As he illustrates,

“I have seen and even touched van Gogh paintings. Thrilling as that was, I do not qualify as an art expert. I would never claim to be one, because I realize that you have to work in and study that discipline to qualify. Similarly, vocations taught in colleges can require as much work and study as ‘knowledge’ disciplines like economics and history. The knowledge and skills of a chef or a welder are not easily obtained, no matter what one may superficially observe.”

Wodjat also notes that skilled workers can be equally condescending toward “college boys” such as him. Pride is not the sole possession of the “intellectual.” Wojdat concludes by pointing out that he is both an academic and skilled laborer. As he is proud to be well credentialed and skilled in academics, he is just as proud of the fact that he “rebuilt [his] house inside and out–plumbing, electric, carpentry–with [his] own hands.” The skills are different from each other, but one set is not better than the other.

Wojdat’s point is a significant one which can be undergirded and enhanced by a biblical view of vocation. In the beginning God pronounced his creation “good.” And yet, he immediately charged his imagers with a task which involved changing his good creation. This task—tilling the soil—is one component of the original (pre-Fall) Great Commission which included other tasks such as filling the earth, and naming the animals. Taken together, these tasks are often referred to as the Cultural Mandate. In being commanded to “till the soil,” man was not only being asked to participate in agriculture, but also in a broader culture-making project. God was calling them to bring out the hidden potentials of his good creation, for his glory and for their own fulfillment as imagers.

Every aspect of human culture—homemaking, art, science, politics, sports, entertainment, business, entrepreneurship, and education—remains under Christ’s Lordship. Each of these cultural activities can be studied or done with great significance or no significance, for God’s glory or as an exercise in idolatry. The study of each of these activities is therefore vested with significance, whether the activity is more “vocational” or more “intellectual.” Each, in some manner or another, draws upon the spiritual, moral, rational, creative, relational, and physical aspects associated with our creation in the image of God. None of these calling are superior to the others. Each retains its own dignity under God’s reign, and each relies on the others. Professors in the intellectual disciplines rely moment-by-moment on the work of those whose craft is “non-intellectual.” Where do professors furrow their brows and deliver their bloviations except within lecture halls constructed by architects, skilled contractors, and their teams? How would a professor deliver his prolix (but, of course, not otiose) ideas to the broader public without the work of website designers, publishing houses, and paper mills?

Wojdat thus makes a point that we wish to take up and expand. We wish to remind the church and its educational institutions (colleges and seminaries) to foster an environment of respect for the many vocations and disciplines represented by the academy. God gives gifts to his church so that the people given those gifts might serve one another for the glory of God. Whether speaking or serving, both skills are for the sake of serving others (1 Peter 2:10–11). This means each Christian must consider himself or herself with “sober judgment” not with pride (Rom. 12:3). The church, then, is called to demonstrate tangibly this humility and service. In so doing, it not only embodies the “respect and balance” for which Wojdat calls, but also glorifies God by recognizing the multi-faceted splendor of the world which God created and the vocations he enables.



[1] Rey C. Wojdat, “Confessions of a Blue-Collar Prof,” The Chronicle Review (July 5, 2013), B20.

online game

Theology & Culture (5): Case Studies (Augustine, Kuyper, Hubmaier, Lewis, Schaeffer, Neuhaus)

Upon arriving at Southeastern Seminary in 1996, I had little or no motivation to study church history and historical theology. I wanted to learn “the bottom line” on the major biblical and theological issues, and then get on with the business of sharing the gospel and defending the faith. My assumption was that I could learn the “bottom line” quickly, and ought do so through my personal Bible study and some books written by late 20th century evangelicals.

This assumption, however, was unhelpful. In relying exclusively on my personal Bible study and a handful of contemporary evangelical books, I was missing out on the instructive and inspiring stories of men and women of old, and the enduringly influential books that many of them wrote. I was naïve to think that I could not benefit from the theological and ministerial lessons to be learned from the universal church, lessons which can be learned by reading books written by Christians who lived in centuries past or by Christians who live “apart” from me geographically and culturally.

Since that time, I have grown to love and appreciate historical theology and global theology, and try to teach my courses in conversation with those theologians. In my recent Theology & Culture seminar, we discussed historical figures such as Balthasar Hubmaier, Augustine of Hippo, Abraham Kuyper, C. S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, and Richard John Neuhaus.

