Evangelicalism’s "Intellectual Civil War"

We have mentioned Molly Worthen’s new book Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism a few times over the course of the last month.  Over at Religion & Politics, Worthen discusses the book with R&P editor Tiffany Stanley.  The entire interview is worth reading, but here is just a taste:

R&P: How did you come to this project? 

MW: I came to this project out of my background as a journalist. I had observed certain things going on among contemporary American evangelicals that I wanted to explain, particularly trends among young evangelicals. I got very interested in young evangelicals who were protesting what they perceived to be their parents’ Religious Right. These young folks called—or began to call themselves in the 1990s and early 2000s—the Emergent Church. These were Millennials or, in some cases, Gen-Xers, who had grown up in big, white, suburban, politically conservative megachurches and were challenging that heritage by appealing to other parts of the church tradition, acquainting themselves with theology that they had never been exposed to and even looking toward the Catholic tradition. I just thought: What is the story here? What’s going on? And I tried to reverse-engineer their process and create a kind of genealogy of their ideas. As I did that, I ended up uncovering for myself this story of how one particular theological and political tradition within evangelicalism had come to be so dominant and come to be the public face of evangelicalism in America—despite the fact that evangelicalism is an incredibly diverse, sometimes self-contradictory world. My book tells the story of the intellectual civil war within evangelicalism, the backstory to the rise of the Christian Right. Scholars usually describe this in purely political terms, as a story of backlash against the liberation movements of the 60s and a continuation of the anti-Communist movement. But increasingly, I felt that to really understand what’s going on in this country, even just politically, you have to get into the ideas. You have to start looking at what’s happening in missions, spiritual revivals, the way worship is changing, how all these different communities within this huge subculture that we call evangelicalism are interacting. That’s the only way you can understand today’s landscape. – 

2 thoughts on “Evangelicalism’s "Intellectual Civil War"

  1. Worthen is spot-on, but I don't think those of you on the left will really get it unless you include the “critique of modernity”* which evangelical conservatism is an attempt at. And not an entirely successful one–Schaeffer was among the best but in the end was not rigorous enough to hold the day.

    Christopher Lasch would likely be better


    but certainly the “scandal of the evangelical mind” is that it doesn't play in the major leagues; its arguments are reactions to modernity, not fully-formed arguments against materialism, utilitarianism, the abolition of metaphysics, indeed the difficulty of speaking of right and wrong as objective and universal standards.

    For [Julius] Evola, the modern exaltation of the instrumental, the practical, and the material is tantamount not only to a petulant rejection of every “higher dimension of life” but also to a perverse embrace of “spiritual formlessness.”

    Thus the degradation of the person, a term that Evola uses in a special way, belongs to a regime that achieves control, entirely for the sake of control, by encouraging the lowest appetitive urges of that desperate but useful creature, the mere numerical individual. Evola here avails himself frankly of Ortega’s category of the mass man, whose sole quality consists in his unavoidable overwhelming quantity.

    Evola identifies the proximate source of these trends in “the subversion introduced in Europe by the revolutions of 1789 and 1848” although analysis could trace both outbursts to prior stages and events. In equality, the central fetish of revolutionary subversion, Evola sees a phenomenon neither natural nor properly cultural that suggests the deeply seated aversion of a reputedly liberated consciousness to the actual, graduated structure of reality. In particular, as Evola remarks, contemporary humanity has cut itself off entirely from the only context that could clarify a man’s worth for him and integrate him into a meaningful life: that concinnity of “sovereignty, authority, and legitimacy” by which “every true State” achieves “transcendence of its own principle.” More Platonist than Christian – perhaps in certain moods, as I have suggested, anti-Christian – Evola insists that the meaning of a polity consists solely in its embodying “a higher order,” through which alone its “power” derives. A traditional polity, being essentially hierarchical, will thus never adopt the face of democracy; indeed, its aristocrats will rule by “absoluteness,” in the sense that their stewardship of order, their “Imperium,” will always take direction from their spiritual participation in the same “aeterna auctoritas” that bestows intelligibility on the physical cosmos.



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