Will Someone Please Explain to Donald Trump That He Did Not Denuclearize North Korea

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Here is Uri Friedman at The Atlantic:

Donald Trump got little of substance out of his summit with Kim Jong Un. But that didn’t stop him from making a triumphant, demonstrably false claim about how things went. Trump declared in an early-morning tweet that North Korea’s threat to America has been somehow neutralized altogether: “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.”

In reality, Trump returned to America from the Singapore meeting having secured only a vague promise, not unlike others the North Koreans have broken in the past, about working toward the goal of denuclearization. Yet North Korea has just as many nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and nuclear facilities and personnel, and precisely as much fissile material, as before Trump and Kim shook hands and signed a document in which North Korea vowed to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”

 

Not only that, but the North Koreans have come away from the summit with a much more immediate pledge from the president to suspend U.S.-South Korea military exercises that the North has long viewed as a threat. The North Koreans may view their denuclearization commitment as a pie-in-the-sky pledge to give up their nuclear weapons once the nuclear-armed United States withdraws its protection for South Korea and ceases all hostile behavior toward North Korea. The statement they endorsed includes no details on how denuclearization will be implemented, how long it will take, or even what first moves the North will make toward that objective.

Read the entire piece here.

Mike Pence also believes that North Korea is now denuclearized.  Here is what he told the Southern Baptist Convention earlier today:

We certainly saw that in high relief over the last several days, didn’t we? Just this morning, the President returned from a historic summit with Kim Jong Un of North Korea. The President went to this meeting as, in his words, “on a mission of peace,” but with eyes wide open. And I can report, the meeting that took place was direct and honest, provocative, and productive. It resulted in a bold first step where North Korea’s leader committed to the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. (Applause.)

This is what authoritarian populists do.  Trump and Pence spread false information and propaganda to rally their base in the hopes that their followers will not do the hard and difficult work of fact-checking.  It is the height of anti-intellectualism and evangelicals are especially susceptible to it.  And when people do fact-check, Trump and Pence demonize the fact-checkers as enemies of the state.

Have Conservative Intellectuals Gone Lowbrow?

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Ohio University historian Kevin Mattson thinks so.  He argues that conservative intellectuals are now in the business of attacking “educated elites.”  He calls this behavior “a grave danger to our democratic discourse.”

Here is a taste of his piece at Democracy:

Today, conservative intellectuals or thought leaders (or whatever you want to call writers and journalists and bloggers of this variety) no longer think. They no longer argue or pursue the playfulness of ideas as the intellectual vocation allows (for a fine argument about what makes an intellectual, see Richard Hofstadter’s book, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life). Back in the 1940s, the literary (and liberal) critic Lionel Trilling described conservative thinking as little more than “irritable mental gestures.” He would likely consider the very concept of the “conservative intellectual” today a full-fledged oxymoron. Thinking is out; prejudiced assertions sans proof are in. Of course, as Trump’s presidency shows, this sort of thing can win you political campaigns. Attacking educated “elites” is red meat for conservative politicians.

But for intellectuals to go down that same road is a grave danger to our general public culture, and dare we say—as would the Kimball of old—“civilization.” Our public dialogue is threatened by the likes of Twitter thinking—more short spasms than developed reasoning. Conservative intellectuals have always struggled with their own tendency to instinctively distrust their own kind— i.e. other intellectuals, what the historian Christopher Lasch once labeled the “anti-intellectualism of the intellectuals.” Yet right now, they seem they seem to have moved beyond self-hate and toward willful self-sabotage. Their ideas have lost all intellectual rigor and warrant no respect. In killing off their own thinking, they kill off the possibility of democratic discourse, where thinkers with different principles can debate but engage in a productive conversation about our contemporary political situation. By turning the exchange of ideas into warfare and angry brawls, conservative “thought leaders” are killing off the very principle of democratic debate.

Read the entire piece here.

Trump’s Assault on Knowledge

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Ariel Dorfman, a writer and literature professor at Duke, is the latest intellectual to take on Trump’s anti-intellectualism.  Here is a taste of his piece at the New York Review of Books:

There has always been a disturbing strand of anti-intellectualism in American life—the very title of Richard Hofstadter’s 1963 book—but never has an occupant of the White House exhibited such a toxic mix of ignorance and mendacity, such lack of intellectual curiosity and disregard for rigorous analysis (despite his untested boast that his IQ is “one of the highest,” certainly higher than Obama’s and a host of other worthies’).

“The experts are terrible,” Donald Trump said during his campaign. “Look at the mess we’re in with all these experts that we have.” It is hardly surprising, then, that his administration is over-stocked with know-nothing fundamentalists. Across the board, he has appointed amateurs who are hostile to science and sport obscurantism as a badge of honor. Accordingly, the policies they have adopted are as stultifying as they are noxious. The contempt for evidence-based research was immediately apparent in Trump’s original wish list of budget proposals, which would significantly defund the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, NASA, the National Institutes for Occupational Safety and Health, and even the Census Bureau. Government websites at the White House, the EPA, and the Departments of State, Agriculture, Interior, Labor, Education, and Energy have been scrubbed of previously posted scientific positions that would contradict the new policy program. Advisory councils have been eviscerated or abolished—the Justice Department’s National Commission on Forensic Science, no less!—and government scientists have been muzzled and forbidden from attending national forums or international conferences. The administration is obstructing the collection of data and the publication and discussion of research, as if in expectation that inconvenient truths will magically melt away.

True, antagonism toward the knowledge elite is not a monopoly of the hard right. Pol Pot’s hatred of bourgeois professionals led to the killing fields of Cambodia. Mao Zedong set the Red Guards on millions of members of the cultural elite, unleashing immeasurable suffering. It is also true enough that many authoritarian regimes in our time display contempt for reason, scientific knowledge, and intellectual expertise: witness the Turkish government’s decision to strike evolution from the school curriculum, or Hungarian President Viktor Orbán’s campaign to close the liberal Central European University. But none of these incursions against reason has such encompassing power and reach as that of the American government. Nor will their destructive effects likely be as vast and enduring as the Trump administration’s.

