Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Anti-Intellectualism or Intellectualism: Palin, N.T. Wright, and other thoughts

Yes, I think I will link these things together in this blog.

I have been extremely impressed by the blitzkreg of media opposition to Gov. Sarah Palin’s book. I have not read it, nor do I intend to, but people like David Brooks are attacking her as an anti-intellectual joke? Is she really a popular idiot or is perhaps David Brooks confused on what it actually means to be intellectual just like he is confused as to what it means to be conservative? I cannot answer for sure whether Gov. Palin is intellectual, but I can say for sure that David Brooks gets the definition wrong, but he is not the only one.

Take a look at Dr. James Jordan, famed Federal Vision pastor, in his article Closing of the Calvinistic Mind. In this article he tries to explain to us that there used to be Reformed Intellectuals, but no more. His list includes people like R.J. Rushdoony, father of Theonomy, and Herman Dooeyweerd, Christian Philosopher also involved in the movement. These are a sampling of the Christian Intellectuals Jordan refers to in his article. Evan Runner, Cornelius Van Til, also draw mention, and are also in some way associated with Theonomy or the Amsterdam School of Philosophy. Klaas Schilder garners a mention, Schilder has much in common with modern day Federal Vision. He seems to honor Bishop N.T Wright as an intellectual thinker in today’s world in other articles. The same question can be posed to Dr. Jordan as David Brooks, what makes an intellectual anyway?

It seems clear to me that the definition of both Brooks and Jordan of an intellectual is someone who broaches new ground and is an original thinker. Such a definition is probably largely accepted, but is it right? Should the church constantly be broaching new ground? Should we be rethinking justification by faith alone? How is this definition of an intellectual compatible with foundational established truths? And the answer comes back, it is not. Intellectualism then is anti-thetical to established truth. Do we really need Bishop Wright to re-think the incarnation and justification, or is that act of intellecutalism an act of denying truth? Do we need someone to re-think conservatism in politics or is re-thinking conservatism an inherently un-conservative act?

There is no doubt that David Brooks believes intellectualism involves coming up with new ideas and new solutions rather than spouting the same old cut tax formula. This is why Brooks believes the era of Reagan is dead and supports candidates like John McCain and supported Barak Obama. For Brooks supporting a major liberal like Barak Obama does not negate his self proclaimed “conservatism”. It is intellectual to support these other intellectuals and conservatism is redefined into Barak Obama’s liberalism. The same is true for the Federal Vision and N.T. Wright. They follow the intellectualism and end up redefining Justification and Election until it is really something closer to Romanism that Protestantism. That is what a good intellectual does in their system. Re-think, which means re-define.

I wish to suggest a different definition of an intellectual. A true intellectual is someone who can take difficult concepts and present them to the masses so that they are easily understood. Such an ability is indeed rare, but it shows great intellectual ability. To be able to explain things so that all can understand takes total grasp of the subject and a knowledge of language and others that ought to be what defines an intellectual. Ronald Reagan is a great example. He could communicate the truths of economics and politics in a manner that was memorable and easily understood. Let me give another example by citing someone who is oddly left off of Dr. Jordan’s list. Francis Schaeffer was at the height of his popularity in the 1970’s, the same time frame spoken of by Jordan, and he was also a conservative Presbyterian. Yet, Jordan leaves him off of the list of intellectuals? Why? Schaeffer had a larger following than Dooeyweerd and Rushdoony combined. But what Schaeffer did not do was break new ground. He did not promote the new idea of Theonomy, but rather communicated the basic truths of a Christian worldview so that many could understand.

Jordan calls people that fit my definition of intellectual "popularizers". They simply make a message popular, but they do not rethink the message or come up with a new message. And I surely agree that "popularizers" exist. But, should we be rethinking the gospel of Jesus Christ, should we be changing it? I think not.

Next installment: Anti-intellectual or intellectual: Does truth matter any more?


Jay said...

Seems to me that there's a big difference between an intellectual and a popularizer. I'm no Reagan expert, but I doubt even his biggest supporters would really call him an "intellectual." That term seems to require, at a minimum, a person who engages in some level of contemplative thinking. Maybe Reagan was smarter than he's given credit for, and certainly he was a great communicator of ideas, but I don't think that qualifies him as an "intellectual."

Here's my off-the-cuff definition: someone who spends there time trying to solve complex problems. Maybe sometimes this requires coming up with a completely new paradigm (see Einstein), maybe sometimes it requires understanding things that weren't previously understood. Maybe it just means thinking about a conundrum, even if you never fully unravel it.

It seems like you're trying to exclude people from qualifying as intellectuals just because you disagree with their process or conclusions. That hardly seems like a good way to define a term. Perhaps N.T. Wright is completely wrong about a lot of things, but its hard to deny that he's an "intellectual." So while I agree with you that it is wrong to limit the term to people who broach new ground or are somehow original in their thinking, I don't think you can exclude those sort of people altogether.

Andrew McIntyre said...

Intellectual does not equal intelligent. I think it is probably beyond question that Palin is not an intellectual. Whether or not she is intelligent...I have not yet decided. Reagan was also not an intellectual, although he was a very intelligent man. However, I am not sure intellectuals make very good political leaders, at least not in our day. During the Enlightenment, intellectuals tended to be useful. Now, they just pontificate behind the walls of universities about ideas that do not work. The very fact that socialism is still in vogue in academia is case in point. As far as politics go, establishment intellectuals have not had a new idea for 80 years. I guess we could ask the question, was Jesus an intellectual? I would say no. Obviously, He was intelligent, but I don't think He would have spent his life in a university arguing about failed ideas, publishing books that would be outdated in a decade, and forever bantering concepts. He spoke not as the rabbis but with authority.

Lee said...

I don't think that I am trying to exclude Bishop Wright from being considered an intellectual. I think my suggested definition of someone who takes difficult concepts and makes them easy to understand would not exclude Bishop Wright at all. His books are very readable and on difficult subjects.
And while I doubt that Palin is an intellectual, I do believe Reagan probably was. Even by your definition I think Reagan qualifies. I bet Reagan spent time trying to figure out the problem of the USSR, and then he did. Surely that must fit your definition.

Lee said...

Since you even ruled out Jesus as an intellectual, I would be interested in your definition of what consitutes an "intellectual".

Andrew McIntyre said...

In our culture, an "intellectual" is one who is tied to academia. Not only must one attend the most respected universities, but one must toe the line with the vested and tenured. This is why Obama can be considered an intellectual and Bush cannot. They both attended ivy league universities, but one swallowed the hook, the other didn't. I think the term can officially be used as an insult. An intellectual is one who thinks IAW the academic establishment (i.e. he vomits what he has been taught). In Jesus' day the "intellectuals" were the school of the pharisees who quoted noted rabbis and impressed people with their knowledge of tradition. Christ taught with authority, footnoting no one but His own Word.