Some Thoughts on the Audience of *Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump*

Believe Me 3dWho is the audience for Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump? There are three audiences.  Here they are, in no particular order:

  1. The 81% of white American evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump.
  2. The 19% of white American evangelicals (and non-white evangelicals) who did not vote for Donald Trump
  3. Anyone who wants to understand why 81% of American evangelicals voted for Donald Trump.

I realize that many of those in the 81% will want nothing to do with this book. But I hope some will read it.  I hope the book can serve as a way of encouraging dialogue in churches and other places where evangelicals gather together in communities of Christian fellowship that transcend politics.  (I am assuming, of course, that some of these places still exist.  I think they do).

I also realize that those who study evangelicals at the highest level–many of them former evangelicals or disgruntled evangelicals–want to take evangelicalism to the woodshed for its many sins.  Their scholarship is good and needed, but I part ways with many of them when it comes to reaching the church.  As a Christian, I am a member of the body of Christ–the Church. That is where I must find my primary identity.

Of course I still have a responsibility to live out my vocation in the academy,  the classroom, and as a professor at a Christian college.  If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that some posts are written with my church community in mind.  Others are written for American historians or members of the academic community.  Still others are for the general public.  These groups often overlap.  I have written books for my students, my academic discipline, the general public, and the church.

As a Christian, I have chosen to worship among American evangelicals.  In 2016, a large number of my tribe voted for Donald Trump.  I don’t think that was a good idea.  I have even written a book to tell my tribe that I do not think it was a good idea.  But in the end, I must live with the people in my tribe and try my best to fulfill my vocation as a historian and educator in their midst.  Some will say I go too far in the criticism of my people.  I know this from the letters, e-mails, and phone messages I receive–some of them pretty nasty.  Others will say I don’t go far enough in criticizing my people.  I know this from the reviews of the book.

The trashing of evangelicalism is popular these days and you can get pretty far and become pretty successful in academic/scholarly circles–especially in the fields of history and religious studies–by doing this.  I am sympathetic to scholars who call evangelicals to task for their sins.  As I am learning on the Believe Me book tour, many people had (or are having) very, very bad experiences in evangelicalism.  They are hurting.  They are angry.  I am listening to their stories.

But in the end, I will continue to defend the term “evangelical” because it still means “good news.”  For me, this “good news” is the ultimate source of hope for those who are hurting.  I am still willing to fight for the “good news” of the Gospel because this message changed the trajectory of my life and the life of my family and extended family in positive ways.  And I have seen hundreds of other lives changed by this message—men, women, people of color, poor people, rich people, gay and straight people.

In the end, I want to use my vocation as a historian to be a more direct part of the solution in the evangelical church rather than someone who merely diagnoses the problem or calls-out evangelicals for their many sins.  I am not sure I can do this as an academic, but I am willing to try.  Perhaps other Christian and evangelical scholars are called to something different.  But if they are called to something different, they will need to convince me how they will use their gifts and knowledge to serve the body of Christ.  This point relates not only to the content of their work, but also to its style and means of dissemination.

If we pursue this path within evangelicalism today, it will mean that we must serve those with whom we disagree on a whole host of political and cultural issues.  It will also require us to work hard at uncovering the common spiritual and theological ground that draws us together every Sunday morning despite our differences. I am convinced that this kind of engagement deepens our faith, helps us to see the flaws in our precious arguments, makes us better listeners and communicators, and teaches us to love.  It may also mean, in some cases (but certainly not all cases), staying in a particular religious tradition rather than leaving for a more a comfortable place of worship and fellowship where people think more like us.

Postscript:

I am sure that for some of my readers, this post just made me a subject of analysis, rather than a detached scholar.  Of course such analysis goes both ways.  I have seen many of my fellow academics as subjects of analysis for a long time! 🙂

“Loyalty and respect not present in any other kind of social criticism.”  

Christian scholar

Christian academics occupy a very lonely space.

We are not entirely trusted, and often looked upon with suspicion, by our faith communities.