Read the entire piece here.

Alan Jacobs Teaches Us How To Think

ThinkBaylor University humanities professor Alan Jacobs‘s latest book is How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds.  Over at Religion News Service, Jacobs talks with journalist Jonathan Merritt about the book and the state of Christian thinking.

Here is a taste:

RNS: What do you see is the core problem with many “thinkers?”

AJ: It’s hard to name just one thing — there are so many problems! So much bad thinking! But if I were forced to name one universal one it would be a lack of awareness of our own motives and incentives. A failure to realize that there are forces at work on and in all of us to discourage thought or even prevent it altogether.

RNS: What about American Christians, generally speaking? Are they good thinkers?

AJ: Ummm … not so much.

RNS: How can followers of Jesus become better critical thinkers? Give us one or two points that come to mind.

AJ: Christians of all people ought to be attentive to our own shortcomings, and the ways our dispositions of mind and heart and spirit can get in the way of knowing what’s true. After all, we’e the people who are supposed to believe that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” and “the heart is deceitfully wicked above all things” and that sort of stuff. If we want to think better, then the first step should be to take those beliefs as seriously as many of us say we do, and to turn a ruthlessly skeptical eye on ourselves — before we turn it on our neighbors. There’s a line about specks in our neighbors’ eyes and logs in our own that applies here.

There’s a lot more to say, obviously, but I think self-skepticism is the place to begin.

Read the entire interview here and find out why Jacobs think it is impossible to
“think for yourself.”

George Will: Trump is Disabled

 

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Conservative columnist George Will believes that Donald Trump is incapable of speaking and thinking clearly. “This seems to be not a mere disinclination but a disability,” he writes, “it is not merely the result of intellectual sloth but of an untrained mind bereft of information and married to stratospheric self-confidence.”

Here is a taste.  Wills pulls no punches:

What is most alarming (and mortifying to the University of Pennsylvania, from which he graduated) is not that Trump has entered his eighth decade unscathed by even elementary knowledge about the nation’s history. As this column has said before, the problem isn’t that he does not know this or that, or that he does not know that he does not know this or that. Rather, the dangerous thing is that he does not know what it is to know something…

Americans have placed vast military power at the discretion of this mind, a presidential discretion that is largely immune to restraint by the Madisonian system of institutional checks and balances. So, it is up to the public to quarantine this presidency by insistently communicating to its elected representatives a steady, rational fear of this man whose combination of impulsivity and credulity render him uniquely unfit to take the nation into a military conflict.

Read the entire column at The Washington Post.

 

Readers Respond to My Piece on Evangelicals, Fear, and Anti-Intellectualism

Read the piece here.

A distinguished professor of religion at a church-related, non-evangelical liberal arts college writes:

Well done, John. Though I’d want to push on the anti-intellectualism a bit. We want to go beyond attention to verifiable evidence to also encourage clarity of analysis and sound interpretation.

This scholar and church-person is absolutely correct.

But as someone who spends a lot of time with evangelicals and evangelical students, I am finding it more and more necessary to go back to square one.  Last week I was a guest on a NYC-area radio program talking about this very thing.  I  told the host, a fellow academic, about my experience last Fall teaching students how to write Chicago-style footnotes. What was once a rather mundane part of my course took on a new sense of urgency.  Yes, analysis and interpretation is much needed, but it always begins with good evidence and the dogged pursuit of truth.

Evangelical Fear and Anti-Intellectualism in the Age of Trump

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Here is a taste of my latest column at Religion News Service:

(RNS) Seventy-six percent of white American evangelicals supported President Trump’s recent executive order temporarily banning travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations as well as all refugees, according to Pew Research (59 percent of all Americans disapproved of the order).

The strong evangelical support for Trump’s action is telling in light of a recent letter sent to him and Vice President Mike Pence from 500 evangelical leaders who condemn the executive order.

The letter was signed by Tim Keller (author and pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church), Richard Mouw (former president of Fuller Theological Seminary), Max Lucado (author), Bill Hybels (founder of Willow Creek Community Church) and Shirley Hoogstra (president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities),  to name only a few of the prominent evangelicals who endorsed its message.

Read the rest here.

Quote of the Day

The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.  An extraordinary range of virtues is found among the sprawling throngs of evangelical Protestants in North America, including great sacrifice in spreading the message of salvation in Jesus Christ, open-hearted generosity to the needy, heroic personal exertion on behalf of troubled individuals, and the unheralded sustenance of countless church and parachurch communities.  Notwithstanding all their other virtues, however, American evangelicals are not exemplary for their thinking, and they have not been so for several generations.

-Mark Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, p. 3.

Are You an Intellectual?

kendiIbram X. Kendi‘s book Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America recently won the National Book Award for Nonfiction.  Last week he delivered the doctoral commencement address at the University of Florida where he teaches in the history department.  His address, titled “Are You Intellectual,” is worth reading in full.  He has posted it to the blog of the African American Intellectual History Society.

Here is a taste:

The point of my address is to ask you a simple question: are you an intellectual?

I am asking this question because you need to know that having a doctorate does not make you an intellectual. It is so embarrassing, but there are doctorates who are not intellectuals. Just like there are MDs who are not healers. Just like there are JDs who are not about justice. Just like there are Reverends who are not about God. Isn’t that a tragedy walking: a Reverend who is not about God? Isn’t that a tragedy walking: a JD who is not about justice. Isn’t that a tragedy walking: a MD who is not a healer? Isn’t that a tragedy walking: a doctorate holder who is not an intellectual?

