Darryl Hart Weighs-In on the Thomas Kidd-Jonathan Merritt Debate

Liberty U

In case you haven’t heard, Baylor University historian Thomas Kidd and journalist Jonathan Merritt had a debate.  Read all about it here.  And now Darryl Hart has commented on it.

As is usually the case, Darryl manages to throw everyone under the bus in one way or another, but the crux of his piece is a criticism of Merritt.  Here is a taste:

Where does this leave us? More people read Jonathan Merritt than Tommie Kidd and more editors and journalists read Merritt than Kidd, and this despite the fact that Kidd is one of the most productive evangelical historians who writes for first rate university and trade presses. What impresses Americans, despite our high rates of college education, is a presence in the media (from podcasts and cable news to Twitter). And yet, if Jonathan Merritt hadn’t had a father who went to seminary to study with professors who read some of Kidd’s book, and if Merritt himself had not gone to a college that only hires and grants tenure to professors with Kidd’s kind of accomplishments, he wouldn’t have a job as a writer.

At some point, journalists might want to pay it backward a little to the teachers who educated them (even indirectly).

Read the entire post at Hart’s Patheos blog.   The only real issue I have with the excerpt above is this line: “if Merritt himself had not gone to a college that only hires and grants tenure to professors with Kidd’s kind of accomplishments…”  Actually, Merritt is a 2004 graduate of Liberty University.  As far as I know Liberty does not have any historians of Kidd’s caliber (it is primarily a teaching university and most faculty don’t publish books with Yale, Princeton, Oxford, and Basic) and the college does not grant tenure.

I Found Common Ground with Darryl Hart for the Second Time This Year!!!

Hillsdale Church

This is the second time this year that Darryl Hart has agreed with something I wrote.  :-)(The first time was here).  Here is a taste of his recent post at Old Life:

Glad to see John Fea stand up for evangelism (in response to the news of John Allen Chau’s death) as something distinct from social justice:

Read the entire post here.

If ever get a chance to visit Hillsdale Orthodox Presbyterian Church I fully expect to see copies of the “Four Spiritual Laws” prominently displayed in the narthex right next to the free copies of the Westminster Confession of Faith.  (Or perhaps they prefer D. James Kennedy’s Evangelism Explosion!)

WHAT????? Darryl Hart Actually Likes Something I Wrote

Covered Bridge Messia

Messiah College has a covered bridge on campus

Over the last couple of years I have been a regular target of Darryl Hart, professor of history at Hillsdale College in Michigan.  Read all his posts about my work here.

So needless to say,  I was surprised to see that Hart, a Front Porcher, actually liked my recent piece on small towns.  Read his take here.

Some quick thoughts on Hart’s take on my piece:

  1.  Hart includes a picture of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer with his post.  My Italian immigrant grandfather (died a few years ago at the 103) was a Teamster who drove a delivery truck for PBR.  I once won him a PBR glass on a wheel of chance on the Seaside Heights boardwalk.
  2. I had no idea Hart was a student at Messiah College back in the day.
  3. I am from the East Coast, but I am not, nor have I ever been, one of the “coastal elites.”  (See the grandfather and Seaside Heights reference above).

The American Bible Society and the Search for a Usable Past

699d4-abs2bmoonDarryl Hart has criticized my recent comments about the American Bible Society.  If you have not read my recent comments you can get up to speed here.

First, let me say that I don’t “object” to the ABS statement.  As I said in this post, I was asked to comment as a historian of the organization.  It is hard to ignore the fact that the mission of the ABS has changed over time, particularly in the last quarter century.

As Hart points out, there is some continuity between the organization’s new “Affirmation of Biblical Community” and the religious sensibilities of ABS founders. Elias Boudinot and most of the other founders of ABS were evangelical Christian nationalists. But they also defended the belief that the Bible should be published and distributed “without note or comment.”  This would make the affirmation of a specific brand of Christian faith unacceptable.  The ABS’s “Affirmation of Biblical Community” is clearly an attempt to interpret the Bible.  The American Bible Society has never been a confessional institution–until now.

Boudinot, of course, lived in a more homogeneous evangelical culture than we do today.  Perhaps the founders of the organization believed in 1816 that a commitment to publishing and distributing Bibles “without note or comment” would never move ABS away from the kind of Christian orthodoxy evident in the Affirmation of Biblical Community.  But that is not how things played out.  Boudinot and the founders’ commitment to the principle of “without note or comment” led to a very ecumenical organization.  It opened the door for “modernists,” non-evangelicals, non-Christians, and even skeptics to work for the organization.  The current administration of the ABS claims, like Darryl Hart, that it has the evangelical history of the organization on its side.  But it is more complicated than that.  In many ways, the lack of doctrinal clarity among the founding generation (Boudinot, John Jay, etc.) has actually worked against the current administration’s attempt to create an organization committed to Christian orthodoxy.