Augustine of Hippo

From Augustine’s City of God, we learned that the church needs to cultivate theologians who are able to speak with power and prescience to their socio-cultural contexts. On August 24, 410, the Alarics/Goths sacked Rome. The Roman intellectuals and common people scrambled to interpret this event, to make sense of it. Many of them concluded that the Roman gods were taking revenge because the Roman people had embraced Jesus Christ. Their argument was political, arguing that the Romans had abandoned their founding myth (Romulus and Remus, the Aeneid, etc.) in favor of the biblical narrative. It was also religious, arguing that the Romans had abandoned their gods in favor of Christ. Finally, it was philosophical, arguing that the Romans had departed from Platonism in favor of the Incarnation. On this backdrop, Augustine received a letter from Marcellinus, a Christian who walked in power circles in Rome, asking for help in answering the Roman narrative.

Augustine responded to Marcellinus with a 1,000 page letter. In his letter, the City of God, Augustine argued that the Roman intellectuals’ interpretation was wrong. He did so by arguing that Rome’s story was only one small story in the midst of a much larger narrative which is grounded in Christian Scripture. He argued that there are really two cities, the city of God and the city of man. Each city has a basic love-either God or idols. Each city is symbolized in the Bible by an earthly city-Jerusalem and Babylon. Each city has a telos-eternal life or eternal death. In making his argument, Augustine not only provided a powerful biblical theology, he also demonstrated that he knew the Romans’ literature, philosophy, politics, and history. He referenced their great authors with ease, quoted them favorably when possible, and showed how they fell short of Christian truth. He unmasked their political pretensions, showing that although Rome claimed to love justice, they really loved domination. He unmasked their religious pretensions, showing that their intellectuals didn’t really believe in the gods anyway. He unmasked their philosophical shortcomings, showing that Christianity outstrips Platonism.

His critique of Rome was theological, meaningful, dialogical, timely, fair, reasoned, evangelistic, and eminently learned. Our evangelical churches can learn from this; we ought to encourage our people, our pastors, and our professors to nurture in one another the desire to exegete culture as well as Scripture, to cultivate the head as well as the heart, to always be ready to give reason for the hope within and to do so in a cogent and persuasive manner as Augustine did.

Abraham Kuyper

Abraham Kuyper’s biography and his Lectures on Calvinism showed us a Christian who, like Augustine, not only critiqued culture but made culture. He was a pastor, a journalist, a newspaper founder, a professor, a university founder, a parliament member, and a Prime Minister. From these manifold and unique vantage points, Kuyper sought to work out the implications of the gospel.

Kuyper was known for several teachings that framed his views on theology and culture. The first is antithesis: he believed that there is a great battle between the kingdoms of God and the kingdom of men, and that the intellectual elite in modern society tend to encourage a swan-step conformity to a-theistic and secular ideals. The Christian community needs to resist this conformity. The second is sphere sovereignty: he believed that various spheres of human culture (arts, sciences, politics, religion, etc.) each function because of a God-given purpose, are independent of one another as spheres, but are never independent of God as Lord. Christians, therefore, ought to resist false sacred/secular dichotomies in favor of allowing the Christian worldview undergird our culture work in these spheres.

The third is the cultural mandate: Kuyper believed that God created humans as cultural beings who ought to do their culture work to God’s glory. The fourth is the significance of culture: as T. M. Moore describes Kuyper’s view, “Redeemed culture-culture used under the lordship of Christ-is most conducive to promoting the well-being of people and the glory of God, while sinful culture undermines human dignity and leads to social and moral degradation.”* It is incumbent upon the Christian community to put forth a sustained effort in cultural matters.

From Kuyper, we learn the church’s need for a comprehensive and sustained approach to its cultural context, which includes not only cultural exegesis but constructive cultural work. We learn that we should not rely exclusively or even primarily on political coercion, but rather work in a comprehensive manner to be salt and light in every sphere of culture.

Hubmaier, Lewis, Schaeffer, and Neuhaus

Because the blog format is limited, I will be concise to the extreme in mentioning that: (1) from Hubmaier, we learn the necessity of preaching the full gospel with its prophetic edge “against” our cultural context (though truly this is to be “for” our cultural context), even if we suffer greatly for doing so; (2) from Lewis, we learn the power of speaking and writing the gospel in an aesthetically attractive manner, and of doing so through many years of hard intellectual work; (3) from Schaeffer, we learn to do deep cultural exegesis, to proclaim the gospel in the context of love and community, and to do so with confidence that the Christian worldview is the only one that can make sense of the world empirically and existentially; and (4) from Neuhaus we learn ways in which the church can retain her Christian convictions while standing in the public square seeking to glorify God and promote the common good.

____________________

*T. M. Moore, Culture Matters (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2007), 106.

Aspect 2: A Mission Based Upon God’s Mission

(By: Danny Akin & Bruce Ashford)

Scripture and mission go hand in hand. Baptists have missional convictions because they are a people of the Book.[1] Our network of churches possesses a missional DNA. History informs us that the majority of the early Baptist networks arose from a need for interchurch cooperation in missional endeavors and that the SBC is no exception since cooperation in missions has been her raison d’etre from the very beginning.

