Don Miller thinks we need fewer educated people running the church.


If that was the case, we’d be left with people opining all over the place, acting like 2,000 years of church history never happened, making pseudo-intellectual claims about the impact of the printing press on Christianity, and saying things like just “be the church.”

I normally wouldn’t take the time to respond to something like this, but of all the problems with evangelicalism, and all the possible solutions, suggesting that church leaders be less like educators seems to be among the worst possible outcomes we could wish for.

Miller’s assertion that we have disagreements and denominations because the church is made up of scholars is only partially true (more on this later). But, either way, if you believe in the importance of education, disagreement is not necessarily a bad thing. If my class is having a discussion and becomes amicably divided along lines of differing opinions, I’m happy because that means they are all earnestly engaging their minds toward a common goal, even if they don’t reach the same conclusion.

Also, if we’re talking about evangelicalism, suggesting, as Miller does, that the “church in America is led by scholars,” seems way off base. I think what he means is that people who are playing the role of scholars lead the church in America. But everyone from Charles Malik to Mark Noll to me has lamented the lack of scholars in evangelicalism.

Miller wonders what the early church might have been like if, rather than fisherman and tax collectors, the disciples had been professional scholars. Well, for one thing, had they been literate I bet we’d have a lot better records of how it all went down. Would they have, as he suggests, “Talked the command into a tailspin, dissected it into a million pieces, then divided themselves into different intellectual camps, and built a bunch of schools to teach their various interpretations?

Didn’t they? Isn’t this what happened? Division didn’t happen because the printing press granted access to scripture only to scholars, it happened because humans naturally organize ourselves into groups that share commonalities. And, again, this is not an inherently bad thing.

In a footnote at the end of the piece, Miller notes that this kind of post elicits dualistic responses, and suggests instead, “We really have to stop thinking in either/or.” I agree. But then he concludes, “Let the academics go to an island and fight about the things that matter to them, and we will be united based on the things that matter to us.”

I may just be a contentious academic, but this sounds an awful lot like an either/or, Mr. Miller.

About The Author

Jonathan D. Fitzgerald

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0 Responses to Don Miller Thinks the Church’s Problem is Too Many Scholars

  1. Joe Carter says:

    Holy cow, I would have never suspected that I’d find agreement with you over something said by Don Miller. ; )

  2. Matt says:

    Which scholars is the church being led by? Oh right, scholars like Benny Hinn, Pat Robertson, Rick Warren, Joyce Meyer … of course.

  3. Monica Rey says:

    Why is it that academics (that just so happen to interact with the Church), are not able to be academics? I feel as though now there is some stigma toward those whose academics just so happens to be about the Church and its history. Honestly, any other discipline and this would not be an issue. Maybe I’m arguing a very secular point, who cares- but seriously, its ridiculous that people like Donald Miller (egh) would discourage scholarly engagement in this area. What an idiot.

  4. Matt says:

    I saw the first paragraph of this piece quoted, and thought it was about cognitivism/rationalism in the church–like James K.A. Smith’s point in Desiring the Kingdom. From that perspective, the evangelical church is indeed too much like a school–focused on knowledge & belief rather than liturgical formation.

    But on reading the whole piece–wow, that is a shocking amount of anti-intellectualism from somebody like Miller. He conveniently overlooks the fact that St. Paul–author of half the NT–was undeniably a pretty serious scholar.

  5. Jason says:

    I completely agree with Donald, but not because I think the church needs fewer intellectuals but rather because, other than the human behavior side, there’s no scholarly basis to Christianity. From a literary standpoint, there are moments in the Bible but overall we’re dealing with a disjointed work bound together by one common hope and the message leading to that hope…definitely nothing that could stand up to a modern critique. Scientifically, just about everything amazing the Bible has to say is virtually impossible from a logical standpoint. I have faith in both the Bible and the God of the Bible but I think the true beauty of this whole pursuit is the mystery that the simplicity of the text affords. Why waste your life arguing about interpretations and linguistic intricacies when the saving message of the text is plain and clear? Why waste the supernatural nature of God’s written work on human constructs which in and of themselves are flawed? Knowing God is loving God, loving God does include learning about him but I don’t believe that includes wasting your life arguing about the many meanings of each Hebrew word.

    • Jennifer says:

      If only you knew how much more beautiful that simple saving message of the text can become when you read in the Greek or the Hebrew. I hope you get to experience that one day.

    • John says:

      And the reason it’s so clear is because there were some pretty heavyweight scholars doing really good preservation and translation work over a couple of millenia.