Today you are joining the illustrious academy of doctoral recipients. But I want to talk to you today about joining the even more illustrious academy of intellectuals. No doctorate degree is required to join the intellectual academy. This is an inclusive academy with all types of people with all types of backgrounds. There are people with only a GED in this intellectual academy. There are incarcerated people in this intellectual academy. There are homeless people in this intellectual academy. There are poor people in this intellectual academy.

When I say intellectual, I am not referring to someone who knows a wealth of information. How much you know has no bearing on how much you are in intellectual.

I define—and many others define an intellectual as someone with a tremendous desire to know. Intellectuals are open-minded. Intellectuals have a tremendous capacity to change their mind on matters, to self-reflect, to self-critique. Intellectuals are governed by only one special interest that is rarely self-serving—the special interest of finding and revealing the truth.

Read the entire address here.

Will Evangelical Trump Supporters Reap What They Sow?

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I wrote this back in May.  I think it still holds up.-JF

(RNS) There are a lot of theories to explain why large swaths of evangelicals seem to like a narcissistic, vulgar, misogynistic, intolerant, and angry reality TV star who behaves like a school yard bully and has a temperament that is diametrically opposed to the meekness, humility and prudence necessary to lead the free world. I will not rehearse them here.

But as a historian it is also my job to take a longer view — to look deeper into the American evangelical past in search for answers. Is there something inherent within American evangelicalism, as it has developed over the decades, that has led so many born-again Christians to vote for Trump?

I think there is.

In 1994, Mark Noll, a history professor at evangelical Wheaton College published “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.” The book began with what is now a much-quoted phrase among the evangelical intelligentsia: “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” Noll then went on to describe a deep-seated anti-intellectual impulse that has long characterized American evangelicalism.

Ten years after it was published, the editors of Christianity Today claimed Noll’s book “arguably shaped the evangelical world (or at least its institutions) more than any other book in the last decade.”

On one level, Christianity Today was correct. The evangelical mind is doing better these days. Young evangelicals now see the pursuit of an intellectual life as a legitimate Christian calling. They are contributing to a vibrant renaissance of Christian thinking about history, politics, science, nature, and the arts.

But the scandal still exists.

Conservative Protestants have a long way to go if they want to rid themselves of the anti-intellectual populism that Noll lamented almost a quarter century ago. Evangelical churches and colleges have failed to educate people on how to think Christianly about their role as citizens. They have failed to teach their constituencies Christian habits of acting in the world that allow them to make meaningful contributions to American democracy. Is it any wonder that so many evangelicals have cast votes for Donald Trump?

Part of the responsibility for bringing a more thoughtful understanding of politics and culture to everyday conservative Protestants rests with evangelical intellectuals.

And then there are the evangelical colleges. It is often unclear how these institutions serve the larger evangelical world. Christian philosopher and educator Richard Mouw tried to explain their impact in 1995 when he wrote: “Tens of thousands of young people in Christian evangelical colleges and seminaries are receiving a trickle-down effect from their professor’s work. These are future laypeople.”

I am sympathetic to Mouw and those who hope for an intellectual trickle-down effect, but such an approach does not seem to be working.

Evangelical students are no longer interested in studying the humanities.

Enrollments in humanities fields — history, philosophy, literature, theology — at evangelical colleges have experienced a precipitous decline over the last decade. Yet these are disciplines that teach evangelical young people how to live together with their deepest differences, reflect on the purpose of life, think critically about the world, cultivate moral courage, make evidence-based arguments, and recognize that life does not always fit easily into binary categories.

These are the subjects that raise the kinds of questions that go to the heart of a Christian education. They help us see the world from the perspective of others and teach us humility as we ponder our place in the expanse of human history. They help us to understand the common good and to serve it. They make us informed citizens.

Unfortunately, today we are training evangelicals for our capitalist economy. We are not training them for life in our democracy.

Many Christian colleges are just trying to keep the doors open. Physical therapy and accounting majors bring in a lot of tuition revenue. If students do not want to study the humanities then these institutions are happy to offer programs — ever more programs — they will want to pursue.  Such colleges must bow to consumer needs in order to survive. Give them what they want, not what they need.

Evangelical churches and their pastors are also to blame. How many evangelical churches have created spaces where conversations can take place about how to apply the Christian faith to culture, politics, art, nature, or our understanding of the past and its relationship to the present?

I am not saying these topics need to be addressed during Sunday morning services. This time and space needs to be reserved for Word and sacrament. But certainly some of our megachurches could make room for this kind of training.

In the end, I do not have much patience for evangelical leaders who are shocked and surprised that so many people support Donald Trump. We have reaped what we have sown. We evangelicals can, and must, do better.

 (John Fea teaches American history at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pa. He is the author, most recently, of “The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society.” Follow him @johnfea1)

Evangelical Historians and Alienation

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Over at The Anxious Bench, George Mason University religion professor John Turner writes that as an evangelical Christian he has never felt alienated from the secular academy.  In the process he reflects on Christian historian Jay Green‘s presidential address at last months biennial meeting of the Conference on Faith and History.

Here is a taste of Turner’s post:

Jay Green’s talk resonated deeply with me because it reflects my own ambivalence. As I reflected on the end of Books & Culture, I noted that I attended graduate school in history shortly after the appearance of Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, George Marsden’s The Soul of the American University and The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship, and B&C‘s launch. I took it for granted that evangelical historians could gain a hearing for scholarship, not least for scholarship on evangelicals. Certainly, as Jay Green explains in his book, some forms of “Christian historiography” are utterly beyond the pale of academic respectability. But as I came onto the scene, I saw books by Marsden, Noll, Nathan Hatch, and Joel Carpenter gaining not just a respectful hearing, but outright respect. And there have been a veritable flood of historical scholarship about and by evangelicals in the last two decades.

