populism fails!

The popular crowd is missing the point about elitism! Maybe Bauder is right, after all. See the discussion at SI regarding Bauder’s article #4. You have to start about here for the pertinent discussion.

And in the discussion from my revised article, it appears that at least one of my readers is missing the point also. (I am going to use some material from one of my comments on that post for the content of this one.)

What is NOT elitism?

Elitism isn’t about the possession of fine art, fine clothes, fine cars, fine educations, or even a fine vocabulary. Elitism isn’t about having expertise. Elitism isn’t about one’s opinions carrying extra weight in an area where you have expertise.

OF COURSE someone who is an expert has more authority in the area he has gained expertise! A doctor simply knows more about medicine, a trained musician simply knows more about music, a theologian (in theory) simply knows more about theology. That knowledge tends to carry weight, and it should.

I am not arguing against differences in authority, expertise, taste, what have you, when I am arguing against elitism.

Elitism is an attitude of the heart.

e·lit·ism or é·lit·ism n.1

1. The belief that certain persons or members of certain classes or groups deserve favored treatment by virtue of their perceived superiority, as in intellect, social status, or financial resources.


  1. The sense of entitlement enjoyed by such a group or class.
  2. Control, rule, or domination by such a group or class.

Do you see the spiritual problems here? Do you see the ATTITUDES?

  • “certain persons … DESERVE favored treatment”
  • “sense of entitlement”
  • “control, rule, or domination…”

Instead of this, the popular discussion over at SI is whether or not someone with expertise has something more to say about a particular subject, or whether the issue is the education of believers or not. It seems to be following a rabbit trail that is, for the most part, missing everything.

One poster did highlight this paragraph from Bauder’s essay which I also highlighted in my comments on the thread linked above.

People like to pride themselves upon being able to make their own choices and develop their own opinions. The fact is, though, that not everyone is equally qualified to make every choice or to hold every opinion. When unqualified people are asked to develop opinions and to make choices, they invariably look for leadership—often, the kind of leadership that will lead them to believe that they are acting on their own, while manipulating or stampeding them into doing its will. That kind of demagoguery has come to typify some branches of Fundamentalism.

This paragraph, while not fully developing its ideas, does lend itself to the view that the common people can’t be trusted. It is the key part of the essay which gives rise to questions about elitism and strength of support for congregational rule.

Note especially the sentence I emphasized in bold. Note the words “not everyone is equally qualified to make every choice”.

The concept of the Christian church is that every member of the body is filled with the Holy Spirit and is entrusted with the decision making process of the local church (while delegating certain individuals with day to day administrative and spiritual leadership responsibilities). When it comes to decision making, Biblical churches seek the will of God through the consensus of the congregation.

Perhaps some clarification will come regarding Bauder’s views, but the idea that the people of the church aren’t qualified to make every choice would seem to be an elitist attitude.

Bauder appears to be aiming at the manipulative efforts of “demagogic” leaders in inveighing against Fundamentalism. It is true that such leaders have existed in every branch of the church.

But with respect to what elitism is, it does seem that many are arguing past the point about something that is irrelevant.

  • Elitism is the attitude of the manipulative demagogue.
  • Elitism is the “just trust me” attitude of the expert.
  • Elitism is the scorn of the “little people”.
  • Elitism assumes that only “those in the know” should get to decide.

It is ironic how easily the populace is swayed off the point in this discussion. Popular opinion betraying its primary failing? Perhaps.



  1. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright © 2009 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved. []


  1. Dan Salter says:

    Hey Don,
    I have a question for you that is a little off subject. I guess I should comment on what you said first so I don’t appear like I’m wandering past elitism either. I agree with you about elitism and its inherent evil. I agree that demagogues exist in every branch of the church. A division of church branches one could make is along the lines of authority structures–congregational v. hierarchical order. And in that sense, I think elitism is more a problem for other conservative evangelicals than for fundamentalists who are predominantly baptists of the independent sort (though, again, it exists in all branches).

    My question has to do with the definitions (as are popularly understood or employed) of authority, leadership, and decision-making. You stated in your example that “someone who is an expert has more authority in the area he has gained expertise.” Then you state that the theologian presumably has more knowledge and that should “carry weight,” but you backed off from authority. The congregation, you say, should make the decisions. But certain people have “spiritual leadership.” I’m probably pretty much on board with your ideas, but I think a little more definitive explanation should accompany words like authority, leadership, and decision-making if we are using them to distinguish activity or degree of control. Okay, I guess I have not yet formed a question. My question is how do you definitively distinguish between authority and leadership in the above areas. More precisely, what does it mean for a pastor, for example, to have responsibility of spiritual leadership, but not of a decision-making form? (especially in view of some verses that mention obeying your leaders.) Expound, if you will.

