According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Book Review: "The Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism"

The Many Minds of Evangelicalism

by Mark T. Edwards
October 23, 2013

Molly Worthen's Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism (Oxford 2013), has been released early.  I've been eagerly awaiting this book since I heard Worthen speak at last year's AHA with Ed Blum.  Here's a description from Amazon.  After the break, I offer a few thoughts based on a brief glance and personal experience.

"Evangelical Christianity is a paradox: Evangelicals are radically individualist, but devoted to community and family. They believe in the transformative power of a personal relationship with God, but are wary of religious enthusiasm. They are deeply skeptical of secular reason, but eager to find scientific proof that the Bible is true.

"In this groundbreaking history of modern American evangelicalism, Molly Worthen argues that these contradictions are the products of a crisis of authority that lies at the heart of the faith. Evangelicals have never had a single authority to guide them through these dilemmas or settle the troublesome question of what the Bible actually means. Worthen chronicles the ideological warfare, institutional conflict, and clashes between modern gurus and maverick disciples that lurk behind the more familiar narrative of the rise of the Christian Right. The result is an ambitious intellectual history that weaves together stories from all corners of the evangelical world to explain the ideas and personalities-the scholarly ambitions and anti-intellectual impulses-that have made evangelicalism a cultural and political force.

" In 'Apostles of Reason,' Worthen recasts American evangelicalism as a movement defined not by shared doctrines or politics, but by the problem of reconciling head knowledge and heart religion in an increasingly secular America. She shows that understanding the rise of the Christian Right in purely political terms, as most scholars have done, misses the heart of the story. The culture wars of the late twentieth century emerged not only from the struggle between religious conservatives and secular liberals, but also from the civil war within evangelicalism itself - a battle over how to uphold the commands of both faith and reason, and how ultimately to lead the nation back onto the path of righteousness."

From my quick read, it appears that Worthen offers a new paradigm for the study of post-World War II new evangelicals--a movement that has been well covered by Joel Carpenter, George Marsden, D. G. Hart, John Turner, and many others.  Yet given that her focus is the paradoxical nature of evangelical anti-intellectualism - that evangelicals "have a habit of taking certain ideas very seriously" (1) - perhaps Mark Noll is her best conversation partner.  In The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (1994), Noll argued that traits inherent to the evangelical movement had long held its promoters back from genuine intellectual and cultural pursuits.  Noll's book helped me get over my fascination with one of the Worthen's main characters, the apologist Francis SchaefferThe Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age (Belknap 2011), by Randall Stephens and Karl Giberson, similarly tackles Schaeffer and other experts ex nihilo (see Worthen's review of Anointed  below).

For Worthen, though, the problem is not that the evangelical straw man doesn't have a brain; it has too many.  The evangelicals of the American Century want to have it all: faith AND reason, status AND separateness, the Great Commission AND Great Low Prices.  Here's a few revealing passages from Apostles:

The problem with evangelical intellectual life is not that its participants obey authority.  All rational thought requires the rule of some kind of law based on irreducible assumptions.  The problem is that evangelicals attempt to obey multiple authorities at the same time:  They demand that pre-suppositions trump evidence while counting the right kind of evidence as universal fact.  They insist that modern reason must buttress faith, that scripture and spiritual feeling align with scientific reality (258).... The anti-intellectual inclinations in evangelical culture stem not from wholehearted and confident obedience to scripture, or the assurance that God will eventually corral all nonbelievers, but from:

  • deep disagreements over what the Bible means,
  • a sincere desire to uphold the standards of modern reason alongside God's word,
  • and the defensive reflexes that outsiders' skepticism provokes.

The cult of the Christian worldview is one symptom of the effort by many evangelical leaders to fold competing sources of authority into one, to merge inference with assumptions.  The evangelicals who adopt this soft pre-suppositionalism hope that it might prove to be a viable political currency, one that can buy cultural capital where proof texts and personal testimony fail.  These habits of mind have crippled evangelicals in their pursuit of what secular thinkers take to be the aims of intellectual life: the tasks of discovering new knowledge, creating original and provocative art, and puzzling out the path toward a more humane civilization (261).