Thus, I never felt alienated from the academy the way that prior generations of evangelical scholars did. Certainly, I have heard a fair amount of anti-evangelicalism from academic colleagues, but this seems to have more to do with evangelicalism’s association with conservative politics than with religious matters per se. And with the waning of the Religious Right, I have not heard as much of that sort of talk recently. In other words, it is very easy to feel at home in modern academia (especially if one has tenure!). At least it is for me.

Turner has spent his entire career at public universities (South Alabama and George Mason) and has written important books in the field of American religious history.  He has not experienced the stigma that comes with teaching at a Christian college and I am guessing he does not spend much time having to explain the mission of Christian colleges to secular historians in the way that I do whenever I visit a campus to give a lecture or run into someone at a conference.

Having said that, I do think that the historical profession rewards good scholarship. University presses also tend to publish good history regardless of institutional affiliation. In this sense I have not felt completely alienated from the academy even as I ply my trade on the Christian periphery.

Turner uses the rest of his post to reflect on his feelings of alienation from evangelicalism.  He writes:

Do I feel alienated from evangelicalism? To some extent. Like many evangelicals, however, I have a complex religious identity. I grew up in a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregation that involved me in things such as Young Life. And I’ve remained Presbyterian and evangelical despite the fact that both my church and evangelicals often do things that perplex or dishearten me.

But that needs some clarification. As D.G. Hart contended in his Deconstructing Evangelicalism, “evangelical” no longer has a meaningful connection to the mid-twentieth-century “neo-evangelical” movement of disaffected fundamentalists. I’m not convinced the term “evangelical” is meaningless, but it certainly obfuscates as much as it illumines. Am I alienated from evangelicalism? Well, which evangelicalism?

I’m certainly alienated from Jerry Falwell, Jr., but then I never was connected with Falwell, Sr. I’m alienated from David Barton, but not from John Fea. Joel Osteen does not resonate with me, but Billy Graham still does.

On this point, I agree wholeheartedly with Turner.  I think any evangelical scholar/intellectual/academic will always be uneasy evangelicals as long as evangelicalism remains a largely anti-intellectual faith.

I wrote a bit about this here.

Church Libraries as an Antidote to “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind”

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God calls Christians to love Him with all their heart, soul, strength, and mind. (Luke 10:27).  Many Christians are pretty good at orienting their heart, soul, and strength toward their Creator, but few really know what it means to love God with their minds.  This problem, as many of the readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home know, was addressed most forcefully by historian Mark Noll in his seminal 1994 book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind and its 2011 sequel, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind.  I have written about this as well, both in Why Study History: A Historical Introduction and most recently in my May 2016 Religion News Service piece, “In Supporting Trump, Evangelicals Are Reaping What They’ve Sown.”

Noll diagnosed the problem of evangelical anti-intellectualism.  We are now faced with how deal with it.  What kind of practical steps can churches take to overcome this serious deficiency in the church?  How can people interested in serious Christian thinking make a difference in their churches and communities and perhaps prompt others to take this Christian duty seriously.

One way of overcoming the scandal is to start a church library that not only caters to children and popular Christian materials, but also to books and resources that encourage Christian intellectual engagement.  Why not start the kind of library that Ron Maness had built at Community Bible Chapel in Richardson, Texas?

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I have never met Ron, but when he started following me on Twitter (@johnfea1), identified himself as a church librarian, and began asking for book recommendations, I knew his library must be something unique and special.  Ron is a very active librarian.  He sends out a monthly list of new books (with short summaries) to the congregation (250 members), he contacts individual members of the congregation when a new book arrives that falls within their area of interest, encourages his pastor to mention new books from the pulpit, and produces a daily e-mail list of links related to new books, author interviews, and reviews.   The Community Bible Chapel is used extensively by church members, community members, local clergy, and seminary students from nearby Dallas Theological Seminary.  Ron’s diligent work has cultivated a spirit of reading, conversation and a Christian life of the mind in his church and in the wider community.

I asked Ron to answer a few questions about his church library.  Here is my interview with him:

JF: Community Bible Chapel has a very large library for a church of 250 members. What role does the library play in the mission of the church. 

RM: Here is the Statement of Purpose/Mission Statement for the library:

Maintain a broad-based library of books, videos, DVDs, audios and other media items for all ages and levels of Christian growth, with the goals of 1) promoting knowledge and application of scripture and doctrine, 2) promoting knowledge of church history, 3) facilitating and supporting other ministries of CBC, including Sunday School and other teaching ministries, ministry groups, youth workers, etc. and 4) enhancing individual and family spiritual growth and discipleship. This will include not only maintaining the existing library inventory, but also the acquisition of new media items on an on-going basis.

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JF: What is your library budget?

RM: Our library budget is currently $7 thousand. It has been as high as $9 thousand, but due to the maturity level of the existing library, I have reduced it the last few years.

JF: How many books do you have in your church library?

RM: We currently have over 14 thousand books in the library, of which 11 thousand are adult and 3 thousand are juvenile/childrens books. In addition, we have approximately 500 other media items (DVD, CD, video).

JF: What is your philosophy of book-buying for the library?

RM: I have been managing the library, along with my wife, since 1981. Because I have “lived” books so long, I don’t have any problem with knowing what books I want to buy. In the past, I visited Dallas Seminary’s bookstore weekly, along with other Christian bookstores on a regular basis. I am familiar with publishers and their new offerings, as well as the key commentary series, and authors/theologians. I visit the Gospel Coalition website daily, and am now a frequent visitor to Twitter. I get emails from Westminster Seminary Bookstore. All of these sources provide book information that I use to make buying decisions. I make most of my purchases from Amazon, who is also good at letting me know of new books in my areas of interest. I frequently pre-order books in advance of their publication dates.

Also, since I am the only one purchasing adult non-fiction books for the library (my wife purchases adult fiction and children’s books), I know the library stock and what items might be needed. I try to ensure we have a broad-based stock for all levels of Christian maturity, from new believers to seminary students and pastors.