We are also not entirely trusted, and often looked upon with suspicion, by the academic communities we inhabit.

Some Christian intellectuals have chosen to simply abandon the academic community and write within the community of the Church.  Others have chosen to pursue academic lives within the guild and keep their faith private.  But if one is to take seriously her or his intellectual calling in both spaces, companions are few.

I have written about this tension often here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  It is a part of my intellectual life that I cannot shake.  It has returned again this month as I have been teaching in my church.  As I was preparing for my last class, I read this passage in Glenn Tinder’s The Political Meaning of Christianity:

One must keep a measure of critical distance even from the Church.  The Church in history is not the Kingdom of God, and the alienation inherent in living as a destined member of the Kingdom of God, within history, is inescapable.  One can only give such alienation moral and spiritual form by using it as the basis for prophetic relationship with the world around. And the Church is part of the world around.  Hence, it is subject to prophetic criticism and appraisal.

On the other hand, however, to criticize and appraise the Church prophetically is to be aware that the Church is distinct from the world around even though part of it.  The Church, as envisioned by faith, is essentially different from any other institution.  Hence, critical independence of the Church is different from the critical independence that may characterize an individual’s relationship to other social groups.  Strictures on the historical Church can be true and justified only when originating, consciously or not, in the eschatological Church.  To say, as I have, that the Church provokes spiritual pride, is fallible, and is more social than communal does not presuppose merely standards of a kind any social critic might apply but also faith in what the Church will be at the end of time.  When prophetic hope establishes critical distance between the individual and the Church, that distance lies within the Church, and an individual who opposes the Church as it is can be justified only if called into opposition by the Church as it is destined to be.

Underlying prophetic criticism of the Church, therefore, is a loyalty and respect not present in any other kind of social criticism…[The Church] requires our respect for the actual even when our criticisms of it are severe.  Again, we see that a Christian’s relationship with the Church is analogous to his relationship with individuals. We respect individuals in their destinies; yet we respect them in their present actuality, too, and do this without denying their fallenness.  In similar fashion, personal independence of the Church is authentically prophetic only as a paradoxical form of loyalty to the church.

I think we can sum-up of Tinder’s complex language with a sentence from the last paragraph: “Underlying prophetic criticism of the Church…is a loyalty and respect not present in any other kind of social criticism.”

I want to explore this idea more in the coming years, perhaps in writing.

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

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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.

John Hawthorne Reflects on the “State of the Evangelical Mind” Conference

Spring Atrbor

Spring Arbor University has some serious grass

One of the joys of attending the “State of the Evangelical Mind” conference last week was the opportunity to meet fellow Christian scholars in person that I have only interacted with via social media.  One of those scholars is John Hawthorne, Professor of Sociology at Spring Arbor University in Spring Arbor, Michigan.

Over at his blog “Sociological Reflections,” Hawthorne offers his take on the conference. Here is a taste:

Just under thirty years ago, sociologist Robert Wuthnow wrote a prescient little book titled The Struggle for America’s Soul. The book documented the separation between the religious right concerned about massive social change and the educated elite who championed it. I remember that he ended the book with an optimistic hope: that scholars at faith-based institutions might play a unique role in bridging that chasm because they understood both groups. They could play something like the role of translator explaining each group to the other side. This would be done, he suggested, by conducting and reporting research in their role as evangelical scholars.

I found myself thinking of Wuthnow’s book last week when attending a gathering on “The State of the Evangelical Mind” in Indianapolis. The gathering focused on a book written five years after Wuthnow’s: Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.

In part a retrospective on Noll’s book and in part a recognition of the service John Wilson performed as editor of the journal Books and Culture, it involved a series of papers reflecting on issues both deeply related to the conference question and some slightly more tangential (yet still interesting).

The evening began with a paper from Noll himself (at the last minute he wasn’t able to attend so his paper was read but he did participate via speakerphone in the q&a session). Noll reflected on the book and highlighted four successes that demonstrated an advancement in the evangelical mind: The Reformed Journal, the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicalism, the Pew Scholars Network, and Books and Culture.