  6. Joseph Sunde says:

    As far as the disciples “talking commands into a tailspin,” who knows, but it sure seems logical to assume they did. Even before the Ascension, these dudes were still thinking Jesus’ kingdom was coming through political means. Everything from Jesus’ parables to his “first shall be last” lingo most likely transformed their thinking and challenged their preexisting earthly understanding no less than the rest of us. There is an evident intellectual struggle among the disciples throughout the Gospel. With Peter, it really starts taking shape in Acts (that dude learned his Old Testament prophets!)

    This, of course, makes no mention of the Apostle Paul, a scholar if there ever was one. Did his scholarly background and disposition inhibit Paul’s Christian witness or diminish his ability to “be the church”? Heck no. If there was ever an example of “both-and” scholarly/Christian-walk fusionism, Paul was it.

  7. Michael says:

    After reading Miller’s post, there is an element that I agree with. The Gospel IMO is too often reduced to a piece of information, a propositional statement that requires only our firm assent. It is often treated like it’s a way to be forgiven, and to feel forgiven (which does wonders for one’s self-esteem, and what else matters, really?), and little else. Living it out is hard, and it’s easier to just talk about it.
    But with that said, talk about throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

  8. Eve says:

    I agree Fitz, and furthermore I’m unconvinced that the early church members where not scholars. I don’t know if they were literate or not but I do know that the Jewish faith put great store in study and inquiry. When Jesus came he fulfilled very specific prophesies that the Jews had been studying for years, dating back to the flight from Egypt. Most of the concerns I’ve heard surrounding intellectualism in the church are that people are afraid that if a good argument convinces us to believe in Jesus, couldn’t a good argument make us lose are faith as well? Or that we will simply over rationalize our faith until God disappears in a “puff of logic.”

    But the great part is, he doesn’t.

  9. […] are so many ways to respond to this that I don’t even know where to start. I think Miller has a skewed, […]

  10. brambonius says:

    I know what Miller means: We need more real-life following instead of scholarship. We need more Spirit, more Life, and less theory.

    Like Mason says it on new ways forward:

    christianity was known as ‘the way’, because it was a way of life. Not an intellectual system. The scholarly side of Christianity should be in fundtion of the christian life, and not an end in itself…

    And there are more forms of truth. Poetry and narrative are sometimes better in communication of Truth than systematics. But nothing beats a transformed life through which Christ is visible.

    And I I know, I too plead guilty of being too much of a salon Christian…


  11. nathan says:

    Great article.

    I like Don Miller, but on this he’s way wrong precisely because of the lack of education about the Christian story and Christian discourse that necessarily comes from the stream he swims in.

  12. Fitz, I’m glad you posted this. Greatly appreciate it! I enjoyed Millers Blue Like Jazz and To Own A Dragon was excellent but in a cultural that presently “dumbs” most things down, I don’t even know where to begin regarding Millers remarks other than that they’re, at best, silly. It also undermines the work of people like FF Bruce, Gordon Fee, RT France, Craig Blomberg, Mark Straus, William Lane Craig, and many other biblical scholars past and present that have sacrificed their lives to educate a anti-intellectual evangelical culture. I guess Miller thinks its wise to lean on purely on ones own understanding.

    • Matt Baker says:

      P.S Fitz, we piggy backed your article at Purely just a blog or not, I thank you for saying something about it…because the reality is he has a huge following. I think calling these people with platform to account for what they promote or debating them on subject is worth while. We took the conversation a bit further but kudos to you for reporting on it. Credit to Fitz for making people aware.

  13. dan baker says:

    Will somebody please close that emphasis tag?

  14. Philip says:

    I think the response you’ve offered, Mr. Fitzgerald, is not off base, but assumes a more radical position than Mr. Miller likely intended (which may come as a surprise to those who read “Let the academics go to an island and fight about the things that matter to them, and we will be united based on the things that matter to us” and cringe).
    Contrary to that statement, what I read from Miller is not that we need to be free of Academics and Scholars, particularly those that promote Christian scholarship as Mr. Baker suggested on 4/10/2011. Indeed, what I read from Miller is that we need more diversity in leadership, and the sense I’m left with is not that “we need fewer educated people running the church” as Mr. Fitzgerald interpreted, but that we need more leaders from all walks of life picking up the torch of leadership. I hear Mr. Miller suggesting that we have enough minds doing the important work of attempting to prove Rob Bell right/wrong, while the leaders leading the workers into the field to bring the harvest in are few.
    What I hear Mr. Miller saying is that we are perpetuating a culture where, if you don’t have the letters behind your name or can answer the questions on paper, you aren’t qualified to lead. This does not exclude scholars from evangelicalism; it encourages a healthier and more robust discourse from all corners of society and more importantly encourages the church to focus more on being the active, life-giving organism the Bible models and less of the hub of indoctrination that Mr. Miller appears to observe it becoming.

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