JF: Christians are called, among other important things, to love God with their minds. How is the library making an impact on the intellectual life of your church?

RM: Our library has been described by several outsiders as comparable to many Bible college libraries. We have a full range of current and classic Bible commentaries, systematic and biblical theologies, Puritan classics,  books on all categories of Christian doctrine or ministry, Christian living, biographies, and an extensive history section (church and general).  So we have provided the resources to enable the members of our body to grow in the knowledge of Scripture and the doctrines of the faith, in order to equip them to fulfill their individual and collective ministries and strive toward Christian maturity.

In addition to managing the library itself, some time ago I began a library email list. Only those who requested to be included are on it. Presently there are around 75 people on the list, including some who don’t attend CBC.  Every morning, I visit the Gospel Coalition website, along with a few other selected  sites, and review that day’s articles. I then choose 3 to 5 of the most interesting articles and forward them to the library email list. Part of the purpose is to encourage library usage by articles featuring book reviews, but an additional purpose is to increase awareness of issues being discussed in the wider evangelical world.

Let me provide a quote from a response I received last week from a library patron who is on the email list:

“Ron, thank you, once again, for your diligence to spawn discussion and broaden our thinking.”

That is the impact that I would hope the library would have on the intellectual life of our church.

I was particularly influenced by three books that I read a number of years ago:

The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, by Mark Noll.

No Place for Truth: Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? by David Wells.

Between Faith and Criticism: Evangelicals, Scholarship, and the Bible in America, by Mark Noll.

I believe the library has contributed to our body gaining a fuller understanding of other traditions and perspectives. To take three examples of areas where there are often sharp differences of opinion, I have found a receptive  audience for books featuring different views on end times theology, creation (young earth vs old earth, creation science vs intelligent design, etc.), and the on-going “Christian America” debate. And I am always quick to acquire new volumes in the several series giving four or five views on specific subjects, like Zondervan’s Counterpoint series for example. These enable the reader to, in one volume, see different perspectives all together.  

In summary, I do think our library has had an impact on the intellectual life of the church. In the past, this was aided by our church leadership determining not to tie our church to hard positions on secondary matters, such a specific end times theology. And in the present, the library has been enabled by leadership’s continuing financial support for an aggressive library ministry.

JF: Thanks, Ron.

Are you interested in developing a church library or strengthening your existing library? Check out the library page at Community Bible Church for Ron’s helpful suggestions.

maness 4

 

Humanist Intellectuals and Anti-Intellectuals

National Press Club, Washington D.C.

When I was out promoting Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction I gave an invited talk to a group of secularists, skeptics, and Humanists from the Pittsburgh community of the Center for Inquiry.  The lecture took place at the Carnegie Science Center (a fitting location) on Pittsburgh’s North Shore, right next door to Heinz Field.

If I remember correctly the auditorium was crowded that night as hundreds of skeptics packed in to hear a history professor from Messiah College talk about whether or not the United States was founded as a Christian nation.  I didn’t know what to expect.  I am guessing they didn’t either.

About ten minutes into the lecture a gigantic screen began to lower behind me on the stage.  I had not planned to use any visuals during the talk and the event organizers knew this.  As the screen came down I paused, turned around and looked at it, and said something like “I have no idea why or how this screen is moving.  It must be a message from God.”  There was an awkward silence in the room for a split second, but it seemed like an eternity.  Then the room broke into uproarious laughter.  I breathed a sigh of relief that my attempt at humor actually worked.  The ice was broken and I continued with the lecture.

I look back fondly on that lecture. The leadership of the Center for Inquiry was very hospitable and gracious.  They took me out to dinner before the lecture and actually apologized before the food arrived because, as atheists, it was not their custom to pray before meals.  I tried to disabuse them of the idea that all Christians bow their heads and utter audible prayers before every meal they eat in a restaurant.

Several friends and acquaintances asked me why, as a Christian, I accepted the invitation to speak to this group.  My response was “why not?”  I am a historian. I wasn’t there to convince them that the claims of Christianity were true.  I was asked to speak about the relationship between religion and the founding.  Many of the folks I talked with that night wanted to be more informed about how they could or could not use the history of the founding to promote their views.  Some of them bristled when I talked about how many of the founders believed in God or were Christians.  Others nodded in agreement when I mentioned that many of the founders were skeptics and championed the idea of the separation of church and state.

The question and answer session following the lecture was phenomenal.  I left believing that I helped this group understand when they could appropriate the founders and when they could not.  I hope I got them to think historically.  Perhaps there will be another time to discuss the issues that divide us. If that day ever comes, our conversation will at least be built on a firmer historical foundation.

I thought about that speaking engagement yesterday when I read a post at TheHumanist.com by Matthew Bulger, the “legislative associate” for the American Humanist Association.

As I reported on this blog a few days ago, several Baylor University professors recently visited the National Press Club to talk about America’s “secularization myth.”  It was a pretty star-studded cast that included historian Thomas Kidd, sociologist Rodney Stark, and historian Philip Jenkins.  You can read about it here.

