Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

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

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

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) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

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

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Stories of Lament: "In the Shadow of Grief"

In the Shadow of Mount Hood:
Meeting God in the mystery of grief

Amazon Link
Midnight, it is said, is the portal between this world and the next and is somehow in league with chaos, death, and mystery. It is the moment of dark visitations. So it was for me in December 2006. My sleep was interrupted by a phone call, and I was instantly shocked into full consciousness: My younger brother was trapped in a snow cave on Mount Hood, and an unyielding blizzard prevented rescue.
The mountain proved to be Kelly's final adventure. Losing my brother on Mount Hood has been a painful reminder of my own spiritual fragility. None of us is immune to the heartaches and sorrows that inhabit this misbegotten world. Though I am a preacher, a professor of historical theology, and the provost of a theological seminary, I have found it agonizingly difficult to come to terms with my brother's death. It is one thing to talk about death in the abstract. It is entirely another to cope with the death of someone you love very, very much. The truth of the matter is that losing a loved one hurts down to the deepest parts of your soul.
I was the first to learn the news days later. Hearing those words announcing his death was like a blow to the solar plexus knocking the breath out of me, but telling the rest of my family was more dreadful. I had known heartache before, but this transcended every previous emotion I had ever experienced. My vision blurred. My feet were heavy and seemed to resist carrying me to the next room, where my family anxiously awaited the latest news of the rescue mission on Mount Hood. Kelly's wife, Karen, the children, our mother, three brothers and a sister—they took the news hard. I have never heard weeping like I heard that night in the village at the foot of the mountain. The Bible sometimes refers to "wailing" as an especially forlorn kind of weeping. That is what I heard that night—wailing. I hope I never hear that sound again.
Death is ugly, and we cannot—indeed, should not—try to make it palatable or explain it away with pious platitudes. Death is a cruel, brutal, and fearsome trespasser into this world. It is an intruder and a thief. It has severed an irreplaceable relationship with my brother. We shared the same story, and he knew me in a way no other person did. Kelly would no longer return my calls. Never again would I hear him cheerfully mock me as "Frankie Baby." Sometimes I see him in a dream, and I reach out to grasp him—but he is not there.
We are created for life, not death. Kelly had a shameless zest for living life to the fullest. When death strikes suddenly from the shadows, or claws at us until the last breath, those left behind experience numbness and disorientation. Somehow we know in our hearts that it is not supposed to be this way.

One question haunts me: Where was God when Kelly was freezing to death on Mount Hood? For me, it is not whether I should ask such a question, but how I ask it. One can ask the question in a fit of rage, shaking one's fist at God. Many of us, if we are candid, have done that. But once the primal anger settles to a low boil, we can—and, I would submit, should—ask the question.
I am not suggesting that mere mortals can stand in judgment of God or call him to account. God does not report to me. But an honest question posed from a broken heart is to my mind a good and righteous thing.
To ask this hard question is an act of faith. It presupposes a genuine relationship in which the creature actually engages the Creator. If God is my Father, can't I humbly ask why he did not come to Kelly's rescue? For me, to not ask this question would be a failure to take God seriously.
So, where was God? I don't know. I may never know. Perhaps the biggest challenge for my faith is to come to terms with what Martin Luther called the hiddenness of God—Deus absconditus. Contemporary Christians are often uncomfortable admitting that God sometimes hides from us. But King David was unafraid to ask, "Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?" (Ps. 10:1).
As far as I know, God never answered David. Even more bewildering—God was not only silent, he also commemorated his silence for posterity. By including the Psalms in the Holy Book, God made his hiddenness a part of Israel's worship and preserved it for all humanity to ponder. It boggles my mind to imagine throngs of Israelites singing the chorus, "Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?"—year after year, century after century, millennium after millennium. This must have been a gut-wrenching experience, and I suspect it was often sung with tears.
I am still trying to make sense of Kelly's death. I don't know why God did not rescue Kelly from the cold grip of the mountain. What I do know is that my relationship with God has entered another dimension—one more mystifying and more honest.