  2. tjp says:


    I’ve been following the discussion here and over at SI about Bauder’s essayettes on fundamentalism. As I was reading your post this morning, I happened to recall a passage I read in one of C.J. Mahaney’s group study books. Here’s how he defines an elitist attitude among believers. Is this what you’re sensing in Bauder’s essays?

    ELITISM: This condescending attitude toward those we deem less mature than ourselves quenches fellowship or turns it into a narrow one-way street. We find elitism in this kind of thinking: “I can help him, but he’s not mature enough to make any contribution to my growth. I only share my life with people mature enough to handle my problems.” Or we can form cliques rooted in the pride of tenure: “I’ve been here a long time and my relationships are established. Those folks would probably be more comfortable with some of the newer members.”

    Source: Why Small Groups: Together Toward Maturity

    • Dan, good question, and worthy of a post in itself. I’ll try to write something up today on that. The answer, for me, goes to the heart of what I believe about how the local church functions.

      Tracy, the quote you provide is something like what I am sensing in these essays. I do have another observation, though, which will involve another post. It has to do with the C-word. Some of the elitism and disdain for Common Sense, populism and sentimentalism is likely tightly connected to the revival of C in the church today.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  3. Keith says:


    As that “one reader” of yours, let me just say that I don’t think I missed the point at all. I think you’re dodging the issue by use of the dictionary. More on that in a moment.

    Regardless of our current little dialectic exercise, I think that Dan has asked what is, for you populist anti-elitists, the million dollar question.

    Now, back to our discussion . . . If you want to focus on the attitude of the elites/experts/what have you, that’s fine. If you want to accuse Bauder of having all the terrible attitudes and motives that you spell out in your bullet points, have at it. I don’t know Bauder and he doesn’t know me.

    Of course, if you’re going to make such accusations about someone’s inner thoughts and motives, it shouldn’t surprise you that someone asks, “How can you be so sure?” Bauder’s written words don’t communicate any of those bullet points to me.

    When he writes: “The fact is, though, that not everyone is equally qualified to make every choice or to hold every opinion.” He is just stating mere fact. Is this statement really arguable? Do you really think that everyone is equally qualified to make every choice? How does stating fact communicate an attitude of entitlement?

    I don’t care how holy brother Smith is (and he may be the holiest man in church), if he didn’t even graduate from high school (which is no sin), he is not qualified to tell me how best to translate the Greek word logos into English. And, that is just one of countless examples that could be given. Stating this obvious fact does not in any way establish that one scorns godly “little people” like brother Smith.

    As far as my question about the elitism of Bob Jones Jr. goes, you’ve dodged the question by pulling out your dictionary.

    What I originally asked was: “Can you explain your simultaneous aversion to elitism and enthusiastic defence of Bob Jones Jr? Why was his elitism (coulda been a professional shakespearean, bought and displayed a vast collection of baroque art, brought opera into fundamentalism, drove Mercedes, etc.) ok?”

    You want to say that these High Culture trappings of wealth (they aren’t merely trappings of wealth, they are trappings of a particular sort) aren’t elitist because elitism is a “heart attitude.”

    Well, two thoughts —

    1. Even your dictionary mentions the favored status of some because of social and fianancial resources.
    2. Plenty of people accused Bob Jones Jr. of having an elitist heart attitude alongside his elitist trappings.

    Now, I don’t know if he did or not. And, I’d argue that you can’t know any better whether Bauder did or not. We can’t read hearts.

    What really matters is — HOW are the people to be involved in government? HOW is authority to be arranged?

    All this other stuff is noise.


    • Hi Keith

      First, let me concede some points.

        It is correct that not everyone is qualified to make every choice. The bald statement is true.
        It is correct that one cannot be entirely sure about heart attitudes without some clear revelation of them.

      However, the statement about not everyone being qualified to make every choice is made in the context of an essay critical of Fundamentalism for imbibing too much of populism and following the sway of popular opinion. It is critical of fundamentalism for allowing the general populace to have too much say. Or am I reading that wrong also? In that context, especially coming from a Baptist, it seems to me that the one writing is much too dismissive of the collective judgement of Spirit-led people.

      Also, I should say that the term elitism came into this conversation in the comments thread, I think. If I recall, it was in response to something someone else asked me and I expressed that I didn’t like Bauder’s elitism, among other things. I should note that my perception of elitism doesn’t come primarily from the current set of articles but from previous lectures and articles, especially in the area of music.

      Finally, with respect to Dr. Bob, please look at the dictionary definition again. Elitism isn’t a ‘favored status’ but a ‘believe that someone deserves‘ favored status. There is a big difference. I was sufficiently acquainted with Dr. Bob to know that he didn’t think of himself above others or that he somehow deserved deference because he had his art collection, his training, etc. He was also very confident about what the Bible had to say. That isn’t elitism. That is preaching with biblical authority. The jealousy of others notwithstanding, I didn’t find him to be elitist in his attitude.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3