I will assert again that a significant change has taken place in the ABS over the last 25 years.  This is how I framed my argument in the final chapters of The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society (Oxford, 2016).  I encourage you to read it.  What happened at the ABS in the last quarter century is something similar to the Southern Baptist conservative resurgence in the 1980s. It was an organized and planned move.  Those who led this move and those who opposed it have admitted to this and I record their words in my book.

If you want to get a sense of these changes, consider the words of Peter Wosh, the director of the ABS library and archives during the 1980s and early 1990s.   Wosh is the author of the excellent Spreading the Word: The Bible Business in Nineteenth-Century America (Cornell, 1994).  After he left the ABS in the 1990s, he directed the Archives and Public History Program at NYU.  Here is what Wosh recently wrote on his FB page:

Sorry to see my old employer go this route. When I worked there in the 1980s and 1990s, it was a very diverse organization. We had employees who were gay, straight, single, married, mainline Protestant, Roman Catholic, evangelical, Greek Orthodox, Jewish, and skeptical of organized religion. But the mission and core values were broad enough to make all feel welcome, and there was considerable ethnic and gender diversity among the senior leadership. People worked hard to support the goal of circulating the Scriptures “without note or comment” and staff remained mindful to avoid doctrinal controversies. Sadly, the political and religious mission has narrowed considerably in the past quarter century, significantly diminishing both the organization and the scope of its work, as John Fea points out in this analysis. I valued my time there, but apparently it is quite a different atmosphere today.

Indeed, the ABS has changed. “Hijack” may be too strong a word, but one cannot ignore that a premeditated shift in the direction of the organization took place in the 1990s.  The “Affirmation of Biblical Community” is the logical result of that shift.

Hart: “If Not for Politics, Would Anyone Care about Evangelicalism?”

year-of-evangelicalGreat question.  As Darryl Hart know better than most, “evangelicalism” did not really become a big thing in post-war America until it graced the cover of Newsweek in 1976.  Granted, evangelicalism had been around for a long time, but its re-emergence in the public mind was directly linked to politics.  If conservative evangelicals did not emerge with force during this period I wonder what the state of evangelical historiography would look like today.  Much of the best scholarly work on American evangelicalism was written with the rise of the Christian Right as a backdrop.

Here is Hart:

…the entire enterprise of evangelical studies grew up in the setting of born-again Protestant support for Ronald Reagan. In other words, scholars started trying to figure out what evangelicalism and fundamentalism were precisely when those Protestants started influencing electoral politics. Just go to the library and do a search for books on evangelicals and you will see a dramatic uptick in the 1980s.

This means that the universities that held conferences, the editors who read book proposals and offered contracts, the foundation officers who underwrote grants for the study of evangelicalism — none of these things would have happened if evangelicalism had not been primarily a topic that bore directly on national politics. See if you can persuade a professional academic society to devote several sessions of one of its annual meetings to the Amish or even to Lutherans, simply to understand these persons’ religious beliefs. But tie those believers to a political or social development of some national import, and you will likely make a better case.

The study of evangelicalism did follow David Bebbington and ignored the political circumstances that made the study of born-again Protestantism appealing. Historians generally tried to understand the religion. But the only reason why anyone who wasn’t an evangelical cared was because folks like Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, and Pat Robertson were showing up on the radar of national politics.

Read the entire post at Hart’s blog “Putting the ‘Protest’ in Protestantism”

Would Historians Care About Evangelicals if They Did Not Become Such a Political Force?

Falwell

Jerry Falwell

Darryl Hart asks a version of this question at his Patheos blog “Putting the PROTEST in Protestant.”  (How many blogs does this guy have?  Is this the same D.G. Hart who once told me in a hand-written letter that he refused to use e-mail?).

A taste:

What if we only knew more about evangelicalism, however, thanks to editors and publishers willing to produce books on evangelicalism thanks precisely to a desire to figure out the Religious Right? At the risk of self-promotion, almost fifteen years ago I noticed the coincidence of an outpouring of scholarship on evangelicalism precisely at the same time that born-again Protestants were making headlines and magazine covers thanks to their association with the Republican Party:

“A funny thing happened to the study of evangelical Protestantism in the decades after Newsweek declared 1976 “the year of the evangelical.” A religious movement largely in obscurity since the Scopes Trial emerged as a source of inspiration for millions of Americans and a formidable lobby in electoral politics. Even so, the early scholarly returns on evangelicalism were not encouraging. Martin E. Marty declared that, by 1980, “there was a paucity of good research” on evangelicalism or its related subjects, fundamentalism and pentecostalism1—one indication that the so-called recovery of American religious history, lauded by Henry May in 1965, had yet to pay dividends for Protestants outside the mainline denominations.

