When I was in High School, I remember being concerned about the low view of science a family friend had expressed. This had been quite confusing to me because I had grown up believing this person was very smart. I recall asking my Dad about this, he explained to me that the less someone knows about a given subject, the more opinionated they can be, but that his experience had taught him, that the more someone knows about a subject, the less opinionated they become. I don’t remember being satisfied with that answer until I understood him to be saying, the smartest people are often less sure about things in spite of knowing a lot about the subjects, because the more you learn about something the more questions, more options and more implications you will have. Knowledge is a vacuum. Often, when people know very little about something, they suck up the first thing they hear on the subject. If it ends there without further investigation they tend to “spout off“ about the only things they know.
It’s been a month or so since I read Tony Campolo's latest book, Letters to a Young Evangelical, but I have continued to consider my own experiences in evangelicalism. Compolo is certainly appropriate in the role of mentor; he is reasonably evenhanded in both the celebration of this heritage as well as its many pitfalls. But other writers have been less charitable when considering the anti-intellectualism associated with Evangelicals. In his cultural critique, Mark Noll, McManis Professor of Christian thought at Wheaton College argues, "The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind."
Having grown up in conservative evangelicalism, I can remember being cautioned about trusting information from disciplines like psychology, anthropology and history for that matter. I think there was a fear that using information from other disciplines would lead people in error concerning the Scriptures and their faith. Certainly there is some truth in this, because Science has often postulated ideas that were in seeming conflict with the Christian worldview. But the “God said it, I believe it” literalist approach to the Bible that fails so often to consider grammatical forms, meanings of language or the contextual relevancy of Scripture points to what Noll and others would call the “disaster of fundamentalism.” Any effort to harmonize special revelation with general revelation from other fields of study is often viewed as giving into the world or secularism.
Many Evangelical Christians are overly uncomfortable with ambiguity. The tendency for many people is to reduce faith in God into something simple, formulaic, managed, safe. It's unfortunate, but often the need for safety in religion leads to dogmatic fanaticism. Evangelicals have spent a great amount of energy to determine how everything is going to turn out. The numerous end of world predictions and theories of Jesus' imminent return, the rapture (a term not found in scripture) and other eschatological confusion: postmillennialism, premillennialism, amillennialism and for those of us who just couldn't buy into any of this, panmillennialism (It will all pan out in the end!). The goal for some has been to figure out God and totally understand him, but as many thinking Christians have come to realize, "The moment God is figured out with nice neat lines and definitions, we are no longer dealing with God. We are dealing with somebody we made up. And if we made him up, then we are in control" (Bell, 25).
"The way of Jesus cannot be imposed or mapped — it requires an active participation in following Jesus as he leads us through sometimes strange and unfamiliar terrritory, in circumstances that become clear only in the hesitations and questionings, in the pauses and reflections where we engage in prayerful conversation with one another and with him" (Peterson, 18).