I was struck that, like in Wuthnow’s book, the evangelical minds being developed were those of academics. There is real value in seeing the evangelical perspective engaging broader scholarship, but unfortunately too much of it happens in isolation from everyday evangelicals.

Read the entire piece here.

You can find my ongoing reflections on the conference here.

The Seminary and the “Evangelical Mind”

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Lauren Winner is Associate Professor of Christian Spirituality at Duke Divinity School. Her lecture on Christian thinking in theological seminaries was one of the highlights of “The State of the Evangelical Mind” conference in Indianapolis.

First, Winner observed that evangelical students often arrive at Duke Divinity School (and presumably other seminaries) hostile to the idea that Christians are shaped by “the great tradition” of the church.  She urged seminary professors to show their evangelical students that Christianity is not “extractable” from Christian tradition and history.  Too often evangelicals arrive at seminary ignorant of the fact that the Bible was shaped by, and is the product of, centuries of theological conversation and debate.

Second, Winner argued that evangelical seminaries must combat “instrumentalism,” or the idea that the purpose of reading Biblical passages or practicing spiritual disciplines is to get satisfactory solutions for pressing problems and concerns. For example, the purpose of prayer, Bible reading, and other spiritual disciplines is not always about “getting something.”

Third, Winner called for an attentiveness to reading.  She quoted a passage from Anselm’s Meditation on Human Redemption: ”

Consider again the strength of your salvation and where it is found.  Meditate upon it, delight in the contemplation of it.  Shake off your lethargy and set your mind to thinking over these things.  Taste the goodness of your Redeemer, be on fire with love for your Savior. Chew the honeycomb of his words, suck their flavor which is sweeter than sap, swallow their wholesome sweetness.  Chew by thinking, suck by understanding, swallow by loving and rejoicing. Be glad to chew, be thankful to suck, rejoice to swallow.

On this point Winner appeared to be echoing her former colleague Paul Griffiths on spiritual reading.  When Christian scholars read they tend to “cannibalize”  the text.  Is it possible for scholarship to be read in a “delightful way?”  Winner also encouraged seminaries to assign fiction and poetry because these genres can tell us things about God and the world that traditional theology is incapable of communicating.

Fourth, Winner argued that seminaries should teach students that “thinking is an action.”  Activism is good, but it is shallow unless supported by serious thought.  For example, Winner wondered why every sermon has to end with a charge to “do something.”  Why can’t a sermon, she asked, challenge hearers to “think differently about something.”  In the end, “thinking differently about something” is a form of action.

Fifth, Winner reminded pastors that they have a responsibility to the life of the mind. They are faced with the task of inviting the members of their congregations to see the world Christianly. Winner, who in addition to her work at Duke serves as an Episcopalian priest in a North Carolina congregation, said that she is less concerned that her parishioners understand the different views of the atonement and more concerned that they can think about “naptime” or “grocery shopping” in a Christian ways.  What would it mean, she asked, “to see the world, the whole world, through a Christian eyeball” in such a way that we “see Jesus” in every aspect of daily life?

In the end, Winner’s words for evangelical seminaries and seminarians apply to anyone trying to live out the claims of Christianity.  But I also wonder if we need to do a better job as Christian scholars to engage in scholarly work and practice informed by the kinds of spiritual practices she discussed in her lecture.  I have been thinking about this for some time now.

An Open Letter from Christian Scholars on Racism in America

I have attached my signature to this statement:

​Like many Americans, we are grieved by recent events in Charlottesville. The white supremacist rally there showed that overt racism is alive and well in America, and that it can turn violent and murderous. As Christian scholars of American history, politics, and law, we condemn white supremacy and encourage frank dialogue about racism today.

​As Americans, we love our country. As Christians, we know that no individual, people, or nation is perfect. Among the most grievous sins committed by early Americans was the enslavement of and trafficking in Africans and African Americans. Slavery was formally abolished in 1865, but racism was not. Indeed, it was often institutionalized and in some ways heightened over time through Jim Crow legislation, de facto segregation, structural inequalities, and pervasively racist attitudes. And other persons of color, including Native Americans, Asian-Americans, and Hispanic-Americans, have often been subjected to official and unofficial discrimination. What we have seen in Charlottesville makes it clear once again that racism is not a thing of the past, something that brothers and sisters of color have been trying to tell the white church for years.