In 1992, within a decade of Marty’s assessment, Jon Butler of Yale University claimed in a provocative paper delivered to the American Society of Church History that the tide had turned into a tsunami of historical writing on evangelicalism and its influence on American society, drowning other perspectives and interests. In response to Garry Wills’ Under God: Religion and American Politics, which faulted academics and journalists for ignoring faith’s importance, Butler asked, “Are we looking at the same subject?” He claimed that historians, especially Americanists, could scarcely pay more attention to religion: meetings of the Organization of American Historians and the American Studies Association offered countless sessions on religion, and books on American religion were published in record numbers despite the decline in publishers’ interest in New England Community studies. The publishing boom in particular drew Butler’s interest. The books described the importance of American religion, especially evangelical Christianity: “They often describe religion as a cause—sometimes the cause—of what is distinctive and important in America, American culture, politics, even identity…. They are, in the main, books about evangelical Christianity’s dominant position in American religion and its shaping of American identity from the Puritans to the Reagans.”

Hart concludes:

This is not to suggest that evangelicalism equals a certain kind of political activism, though the notion that personal faith must inform all of life makes it hard to separate religion from politics. But it does mean that the study of evangelicalism would be substantially less prominent if most Americans assumed that born-again Protestants were simply a curious group of Christians who somehow clung to the experiences that Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield first cultivated. After all, if evangelicals were not political would they generate any more attention than the Amish?

Thoughts?

Did Fake News Come From Liberty or Harvard?

Truth

David Brooks’s recent column defending Western Civilization is bound to get the descendants of the New Left and the defenders of multiculturalism very angry.  But I think he ends the column with a very fair point:

These days, the whole idea of Western civ is assumed to be reactionary and oppressive. All I can say is, if you think that was reactionary and oppressive, wait until you get a load of the world that comes after it.

Casey Williams, a Ph.D student in literature at Duke, doesn’t necessary defend Western Civilization in his recent op-ed in The New York Times, but he does seem to put the blame for our so-called “post-truth” society on those academics who have spent their careers undermining the very idea of truth.

As Darryl Hart writes at Old Life in a jab at Molly Worthen’s recent piece about how evangelicals contributed to our “post-truth society: “Want to know where fake news came from? Looks like it was Harvard not Liberty University.”

Here is a taste of Williams’s piece:

We’re used to this pattern by now: The president dresses up useful lies as “alternative facts” and decries uncomfortable realities as “fake news.” Stoking conservative passion and liberal fury, Trump stirs up confusion about the veracity of settled knowledge and, through sheer assertion, elevates belief to the status of truth.

Trump’s playbook should be familiar to any student of critical theory and philosophy. It often feels like Trump has stolen our ideas and weaponized them.

For decades, critical social scientists and humanists have chipped away at the idea of truth. We’ve deconstructed facts, insisted that knowledge is situated and denied the existence of objectivity. The bedrock claim of critical philosophy, going back to Kant, is simple: We can never have certain knowledge about the world in its entirety. Claiming to know the truth is therefore a kind of assertion of power.

These ideas animate the work of influential thinkers like Nietzsche, Foucault and Derrida, and they’ve become axiomatic for many scholars in literary studies, cultural anthropology and sociology.

From these premises, philosophers and theorists have derived a number of related insights. One is that facts are socially constructed. People who produce facts — scientists, reporters, witnesses — do so from a particular social position (maybe they’re white, male and live in America) that influences how they perceive, interpret and judge the world. They rely on non-neutral methods (microscopes, cameras, eyeballs) and use non-neutral symbols (words, numbers, images) to communicate facts to people who receive, interpret and deploy them from their own social positions.

Call it what you want: relativism, constructivism, deconstruction, postmodernism, critique. The idea is the same: Truth is not found, but made, and making truth means exercising power.

The reductive version is simpler and easier to abuse: Fact is fiction, and anything goes. It’s this version of critical social theory that the populist right has seized on and that Trump has made into a powerful weapon.

Read Williams’s entire piece here.

 

 

Quote of the Day

We need a new name for Christianity in the United States. The contributors to this podcast at Christianity Today are still lamenting the turnout of white evangelicals for Donald Trump and so one of them called for more attention to what it means to be evangelical. Are you kidding? We’ve had almost four decades of scholarship on evangelicalism, and at least three of chanting the integration of faith and learning, and we still don’t know what evangelical is? Please.  –Darryl Hart at his blog Old Life

No Empathy for Trump?

Darryl

Darryl Hart of Hillsdale College has been on my case ever since I announced that I signed Historians Against Trump.