Grief is a relentless predator. Those who have lost loved ones tell me that one never completely escapes it. Strangely, a part of me does not want the grief to stop, because the grief itself is a connection to Kelly. Yet another part of me is so weary from carrying the burden of a broken heart.

In the midst of our family tragedy, I made a peculiar discovery. One would think that grief and disappointment with God would lead to bitterness against him. In my nightmare, I not only prayed intensely in private but also publicly declared my faith and confidence in God on CNN—but Kelly froze to death anyway.
There is disappointment, sadness, and confusion, but oddly, there is no retreat from God. Instead, I find myself drawn to God. To be sure, he is more enigmatic than I thought, but I still can't shake loose from him. There seems to be a kind of gravitational pull toward God.
I am not the first to notice this gravitational pull amid the angst of divine silence. In Psalm 13, David calls out, "How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?" (v. 1). A few verses later, the same distressed David is declaring, "But I trust in your unfailing love" (v. 5). Even as he pleads with God to come to his rescue, David finds himself inexorably drawn to him.
It seems paradoxical that David would trust a God who hides himself when David needs him most. But as I have meditated on David's Psalms, I sense he had a different kind of relationship with God—one not many Christians understand. It is more mysterious than I had been led to believe. It is a relationship where simplistic spiritual formulas and religious clichés have no place. David's relationship with God combines brutal honesty with what Luther called a grasping faith. It is a relationship where disappointment is juxtaposed with hope.
One of the profoundly difficult lessons is that amid all the spiritual consternation in the shadow of Mount Hood, God has manifested himself in my grief. Somehow he is found in the disappointment, the confusion, and the raw emotions. This does not exactly make sense to me, and I'm quite sure I don't like it. But I have felt the divine gravity pull me back toward God, even while I am dumbstruck by his hiddenness. My conception of faith has become Abrahamic—which is to say, I must trust God even though I do not understand him.
Many Christians read the Nicene Creed with its marvelous stanza, "On the third day he rose again." They know the story of Christ's dead body being placed in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea on Friday and pulsing with new life on Sunday. In violation of natural laws, Jesus was again breathing and walking among his astonished disciples. One doubtful disciple even felt compelled to put his finger into Jesus' wound to convince himself that the crucified Jesus was indeed alive. It was hard to believe, but there before them all stood Jesus.
What does the empty tomb of Jesus have to do with the snowy tomb of Kelly James? Everything. Kelly confessed, as I do - and as Christians have for nearly 1,700 years, that "we look for the resurrection of the dead." Nicene Christians were not immune to the despondency of despair and grief. Over the centuries, and amid enough tears to fill an ocean, many of us have had to bury our loved ones. But we bury them with a promise: "But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. … For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive" (1 Cor. 15:20, 22).
This magnificent promise does not indemnify us against the grief of losing a beloved brother or even against disappointment with God. It does, however, take my faith to depths I never fathomed, where hope begins to poke through the heartache. Like a sunbeam piercing through a cloudy sky, faith portends that better weather is on the way.
- Frank A. James III is provost of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary.

In December 2006, Kelly James and his climbing partners, Brian Hall and Jerry "Nikko" Cooke, died on Mount Hood in northern Oregon. Their expedition was intended to prepare them for their lifelong dream of climbing Mount Everest. The climb began on December 8, but they encountered a rogue blizzard of enormous intensity and duration. They burrowed into a snow cave to wait out the storm. But the storm was unrelenting. Apparently Kelly had been injured, so the hard decision was made that Brian and Nikko should go for help. Sensing the gravity of their situation, Kelly must have released Brian from their long-standing pact never to leave one another. Alone in the snow cave, Kelly made desperate calls on his cell phone. On Sunday, December 10, against all odds, one call mysteriously connected, and he was able to speak to his wife and two of his sons for six minutes. It was the last time they would hear Kelly's voice.
From the outset, the story captivated the national new media, and the three families asked if I would serve as the public spokesperson. A massive search was launched, and finally, on December 17, we were notified that a body had been discovered. The fateful call came that evening, informing us that the recovered body had a signet ring with the initials JKJ—Jeffrey Kelly James. The search for Brian and Nikko continued, but their bodies were never found. I preached at my brother's funeral on December 27, 2006. - Frank James
* * * * * * * * * * * 