​Racism should be denounced by religious and civic leaders in no uncertain terms. Equivocal talk about racist groups gives those groups sanction, something no politician or pastor should ever do. As Christian scholars, we affirm the reality that all humans are created in the image of God and should be treated with respect and dignity.  There is no good moral, biblical, or theological reason to denigrate others on the basis of race or ethnicity, to exalt one race over others, or to countenance those who do.

​Even as we condemn racism, we recognize that the First Amendment legally protects even very offensive speech. Rather than trying to silence those with whom we disagree, or to meet violence with more violence, we encourage our fellow citizens to respond to groups like the neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and the Ku Klux Klan with peaceful counter-protests. (Indeed, this has been the approach of the vast majority of counter-protesters in recent weeks.) No one is beyond redemption, so we encourage our fellow believers to pray that members of these groups will find the truth, and that the truth will set them free.

We also recognize that white-majority churches and denominations have too often lagged in discussions of racial injustice and inequality, or have even been sources of the perpetuation of white cultural dominance and racial injustice. Because of that history, we pray that America’s churches and Christians will renew their commitment to practical, proactive steps of racial reconciliation and friendship in our cities and towns.

Respectfully,

Mark David Hall, George Fox University

Thomas S. Kidd, Baylor University

We, the undersigned, are Christian scholars who endorse this letter.  Institutional affiliations are listed for identification purposes only.  [If you would like to add your name to this letter, please send an email to Mark David Hall at mhall@georgefox.edu.]

Scott Althaus, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Bryan Bademan, Anselm House
Richard A. Bailey, Canisius College
Scott Barton, East Central University
David Beer, Malone University
Daniel Bennett, John Brown University
Thomas C. Berg, University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota)
Amy E. Black, Wheaton College
Edward J. Blum, San Diego State University
Bradley J. Birzer, Hillsdale College
William S. Brewbaker III, University of Alabama
Margaret Brinig, University of Notre Dame Law School
Matthew S. Brogdon, University of Texas at San Antonio
Thomas E. Buckley, Santa Clara University
Sean R. Busick, Athens State University
James P. Byrd, Vanderbilt University
Jay R. Case, Malone University
Justin Clardie, Northwest Nazarene University.
Robert F. Cochran, Jr., Pepperdine University School of Law
Elesha Coffman, Baylor University
Kimberly H. Conger, University of Cincinnati
K. Scott Culpepper, Dordt College
Michelle D. Deardorff, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
Michael J. DeBoer, Faulkner University Thomas Goode Jones School of Law
Jonathan Den Hartog, University of Northwestern-St. Paul, MN
Daniel Dreisbach, American University
W. Cole Durham, Jr., J. Reuben Clark Law School
Mark Edwards, Spring Arbor College
John Fea, Messiah College
Joel S. Fetzer, Pepperdine University
Nathan A. Finn, Union University
Kahlib J. Fischer, Liberty University
Matthew J. Franck, Witherspoon Institute
Beverly A. Gaddy, University of Pittsburgh
Edward McGlynn Gaffney, Valparaiso University School of Law
Loramy Gerstbauer, Gustavus Adolphus College
Naomi Harlin Goodno, Pepperdine University School of Law
Christopher R. Green, University of Mississippi School of Law
Jay Green, Covenant College
John G. Grove, Lincoln Memorial University
Darren Guerra, Biola University
Barry Hankins, Baylor University
Rusty Hawkins, Indiana Wesleyan University
Gail L. Helt, King University
Nicholas Higgins, Regent University
Lia C. Howard, Saint Joseph’s University
Andrew Kaufmann, Northwest University
Lyman Kellstedt, Wheaton College
Douglas L. Koopman, Calvin College
Wilfred M. McClay, University of Oklahoma
Gerald R McDermott, Beeson Divinity School
Tracy McKenzie, Wheaton College
Ron Miller, Liberty University
Christopher D. Moore, Bethel University
Lincoln A. Mullen, George Mason University
Miles S. Mullin II, Hannibal-LaGrange University
Paul Otto, George Fox University
Mikael L. Pelz, Calvin College.
Jonathan R. Peterson, North Park University
Daniel Philpott, University of Notre Dame
Otis W. Pickett, Mississippi College
Richard Pointer, Westmont College.
Charles J. Reid, Jr., University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota)
Sosamma Samuel-Burnett, G.L.O.B.A.L Justice
Shelley Ross Saxer, Pepperdine University School of Law
Gregory Sisk, University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota)
Corwin E. Smidt, Calvin College
Brian A. Smith, Montclair State University
Gary Scott Smith, Grove City College
Sarah A. Morgan Smith, The Ashbrook Center at Ashland University
Chris Soper, Pepperdine University
Andrew Spiropoulos, Oklahoma City University School of Law
Susan J. Stabile, University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota)
Justin Taylor, Crossway Books
Boz Tchividjian, Liberty University School Law
H. Paul Thompson, Jr., North Greenville University
Benjamin Toll, Lake Superior State University
Noah J. Toly, Wheaton College
John Turner, George Mason University
Andrea L. Turpin, Baylor University
Patrick Van Inwegen, Whitworth University
Robert K. Vischer, University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota)
Jennifer E. Walsh, Azusa Pacific University
Micah Watson, Calvin College
Virgil Wiebe, University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota)
John Wigger, University of Missouri
Daniel K. Williams, University of West Georgia
James E. Wren, Baylor Law School
Paul D. Yandle, North Greenville University
John C. Yoder, Whitworth University

