Confessional Intuition

Worldviews are overrated. Intuition matters. At least, that’s the impression readers may take away from a thoughtful review of a new book on philanthropy by Jeff Cain, a former colleague and now the co-founder of American Philanthropic. The book in question is Do More Than Give: The Six Practices of Donors Who Change the World, and the title gives away the naivete that so often informs the transformationalist outlook, whether cultural or ecclesiastical. For the world of philanthropy the contrast runs as follows:

Maybe you are the kind of donor who supports nonprofits in your community. Like many Americans, you give or tithe through your church or temple. You support local human-service organizations that provide direct aid to the needy, infirm, and down-and-out. You contribute to your alma mater, local theatre company, community hospital, or library-building campaign.

Perhaps, too, your giving is influenced by your family members, colleagues, and close friends in your church, business, or neighborhood. You give out of a genuine sense of caring and gratitude for those people, places, and institutions to which you are geographically, psychologically, or spiritually connected.

If these sensible and natural forms of charitable giving describe your philanthropy, then Do More Than Give: The Six Practices of Donors Who Change the World is not for you. This fast-paced encomium to good intentions grounded in strategy and directed by experts is aimed at a special breed of philanthropist—a breed so special that it is honored with its own moniker: catalytic philanthropists, intent on changing the world.

The same kind of difference applies to the religious world and separates the churchly Protestant from the born-again believer who flocks to the parachurch organizations and their conferences in search of that fix that the local, mom-and-pop – okay, dominie only – church provides. If the idea of philanthropy is not to change the world, so the idea of confessionalism is about perseverance, pilgrimage, and waiting for the only transformer who is capable of changing the world.

The review is short and well worth a read. Aside from the point it makes about philanthropy, it also illustrates the difference between a worldview that holds to abstract truths as opposed to a profession of faith with concrete loyalties. Viewers of the world – perhaps because they don’t live in it – invariably want to change the world and think they have ideas capable of doing so. Confessionalists know that ideas don’t change the world (God does) and understand that those who attribute such power to ideas border on folly, never considering ironically the impotence of human reason. Chances are, though, that the people who are supposed to be the smartest in the room – the ones with all the philosophy and epistemology and theory – won’t ever intuit this dilemma because the people who object to worldview in favor of intuition can’t theorize their instincts. And without a theory, as all worldviewers know, knowledge is inconsequential.

13 thoughts on “Confessional Intuition

  1. Cosmopolitan Amsterdam (or Grand Rapids) will always be sexier than rural Kentucky:

    “Abstraction is the enemy wherever it is found. The abstractions of sustainability can ruin the world just as surely as the abstractions of industrial economics.
    Local life may be as much endangered by those who would ‘save the planet’ as by those would ‘conquer the world.’ For ‘saving the planet’ calls for abstract purposes and central powers that cannot know – and thus will destroy – the integrity of local nature and local community.”

    Wendell Berry

    from Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community


  2. This is a great sentence: “Chances are, though, that the people who are supposed to be the smartest in the room – the ones with all the philosophy and epistemology and theory – won’t ever intuit this dilemma because the people who object to worldview in favor of intuition can’t theorize their instincts.” It’s great because it touches on the unease and listlessness I’ve felt about the Worldview idea, but I’ve been unable to articulate it.


  3. From the review:

    “Catalytic philanthropists help nonprofits function more like businesses; businesses more like nonprofits; nonprofits more like governments; and businesses more like governments. In the end, distinctions between what is private and what is public are swept away by the heady passions of the catalytic philanthropist.”

    Frightening indeed, but it sounds a lot like our transformationalist friends. Insert the words “parachurch organization” or “church” for “nonprofit” for something even more frightening.


  4. Darryl,

    I am still trying to figure out how you “2k” guys think. I never considered myself a critic of “2k” since I, like you, believe that the Kingfdom of God transcends the kingdom of this world and that the Kingdom of God is represented in this world by the Church. I, like you, also “know that ideas don’t change the world (God does) and understand that those who attribute such power to ideas border on folly.” Where my understanding of these common assumptions seems to lead me down a different path than you is that I am not at all concerned or committed to telling Christians to stop trying to transform or change the world since I really do believe that God alone will do that. If God alone will change the world, do you believe he needs your help? If you believe He works through human agency, then why are you concerned that humans might screw things up. If you are speaking for the Church, why didn’t Paul take the same approach as you in his letter to the Philippians.

    It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

    I’m just curious because I’m trying to reconcile what you say with what you do.


  5. Darryl, I keep re-reading “Chances are, though, that the people who are supposed to be the smartest in the room – the ones with all the philosophy and epistemology and theory – won’t ever intuit this dilemma because the people who object to worldview in favor of intuition can’t theorize their instincts.”

    What is the dilemma? That ideas don’t change the world? And why is it discovered through intuition or instincts rather than thoughts?

    At best, I suppose intuition and instincts are correct inclinations that don’t have the complexity or communicability of theories. Then, correct inclinations are instilled by the church, the family, and ______ ?

    Can you clarify?


  6. MM, I’m not sure I can but it strikes me that much wisdom is gained through observation. In contrast, ideology (or its cousin, worldview) leads to putting the world into boxes. The wisdom that comes from observation is something that acknowledges the order of things bigger than me. My theory to account for the order is an attempt to impose my order on the world.

