Full Gospel, Fractured Minds?
(Zondervan, 2005), 267 pp.
Rick M. Nanez
Can one recommend a book too highly, too enthusiastically? I suppose so, especially if the book in question is merely another in a long line of volumes that addresses a well-worn theme and does so in mediocre fashion. Rick Nanez's Full Gospel, Fractured Minds? fails to qualify on either count. This is truly a one-of-a-kind book that is superbly written and argued. No one, at least as far as I know, has written a comparable volume. It is truly the first of its kind.
I first heard of this book while at the Evangelical Theological Society meeting last November in Philadelphia. It sat at the Zondervan booth in manuscript form. Thumbing through its pages, I sensed that I had discovered something special. Then Rick, whom I've never met, sent me an e-mail introducing himself and suggesting that his volume was in many respects parallel to my own recently released Convergence. We agreed to exchange books and read and review them.
Why do I say that Nanez's volume is unique? Didn't Christian apologist and philosopher J. P. Moreland write a book about the life of the mind, challenging Christians to fully employ the gift of intellect in their pursuit of God? Yes. J. P.'s book is superb and I highly recommend it as well (Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul [Navpress, 1997]).
But what makes Nanez's book so special is that he is a Pentecostal writing primarily, but not exclusively, to other Pentecostals and Charismatics. His aim "is to admonish my Pentecostal and Charismatic brothers and sisters to reconsider some of the popularly-held misconceptions concerning the intellect in order that we as a movement may modify some of our thinking about thinking and change our minds about the importance of 'the life of the mind'" (15). Nanez pulls no punches. We in the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement, he notes, "remain a people who are deeply concerned about physical healing, but exceedingly leery about intellectual healing. Let me state it bluntly: Possessing full hearts with vacant heads or burning spirits with sluggish minds makes for mediocrity at best and disaster at worst" (15).
In sum, this is a manifesto to those in the charismatic world, from one of its own, to face the sad but inescapable reality of anti-intellectualism in our midst. Mark Noll, Wheaton professor of history and author of The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, writes this endorsement: "It was most encouraging to read this full-blown, discerning, culturally sensitive, and bracingly Christian defense of intellectual life. The book offers exceptionally helpful commentary on the general plight of learning in modern society as well as unusually shrewd observations on the tragic consequences when churches abandon responsible intellectual effort. The book's wisdom is heightened by the fact that its author says what needs to be said about Christian intellectual endeavor while maintaining his own Pentecostal convictions with integrity."
As noted, Nanez is a Pentecostal. He holds credentials with the Assemblies of God and is currently serving as a missionary in Quito, Ecuador. But this book is for all Christians, whether charismatic or non. It is a clear, convincing, and extremely convicting call to repent of our disdain for the life of the mind, as if it were an enemy of the Spirit. Undoubtedly, Nanez will come under fire for challenging and criticizing (but always with charity) numerous icons of the Pentecostal-Charismatic world, especially those who were instrumental in the famous Azusa Street revival of 1906. But it needed to be done, and Nanez does it extremely well.
The book is divided into two distinct parts, the first of which he titles "Anatomy of the Fractured Mind." Part Two is "Ammunition for the Full-Gospel Mind." I'll provide a brief survey of his primary arguments, mostly drawn from his own statements. (By the way, when Nanez refers to the "Full Gospel" he means the belief that God can do, and often does, in any age what he did in the apostolic age.)
Nanez begins with a response to the false notion that human reason or the mind is "the part of a human being that cannot help but get one into trouble, especially in matters of faith" whereas "emotion (or, as we say, 'the heart') was appointed as the ruling monarch of the spiritual life" (20). Nanez demonstrates that the consistent testimony of Scripture is that the "heart" and "mind" are both reasoning, thinking, rational faculties and that both are positive and to be embraced. "The notion that the head or mind is the seat of menacing, rational thought, and that the heart is the sole sanctuary of emotion and love, is novel but is not biblically sound" (24). The terms heart, soul, mind, and spirit "seem to be used interchangeably" (25) in Scripture.
One of the most helpful things Nanez does is provide a solid exposition of the so-called "Anti-Intellectual Verses", such as 1 Cor. 1:17-2:5 (where Paul denounces prideful confidence in "worldly wisdom" that attempts to define reality apart from Christ and his crucifixion); 1 Cor. 8:1 (where the knowledge that "puffs up" is most decidedly not an indictment of learning in general); and 2 Cor. 3:6 (where the "letter that kills" is a reference to the old covenant law, not books!).
Nanez has an excellent discussion of Acts 4:13 in which several of the apostles are described as "unlearned and ignorant men." The point, however, isn't that they are commended by God for being uneducated and indifferent towards the life of the mind but that the religious leaders chided them for lacking specialized training. They are amazed that men who had not attended their Jewish rabbinical schools and held no official position could speak so persuasively and with such insight about spiritual matters.
Likewise, Matthew 11:25 is not an endorsement of intellectual ignorance but an indictment of intellectual arrogance. 1 John 2:27 is hardly a denunciation of all teaching, for John is teaching them that they had no need for "any man [to] teach" them! The point of the text is that "the body of Christ has no need of" the "supposedly enlightened heretical teachings of the false prophets in their midst" (55).
In Chapter Five Nanez takes direct aim at early Pentecostal leaders who championed anti-intellectualism. Among those he targets are Charles Parham (1873-1929) and William Seymour (1870-1922), primary leaders of the Pentecostal revival at the turn of the twentieth century. There were certainly some notable exceptions to the anti-intellectualism rampant in Pentecostal circles (such as Donald Gee [1891-1966]), but "when we consider the overall attitude of early Pentecostals it is not surprising that it took thirty-five years before an Assemblies of God school would offer its first full-fledged four-year degree. It would be sixty-two years from Parham's day before the first Pentecostal university was launched, and sixty-nine years until the founding of the first fully-accredited Pentecostal theological seminary" (69).