Grant Opportunity for Emerging Christian Scholars

Apply for the 2017 Christian Scholars Foundation Grant.

What do scholars in Chemistry/Biochemistry, English/American Studies/Religious Studies, Church History, Mathematics, and Psychology have in common? They’re all ESN Members who have received funding from the Christian Scholars Foundation. You can read some of their quotes on the experience here.

The Christian Scholars Foundation offers one grant of $7500 this year to a member of the Emerging Scholars Network at the junior faculty level (join ESN here for free). The grant is open to emerging scholars in a wide range of fields who are working at Christian or secular colleges and universities in the US and Canada.

Read more about the grant and start your application process by email here.

Scott Culpepper’s “Call to Courageous Christian Scholarship” in the Age of Trump

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Scott Culpepper teaches history at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa. In a guest post at The Anxious Bench he exhorts Christian scholars to courageously pursue their vocations in the age of Trump.  It is a wonderful piece.  Here is just a taste:

Christian scholars are indeed a subversive influence.  Critics are right in labeling us a subversive influence if what they mean is that we subvert the subordination of facts to falsehoods calculated to sway popular opinion, the substitution of shallow shibboleths for deeper reflection, and the sacrifice of principle on the profane altar of political expediency.  And there will be a greater need for us to keep on subverting these things with all the energy we can muster in the age of Trump.

The times call for renewed conviction, creativity and courage on the part of Christian scholars.  The masses may not know they need us, but they need us.  The endorsement of popular influence as a virtue in the framing of our American republic was predicated on the hope that education and character formation would equip people to exercise their rights intelligently.  No one is better prepared than Christian scholars and the institutions they serve to provide this kind of education infused with serious attention to character formation.

In a time when forces abound that pressure Christian scholars to adopt a posture of compliance to fit in, we need more than ever to stand up and stand out unapologetically.  All clouds pass in time.  When they do, a new generation will build on either the ruins or the foundations of the past.  That generation sits in our classrooms today.  We have the opportunity to model something very different from what they are seeing on the national stage in both church and state.  May Christian scholars in the age of Trump have the courage to give the masses what benefits them rather than what has been mandated in their name.

Read the entire piece here.

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.

