Ken Myers reflects on three decades of Mars Hill Audio

mars Hill

It has happened three times. A producer from Mars Hill Audio e-mails and asks me if I want to talk with Ken Myers about the subject of my latest book. The producer schedules me at a studio in Dillsburg, Pennsylvania–a place where local rock bands go to record. I drive up into the hills outside of town, maneuver my vehicle up a winding dirt road, and say hello to a guy who turned his garage into a studio. He has set up a chair, a microphone, and a bottle of water on the concrete floor. We exchange pleasantries (he remembers me from the last time) and then he goes into the next room, behind a glass wall, and pipes the voice of Ken Myers into my headphones. I talk with Ken for about an hour.

Months later someone tells me that they listened to my interview—cut to about 15 minutes or so—on Mars Hill Audio. A few weeks after that I get a complimentary compact disc of the episode in the mail. I put into a shoe box alongside my Mars Hill cassette tapes from the 1990s.

Evangelicals interested in books and serious Christian thinking know Ken Myers. He was podcasting before podcasts. Over at Front Porch Republic, Matt Stewart interviews the founder, producer, and host of Mars Hill Audio Journal.

Here is a taste:

Stewart: You started Mars Hill Audio just before Mark Noll published his Scandal of the Evangelical Mind in 1994. While it should be noted that Mars Hill has consciously sought to be rooted in the broader Christian tradition, it is still identifiable as one attempt to address Noll’s criticism. What are some of the most promising trends you have observed over the last three decades in your conversations and debates with those Christians who have constituted the evangelical mind? Which trends seem most destructive?

Myers: I think that there is a growing number of evangelicals who are willing to look beyond the evangelical tradition for wisdom about the challenges we face. Some are looking to pre-Reformation sources, some to resources in Orthodoxy, some in the work of post-Reformation Roman Catholic thinkers. But in doing so, many have found it inadequate to self-identify as evangelicals, or at least as mere evangelicals. So perhaps the most encouraging thing I’ve seen is the willingness of people from evangelical backgrounds to recognize that you don’t have to be evangelical to be a serious Christian.

For decades, I have been uneasy with the designation. I read Thomas Howard’s Evangelical Is Not Enoughwhen it first came out in 1984, and have continued to deepen my conviction that too many doctrines and practices are made optional in the way the term is typically used.

Someone once commented that the word “evangelical” and the word “parachurch” are virtually synonymous, suggesting that one of the characteristics of evangelicalism is too low a view of the Church. I have come to appreciate—through the work of thinkers as various as Lesslie Newbigin, Stanley Hauerwas, Peter Leithart, Oliver O’Donovan, and David L. Schindler—how the secularizing tendencies of modernity are not just a matter of marginalizing religion, but of privatizing the work and effect of redemption and rendering the Church into an agency for the support of individual Christians.

Not long ago, I went back and re-read Noll’s book, and was disappointed with the extent to which he focused on the question of scholarship. While I am deeply interested in the vitality of Christian scholarship of all stripes, I am even more concerned about the state of the minds of non-scholars. The work of scholars should serve Christians—evangelicals and others—who are in business, education, journalism, law, politics, or other vocations. Those people are the ones Harry Blamires was writing about in The Christian Mind.

I think that it is more likely than it was 50 years ago for evangelical laypeople to take an interest in cultural issues because they think their faith encourages them to. But I don’t think that it is any more likely that they will think theologically about such matters. I think that for many, personal faith is a source of motivation, but the Faith is not a source of relevant knowledge. Thinking about cultural matters because we’re commanded to love our neighbors—that’s easy. But thinking about cultural matters in light of the Trinity or Pentecost or the Ascension or the Eucharist—that’s not very common. So the dualism that separates faith and reason may have been overcome by many evangelical scholars. But I think very few laypeople are striving to think about culture in a theological way. And the result is a kind of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism when it comes to cultural matters.

For example, how many evangelicals take kindly to the claims that Joel Salatin makes—which are ultimately theological claims—about how we should raise our food? My hunch is that while there may be many evangelical scholars who are sympathetic to the mission of Polyface Farms, most laypeople would be suspicious. Their suspicion may be theologically grounded, but I don’t think they are armed with enough theology; I think their arsenal may be limited by the limits imposed by evangelicalism’s origins as a modern movement.

Read the entire interview here.