As might be expected, Bulger, after attending the event, was not convinced that the “secularization” thesis was a “myth.”  He was critical of all the presentations, but I was most struck by his critique of Kidd’s lecture titled “A Godless American Founding?”  Here is what Bulger wrote:

But perhaps the strangest and most desperate parts of the event focused on religion’s supposed benefits on personal health and the role religion should have in public life according to the founding fathers…
Just as strange as this tasteless health-based appeal for religious belief was Professor Thomas Kidd’s perspective on the founding fathers and secularism. While admitting that a large number of the founders were deists, religious skeptics, and secularists, Kidd also asserted that they supported a relatively robust role for religion in public life. But rather than reference documents supporting this position, Kidd instead focused on personal stories. Noting Jefferson’s strong belief in a “wall of separation,” Kidd also noted that Jefferson on occasion would attend religious services in the US Congress. Never mind the fact that all sessions of Congress are opened with prayer—or the fact that Jefferson as a delegate from Virginia to the US Congress would have already been present in the congressional chambers as part of his duties; to Kidd, this was definitive proof of Jefferson’s support for religious activities in government buildings.
The feeling I got from the event was that of open panic: panic about the declining role of religion in America and around the world, panic about the rising tide of governmental secularism, and panic that the media was no longer a defender of religious ideas or institutions. The result of this panic, at least for many of the presenters, was the adoption of the “ostrich defense,” that of sticking one’s head in the sand and ignoring reality. If polls show religion is on the decline, the polls must be faulty or the media must be misinterpreting them. If the number of religiously unaffiliated is on the rise, this must be because religious people are simply leaving religious institutions while keeping their beliefs, not because more people are becoming atheistic or agnostic.
While it was a bit disappointing to see academics behave in such an unscholarly manner, the message that secularists and nontheists could take away from the event was comforting: religion may never go away completely, but at least for now it appears to be fading into the background of society and the human mind.
Strange? Desperate? Unscholary? Ostrich defense?
Bulger may not the like the intellectual critique of secularization propounded by these Baylor professors, but his response reveals a deeply anti-intellectual strain in the humanist/atheist camp.  (So I guess evangelicals are not the only ones who are experiencing a “scandal” in this area). 
Let’s take his response to Thomas Kidd.  It sounds as if Kidd, according to Bulger’s post, did mention that many of the founders were skeptics.  He also noted, quite accurately, that the founders supported a role for religion in public life.  I was not at the talk, but I imagine that most of the “stories” Kidd told could easily be backed up with “reference documents.”  Does Bulger know that Kidd has written extensively on these topics in books with footnotes and documentation?  Did he do his homework before he reported on this event?
In its approach and argumentation (but certainly not in its content) Bulger’s post is no different from the stuff I read from David Barton.  Both prefer politics and ideology over history.
The spirit behind Bulger’s post was a far cry from the hospitality and conversation I experienced in Pittsburgh.

Tim Lacy Weighs-In On Mark Noll’s *Scandal of the Evangelical Mind*

Tim Lacy, one of the catalysts behind the revival of American intellectual history in the United States, has finally had a chance to read The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, Mark Noll’s love letter to his fellow evangelicals urging them to love God with their intellects.  

Here is a taste of his recent post on the book at the U.S. Intellectual History blog:

Returning to Noll, one must keep in mind that he wrote this as a faculty member at Wheaton College—the “McManis Professor of Christian Thought,” in fact. Noll is now amember in the History Department at the University of Notre Dame, but the accusatory “scandal” in the book’s title did not result in a scandalous departure, or firing, from Wheaton. In 1994-95, he was an insider historical critic. A Publisher’s Weekly blurb on the cover of my paperback says: “A brilliant study by a first-rate Evangelical mind.”
After completing Noll’s book, and then picking up (again) Richard Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (AIAL), I’ve been surprised at how much both books agree on the Protestant roots of American anti-intellectual tendencies. Indeed, Noll prominently cites Hofstadter in the the former’s introduction. But Noll quotes from prominently from a Hofstadter footnote rather than the part of AIAL that directly correlates with Scandal. For instance, here’s the part of AIAL that goes to Noll’s concerns, as well as the concerns of many recent writers about the role of Christianity—particularly Protestantism—in America’s founding and thought life (e.g. Sehat, Fea, etc.). Here’s Hofstadter, in the opening chapter 3 (the first to directly address historical roots) directly addressing the root cause of all anti-intellectualism in American life (bolds mine):
The American mind was shaped in the mold of early modern ProtestantismReligion was the first arena for American intellectual life, and thus the first arena for an anti-intellectual impulse. Anything that seriously diminished the role of rationality and learning in early American religion would later diminish its role in secular culture. The feeling that ideas should above all be made to work, the disdain for doctrine and for refinements in ideas, the subordination of men of ideas to men of emotional power or manipulative skill are hardly innovations of the twentieth century; they are inheritances from American Protestantism.[3]
So much for separation of religion from the American founding, whether in terms of churches influencing the state or vice versa. It didn’t matter what happened in terms of material separation because a deep-seated Protestant mindset ruled all. The latter’s anti-intellectual sensibility determined what followed—only to be enhanced by subsequent theological, scientific, or philosophical innovations.
Even Noll’s book wasn’t this assertive. Noll limited his arguments to roots and effects in Protestant Evangelicalism alone. But there can be little question that Noll built his work on ground tilled and planted by Hofstadter. Noll just made Hofstadter’s work more palatable, and less scandalous to Protestant Evangelicals, because of the former’s insider status.

What a Fundamentalist College Might Look Like: Part 2

I think Bob Jones University might qualify as a fundamentalist college. 

I wrote about BJU in my M.A. thesis at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (thanks Darryl Hart for being my second reader on that beast), but if you want to learn more about this school I recommend Mark Dalhouse’s Island in a Lake of Fire: Bob Jones University, Fundamentalism, and the Separatist Movement.  BJU no longer seems to use the term “fundamentalist” to describe the university. For example, the short “History” section on the university website never mentions the “F” word. 

But it goes without saying that BJU has long been a flagship college in the American fundamentalist movement well after the F-word fell out of favor among conservative American evangelicals.

Bob Jones and Bob Jones Jr., the first two president’s of the college, were pretty hard-core when it came to their fundamentalist beliefs.  They were orthodox Christians who thought that a true believer needed to separate from the world and from other Christians–such as Billy Graham–who did not separate from the world like they did.  This was often described as “second-degree separation” and I recently discussed this phrase in relation to Union University’s decision to leave the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.

