Anti-intellectualism sermon ideas

Anti-intellectualism is opposition to or dismissal of the healthy life of the mind. Instead of being opposed to intellectualism, we should oppose unhealthy intellectualism. Sermons about human knowledge and intellect can show that in order to seek first the kingdom of God, Christians need discernment, thought, and study. Faithful learning is part of our call to love God with all our mind.  

What does the Bible say about anti-intellectualism?

The Bible passages below can be used in sermons, prayers, pastoral care, or worship planning focused on knowledge and anti-intellectualism. 

  • Genesis 3:4-5, the serpent tempted Adam and Eve with the knowledge of good and evil
  • Proverbs 1:7, fools despiese wisdom and instruction
  • Proverbs 4:6-7, get wisdom and understanding 
  • Proverbs 9:10, knowledge of God brings insight and understanding 
  • Proverbs 18:15, discerning minds and wise ears seek knowldge 
  • Matthew 22:37, Jesus gave the greatest commandment: to love the Lord with all your heart and soul and mind
  • Acts 7:22, in recounting the history of God's people, Stephen said that Moses was well educated and was powerful in speech and actio
  • Romans 12:2, be transformed by the renewing of your minds 
  • 1 Corinthians 1:20-21, the world does not know God through wisdom
  • 1 Corinthians 2:16, have the mind of Christ
  • Colossians 2:2-3, in Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge
  • Colossians 3:10, your new self is being renewed in knowledge
  • 2 Timothy 3:16, scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, repoof, correction, and training in righteousness
  • 2 Peter 1:5, support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge

Sermon ideas about anti-intellectualism

In sermons about knowledge and anti-intellectualism, we can point out that the Bible nowhere praises ignorance. It praises healthy, God-fearing knowledge, the first ingredient of wisdom. It praises wisdom itself, which requires, besides knowledge, a practical ability to fit oneself inside God's world and God's purposes. On the other hand, ignorance is not only a disadvantage for navigating in God's world, but sometimes also a folly, the result of being unwilling to learn. 

Knowledge the Bible rejects

Sermons about anti-intellectualism can also highlight the types of knowledge to avoid. The Bible does reject "the wisdom of this world" proudly acquired and employed without reference to God. Because worldly wisdom is unanchored in ultimate reality, it is fleeting and finally doomed. 

And the Bible rejects the acquisition of knowledge for the sake of personal superiority and power. In fact, in one respectable understanding, Adam and Eve's disastrous sin in Genesis 3 is their desire to know "good and evil," which is synecdoche for "all things." (With synecdoche one invokes a whole by expressing a representative part of the whole, as in "he's a good breadwinner," which means he's a good provider, and of much more than just bread.) So in this reading, Adam and Eve want to know all things: They want omniscience, challenging God's prerogative. 

If the Bible rejects the acquisition of knowledge for the sake of prestige or dominance instead of for the sake of service to God and the world, the list of illegitimate forms of knowledge then grows embarrassingly long. Myriad examples come to mind: People acquire knowledge of the weaknesses of others whom they want to cheat, bully, corrupt, or seduce. People master a field of knowledge hoping to incite envy and awe. Terrorists acquire a pilot's knowledge in order to crash airliners into buildings full of workers. So in our definition, anti-intellectualism is opposition to or dismissal of the healthy life of the mind. Meanwhile, opposition to unhealthy intellectualism is just what faithfulness calls for. 

Education for discernment

Sermons about anti-intellectualism could therefore focus on the goal of learning. Faced with wrong kinds of knowledge, Christians should want education to help discern the differences between good and evil, which are often twined around each other, and to "discern the spirits," which may be of God or of the evil one. 

But faithful Christians should want reasoning, learning, and understanding also to appreciate the grandeur of God's creation, to delight in its richness and complexity, and to have cause for celebrating God's ingenuity within it. 

And because Christians have been called to "seek the kingdom first," their calling is to become productive citizens of the kingdom of God. Knowledge of how to contribute to it often requires discernment, thought, and study. 

