Academic Inbreeding (IBTR #37)

academic inbreeding


Who can you read? Who can you learn from?

Have you ever had someone tell you who you may not read or learn from? Several groups within Christianity might have some strong suggestions, but as being an Independent Baptist myself, I have seen this attitude up close and personal. Some, as an imagined agent akin to the KGB, would like to scour your library for you.

Some say you can’t read from this group or that. For example, I have heard some say you can’t read after a Calvinist. So a John Piper would be out of the question according to them. Although I am not a Calvinist myself, I have been incredibly enriched by several Calvinistic writings. Some go even farther and say you should only read after Baptists. Others narrow it even farther to only those they fully agree with among Baptists. I once read a man brag that he only had books by John R. Rice and Jack Hyles in his library. Are these constraints valid?

First of all, it reminds me of a joke we used to tell in my college days at the University of Tennessee. Alabama was our most hated rival and we used to say “Did you hear about the fire in Alabama’s library last night? …yes, both books were lost.” Such pressure to not have unapproved authors makes for rather small libraries.

It is not the size of our libraries, however, that is the problem. Rather it is the breadth of our knowledge. Back in those same college days I heard several PhD students talk about where they would like to teach. They told me that they could not get their degree where they actually wanted to teach. When I asked why they explained that that was considered academic inbreeding. Bringing in professors from various business schools gave a greater breadth and made for a better all-around business school. You can see the logic.

You don’t want ideas to always come from the same small pool. Over time the good will be warped, the style be a caricature, and everyone will be a bizarre clone of each other. In such settings the abnormal becomes indistinguishable from the normal, and finally becomes the norm. That may describe the stranger anomalies in our Independent Baptist world better than anything else.

Because reading opens up our minds to clearer thinking, it often leads to those abnormalities finally being seen as what they are and changes take place. Those still caught up in it see the changes as dangerous and ungodly and so criticize. This is how book banning is born. Isn’t it repulsive when you see Muslims, Communists, or Nazis practice it? I say it is just as bad when we do it.

Every book must be weighed by the Bible. No thinking reader ever imagines that every line must be accepted as true, but it must be tested, sifted, and refined, the good extracted while the bad is tossed on the trash heap.

Academic inbreeding has as bad of deformed children as any other inbreeding, only the stakes are spiritual.

Find all articles in the series here.

15 thoughts on “Academic Inbreeding (IBTR #37)

  1. You hit it on the head again, Bro. Jimmy. We have experienced this attitude personally also. People that read only those who agree with them, never learn anything or have their own beliefs challenged. This makes for a weak believer. It doesn’t matter what or who you read as long as you hold everything up to scripture.

  2. “Truth need never fear.” This is spot on. The North Korean government told their people that their soccer team had reached the World Cup final this year. I sometimes wonder if leaders who discourage people from reading “outsider’s” books have the same mentality.

  3. A couple thoughts. I almost never read stuff written by people inside the movement. It’s frankly embarrassing to read. Actually, most stuff written today is lacking. It’s like people have forgotten how to reason. But to return to my point. I prefer to read stuff by people I disagree with, than people I agree with. Reading such works shows me the reasoning behind their conclusions. It gives me greater insight, and helps me examine the whats and whys behind what I believe. It’s the scrutiny I need. That said, in recent years, I’ve read less and less, simply because I find most stuff written these days disappointing.

    My second thought is this. I also prefer to go to primary sources in the case of “issues.” I have in mind here things like theology or the textual issue. People say a lot against men like Wescott and Hort, but they never read what these men wrote. Even those who write against them have only read snippets–just enough to argue against them–in their minds, so when they do write, they show an ignorance of their enemy and of the subject that undercuts their own authority.

    I suspect that people prefer shortcuts to the truth rather than dig out the actual truth. Like has been said, truth need not fear scrutiny. Or maybe it’s just that the work is too hard? I don’t know the many “why’s” behind this phenomenon, but I suspect you have touched on what may actually be a foundational issue behind many/most/all other problems you have touched on. When we close our minds in this way, all the other problems are possible.

    • “I suspect that people prefer shortcuts to the truth rather than dig out the actual truth.” I think you are spot on here. In my experience (however limited), I’ve found that most argumentation within the IFB movement is in the form of theological “snippets.” Whether it’s their own preaching that was never expounded upon, they just say “believe this, because it’s baptist!” or it’s something they’ve found against another person – they find one little paragraph in all the writings of a certain author, and discount the person as a total heretic. I do think it’s natural for the common person to want to live by “snippets” because “snippets” are easy. “Tell me what to believe, what not to believe, who to read and who not to read.” People don’t want to put forth the effort to flesh things out. They want to stand for something and against something, but they don’t want to put forth the work required to really get to the bottom of these things.
      Also, another related problem is that IFB’s have is they refuse to wrestle with ideas that are not definitively baptist. You’re not supposed to question baptist dogma. You just believe it and move on. Going back to actually wrestle with passages and authors is just a waste of time and will probably lead you into heresy. It’s really very Catholic in it’s nature – you are just supposed to believe what the Church tells you without question. But Baptists do it all the time. It’s safe. It’s secure. It’s controlled. When someone starts asking questions, they are a loose canon and need to be put in their place. Books written by people who deal with things that threaten to deviate from baptist distinctives need to be discounted and treated like ignorant children. One important question: If actually addressing baptistic distinctives will easily lead you into “heresy,” can you really say that these things are sufficiently founded so as to be so dogmatic about? Or are they legitimately questionable? Is there legitimate reason to question them? If not, then this would be easy. There would be no question if all these distinctive were unquestionably documented in Scripture. I fear that many things we call “sound doctrine” really are just “our opinion.”

      • I also think it suggests a great amount of pride that a relatively small amount of Christians would discount the work of the Holy Spirit in millions of other believers, simply because they do not go by the names that we go by, and ask questions that toss doubt upon things we like to believe. Really? God can’t work for the sake of His Name in people unless they have the titles that we like? Does God also consider Himself to be a Baptist? Does He speak in King James English too? And Jesus was a white middle class American? All in all, we are very proud, presumptuous people.

  4. Pingback: It’s Time For An Independent Baptist Truth Revolution! | The Reagan Review

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