First, let me say that I have great respect for Darryl as a scholar and a historian and I have a lot of fun engaging with him.  He may not remember this, but in 1992 he served as the outside reader on my church history M.A. thesis at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.  I am grateful for his recent review of The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society in last week’s Wall Street Journal.  I appreciate the attention he shows to my work, especially what I write at this blog.

In today’s post at his blog, Old Life, Hart wonders why I have not criticized Hillary Clinton as much as Donald Trump.  He is not the only one who has brought this up.

Here is what Hart wrote today in response to my recent post on Trump, evangelicals and the Supreme Court.

Shouldn’t historians, because they have seen this stuff before, not be surprised or outraged by Trump? Might they even imagine through empathy what it feels like to find Trump attractive? Not saying I do, mind you. I just like to point out how one-sided his opponents can be and how they don’t seem to learn the lessons of history. Like this?

But can evangelicals really trust Trump to deliver on his Supreme Court promises? According to the bipartisan website PolitiFact, 85 percent of the claims Trump has made on the campaign trail (or at least the statements PolitiFact checked) are either half true or false. (Compare that with Clinton, at 48 percent).

Of course many evangelicals will respond to such an assertion by claiming that at least they have a chance to change the court with Trump. Though he may be a wild card, evangelicals believe that Clinton would be much more predictable. A Clinton presidency would result in a crushing blow to the Christian right’s agenda — perhaps even a knockout punch.

So this is where many evangelicals find themselves. They want the Supreme Court so badly they are willing to put their faith and trust in someone who is nearly incapable of telling the truth.

Let’s remember that choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil.

Fair enough. But when oh when will that point also be used against Hillary who seems to have a little trouble with the truth?

The people are calling. Historical understanding doesn’t seem to be answering.

I think Hart is right about this, but a few things are worth noting:

It is indeed true that I have criticized Donald Trump more than Hillary Clinton here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home and in other public writings.  I plead guilty.  But I hope Darryl and others will show some empathy for my explanation.

First, I pick on Trump because many of my readers are evangelicals, I myself still identify as evangelical (although it is getting harder every day), and I study American evangelicalism. Sometimes I write in an attempt to understand why so many of my fellow evangelicals are flocking to Trump.   Sometimes I write in an attempt to challenge my fellow evangelicals to think more deeply, perhaps more Christianly, about their support of Trump.  I am very interested in evangelicals and politics–past and present.  When massive numbers of evangelicals start supporting Hillary Clinton I will write about it.

Second, as a historian I have some serious issues with the Trump campaign. (I also have issues with the Clinton campaign, which I referenced here).  It seems to me that Trump’s campaign is built upon an appeal to the past.  He wants to “Make America Great AGAIN.” Such a campaign slogan invites historical reflection.  Clinton’s campaign also operates within a historical narrative.  It is basically the same progressive view of history Barack Obama has been teaching us over the course of the last four years.  We need to unpack that as well.  (Or at least call attention to it since academic historians have done a pretty good job of unpacking it in virtually everything they write).

But it does seem that conservative candidates (if you can call Trump conservative) are more prone to historical error than progressive candidates.  This is because conservative candidates tend to run on the language of reclamation and restoration.  They are interested in the past as something more than just a thing to overcome.

I thus oppose Trump as an evangelical Christian and as a historian.

As an evangelical Christian I understand why my fellow evangelicals support him.  I empathize with the moral logic behind the endorsements of Trump made by James Dobson, Wayne Grudem or Eric Metaxas.  It makes sense to me.  I just don’t agree with it or sympathize with it.

As a historian I think we need to consider what Sam Wineburg has described as the difference between history and historical thinking.  Some of my historian colleagues oppose Trump because they see in him and his candidacy dark traits from the past. Trump is the new Hitler.  Trump is the new George Wallace.  Trump is the new Andrew Jackson. Sometimes these analogies are useful and interesting, and they should definitely continue to be made, but historians must be careful and cautious when comparing people living in a different era with people  living today.  The past is a foreign country.  Any historical analogy will be imperfect.  As a historian I am not opposed to Trump because I have special knowledge of the past that can be easily applied, in a comparative fashion, to 2016 presidential politics.

But having said that, let’s remember that historians think about the world in a way that should lead them to consider Trump’s candidacy reprehensible. Historians make evidenced-based arguments, they realize the complexity of human life, they are aware of the limited nature of historical knowledge, and, yes, they practice empathy.  As a historian, I oppose Trump because he uses his platform to strengthen the idea that historical thinking–the kind of mental work that we spend our lives defending because they believe it is good for American civil society and democracy–is irrelevant.

So back to Trump and empathy.  Yes, let’s try to understand the historical and cultural factors that prompt people to support him.  Darryl Hart may or may not be happy to know that I have two good books on my nightstand right now.  They are J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis and Nancy Isenberg’s White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America.  I should also add that nearly all of my extended family–parents and siblings-are voting for Trump.  I get it. Maybe, like Vance, I need to write a bit more about my own background.