In the following blogposts, the reader will notice three golden threads. The first thread is the mission of God, revealed in the biblical narrative of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation. The biblical narrative reveals that the uncreated Triune God created this world from nothing. God created and fills a good world with his image bearers from whom he will make a kingdom of priests. This world reflects God’s glory and points continually to him. God’s first image-bearers, however, sinned against him, setting themselves up as autonomous, and in so doing, they alienated themselves from God, each other, and the rest of the created order. As a result, we are dead in our trespasses, and the good world God created is marred by the ugliness of sin, the consequences of which are far more pervasive than we might typically imagine.

In the aftermath of man’s rebellion, God immediately promised to send a Savior, one born of a woman, one who would redeem the nations and restore God’s good world. Indeed, from the third chapter of Genesis onwards, the Scriptures bear witness to the triumphant march of God who accomplishes the redemption he promised through the Savior He sends. The Savior came, was crucified to cancel the debt that we could not pay, rose from the dead, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father. Further, he will return again, bringing with him a new heavens and earth, where the redeemed of the nations will worship him forever and ever.

The second thread is the church’s mission, which is set firmly in the context of God’s mission. The church finds itself between the third and fourth plot movements in redemptive history, between the time when he sent his Son to purchase redemption and the time when he will have gathered the redeemed of the nations and created the heavens and earth anew. We bear witness to the Sent One, to glorify him in both word and deed. Just as he will return one day to receive the worship of the redeemed and to restore his good creation, so the church’s mission includes both redemptive and creational aspects.[2] In its redemptive aspect, the church bears witness to the gospel in word and deed so that she may be an agent of grace to a lost and dying world. In its creational aspect, the church works out the implications of the gospel in every dimension of society and culture, and in so doing is a sign of the kingdom that has been inaugurated and is to come.

The third thread is the church’s cross-cultural and cross-linguistic mission. Throughout the Scriptures, God makes clear that he will glorify himself among the nations. In Solomon’s prayer, for example, we learn that God will make known to the nations his great name, his strong hand, and his outstretched arm. In Psalm 67, we learn of a God who will make his salvation known among all the nations and to whom all the peoples of the earth will give their praise. In Matthew’s gospel we find our Lord commanding us to take the gospel to the nations, while in Luke’s we find him promising that his name will be preached to all nations. Finally, in Revelation, we are given a glimpse of those redeemed worshippers from among every tribe, tongue, people, and nation (Mt 28:16-20; Lk 24:46-49; Rev 5, 7). These passages and numerous others make clear God’s mission to redeem worshippers from every people and nation in his good creation.

God has woven these golden threads deeply into the tapestry of the biblical narrative. To remove any of the three threads is to distort the mission: God’s mission-to win the nations and to restore his creation-frames the church’s mission. The church’s mission, in both its redemptive and cultural aspects, frames the cross-cultural and cross-linguistic aspects of her mission[3]. Mission, therefore, begins with God. He organizes, energizes, and directs it. The danger is that we lose sight of this, thereby divorcing missiology from theology, and thence making the church’s mission in our own image.


[1] We use the word “missional” in a particular manner, to denote a certain posture or impulse among Christians and churches. A person who lives missionally, as we use this term, is one who sees all of life as an arena for God’s glory, who sees himself as “sent,” whether he lives in Mumbai, Moscow, Memphis, or Milan. The word “missionary” carries connotations of professional overseas service, but to call a person “missional,” in our usage, implies that he takes a missionary posture no matter what his geographic context. We recognize that many whose use this term do not share our theological convictions. This is the central concern of Keith Eitel’s article, “Shifting to the First Person: On Being Missional,” Occasional Bulletin of the EMQ, 22:1, 1-4. Eitel warns that many who use words such as “missional” reject absolute truth in general, and absolute biblical revelation in particular. We share his concern, and hope that this blog series in its entirety will help to provide sufficient context for our use of this word.

[2] It is fitting that the book of Revelation encapsulates both the redemptive and creational aspects. Revelation 5 speaks to the redemption of men and women from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, while Revelation 21-22 speaks to the restoration of God’s good creation, as he provides a new heavens and earth.

[3] By this, we do not mean that our international missionaries will pay the same attention to the cultural mandate that they will to their evangelistic mandate. It is our opinion that Southern Baptist missionaries should focus their energies on church planting, and in particular on church planting among unreached people groups. However, the churches that we plant should seek to glorify God in every conceivable manner among their people group. These churches’ efforts, therefore, would optimally include efforts to work out the implications of the gospel in every dimension of their respective cultures.race mobil