Bob Jones III became president of BJU in 1971.  Under his watch the college began admitting African and African-American students, as long as they were married.  In 1975 the marriage requirement was lifted and African-American students who were single were admitted.  In 2005 Jones III dropped the university’s ban on interracial dating.  He announced this decision on Larry King Live!


Bob Jones III is currently the chancellor of his grandfather’s school.  He also speaks in chapel.  In an October 6, 2015 chapel sermon Jones called attention to a 2011 New York Times op-ed written by (then) Eastern Nazarene College professors Randall Stephens and Karl Giberson titled “The Evangelical Rejection of Reason.” The argument of this op-ed appeared in larger form in Stephen’s and Giberson’s book The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age.

You can listen to the sermon below.  The stuff about Stephens and Giberson comes beginning at the 24 minute mark.  We have transcribed the pertinent part of the sermon below the video.


I want to leave you with something that appeared as an op-ed piece in The New York Times in 2011. It was written by two professors at a college calling itself Christian–Eastern Nazarene College.  I want you to hear the hiss of the serpent.  I want you to hear the scorn in their voices. This is what I am talking about when I say many deceivers…going around in the world who are preaching science falsely…doing the work of the devil from within the church.  They’re everywhere.  The Lord said they were going to be. The apostles said they were going to be.  The epistles they wrote to the churches warned of them in the very day of the early church.


Here is what this op-ed said: “The rejection of science seems to be part of a politically monolithic red-state fundamentalism. It’s textbook evidence of unyielding ignorance on the part of the religious. and one fundamentalist slogan puts it ‘the Bible says it, I believe it, and the settles it.’ But evangelical Christianity need not be defined by the simplistic theology, cultural isolationism, and stubborn anti-intellectualism that most Republican candidates have embraced.  Like other evangelicals we accept the centrality of faith in Jesus and look to the Bible as our sacred book though we find it hard to recognize our religious tradition in the mainstream evangelical conversation.  Evangelicalism at its best seeks a biblical-grounded expression of Christianity that is intellectual engaged, humble, and forward-looking. In contrast, fundamentalism is literalistic, over-confident, and reactionary. Fundamentalist appeals to evangelicals who have become convinced that their country has been overrun by a vast secular conspiracy.  Denial is the simplest and most attractive response to change. They have been scarred by the elimination of prayer in schools, the remove of the nativity scenes from public places, the increasing legitimacy of abortion and homosexuality, the persistence of pornography and drug abuse, the acceptance of other religion and of atheism.  In response many evangelicals created what amounts to a parallel culture nurtured by church, Sunday school, summer camps, colleges, as well as publishing houses, and broadcast networks.” (And then he names some of them).  These are charismatic leaders and they project a winsome personal testimony as brothers in Christ, there audiences number in the tens of millions, they pepper their presentations with so many Bible verses that their messages appear to be straight out of scripture.  To many they seem like prophets, anointed by God. But, in fact, their rejection of knowledge amounts to what evangelical historian Mark Noll (who by the way is a professor at Wheaton College) in his 1994 book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind described as an intellectual disaster. calling evangelicals to repent of their neglect of the mind.  There are signs of change within the evangelical world. Tensions have emerged between those who deny secular knowledge and those who have kept up with it and integrated it with their faith.” (Did you get that? The faith they believe and preach and embrace is not a biblically-mandated faith but one that has been ameliorated, has been infiltrated with unregenerate intellectualism, and their faith has accommodated the embrace of anti-biblical concepts.  There faith is a Christianity that doesn’t come out of the Bible alone, but out of the infusion with the Bible of anti-biblical intellectualism.)

I continue: “Almost evangelical colleges employee faculty members with degrees from major research universities, a conduit for knowledge from the larger world.  We find students arriving on campus tired of the culture-war approach to faith in which they were raised, more interested in promoting social justice than opposing gay marriage.  They recognize that the Bible does not condemn evolution.  It says next to nothing about gay marriage.  They understand that Christian theology can incorporate Darwin’s insights and flourish in a pluralistic society.”  

When the faith of so many Americans become an occasion to embrace discredited, ridiculous, and even dangerous ideas, we must not be afraid to speak out even it means criticizing fellow Christians. What did Eve do in the garden?  She heard the hiss of the serpent that said “if you disobey God, if you will resort to your human reasoning, you can become a god yourself and you don’t have to follow God. You become God.”

Ladies and gentleman, there is treachery abroad in the church.  Their is treachery abroad in this land. And if you and I are not daily constant seekers of God…our fervor disappears, our minds get in mutual, and we become sponges to absorb whatever floating around out there in the name of Christ thought it may have nothing to do with Christ and may even be a denial of Christ.  Do not let that happen to you.  I beg you.

This is classic Bob Jones.  The same sermon could have been delivered by Bob Jones Sr. in the 1925 or Bob Jones Jr. in 1965.

I think it is stuff like this that qualifies Bob Jones University as yet another fundamentalist institution of higher education. 

Adam Laats: I think we found another one.

Having said that, several evangelical scholars, myself included, were also critical of Stephens and Giberson’s op-ed and book (but not for the same reason as Jones III was critical).

See Baylor’s Thomas Kidd here.

And here is what I wrote in the wake of Kidd’s post:

Like Kidd, I also consider Randall Stephens to be a friend.  And like Kidd, I corresponded with him as he wrote The Anointed.  I am also sympathetic to his (and Giberson’s) desire to let the world know that there are evangelical Christians who do not embrace the views of people like Ken Hamm and David Barton.  I find myself doing this all the time.

But I can’t help but agree with Kidd’s review.  Is The New York Times the best place for evangelicals to decry evangelical anti-intellectualism? Indeed, anti-intellectualism is a problem in the evangelical community.  But I wonder, to quote Kidd, if the New York Times op-ed page is  “the most promising way to start addressing that failure?” 