The Bible Cause in The Wall Street Journal

Bible Cause CoverCheck out Darryl G. Hart’s review of The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society in today’s Wall Street Journal!

Here is a taste:

For the past 50 years or so, the Bible—the collection of sacred Jewish and Christian texts—has taken a back seat in American politics. To be sure, various political leaders and many citizens have desired public recognition of Holy Writ as a source of truth and morality. But since the Supreme Court ruled in A bington v. Schempp (1963) that prayer and Bible reading were unconstitutional in public-school opening exercises, public officials and government agencies have understood that to invoke, endorse or promote the Bible for official purposes is to invite contempt—and a legal challenge. This situation obscures an older history of Bible politics, a time when officials of Western nations not only relied on biblical norms in executing their tasks but also adopted policies to ensure that their subjects and citizens had access to sacred texts.

The granddaddy of state-sponsored Bibles was the King James Version (1611), an English translation commissioned by King James I in response to petitions from Puritans for wider access to Scripture. In authorizing a translation, James facilitated religious uniformity and delicately handled biblical material that his political opponents might use to challenge his authority, such as the narratives of Israel’s monarchs that feature divine judgment for abuses of royal power. Yet in shoring up his rule, James also put his stamp on the English-speaking world. For more than three centuries the KJV was unrivaled in use on both sides of the Atlantic by politicians (think William Wilberforce) and church leaders (remember Billy Graham?).

Readers unfamiliar with this intertwined history of politics and proselytizing may regard the cover of John Fea’s “The Bible Cause,” which features a man holding a Bible in one hand and waving a U.S. flag with the other, as nostalgic, creepy or worse. The man pictured is an agent of the American Bible Society (ABS), the organization whose history Mr. Fea narrates from its founding in 1816 to its bicentennial celebration this year. The society’s initial goal was to place a Bible in every American home, a target that prompted four major printing and distribution campaigns as the nation’s population grew during the 19th century. ABS also sent Bibles overseas: Between 1875 and 1916, it distributed roughly 21 million copies among the Chinese. Even so, the ties between the wide distribution of the Bible and America’s evolving self-definition are much stronger than even the cover’s image suggests.

The rest of the review is behind the Wall Street Journal paywall, but if you really want to read it (and I know you do!) head to your local news stand and pick-up a copy.

Hart asks a brilliant question–one that I wish I had thought about.  “What happens when you take something that is special and make it ubiquitous? In other words, to what degree did ABS operations render a holy book trivial?”

WSJ

Are Missouri Synod Lutherans “Evangelical?”

7954c-sasse

Senator Ben Sasse

Some of you may remember my post on Saturday in which I presented the various “evangelical” voting options for the presidential election in November.

Over at Old Life blog, Darryl Hart, a historian at Hillsdale College, apparently took umbrage with a small part of the post.  Here is what he wrote:

Just noticed this in John Fea’s odds making for the evangelical vote this November:

“Some evangelicals continue to oppose Trump and have not made it clear what they will do in November. I am thinking here of Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse (if you can call a Missouri-Synod Lutheran an “evangelical”) and Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore. Perhaps some of these folks are praying that something might happen in Cleveland next week that leads the GOP to pick another candidate. Others might be praying that an independent candidate will arise at this late date. These are long shots, but let’s remember that evangelicals believe in miracles.”

Now, regulars at Old Life know that Ben Sasse, despite having grown up in the Missouri Synod, is actually a Reformed Protestant — even an elder in the United Reformed Churches I believe. That may be too much insider 2k baseball for John Fea. But there it is.

The main point pertains to John’s parenthetical remark about whether we can call Lutherans “evangelical.” For starters, the original Protestants, the followers of Martin Luther, were and still are known as evangelical. So don’t Lutherans have the copyright on being evangelical?

A related concern is if a good historian has enough sense to wonder about classifying a Lutheran as evangelical, why are the same historians so ready to put put Presbyterians in the same round hole as Pentecostals and Wesleyans? I mean, if you have the slightest hesitation about Lutherans, shouldn’t you also wonder about Protestants who didn’t like Billy Graham (for his pro-choice theology)?

I am glad my parenthetical remark about Sasse, the LCMS Church, and “evangelicals” prompted Darryl Hart to write an ENTIRE POST on it at his blog. LCMS

According to Sasse’s Wikipedia page:”Sasse grew up a Lutheran and was baptized in the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. He later became an elder in the United Reformed Churches in North America, and served on the board of trustees for Westminster Seminary California. He is now currently a member at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, a church of the LCMS.” The Wiki page cites this website:

For what it’s worth.

