Brief Thoughts on Paper Presentations at the “State of the Evangelical Mind” Conference

Indy

The last few days I have been posting on some of the keynote lectures at the “State of the Evangelical Mind” conference held last week in Indianapolis.  You can read all the posts here.

In this final post I want to offer brief snippets from some of the presentations I heard at the conference.  (I am sorry I cannot cover them all here).

JoAnne Lyon (General Superintendent Emerita of the Wesleyan Church): She traced the history of the evangelical movement in America with a particular focus on the movement’s attention to race and social justice issues.  It was an excellent and informative presentation, but I could not help but wonder how it fit with the “evangelical mind” discussion.  Part of Mark Noll’s diagnosis in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind was that the evangelical church has always had a strong history of doing the kinds of things Lyon talked about in her lecture.  In response to a question I asked from the floor, Lyon made it clear that this kind of activism must take place in conversation with Christian thinkers who study the systemic and structural issues that under-gird racism, poverty, and other social ills.  I appreciated the clarification.

Andrew Draper (Assistant Professor of Theology at Taylor University and pastor of the Urban Light Community Church in Muncie, Indiana):  His talk was titled “Christ the Center and Evangelical Hope.”  This talk did not particularly address the “state of the evangelical mind” conversation, but offered thoughts about the theological vision of “hope” in the works of Jurgen Moltmann, St. Paul, James Cone, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Draper concluded that “hope is not moral, it is Christological.”  Echoing Stanley Hauerwas (although I don’t think Draper actually mentioned him by name), Draper argued that the church is not the “priest of civil religion.”  He challenged us to live as if history was moving toward the return of Christ.  This was a great talk, and Draper delivered it with passion, but if he framed his talk in the context of the “scandal” or “state” of the evangelical mind, I missed it.

Christopher Smith(Editor of The Englewood Review of Books): Smith’s paper focused on the work of Englewood Christian Church, a congregation located in a poor, working-class neighborhood of Indianapolis.  The church publishes The Englewood Review of Books (we received a free issue in our conference “swag bags”).  Smith talked about the way his church and his publication seek to challenge the idea of a “disembodied mind.” Englewood Christian Church is committed to engaging Christian scholarship and cultivating a Christian mind from its particular urban location.  Englewood Review of Books is excellent. A new issue appears online every week and the print issue is published four times a year. Check it out.

David Mahan and Don Smedley (Rivendell Institute at Yale University):  These veterans of campus ministry discussed the role of the evangelical mind in para-church organizations.  Mahan suggested that campus ministries are seldom included in discussions of the “evangelical mind” because commentators assume that not much thinking goes on in them.  Mahan did not disagree.  Historically, campus ministries have focused on evangelism and spiritual growth.  But this is not the entire story.  Smedley compared Mark Noll’s work on the “scandal of the evangelical mind” to the work of Christian apologist J.P. Moreland.  He argued that the evangelical mind is cultivated on secular campuses through  apologetics and intellectual discipleship. While Noll suggests that the work of Christian apologetics and evangelism has been detrimental to the development of an “evangelical mind,” Smedley believes that work in these areas on secular campuses should not be dismissed as somehow anti-intellectual.

Mark Stephens (Excelsia College in Sydney, Australia).  After listening to Stephens it was clear to me that Australian evangelicals are a lot like American evangelicals when it comes to promoting an evangelical mind.  Stephens said that Australian evangelicals do a lot of good things, but he is not sure that they think very hard about what they do.  He asked, “if we did ever think about it, where would we think about it?”

Jack Baker and Jeff Bilbro (Spring Arbor University English professors): I have been attending “Christian scholarship” and “evangelical mind” conferences now for about twenty years and it seems like there is always a presentation about what Wendell Berry can offer the Christian academy.  (I remember listening to Steven Bouma-Prediger and Brian Walsh at the “Christian Scholarship for What? conference at Calvin College.  I am guessing that this was either in 2000 or 2001).  Listening to Baker and Bilbro reminded me of the late night conversations on Berry and “place” that I used to have at the Advanced Placement American History reading in San Antonio with Eric Miller, Jay Green, Russ Reeves, and many others.  Don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled that we are still reckoning with Berry.  Baker and Bilbro urged Christian colleges to craft place-centered narratives to define their missions, “inhabit” the particular places and regions where those colleges are located, and teach students to “practice the Sabbath.”

Erin Devers (Indiana Wesleyan Seminary): Devers is a social psychologist who wants us to not only think, but “think well.”  At the heart of good Christian thinking is the idea of empathy, a virtue that must be cultivated through repetition and daily spiritual practice. There were a lot of similarities between her talk and some of the best studies in historical thinking, especially the work of Sam Wineburg.  Our “psychological condition at rest” (Wineburg’s term) is not geared toward empathetic understanding, but the daily work of teachers challenging their students to think historically can reverse this condition.  This is why historical thinking is such an “unnatural act,.”  Unlike Wineburg, Devers introduced spiritual practices as a means of developing empathetic thinking in students. As some of you know, this is the argument I made in chapter seven of Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past.  Most scholars interested in the “scandal of the evangelical mind” tend to be humanists, but Devers’s social science approach was a breath of fresh air.

I  recently exchanged e-mails with one of the conference attendees and she said that she enjoyed the event, but it was sort of like “drinking from a fire hose.”  I think all of us could have used a little more time to reflect and digest.  As you can tell from these posts, we all left with a lot to think about.

One thought on “Brief Thoughts on Paper Presentations at the “State of the Evangelical Mind” Conference

  1. A little addition which might help both those who attended and those who did not attend understand what happened at this conference. I made a word.doc of the schedule before leaving for the conference, and then forgot to take it along. What stood out when I did this were the main issues/ topics/ organizations covered by each speaker, and which I then bolded in my notes.

    In short, the conference could have been titled – “The State of the Evangelical Mind Today” –
    as seen by
    Thursday evening – Mark Noll in his Historical review
    – followed by short papers by profs at 3 colleges – including John Fea’s remarks here

    Friday – “The State of the Evangelical Mind Today” – as seen in the context of
    Churches – Jo Anne Lyon, General Superintendent Emerita and Ambassador of The Wesleyan Church
    – followed by papers from people working in the church context

    Para-Church Organizations – David Mahan and Don Smedley, Rivendell Inst., Yale
    – followed by related papers, including one by a librarian attentive to the new media

    The University – Timothy Larsen, theology professor at Wheaton College and McManis Professor of Christian Thought
    – followed by 3 short papers by people at 2 colleges and 1 from the CCCU

    Seminaries – Lauren Winner, professor Duke Divinity School
    – followed by 3 profs from 2 colleges and 1 seminary

    “The State of the Evangelical Mind Today” – Prospects for the Future
    – James K.A. Smith, philosophy prof at Calvin College
    – Mark Galli, Editor, Christianity Today

    Like

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