    The intuitions come from all sorts of places — teachers, parents, friends, pastors.


  7. DGH, I don’t mean to sidetrack things, but I have long been intrigued by things like intuition and gut instinct, i.e., seemingly irrational but often correct and reliable senses. Where do they come from? How do we account for their apparent accuracy? I’m not ready to say much at this point, but if anyone else is interested, I recall a quote from Mencken, which perhaps Lily would enjoy:

    “All this intuition of which so much transcendental rubbish is merchanted is no more and no less than intelligence—intelligence so keen that it can penetrate to the hidden truth through the most formidable wrappings of false semblance and demeanour, and so little corrupted by sentimental prudery that it is equal to the even more difficult task of hauling that truth out into the light, in all its naked hideousness. Women decide the larger questions of life correctly and quickly, not because they are lucky guessers, not because they are divinely inspired, not because they practise a magic inherited from savagery, but simply and solely because they have sense. They see at a glance what most men could not see with searchlights and telescopes; they are at grips with the essentials of a problem before men have finished debating its mere externals. They are the supreme realists of the race. Apparently illogical, they are the possessors of a rare and subtle super-logic. Apparently whimsical, they hang to the truth with a tenacity which carries them through every phase of its incessant, jellylike shifting of form. Apparently unobservant and easily deceived, they see with bright and horrible eyes. In men, too, the same merciless perspicacity sometimes shows itself—men recognized to be more aloof and uninflammable than the general—men of special talent for the logical—sardonic men, cynics. Men, too, sometimes have brains. But that is a rare, rare man, I venture, who is as steadily intelligent, as constantly sound in judgment, as little put off by appearances, as the average women of forty-eight.”


  8. MM, what I find intriguing is how the logicians, worldviewers, epistemologists and ideologues can’t seem to fathom how one can win an argument and still be wrong (or lose and be right) and even faith becomes the sum of its logical parts. How can smart people be so d-u-m-m?

    But is it too simplistic to say that instinct, intuition and inclination are every bit as created categories as logic? If so then they come from on high, that’s where. And they are accurate for the same reason my flat feet get me from one end of a room to another.


  9. DGH,

    Just a few of thoughts here:

    1) While I am not against worldview thinking carte blanche, I think it is difficult to persuade those who seek highly developed worldviews about the inherent limitations of such thinking. It seems like worldview advocates, and philoshophical thinkers have an inherent drive to form coherent systems. I suppose that comes with the nature of philosophical analysis, and to a degree this is probably a good thing within this field. However, few, if any ever attain a fully-integrated worldview that is internally coherent and gives some external justification for their belief system.

    2) Conversely, the more common mode of inquiry is encapsulated in wisdom traditions. We see it in Scripture, where the entire Wisdom genre has found a few definite axioms, e.g. – “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”, there is also a measure of indeterminacy/flux in Wisdom “do/do not answer a fool in his folly”. Wisdom, from a human POV acknowledges it’s inherent limitations and inability to comprehend the whole from it’s parts or God’s providence in these, and even when properly applied it doesn’t yield the desired results (e.g. Job, Ecclesiastes). I don’t think worldview advocates would disagree with this analysis of wisdom, but some can’t live in the vagueness of Wisdom, and seek to make absolutes and/or axioms where they don’t exist. So we get imperatives on who to vote for, or the evils of Keynesianism, or schematic structures of a transformed society. The problem is, even if these were granted as correct, and that’s a stretch from my POV, they still could fail with respect to providence. What’s more, these may not be wise courses of action to direct our efforts as Christians seeking to be obedient to our earthly callings, which I can attest is a difficult enough task to begin with.

    So the good intentions of my worldview friends often becomes a rabbit trail for what the irreducible responsibilities for individual believers and for the church. I think I would be more reticent to concede value to worldview formation, if advocates would also do a better job of delineating the value of a worldview and its limitations. I think there’s a balance to be struck and some do a better job of it than others.


  10. Isn’t there something to the fact that the Truth became incarnate in a Person and that when we encounter the Truth we are not encountering propositions but a living Being. The forms of truth that we engage with are The Word of God and the Person of God. We understand this person better through the Word of God but we grasp this Truth with both our intuition and our reason. And reason seems to be the lesser of the two. It is not imperative that we have a highly developed inductive and deductive reasoning scheme in our minds before we are able to come into relationship with this truth. I guess it can be very helpful to have this type of developed mind but it isn’t our highest priority like some want to make it. I think that is the main point that we are in disagreement with Paul about. But he will not listen unless we prove this point in proper syllogistic or symbolic logic form. I do not see that mattering much to God the Holy Spirit when He comes down and regenerates someone and gives them the gift of repentance and faith. I’m not sure how much our reason has to be honed in the public square either- although it certainly can be beneficial.

    After reading Paul’s blog post on Rawl’s again- I am not so sure it is such a bad thing to be labeled a Rawlsian either- although there is a liberal stigma attached to it which is what I think Paul finds ironic.


  11. DGH,

    I fear that all of the philosophical abstractionism is getting lost in my left-brain thought process, but could you elaborate a little more on how this becomes an argument in favor of confessionalism. Break it down for a simpleton.


  12. Amos, the point is that important things happen (even if they seem insignificant) through small things — word, sacraments, discipline, small faithful churches. That is how to change the world, not through eye-popping worldviews that conceive of a Christian cosmic order.


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