Church History, Volume Two:
From Pre-Reformation to the Present Day
The Rise and Growth of the Church in Its Cultural,
Intellectual, and Political Context
 Amazon Link here
Frank James wrote a 800+ page volume with John D. Woodbridge on the history of the church from the pre-reformation to the present day entitled Church History, Volume Two: From Pre-Reformation to the Present Day: The Rise and Growth of the Church in Its Cultural, Intellectual, and Political Context. As a side note, James' section on contemporary American evangelicalism and the rise of biblical inerrancy in the 19th century is worth the price of admission. - Peter Enns

N.T. Wright, "Paul and the Faithfulness of God" (Vol 4) - Paul, the Law, and Jesus

NT Wright, Paul, the Law, and Jesus
The point is that God’s plan, through Israel, for the rescue of the human race (and thus for the rescue and restoration of the whole creation) meant that Israel had to become the place where ‘sin’, the personified power opposed to God’s plan and purpose, would be ‘increased’, would ‘appear as sin’, would ‘become exceedingly sinful’. And Torah was playing its God-given role within that strange purpose” (510).
On Romans 7:14-23
Nothing whatever is gained, exegetically or theologically, by supposing that the ‘law’ in the last few lines of that passage is a ‘principle’ or ‘system’. The whole passage has been about the law, the Mosaic law, the Torah; and the frustration the passage expresses is neither (a) the psychological torment of the young Jew, discovering law and lust at the same time, nor (b) the puzzle of the existentialist, trying to seize life by the performance of the categorical imperative only to discover that this produces inauthenticity, nor yet (c) the frustration of the Christian, wanting to serve God wholeheartedly yet finding that sin continues to clog the wheels (510).
FIFTH - Leading to yet another point about the Torah: Jesus, the representative Israelite, does the Torah and dies, and the Spirit is sent so the Torah is now done by the people of God. Wright expresses this in his usually fast paced and side-glancing manner:
There, through the Messiah’s death and resurrection, and by implication (7.6) the work of the Spirit (which will be spelled out more fully in chapter 8), a people has been constituted ‘in the Messiah’, a people who have themselves died ‘in him’, thereby leaving behind solidarity with Adam, and solidarity with the Torah-under-Adam, where Israel according to the flesh, continues to languish (6.14). It is this people, this "in-Messiah" people, this led-by-the-spirit people, this died-to-sin-and-living-to-God people (6.11) that now, with great but comprehensible paradox, simultaneously find themselves (a) ‘not under Torah’ (6.14) and also (b) ‘fulfilling the decrees of Torah’ (2.26). This new-covenant people is ‘not under Torah’ in the sense that it is not ‘Israel according to the flesh’, living in the place where Torah goes on pronouncing the necessary and proper sentence of condemnation. But it ‘fulfills the decrees of Torah’, and indeed ‘keeps God’s commandments’, insofar as it is the "Deuteronomy-30 people" in whom what had been impossible under Torah, because of Israel’s fleshly identification with Adam, is now accomplished by the spirit (513).
Or, as he now sums it all up:
Once we grasp how the plots and sub-plots of the story work, then, we can be quite clear that for Paul, Torah is the divine gift which defines and shapes God’s people. God’s people follow their strange vocation through the long years of preparation, through the period (particularly) of failure, curse and exile, and finally to the unexpected (and indeed ‘apocalyptic’) events which Paul sees both as the fulfilment of all the earlier promises [of God], and the new creation which has arrived as a fresh divine gift. Torah accompanies them all the way - like a faithful servant doing what is required in each new eventuality, taking on the different roles demanded by, and at the different stages of, Israel’s journey, to finally attain a [radically] new kind of ‘fulfilment’ in the heart-circumcision promised by Deuteronomy and supplied by the Spirit. At one moment in the narrative the moon is waning; at another it is full; at another, it helps to bury the dead. This narrative framework frees Torah from the burden of always playing the villain in a Lutheran would-be reading of Paul, or the hero in a Reformed one. It offers, instead, a chance for Torah to be what Paul insists it always was: God’s law, holy and just and good, but given a task which, like the task of the Messiah himself, would involve terrible paradox before attaining astonishing resolution. The Torah shines with borrowed light, and the horned dilemmas it has presented to exegetes are only resolved when the complete cycle of waxing and waning has played itself out (516).
Paul and Jesus