Maybe Senator Sasse, who also has a Ph.D in history, is out there and can weigh-in.

Maybe the Wikipedia page or the source it cites is wrong.

Hart’s point about Lutherans as “evangelicals” is a fair one, but I do think that calling the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod “evangelical” is complicated. I am no expert on the LCMS so I can only appeal to anecdotes from my experience teaching a lot of LCMS students at Valparaiso University between 2000-2002. Many of them did not entirely connect with the evangelical subculture and certainly did not talk very much about being “born-again” apart from their catechism and confirmation classes.

So let me throw this out to my readers.  Do Missouri Synod Lutherans identity themselves as “evangelicals?”  (I know this opens up a whole can of worms about the definition of the word “evangelical,” but I thought I would bring it up anyway and see what readers have to say).

 

*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.

Ben Sasse Is Not a "Christian Crusader"

Ben Sasse:  Nebraska’s new senator

Paul Putz, a Ph.D student in history at Baylor University, has written a fascinating post at the blog of the American Society of Church History on the religious beliefs of Nebraska’s new senator, Ben Sasse. As a Lutheran, Sasse embraces a “two kingdoms” approach to Christianity and culture.  This means that he does not believe that Christians should be trying to “transform” or “redeem” the larger culture through politics or any other means.  

Putz does a really nice of job of showing the theological illiteracy of many in the press who want to paint Sasse as a “Christian crusader.” Lutherans (and those of the Reformed persuasion who also hold to this “two kingdoms” model) do not usually engage in the kind of cultural transformation associated with the Christian Right and other Reformed groups. 

I will let Putz explain:

But Sasse’s scholarly contributions are not the only item of interest for ASCH folks. His personal religious views are worth considering, too, since years down the road Sasse may find himself as a subject of study for an enterprising young scholar’s dissertation analyzing conservative Christianity and American politics in the early twenty-first century. Baptized at a Missouri Synod Lutheran church (LCMS) in Plainview, Nebraska, Sasse attended an LCMS elementary school in Fremont, Nebraska before moving on to Fremont High School and then to Harvard. After Harvard he became associated with the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, served as an editor of Modern Reformation, and co-edited Here We Stand: A Call from Confessing Evangelicals (1996). That background (and Posner’s essay) was enough for an alarmed writer for Salon to declare him a “hardcore member of the Christian right” and a “conservative Christian crusader.” If we take that description at face value, then Sasse (the Lutheran evangelical culture warrior) perfectly symbolizes the LCMS’s turn to the political right and its increasing connection with conservative evangelicalism, a turn described by James Burkee in Power, Politics, and the Missouri Synod: A Conflict that Changed American Christianity (reviewed in the March 2012 issue of Church History).

It seems to me, though, that the story is a bit more complicated. For one, Sasse apparently had a dalliance with Presbyterianism (see page 81), although he is now apparently back within the Lutheran fold. Second, a steady critic of the Christian Right, D.G. Hart, is a friend and supporter of Sasse. Hart (whose book on Calvinism was reviewed in the latest issue of Church History) is adamant that Ben Sasse is a “2K [Two Kingdoms] Reformed Protestant.” That is to say, Sasse believes that “[t]he affairs of the civil and temporal realm are one thing, the politics of God’s kingdom another.” Hart’s claim is supported by Sasse’s connection with other Reformed 2Kers like Michael Horton and R. Scott Clark.
If Sasse is a 2Ker somewhat in the mold of Hart – and nothing from what I’ve seen of his rhetoric indicates otherwise – then the Christian Right’s dreams of Christianizing America and/or restoring America to its Christian roots are not part of Sasse’s vision. This may be a distinction without a difference for some: although Sasse’s rhetoric does not rely on “return America to God” themes, his views on nearly every current political issue line up with those of the Christian Right. But then again, as Daniel Williams and others have shown, this is true for most GOP members. Perhaps we are at the place where any Republican with a well-known affiliation with Christianity is by default considered part of the Christian Right. At any rate, I’m not prepared to offer a definitive statement of categorization – I’ll leave that to the experts, or maybe even someone who actually sits down with Sasse and talks to him about the subject.

The Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals Closes Its Doors

In case you have not heard, the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals (ISAE) at Wheaton College (IL) will be shutting down operations at the end of the year.   Last week Wheaton held a symposium to celebrate the work of the Institute and somewhere along the way this video was produced.  It provides an informative and brief oral history of the ISAE.  It also has some great pictures of Mark Noll, George Marsden, Grant Wacker, Harry Stout, Darryl Hart, Nathan Hatch and other members of the “evangelical mafia” in their younger days.  I love the story that Noll tells about some of these evangelical historians gathering together in a local eatery near the campus of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School to discuss plans for the Institute. Reminds me of similar meetings, about a generation later, during my own days at TEDS.