Christians who want good learning, good thinking, and good understanding may be said simply to be following our Lord, who taught his followers to "love God with all your mind." This command exposes anti-intellectualism as anti-Christian, a form of disobedience to Jesus. And it exposes the healthy hunger for learning as a form of faithfulness to Jesus. 

God created human beings to hunt and gather truth, and our capacity for doing so is one feature of the image of God in us (Colossians 3:10). So we are free to absorb not only the teaching of the Bible and of its great interpreters, such as St. Augustine, but also whatever knowledge we can gather from non-Christians. The Holy Spirit authors all truth, and we should therefore embrace it no matter where it shows up.  

But we will need solid instruction in the Bible and Christian wisdom in order to recognize truth and disentangle it from error and fraud. Well-instructed Christians try not to offend the Holy Spirit by scorning truth in non-Christian authors over whom the Spirit has been brooding, but this does not mean Christians can afford to read these authors uncritically. After all, a person's faith — even faith in idols — shapes most of what a person thinks and writes, and the Christian faith is in competition with other faiths for human hearts and minds. 

As suggested above, thoughtful Christians know that if we obey the Bible's great commandment to love God with our whole mind, as well as with everything else, then we will study the splendor of God's creation, hoping to grasp part of the ingenuity and grace that forms it. One way to love God is to know and love God's work. Learning is therefore a spiritual calling: Properly done, it attaches us to God.  

In addition, the learned person has, so to speak, more to be Christian with. Education develops, disciplines, and matures us, preparing us for service in God's world. The person who studies chemistry, for example, can enter into God's enthusiasm for the dynamic possibilities of material reality. The student who examines one of the great movements of history has moved into position to praise the goodness of God, to lament the mystery of evil, or to explore the places where these things intertwine. Further, from persistent study of history a student may develop good judgment, a feature of wisdom that helps us lead a faithful human life in the midst of a confusing world. Chemistry and history are of course only two samples from the wide menu of good things to learn. 

The ultimate goal? Shalom

What can sermons about knowledge and anti-intellectualism highlight as the ultimate goal of knowledge? The point of all this learning is to prepare us to add our own contribution to God's restoration of all things that have been corrupted by evil. The Old Testament word for this restoration of peace, justice, and harmony is shalom; the New Testament phrase for it is "the coming of the kingdom." You can find the Old Testament's teaching about shalom especially in the prophets, and you can find the New Testament's teaching about the kingdom especially in the gospels and in some passages of Paul's epistles. According to the Bible, God plans to accomplish this project through Jesus Christ, who started to make all things new, and who will come again to finish what he started. In the meantime, God's Spirit calls a worldwide body of people to join this mission of God. 

So when Christians strive to make God's purposes their own, they tilt forward toward God's restoration of all things. They think about it, pray for it, and study and work in ways that accord with it. Thinking personally as well as globally, they want the kingdom to come in their own hearts as well as in the whole world. 

Seen in this light, the healthy life of the mind is a Christian's adventure, an entrée into full appreciation of God's creative ingenuity and full participation in God's kingdom project in the world. Anti-intellectualism, then, is disobedience — a dismissal of the adventure and therefore a shameful rejection of God's daily call to Christians in the world. 

Excerpts about anti-intellectualism

Following are sample excerpts from sermon resources about anti-intellectualism: 

"Historian Richard Hofstadter writes that the founding fathers of our democracy understood that only a moral people could constructively possess the rights and liberties showered on them by a democracy." Article about Theology by Raymond Dennehy from Homiletic and Pastoral Review by Raymond Dennehy from Homiletic and Pastoral Review

"Furthermore our modern world tends to separate and compartmentalize the spiritual from the religious or the spiritual from the physical or the spiritual from the intellectual." Scripture Meditation by Derek Vreeland from Missio Alliance

"As conservative Protestants passed from cultural power, they sometimes showed ferocious separatism and anti-intellectualism." Article about Church History by Edwin Woodruff Tait from Christian History


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