Now what about Jesus, where does he fit in the story/stories?
At the same time, it is important to stress that ‘the story of Jesus in Paul’, were we to tell it, would always appear as the denouement of some other story or set of stories. Paul does not introduce, or appear to think of, Jesus as a character facing a task or problem, finding it difficult or impossible, needing to seek fresh help or to ward off difficulties, and finally succeeding in the task or surmounting the problem. As with Torah, only in quite a different mode, everything Paul says about Jesus belongs within one or more of the other stories, of the story of the creator and the cosmos, of the story of God and humankind, and/or the story of God and Israel. Because these three layers of plot interlock in the way I have described, what Paul says about Jesus, and what he could have said were he to have laid out his worldview-narrative end-to-end for us to contemplate, makes the sense it does as the crucial factor within those other narratives. Thus there really is, in one sense, a Pauline ‘story of Jesus’, but it is always the story of how Jesus enables the other stories to proceed to their appointed resolution (517).
There are, then, three interlocking stories, diagrammed on p. 521:
Here is the point of all these pretty little diagrams, and I hope this exposition functions redemptively in their direction too, after the scepticism even of some of their former users. When we understand the triple narrative which forms the basis of Paul’s worldview, we can see the way in which, bewildering though it often seems to us, Jesus the Messiah functions for him in relation to all three stories simultaneously. As Israel’s Messiah, he has accomplished Israel’s rescue from its own plight, passing judgment on the evil that has infiltrated even his own people. As Israel-in-person, which is one of the things a Messiah is (see below), he has completed Israel’s own vocation, to bring rescue and restoration to the human race, passing judgment on human wickedness in order to establish true humanness instead. And as the truly human one (Psalm 8; blended with Psalm 110; as in 1 Corinthians 15) [Jesus] has re-established God’s rule over the cosmos, defeating the enemies that had threatened to destroy the work of the creator in order to bring about new creation. Jesus does not have an independent ‘story’ all on his own. He plays the leading role within all the others. He is Adam; he is Israel; he is the Messiah. Only when we understand all this does Paul’s worldview, particularly its implicit complex narrative, make sense (521).
Summing It All Up

There are then three interlocking stories:
1. Creation was supposed to be looked after by Adam, but he sinned and so lost ‘the glory of God’ (3.23). He is replaced not just by the Messiah but by [the church] - ‘those who receive the abundance of grace, and of the gift of covenant membership, of “being in the right”’: they will ‘reign in life through the one man Jesus the Messiah’ (5.17). By this means, creation itself will be set free from its slavery to corruption (8.18–26). That is the big story, the overarching plot. This is how creation itself is to be renewed. This is the ‘cosmic’ story. 
2. Humans in their sin, which prevents them from attaining their true vocation, are rescued through ‘the obedience of the one man’. Here, ‘obedience’ has taken the place of ‘faithfulness’, in 3.22 and elsewhere, as a summary of the Messiah’s completion of the work marked out for Israel.189 This is (perhaps unhappily named) the ‘anthropological’ story, which is not to be played off against the ‘cosmic’, which it is designed to serve. It is because humans are rescued from their sin that they are able once more to play their part in God’s worldwide purposes. 
3. The specific problem of Israel, highlighted and exacerbated by the arrival of the Torah (5.20), has been met, and more than met, by the grace which has abounded in the Messiah. [Jesus] has done on Israel’s behalf what Israel could not do, and also has done for Israel itself what Israel needed to be done. His Israel-work rescues Adam’s people; his Adam-work rescues creation itself. This is the ‘covenantal’ vision, which again must not be played off against either the ‘anthropological’ or the ‘cosmic’ stories. It is because the Messiah has fulfilled Israel’s calling that humans are rescued from idolatry, sin and death (531).

Continue to Index -

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.

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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 Amazon.com 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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