One should therefore not be surprised to discover that, according to a 2000 national survey of over 14,000 congregations, only 12.7 percent of pastors in the Assemblies of God possessed master's or doctor's level degrees, contrasted with 61 percent of pastors in the other forty denominations surveyed.
Nanez turns his attention in Chapters Seven and Eight to developments in the nineteenth century that he believes contributed greatly to the pervasive anti-intellectualism of the present. "This period [primarily 1775-1825] was marked by a suspicion of cultured clergy, an overemphasis on what the masses could accomplish by combining their might, and an unnecessary pitting of the common man against the learned. An increasing mistrust of reason, an escalating interest in enthusiastic, emotion-oriented religion [as seen in the Cane Ridge revivals in Kentucky], and an insurgent attitude toward authority all had their part in the transformation of the religious mind of the country" (92).
Four "giants" of nineteenth-century evangelicalism are singled out by Nanez as exerting an especially negative influence on the life of the mind. They are: Peter Cartwright (1785-1872), perhaps the most famous Methodist circuit rider of his era, Charles Finney (1792-1875), Dwight L. Moody (1837-1899), and Billy Sunday (1862-1935), who took particular pride in not knowing "any more about theology than a jack-rabbit knows about ping-pong" (107)!
In Chapter Nine he turns to a discussion of factors both within modern culture in general and the Pentecostal movement in particular that contributed to the demise of the Christian mind. He argues that although the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement "has aided millions in their search for spiritual health, latent within her genius are characteristics that make her especially vulnerable to the dangers of anti-intellectualism" (116). Among the latter are: (1) lack of education among early Pentecostal leaders that set a standard (or the lack of one) for those who became their followers; (2) the baptism of the Holy Spirit (which came to be viewed by many in the movement as a type of "cure-all" that precluded the need for higher education); and (3) verbal gifts such as tongues, word of knowledge, and prophecy ("One may think it frivolous, or even futile, to expend inordinate volumes of valuable time dissecting the twisted twines of history or forecasting the sociological trends of various mission fields if 'revelation knowledge' falls from heaven like manna. Furthermore, Spirit-filled people can be dissuaded from burning the midnight oil in order to parse Hebrew verbs or poke around in heady hermeneutics if God freely grants his 'informational gifts' of past, present, and future to the truly spiritual" ). Nanez is quick to remind the reader that he himself believes these gifts are still operative today. "However, to assume that . . . supernatural gifts of revelation make the intellectual life obsolete is nonsense" (118).
Three additional characteristics that create the potential for anti-intellectualism are (4) the "rapture" of the Church (why expend years in higher education if Jesus is coming soon?); (5) a particular view of "sanctification," according to which one must withdraw from contact with wider culture and "worldly" educational institutions; and (6) what Nanez calls "altar theology" (by which he means the expectation of instantaneous blessing that brings cleansing and power, thereby precluding the need for deliberate, disciplined study and progressive transformation).
So why do so many struggle with anti-intellectualism? Some, he says, "are afraid of exposing their beliefs to scrutiny, to logic, or to alternative opinions" (129). Others "have had a bad experience with intellectual but impractical professors, worldly seminary students, or arrogant scholars" (130). Others "bash reason, logic, philosophy, or reading widely because they feel intimidated or jealous" (130). As for the latter, some "would rather criticize the guy who has worked for his knowledge than to admit that they would like to possess the same" (130). He also points to laziness and even the influence of Satan as culprits.
Part Two of the book can be summarized rather quickly. Here Nanez defends the validity (indeed, necessity) of reason, logic, higher education (particularly the liberal arts), theology, apologetics, philosophy, the natural sciences, and the importance of reading good books (especially the "classics"). He concludes with a brief historical survey of the role of the mind in the lives and ministries of several of the most influential Christians of the last 2,000 years. He is also careful to point out that many of the greatest intellects were no less passionate about the supernatural work of the Spirit (such as Tertullian, Augustine, Hilary of Poitiers, brothers Basil and Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Tours, Bede, and Bonaventure).
In conclusion, "the worship of worship, a penchant for short sermons, the demand for signs and wonders in the sanctuary, and an addiction to the 'feel-goods' demonstrate that many Full Gospel people are grasping at Eden in much the same way as does the rest of our society. Our fascination with fame and fads and our disdain for doctrine-packed teaching also indicate that we possess an undersized intellectual appetite. Moreover, we must desist from blaming sin and misfortune on demons, resist embellishment of testimonials, and forfeit shamanistic name-it-claim-it prayer techniques. The commonly held beliefs that 'bigger is better' and 'whatever works is right' must go; only uncritical, undiscerning minds fall for such pragmatism" (224-25).
Again, let me remind you that Nanez is not a cessationist. He is unapologetically Pentecostal both in his beliefs and his behavior. "Visions, dreams, an occasional rendezvous with the demonic realm, and the voice of God," he notes, "have accompanied me on my kingdom pilgrimage" (14). Who better, I ask, than someone such as Nanez to issue this clarion call to the "Spirit-filled" community of Pentecostals, Charismatics, and Third-Wavers to embrace and cultivate the life of the mind?
No, he probably won't soon be invited to discuss his book on TBN. But those who do appear there would do well to heed his message and celebrate, rather than suppress, the gift of the intellect. By all means let us pursue a "full gospel," but not at the expense of "fractured (and underdeveloped) minds." Please, get this book and read it.