Robert George: A Christian Scholar on the Spiritual Disciplines

Confessing History Available for Pre-OrderAs many of you know, I am very interested in the ways that my Christian faith informs what I do as a scholar, historian, and teacher.  Back in 2011 I joined my friends Jay Green and Eric Miller in editing Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian’s Vocation. My book Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past has a couple of chapters that reflect my interest in the integration of faith and history.

If I get a chance to continue writing about faith and the academic vocation I would like to explore the way that spiritual practices or spiritual “disciplines” might inform the work of Christian scholars. (Perhaps such a study might revive my own inconsistent efforts at engaging in these practices).

So much of the conversation on faith and scholarship, at least in the field of history, revolves around Christian epistemology, philosophy, or theology.  It is driven largely by those Christians who associate with the Reformed Protestant tradition.  In Confessing History we tried to push this conversation away from the epistemological questions long associated with what Douglas Sweeney has called the “Calvin School” of Christian historiography, and into the area of calling/vocation and practice.

It seems like there could be a third way of thinking about connecting faith with history. We know how Christian theology and philosophy inform the presuppositions of believing historians.  We are starting to learn, thanks to the authors in Confessing History, about how believing historians might practice their craft as scholars, teachers, and public scholars.   But we don’t have a lot of work on how things like prayer, fasting, Bible reading, and other spiritual disciplines might influence our work.  (I discussed this a bit in Why Study History?, but a good place to start is A.G. Sertillanges, The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, and Methods).

I was thus very encouraged and inspired today reading Kevin Spinale’s interview with Robert George, the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University and one of America’s leading Catholic intellectuals. George talks to Spinale about how the spiritual practices of his Catholic faith informs his work as a scholar, teaching, and public intellectual.

Here is just a small taste:

Prof. George, how do you pray?

GEORGE-WI

Robert George

On my knees, the old-fashioned way—not always, but I do find that being on one’s knees in a posture of prayer facilitates trying to remove oneself from all of one’s cares and concerns. It’s valuable to remove oneself from one’s normal routines and put oneself in the presence of God for that conversation. So, to me the posture matters. Of course, one can’t always be on one’s knees.

I often pray when I am driving, for example, if I am alone. I like to pray with people, a lot, with friends—some of whom are Catholic, some of whom are not. I am happy to pray with just about anyone who wants to pray. But there is something special about—especially at the end of the day—being on one’s knees before God, in that posture and praying.

Is there a particular text or devotion that you ordinarily use to initiate or shape prayer?

That can vary extraordinarily widely. Sometimes it is petitionary prayer: something I am concerned about; something that I want to ask for God’s help with, assistance with, blessing upon. It might be a person; it might be a cause; or it might be an event. Often, I find myself praying for help in thinking things through, trying to discern what I am supposed to be doing.

It is difficult for me and I have to make an effort at this, but I try to remember the importance of prayers of praise in addition to petitionary prayer. That is something I have to discipline myself to do; otherwise I find myself always in the asking mode. It is very easy. I do not have to think much about petitionary prayer.

It is very easy if I feel or judge there to be a need—I find myself very easily moving into prayer to ask for God’s help with that need. But I recognize that it is very important to give God the praise he is due, and I have to discipline myself to remember to do that. It does not come as immediately or effortlessly as petitionary prayer.

I like the old-fashioned forms of prayer, although I do not restrict myself to them. The rosary is great—praying the rosary is valuable. The traditional forms of prayer that I was taught when I was a boy, what we Catholics call the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Glory Be, I still say all those prayers—the guardian angel prayer, I still say all those prayers.

In part, I like these traditional prayers because of their simplicity. Jesus said that we are supposed to be childlike in our faith, and those prayers are prayers that are prayed by children as well as adults. We learned them as children, most of us, and they continue with us in our adult life. We should never regard ourselves as too sophisticated for these prayers. Saying those prayers is a help in maintaining the kind of faith that Jesus said we should have: the faith of those little children who were clamoring to get onto Jesus’s lap, whom the disciples were trying to shoo away—Jesus says, “No, no, no, let them come. … Your faith should be like their faith.” [Mark 10:13-16]

Read the entire interview here, including George’s thoughts on vocation, suffering, spiritual desolation, and Catholic higher education.

