The Best Christian Bookstore in America

borger at store

Byron Borger, doing what he does best

I had some last minute Christmas shopping to do on December 24, 2018 so I drove down to Dallastown, Pennsylvania (about a 40-minute drive) to visit Byron and Beth Borger at Hearts & Minds Bookstore.  Beth was not around on this day, but Byron quickly emerged from the back of the store sporting a festive green dress shirt and a red flannel tie.  After exchanging pleasantries, we got down to work.

  • I wanted a thoughtful and liturgical devotional for my wife, Joy.  Byron introduced me to Frederick Schumacher’s For All the Saints: A Prayer Book for and By the Church.  I bought it.
  • I wanted a book on vocation and calling for my youngest daughter.  When I asked Byron for the best book on the subject he pulled a copy of Os Guinness’s The Call off the shelf.  I bought it.
  • This same daughter is thinking seriously about pursuing environmental studies in college and I wanted a nice Christian primer on creation care.  Byron recommended Matthew Sleeth’s Serving God, Saving the Planet: A Call for Creation and Your Soul.  I bought it.
  • I wanted to buy a Wendell Berry novel for my older daughter.  Byron has an entire section on Berry’s fiction and non-fiction.  I bought her a copy of Hannah Coulter.

By the way, you can buy all these books from Beth and Byron at Hearts & Minds.  Just send him an e-mail and he will get them into your hands as soon as possible.

After I was done with my gift-shopping, I did some shopping for myself and spent a few hundred bucks on new hardbacks.  Byron coached me through every selection.  He recommended philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff’s memoir.  I finished it last week and it did not disappoint.  He tentatively suggested literary scholar Anthony Esolen’s Nostalgia, but warned me that it was very conservative.  He was right.  I liked about a third of it.  Byron provided a narrative for every book I bought that day (and some that I didn’t buy). I left encouraged, inspired, and intellectually satisfied.

A couple of weeks ago I got a call from Elizabeth Eisenstadt Evans, a freelance religion reporter who I have worked with in the past.  She told me that Hearts & Minds was not doing very well financially and that she was working on a story about it.  I talked to her for about thirty minutes.  Her piece appeared at Religion News Service today.  Here is a taste:

The first book that Byron and Beth Borger sold at the Hearts & Minds bookstore was a copy of Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables.”

For the Borgers, it was a perfect fit.

But their customer was a bit perplexed since the book isn’t standard fare at Christian bookshops.

“The first customer asked, ‘What kind of bookstore carries Les Mis?’” said Byron Borger. “We said, ‘What kind of bookstore doesn’t?’”

Hearts & Minds has long been an anomaly in the world of Christian retail.

The Borgers, who previously worked for a Christian campus ministry group, launched their Dallastown store during the faith-based-bookstore boom times of the 1980s. They bucked evangelical conventions by including Catholic writers such as Thomas Merton, tackling topics like racial justice and featuring books by spiritual formation proponent Richard Foster, whose take on the Christian life was considered radical.

Back in the day, they faced boycotts, pickets and even death threats from the Ku Klux Klan over a display of books from Martin Luther King Jr., said Byron Borger. The store survived them all — and thrived for years, attracting fans among customers and authors.

Contemporary challenges are different — and perhaps more threatening.

With ongoing demise of Christian retail stores, consolidation in the Christian publishing industry and the continued dominance of online sellers such as Amazon, the future of this idiosyncratic venture is uncertain.

In recent years, the Borgers have cut back on staff and dipped into their savings to keep the story going.

“I’m not embarrassed to say that we have not been doing well,” said Borger. “We have not been self-sustaining.”

Despite the struggles, Hearts & Minds has a loyal following, readers who appreciate the couple’s wide-ranging knowledge of the Christian book scene.

The store appeals to mainline Protestants and what Beth Borger refers to as “thinking evangelicals” — Christians with traditional beliefs about theology whose faith prompts them to care about injustice. There are more than a few in the mid-Atlantic and Midwest regions, where Hearts & Minds draws most of its support, said Beth Borger.

Read the rest here.  And then start buying some books from Hearts & Minds.

Here are some pics:

hearts and minds book haul

I bought these books for my library on December 24, 2018

 

heartd and minds 2017

 I bought these books at Hearts & Minds back in 2015

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Last summer I did a book talk on *Believe Me* at Hearts Minds

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Beth and Byron have most of my books in stock

Help Bring John Wilson to *Englewood Review of Books*

Portrait of John Wilson

John Wilson

I am really glad to hear that Englewood Review of Books is growing and making a concerted effort to bring John Wilson aboard full-time.  Here is a letter from editor Christopher Smith and several other scholars, including historian Mark Noll:

As you might be aware, John has been employed with us at The Englewood Review of Books as Contributing Editor for the last six months. We have been delighted to have John on staff, and his work is already bearing fruit: He has identified excellent books to feature that would not otherwise have been on our radar; he found new reviewers to write for us (including Philip Jenkins); and he has thoughtfully written columns for our recent issues. John’s role with us is minimal at the present, but we would like to employ him in a greater capacity (ideally full-time) beginning as soon as possible in the coming year.