Enjoy:

//player.vimeo.com/video/110402289?title=0&byline=0&portrait=0 Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals Farewell from Tim Frakes on Vimeo.

A Notorious Critic of Evangelicalism Takes My Quiz on Evangelicalism

Darryl Hart

Those of you who read the The Way of Improvement Leads Home are familiar with the thirteen question quiz on evangelicalism that I posted yesterday.  I have been surprised with how much attention this quiz is receiving, mostly from Christians and non-Christians with evangelical backgrounds who no longer identify with evangelicalism.


Earlier today Darryl Hart took the quiz.  Some of you know Darryl as the curmudgeonly (and I used that term in the most endearing way) historian and cultural critic who has written several books criticizing American evangelicalism from the perspective of what might be best described as a twentieth-first-century brand of Old School (Princetonian) Presbyterianism. 

Hart’s responses affirm Randall Balmer’s comment last weekend in Malibu that once evangelicalism gets in your bloodstream and DNA it is impossible to shake.  Also, in the process of taking the quiz Hart deconstructed it.  This should surprise no one.

I have posted some of Hart’s answers below. You can read the rest by going to his post at Old Life entitled “What Must I Do To Be Left Behind from Evangelicalism.”  (I love the Family Radio answer.  Harold Camping is smiling in heaven!)

1. Do you attend a church of over 2000 people? I suppose this refers to a congregation, in which case I say no. But I do go to a church — the OPC — that is small but not that small. The lesson may be that evangelicalism has a bias against connectionalism (read presbyterian polity).
2. Have you studied at, or do you work at, a college that identified itself as a “Christian college?” Yes, but only for a year. What happens if I transferred to a secular university? Does evangelicalism still claim me?
3. Have you seen the rapture movie A Thief in the Night? (I could have probably asked if they read the Left Behind series of novels by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye). I have seen the movie. It was part of the cinematic fare of my home congregation’s youth group. But what if I now vote strongly against any proposal before session that calls for our OPC congregation to show the movie?
4. Have you been to any of the following Christian Bible conferences: Word of Life, Camp of the Woods, Harvey Cedars, America’s Keswick, Sandy Cove, or Rumney Bible Conference? (Remember, this is an east coast group) Not only have I been there, but for two summers I worked in the kitchen at Sandy Cove and sang tenor (one summer) and bass (another) with the Sandy Cove Choralaires (we even performed the Ralph Carmichael Christian teen folk musical, “Tell it Like it Is” at the affiliated youth camp, Hilltop Ranch. (I’m still in recovery.)
5. Did you vote for George Bush in 2000 or 2004? Yes, but I still don’t sense corporate guilt.
6. Have you been on a short-term mission trip? Does doing something Christian outside the United States count? How about teaching at a seminary in Brazil?
7. Have you attended a Billy Graham or other evangelistic crusade? Yes and yes. I am pretty sure my parents took me to the 1962 Philadelphia Crusade. And in 2002 we went to the San Diego Crusade under the false pretense that this would be the evangelist’s last. I still worry that I am on some terrorist organization’s list for having attended a Crusade (and for having rooted for the Wheaton College Crusaders before they became the Wheaton College Thunder.)
8. Have you read Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict? Hallelujah! No.
9. Have you read something by C.S. Lewis? Darn! Yes.
10. Do you listen to Christian radio? Yes. But let me explain. I generally have on the radio as background noise. For most of the week it is Sports Talk Radio (from Philadelphia). This drives the missus batty and keeps me near the dog house. In the car I listen to NPR. On Sundays I stream Family Radio in the background. It is all about nostalgia. My parents had on Family Radio during the whole week. It is one way I remember my parents and treat the Lord’s Day as a day set apart. You get occasionally a good hymn.
Read the rest here.

Bratt on Hart on Calvinism

James Bratt, a Calvinist who teaches American history at Calvin College reviews Darryl Hart’s Calvinism: A History at The Christian Century.  Hart is a Calvinist who teaches American history at Hillsdale College.

Here is Bratt’s opening:

Some classic works on the origins of modernity gave pride of place to Calvinism. Max Weber famously made it the fount of capitalist economics; Robert K. Merton, that of experimental science; Michael Walzer, of political radicalism. In his new history of Reformed churches, D. G. Hart will have none of it. Rather than shaping modern life, he argues, Calvinism developed in reaction to it—sometimes in the negative sense of the word.

And here are some of his conclusions:

…readers should be aware of the particular interpretations structuring the book’s argument. Hart’sCalvinism is a very old-fashioned work, so old-fashioned as to be newly revealing. In contrast to the contextual analyses of religion that have dominated the professional guild for at least 40 years, Hart stays very much within the official institutions of Reformed Christianity, calling our attention to dy­na­mics and developments that the looser contextual ap­proach can overlook. The cost of this strategy is to ignore the broader connections and interactions that Calvinists made outside of formal church assemblies—in their workweek activities and in their participation in and impact on politics and education.