*The Secularization of the Academy* Turns 25

It all started in 1990 with a conference at Duke on secularization and the academy.  (At the time I was a first year divinity school student.  The internet did not exist yet and I had no idea that this conference was happening and even if I did hear about I probably would not have cared). The conference proceedings were edited by George Marsden and Bradley Longfield and published in 1992 as The Secularization of the Academy.

Then, in 1994, came Marsden’s magisterial The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Unbelief.  Three years later Marsden expanded the postscript of this book and published it as The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship.

Now, twenty-five years later, Books & Culture is running a symposium on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the conference that started it all.  Marsden, Longfield, James Turner, Darryl Hart, and David Bebbington have written reflections.  Mark Noll introduces the symposium here,

Here is a taste of Turner’s response:

That collection of essays opened a debate that sizzled for 20 years. What counts as “secularization”? What brought it about? What gains did it bring to higher education? What losses did it inflict?

The question of gains turned out to have easy answers. In an ever more pluralistic America, a de-facto Protestant establishment ruled even state universities until about 1900; all sides in the debate agreed that dismantling it came none too soon. When students and faculty might profess any faith or none, the once-universal imposition of Protestant chapel services is a corpse no one wants to disinter. Likewise, all accepted that religiously committed colleges and universities may continue to set standards of faith and behavior in line with their beliefs. Finally, everyone agreed that denizens of secular campuses, public or private, should be free to pursue any religious—or anti-religious—activity, so long as the institution remains even-handed in facilitating their doings. The debate thus revealed consensus on how secularization should express itself institutionally—and wide agreement that, in creating this new framework, secularization liberated American higher learning from a past it had outgrown.

The question of losses, however, proved neuralgic. Should faith—or religious intellectual traditions—play any role in research in now-secular disciplines? Some of America’s most distinguished Christian scholars, including Marsden, argued for a limited rollback of secularization here, insisting that Christian perspectives (like feminist ones) could enrich research for all scholars. Skeptical opponents saw instead new religious fetters on reason, and they strenuously defended secularized knowledge against non-rational pollutants. These arguments grew sharp, even heated.

Vigorous though the latter debate was, it is unclear to me today how much it mattered. Religion has won a certain autonomy in the secular academy. More scholars now than two decades ago treat faith as a first-order phenomenon that cannot be reduced to biology or sociology. But Christian professors (in contrast, say, to feminist ones) have not proven adept at drawing on Christianity to propose new methodologies or fresh lines of research in their disciplines. Nor have Christian colleges and universities spent much capital egging them on.

Such Christian scholarship as exists today (beyond biblical and theological studies) lies in the humanities and humanistic social sciences. (Methodist astronomy, anyone?) And arguments around it have lately been drowned out by wailing over the “crisis” of the humanities. If all humanistic learning is to give way to scientific research and technical training, what’s the point in arguing about the Christian piece of it?

The fascinating debate set off by The Secularization of the Academy begins to seem a relic of a moment that has flown.

Tweeting the 2014 Meeting of the Conference on Faith and History

If you have been reading this blog or following my twitter feed (@johnfea1) you know that I just returned from the biennial meeting of the Conference on Faith and History (CFH).  This year’s CFH was special.  It was held in Malibu, California on the campus of Pepperdine University.  Lori Hunnicutt and her team at Pepperdine did an amazing job of hosting the 300 Christian historians who attended the conference,

But this year’s conference was also special because of the program.  Jay Green of Covenant College brought together a very impressive array of Christian historians and intellectuals to discuss the conference theme “Christian Historians & Their Publics.”