To be completely honest, I also wonder if a book published by Harvard University Press is going to have any impact on rank and file evangelicals.  It seems to me that two kinds of people will read The Anointed:  1). Non-evangelicals who want ammunition to bash evangelical intellectual backwardness and 2). Evangelical intellectuals who already agree with Giberson and Stephens.  I wonder if ordinary evangelicals–the folks who actually listen to Barton and Ham and Dobson–will read the book or even know that the book exists.

In the end, I agree with Kidd.  The anti-intellectual problem in American evangelicalism needs to be addressed in our churches. It is going to require evangelical thinkers to engage congregations in a more purposeful way and give some serious thought to how their vocations as scholars might serve the church.  As I have learned over the years, this will require building trust and listening to and empathizing with the concerns of those whom we want to challenge to think more deeply about the relationship between their faith and the larger culture.

Evangelical Churches and Intellectuals

Is evangelicalism anti-intellectual?  As many of our readers know, Mark Noll answered this question twenty years ago with a resounding “yes” in his book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.

Do evangelical churches contribute to this kind of anti-intellectualism?  Last October, Stephen Mattson of the University of Northwestern in St. Paul, MN, writing at Sojourners, answered this question with a resounding “yes” in a piece entitled “Do Churches Alienate Intellectuals?”  Mattson believes that there are three primary reasons why churches tend to alienate Christian intellectuals.

First, Mattson writes, “churches prefer certainty over doubt.”  I would probably phrase this a little differently and say that churches are not very good at dealing with complexity. Now don’t get me wrong.  I expect my minister to preach with authority and exhort the congregation to put truth into practice.  Sermons are not always conducive to complexity, and I am OK with this.

But unfortunately this kind of authority or certainty often informs the way people in a given congregation analyze social, cultural and political issues.  I would assume that all evangelical ministers want the people in their congregation to think Christianly, or biblically, or theologically about the world around them,   If this is the case, then ministers must acknowledge the fact that such thinking does not always lead the thinker to end up in the same place on this or that social issue. Issues such as whether or not the United States was founded as a Christian nation or whether or not to support Obamacare are complex.  Serious, smart, and faithful Christians can come to different conclusions about these issues.  This is why there are few Christian humanists in evangelical churches.  Most of them flock to denominations or traditions that celebrate the mystery of Christianity and, consequently, the diversity that abounds in the Church on this side of eternity.

What I have described above is part of the reason why I have always resisted joining a small group or participating in men’s fellowship activities at my church.  I applaud these groups for the way that they attempt to cultivate spirituality among attendees, but whenever I have attended them in the past I have always ended up being the only guy in the room who is asking uncomfortable questions about the Biblical text under consideration or questioning the group’s presuppositions on this or that issue.  I try to be polite and civil when I do this, but I always leave feeling like the odd duck.  Sometimes I just stay quiet until I get in the car and start complaining to my wife!  I also realize that this is partly my fault.  I need to work harder at being part of my church community, but it is often difficult when complexity ruffles so many feathers.

One more thing on this front.  Most intellectuals I know are not very good at small talk. But we will often light up when the conversation turns to deeper matters or when you put us in front of a Sunday School class or adult education forum.  Many of us are introverts.  As a result others in church can often perceive us as aloof or even rude.

Do any other church-going intellectuals feel the same way?

Second, Mattson writes, “churches are anti-science.”  Since I am not a scientist, this one does not bother me as much.  But I know it bothers some of the scientists in my congregation.  Frankly, I can’t get my head around the fact that so many people in my church believe that global warming is a myth. I seldom talk about this issue with folks from my church because I don’t want to ruffle feathers or create undue division in the community.  Maybe I should change my approach here.

Third, Mattson argues that the church should be doing a better job at Christian education.  Again, a caveat is in order here.  I have yet to find any brand of Christianity that is better than evangelicalism at forming young people in the faith.  Having said that, evangelical churches could do a much better job of bringing college-level or seminary-level courses in Biblical studies, theology, or church history to their members and attendees.  Mattson writes:  

Unfortunately, churches now depend on higher education to do most of the in-depth training that was once commonplace among lay parishioners. The average believer seemingly knows less and less of the Bible and the historical context of the Christian faith with each passing year. Churches need to remember that very few of their members attend or attended Christian colleges or seminaries. Churches (with a few exceptions) no longer offer classes about church history, Greek, Hebrew, proper exegesis, or groundbreaking Bible studies to churchgoers — these are reserved for Bible colleges and the students who attend them.

Let’s remember that nearly all of the people attending evangelical churches today did not attend a Christian college, a Bible college, or a theological seminary.  It is thus not surprising that people like Noll and Mattson lament the church’s anti-intellectualism.  Why don’t more evangelical churches have a “theologian in residence” or a staff member devoted to equipping the saints in this way.

Mattson concludes:

Overall, modern Christianity has modeled a strategy of comfort, where believers are viewed as consumers that need to be pleased and catered to — not challenged or made to feel uncomfortable. Intellectuals are not the target demographic within churches, so they rarely garner much attention or care, and it’s widely believed that they would be better off in an academic setting rather than a spiritual one. 
It seems that thoughtful evangelicals can do one of two things.  They can either leave their evangelical churches (as many, many, many have done, especially those of us in the humanities) or they can stay within evangelicalism and seek opportunities to cultivate a Christian mind among the congregations where they have been placed.  I have thought long and hard about pursuing the first option, but I have decided to at least try, however imperfectly, to pursue the second option.
During my two years of ecumenical dialogue and conversation as a Lilly Fellows in the Humanities and the Arts at Valparaiso University I realized that evangelicals were “my people” and thus deserved my loyalty. (Of course it also helps that I believe in the transforming power of the gospel as preached by evangelicals).  But I also realize that as an intellectual in a mainstream evangelical church I will always, it seems, occupy a liminal space.  I am prepared to live with the tensions.