Read the rest here.

D.G. Hart on Molly Worthen

I was hoping Darryl Hart would weigh-in on Molly Worthen’s Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism.  My hopes were realized last night when I checked Religion in American History.  I have posted a small taste of the review below.  Hart’s review revolves around evangelical boundaries.  Who is an evangelical and who is not?  And who gets to decide?

And so the theme of who or what to include in a historical narrative returns.  As mentioned above, born-again Protestants over the last seventy years have beefed up their academic credentials and done so in part by imitating the professional academic organizations of the university world.  The Society of Christian Philosophers and the Conference on Faith and History were two expressions of this evangelical initiative.  Both relied significantly on the leadership provided by Dutch-American Calvinists who taught at Calvin College, intellectual descendants of Abraham Kuyper, the man who popularized the concept of Christian worldview.  And these organizations became platforms for some of the most significant work (at least as the mainstream academy judges it) by evangelical scholars – George Marsden, Mark Noll, Nick Wolterstorff, and Alvin Plantinga.  Yet, as important as these institutions may be in answering the questions that Worthen uses to define evangelicalism, they do not appear in her narrative, while Marsden, Noll, Wolterstorff and Plantinga at best make cameo appearances.   This was a missed opportunity since Worthen did so much work on the constellation of contexts that allowed made these scholars’ careers plausible.  And since several of them have retired from teaching, historical assessments of their work – both in writing projects and in forming associations of like-minded scholars and students – is now possible in ways it had not been in the heyday of their work.  At the same time, because these scholars used Kuyperian themes, sometimes mediated directly through Cornelius Van Til (as in the case of Marsden), to question epistemological assumptions of the mainstream academy, Worthen had a chance to test her assessment of evangelicalism’s crisis of intellectual authority not against the two-dimensional characters of Francis Schaeffer or Hal Lindsey but against academics whose scholarship is highly regarded and whose Christian commitments have not been questioned. 
            
Yet, Worthen did not take this turn.  Because she did not her history of post-World War II evangelicalism has more the feel of a study of evangelical exoticism than of evangelical normalcy.  If she had followed carefully the evolution of serious evangelical academic life – from Fuller Seminary to the University of Notre Dame – rather than the popularizers who incite the evangelical mob, she might have produced a study of people who are apostles of reason in ways much more profound than talking heads at religious assemblies or marches on the National Mall.

Thanks Darryl Hart

Darryl Hart of Hillsdale college has written a very encouraging and positive review of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction at an online magazine affiliated with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.  Here is a taste:

Polls reveal that close to eighty percent of Americans identify themselves as Christian. This statistic likely accounts for the approximately seventy percent of adults in the United States who think that America is a Christian nation. To answer the title of Fea’s book in the negative is a sign of disloyalty within some sectors of American society. The book is more an attempt to clarify the sets of issues that go into an answer than it is an argument about the religious character of the United States. Fea builds on years of experience as a student of the American founding and a teacher of pious undergraduates with preconceived ideas about a Christian America. Some may become frustrated that Fea takes a simple question and complicates it. But as the examples of England and Turkey suggest, “Christian-nation” status is not a simple matter….

The value of Fea’s book is not simply the careful historical questions he puts before readers that break through received religious and patriotic pieties. He also inserts sufficient distance between the United States as a political manifestation and the Christian religion, so that believers can entertain the notion that America is good even if it is not explicitly or formally Christian. Too often the categories used by Christian apologists for America lack a middle term. For them, either the nation can only be either Christian or opposed to it. Fea allows for a different category that is neither holy nor profane, one by which Christians may recognize the United States as valuable, wholesome, and virtuous (with admitted defects) without turning the nation into a Christian endeavor. Fea himself does not answer the question of his title explicitly. But his deft handling of some of the issues involved in sound historical answer will help readers be as careful as is his book.

Thanks, Darryl.

Can a Protestant be a True Conservative?

The Calvinists: William Farel, John Calvin, Theodore Beza and John Knox

Darryl Hart wonders if Protestants belong in the conservative fold.  Here is a taste of his post at The Front Porch Republic:

Ever since I lived, moved, and had my being in conservative circles, I have encountered an unspoken ambivalence about Protestantism…At my first program with the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, I met a female undergraduate from a conservative liberal arts college who told me she was Pentecostal but on her way to converting to Roman Catholicism.  Why? “To be a consistent conservative is to be a Catholic.”  An initial lesson in the corridors of intellectual conservatism was that I, as a Protestant, was an inconsistent conservative.

Read the rest here.