It is fair to say that this was the best CFH meeting ever held–both in terms of location and program. I have already started blogging about some of the sessions and hope to do a few more posts throughout the week  But to get us rolling, here are some of my favorite tweets from #cfh2014:

R.R. Reno on The Christian Intellectual

Thomas Aquinas: Christian scholar

R.R. Reno, the editor of First Things magazine, posted a nice piece yesterday on the characteristics of a Christian intellectual.  Here are a few of my favorite passages:

Even when we swim against the stream there’s a deep intellectual benefit to jumping in. Too often we’re tempted to retreat into a restricted world of reliable writers: C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Flannery O’Connor, and others. They are of course good to read, but they’re not sufficient. These figures and others whom we rightly admire and wish to imitate are exemplary not just because they were talented and faithful, but also because they were part of the larger conversation of their time.

A Christian intellectual should never fall victim to “presentism.” It’s wise to spend an hour with an old author for every hour with a new one. That’s a rule of thumb secular intellectuals would do well to adopt as well. The most parochial intellectuals are the ones who know only the latest trends, schools of thought, and ideas. A Christian intellectual should be the opposite. He should be at home with many historical expressions of truth because he is the servant of the truth incarnate.

Another imperative is charity. A genuine intellectual serves truth, a Christian intellectual all the more so. The truth, moreover, is sought by other people as well, which is why the intellectual life means participating in a conversation rather than embarking on a solo voyage. A loving intellect therefore seeks to advance the intellectual lives of others.

Read the entire post here.

Is "Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?" Unlikely "To Reach Most Evangelicals"?

This week’s Books & Culture podcast focuses on Roger Lundin’s new edited collection, Christ Across the DisciplinesDavid Bebbington wrote the essay on the discipline of history.

Listen here.

John Schmalzbauer wrote the essay on sociology. In it he mentions my work on religion and the American founding.  He writes:

Addressing a popular audience, historian John Fea has written Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?, a careful effort to get at the role of faith in the American founding.  Unfortunately, a book from Westminster/John Knox is unlikely to reach most evangelicals.  Far more effective was Baylor historian Thomas Kidd’s appearance on the Glenn Beck show.  A student of [George Marsden], Kidd bridges the gap between professional historians and ordinary evangelicals, 48 percent of whom admire Beck….”

I was a bit surprised at Schmalzbauer’s remark about my book failing to reach evangelicals, but maybe I am just feeling too defensive.  Granted, Westminster/John Knox is not an evangelical publisher, but I don’t think this has prevented the book from making inroads among evangelicals.  (For the record, the book proposal was rejected by every major evangelical publisher including Baker, Brazos, Eerdmans, and InterVarsity Press).

Is Schmalzbauer right about the limited reach of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?  What do you think?  Any thoughts–either here or on Facebook (you will need to friend me first)–would be much appreciated.

It’s Official: "Books and Culture" Survives!

Here is the latest tweet from Books & Culture editor John Wilson:

Wonderful news: We reached our goal for @booksandculture : Thank you!

And here is a letter from Christianity Today CEO Harold Smith:

Harold Smtih
Dear Friends,
Never in my 30 years at Christianity Today have I witnessed such an outpouring of generosity and support as I have experienced over these past five days! Your passion and commitment to the ministry of Books & Culture have translated to pledges which, when added to those secured during the “quiet” phase of our campaign, have brought the total amount of 2014 pledges to just over $250K—the amount needed to secure Books & Culture‘s financial viability in the year ahead.
In addition, annual amounts of $110K have also been committed by colleges, universities, seminaries, and other individuals for each of the four years following 2014, thus providing our publication with a firmer fiscal foundation for the longer-term.
Needless to say, it has all been quite overwhelming. And we praise God for his hand of blessing!
Having met our pledge objectives for 2014, we now focus on the remaining months of 2013. If you missed your opportunity to be a part of this historic push, please know that your tax-deductible gifts this year will further strengthen Books & Culture‘s bottom line going into 2014.
In closing, and on behalf of publisher Terumi Echols, editor John Wilson, and myself, I want to extend our sincerest thanks to all of you for achieving this milestone. And would our very surprising God continue to declare his “Yes” over this needed ministry for years to come!

Harold Smith
President and CEO
CHRISTIANITY TODAY 

See our coverage of Books & Culture fundraising efforts here and here.