Needless to say, Worthen's conclusions should elicit some equally strong pushback from evangelical strongholds--although I sense that her work is in several ways an apology for the evangelical paradox presented before the court of evangelicalism's secular liberal detractors.  D. G. Hart will no doubt have more to say about this in his review of Worthen's book, which should be coming in a few months.

Finally, while on the subject of conservative Protestantism and secular culture, a shout-out to two new books available for pre-order: Steven Miller's The Age of Evangelicalism: America's Born Again Years (Oxford, April 2014); and my colleague Mark Correll's Shepherds of the Empire: Germany's Conservative Protestant Leadership, 1888-1919 (Fortress, March 2014).

* * * * * * * * * * *

The Evangelical Brain Trust

by Molly Worthen
*Molly Worthen teaches religious history at the University of Toronto
January 6, 2012

The central question of the culture wars that have raged since the 1970s is not whether abortion is murder or gay marriage a civil right, but whether the Enlightenment was a good thing. Many evangelical Americans think the answer is no, according to “The Anointed,” a field guide to the evangelical experts you haven’t heard of — but should.

Many evangelicals, Randall J. Stephens and Karl W. Giberson say, get their information on dinosaurs and fossils from Ken Ham, an Australian with a bachelor’s degree from the Queensland Institute of Technology. Ham believes human reason should confirm the Bible rather than reinterpret it, and teaches that God created the world a few thousand years ago. His ministry, “Answers in Genesis,” includes a radio program broadcast over more than 1,000 stations, a magazine with a circulation of 70,000 and the ­multimillion-dollar Creation Museum in Kentucky. While other evangelicals — for example Francis Collins, the born-again Christian who runs the National Institutes of Health [(and past founder of Biologos)] — offer more nuanced perspectives on science’s relationship to the Bible, Ham commands a far larger audience.

When it comes to history, many evangelicals reject the world-class historians in their own fold — such scholars as Mark Noll and George Marsden, who advocate a balanced account of Christianity’s role in early America — in favor of the amateur David Barton’s evangelical makeover of Washington and Madison.

Why would anyone heed ersatz “experts” over trained authorities far more qualified to comment on the origins of life or the worldview of the founding fathers? Drawing on case studies of evangelical gurus, Stephens and Giberson argue that intellectual authority works differently in the “parallel culture” of evangelicalism. In this world of prophecy conferences and home-­schooling curriculums, a dash of charisma, a media empire and a firm stance on the right side of the line between “us” and “them” matter more than a fancy degree.

To the evangelical experts profiled in this book, the chief purpose of science or historical research is not to expand human understanding, but to elucidate God’s will. That doesn’t require academic scholarship — just a “common sense” reading of the Bible and a knack for finding evidence in today’s headlines rather than in the record of the past: “America’s worrisome slide into immorality, liberalism and unbelief was caused by the widespread acceptance of evolution and its pernicious influence in areas like education, law, sexual mores, politics and so on,” in the authors’ paraphrase of creationist logic. Similarly, amateur Christian historians “have pressed history into the service of politics and religion,” twisting facts to support their feelings that the country has veered from its biblical moorings.

The Anointed” condemns the current state of evangelical intellectual life, but Stephens and Giberson avoid monolithic stereotypes. They are careful to note that evangelicals disagree wildly among themselves about almost everything. Their interview subjects range from a home-schooled Baptist who has never had a non-Christian friend to academics trained in the Ivy League. Still, a reader of “The Anointed” is likely to conclude that the average evangelical hates the academic establishment almost as much as he loves Jesus.

The authors make a strong case that serious scholars are prophets without honor in a culture in which successful leaders capitalize on “anti-intellectualism, populism, a religious free market, in- and out- group dynamics, endorsement by God and threats from Satan.” The most influential expert in their pantheon, James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, studied at the University of Southern California and, early on, published research in peer-reviewed journals, but later resigned from the American Psychological Association and turned his back on secular accolades in favor of the anointing power of the evangelicals who buy his best-selling books on child-rearing.

In fact, Dobson’s academic career, however brief, hints that evangelicals’ attitude toward the ivory tower is more ambivalent than Stephens and Giberson suggest: the authors don’t always explore the paradoxes inherent in their own evidence. The doctorate of philosophy is no Mark of the Beast, but a mark of intellectual respectability that evangelicals have long coveted. The amateur experts of “The Anointed” often style themselves “Doctors” (usually on the basis of a dubious honorary degree). Despite their anti-elitist posturing, most conservative Christian colleges have sought secular accreditation and often boast when one of their own earns a Ph.D. from a prestigious university.

This is not a new phenomenon. I recently came across a 1950 letter in which the dean of Biola College crows to a fellow fundamentalist at Providence Bible Institute that a half-dozen new hires with Ph.D.’s “will give us quite a respectable academic showing.” This pride does not mean these evangelicals embrace mainstream academic standards. On the contrary, they want it both ways: to claim the authority of reason while also defending the “Christian worldview” against the ivory tower’s “secular humanism.”

Two centuries ago evangelicals retaliated against science’s incursions on biblical authority by trying to out-­rationalize the scientists, appropriating Enlightenment principles and treating Scripture as a “storehouse of facts,” as the 19th-­century theologian Charles Hodge put it. The point was that Christianity is eminently reasonable. Even the untutored layman can understand the Bible’s meaning. Stephens and Giberson note their subjects’ zest for “unmediated” truth, for bypassing professionals and presenting “evidence” directly to the Christian masses — just as Martin Luther, with his calls for sola Scriptura, bypassed Catholic priests. “I don’t interpret Scripture; I just read it,” Ken Ham says. Glenn Beck, when he made David Barton a darling of his media empire, contrasted him with historians who “bring in their own ideas instead of going back to the original sources.”

At its best, evangelicals’ commitment to applying the “Christian worldview” to every dimension of life has led young people to “reflect on their deepest beliefs” in a manner that “lacks a secular counterpart,” Stephens and Giberson write. This is the crux of their book, and a point they might have developed further. In the Christian worldview, human reasoning, without God’s guidance, will always err: faith must precede the scientific method. Serious evangelical thinkers — not just lightweights like Ham — insist that facts and values are inseparable. The theologian Michael Horton recently complained in the pages of Christianity Today that in modern America “reason rests upon public facts, faith, on private values . . . ” but that “the Gospel tears down the wall between reason and faith, public and private, objective and subjective truth, by its very content.”

For all evangelicals’ supposed disdain for secular academia, it is telling that their favorite guru is not an undereducated quack, but a thinker that “The Anointed” mentions only in passing: C. S. Lewis. American evangelicals adore Lewis because he was an Oxford don who defended the faith in a plummy English accent, thus proving that one could be a respected intellectual and a Christian too. The “parallel culture” that “The Anointed” vividly describes, then, is not a bald rejection of Enlightenment reason, but a product of evangelicals’ complex struggle to reconcile faith with the life of the mind. Self-styled experts like Ham appear to be spokesmen of certitudes. But their promises to reconcile the Bible with modern thought do not conceal that this balancing act has forced evangelicals to live in a crisis of intellectual authority — a confusion so unabating that it has become the status quo.

 * * * * * * * * * * *

evangelicalism and anti-intellectualism: blame the leaders

by Peter Enns
The evolution of the evangelical community–and whether, and why, it might be called anti-intellectual–is best traced through the lives of the elites: the preachers, teachers, writers, and institution-builders in the business of creating and dissminating ideas. When critics describe evangelicalism as anti-intellectual, usually they are not blaming ordinary laypeople. A casual glance at the latest best-seller list, chock full of celebrity memoirs and pulpy novels, or the amateur talent shows and dating competitions that top the television rating, demonstrates that when it comes to intellectual shallowness evangelicals have no advantage on the rest of America.

When critics condemn the “evangelical mind,” they are talking about the people who ought to know better, who bear some responsibility for the Darwin-bashing and history-hashing that pollsters hear when they survey evangelical America. They are comparing evangelical elites with the nonevangelical intelligentsia. They are asking how it can be that college professors believe in creationism, or that educated activists deny evidence of global warming. They are wondering how evangelicals define the purpose of higher education (for which they have long shown great zeal) when they so regularly demean the fruits of critical inquiry, and how they can reconcile their fervor for evangelism with American pluralism. (pp. 9-10)

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