As friends and co-workers of The Englewood Review, we are delighted to announce that we are entering an exciting season of building capacity, extending our readership, and moving toward fiscal sustainability. The strategy we are developing will unfold over the next five years, and will include a new and more mobile-friendly website, publicity efforts to broaden our readership in churches and in academic settings, and partnerships with institutions that share our mission of cultivating the timely habits of reading and conversation.

Given that these plans will take some time to develop, and given that we don’t want to wait until they come fully to fruition to expand the scope of John’s work with us, we are initiating a fundraising effort to cover the interim cost of John Wilson’s employment. We plan to raise $250,000, which would cover the cost of about three years of John’s employment with us. We have set up a restricted fund devoted solely to compensating John for his work with us. These funds will not be used for any other initiatives of The Englewood Review of Books.
 
We know that you share our deep gratitude for the important work that John did over his two decades as editor of Books & Culture, and for his significant contributions to cultivating the breadth and depth of the Christian mind in recent years. And so, we invite you to celebrate John with us by contributing to this fund that will support his work over the next few years. This fund is hosted by Englewood Community Development Corporation, the parent organization of The Englewood Review of Books, which is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, and any donations will be documented as tax deductible. (Specifically, any donations dated on or before December 31, 2018 can be claimed as deductions on your 2018 taxes.)  Contributions are welcome from individuals and institutions who desire to honor John’s work and help advance the mission of The Englewood Review of Books.

Please join us in celebrating John Wilson in this way.

Are There Any Evangelical Intellectuals Who Support Donald Trump?

Metaxas

Is Eric Metaxas an intellectual?

First,  a quick comment about the title of this post.  I am operating under the assumption that “evangelical intellectual” is not an oxymoron.

Can anyone name an evangelical intellectual who currently supports the administration of Donald Trump?  I am not asking for names of evangelical intellectuals who voted for Trump in 2016, but rather someone who uses his or her intellectual skills and public access to mainstream American political discourse as a means of supporting Trump’s presidency.  I would also consider culturally engaged and well-published evangelical academics as “evangelical intellectuals.”

I am thinking here about intellectuals who identify as “evangelical” and have a platform that transcends the evangelical subculture.

I am not trying to be snarky here.  I really want to know if there are people out there that I am missing.  Every evangelical public intellectual I know is anti-Trump.  Yesterday a reporter asked me to identify a thoughtful pro-Trump evangelical and I could not come up with one.

Could Eric Metaxas fit the bill?  Is it fair to call him an intellectual?  This reporter did not seem to think so, but others might disagree.

I am eager to read your suggestions, but I am also eager to read how you might deconstruct the question.

When Evangelicals Tried to Start a Research University

henry

Some of you may be familiar with Carl F.H. Henry, a 20th-century evangelical theologian who tried to lead evangelicalism away from fundamentalism and toward a more intellectual robust brand of conservative Protestantism.  (I took a course with Henry while he was teaching at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in the early 1990s).

Henry’s lifelong dream was to start an evangelical research university.  Over at The Anxious Bench, historian David Swartz writes about Henry’s attempts at establishing “Crusade University.”

Here is a taste:

Henry told potential donors that he needed $100 million for buildings, administration, faculty, and equipment. That would establish a liberal arts school. If that number grew, they would add a college of education and business—then engineering, law, and medicine. $300 million, explained Henry would “include sufficient endowment to guarantee its operation.” For comparison, Harvard at the time boasted an endowment of $350 million.

These outrageous numbers reflected a dazzling vision that teased and frustrated Henry for the rest of his life. My next post will explain why Crusade University does not exist today—and why it never got off the ground in the first place. It’s a story that suggests much about the nature of evangelicalism in the twentieth century.

Read the rest here.

Rod Dreher Interviews Alan Jacobs on *How to Think*

ThinkHere is a taste from Dreher’s blog:

I initially thought How To Think would be a basic primer of informal logic. It’s not that at all, but something more interesting. What’s the book about, and why did you write it? 

Last year, when the Presidential election campaign was ramping up here in the U.S., and my British friends were being roiled about by the Brexit debate, I was working on a different book (an academic one), but kept being distracted by all the noise. It seemed to me that everyone was lining up and shouting at everyone else, and no one seemed able to step back from the fray and think a bit about the issues at stake. More and more what attracted my attention was what seemed a complete absence of actual thinking. And then I asked myself: What is thinking, anyway? And what have I learned about it in my decades as a teacher and writer? I sat down to sketch out a few blog posts on the subject, and then realized that I had something a good bit bigger than some blog posts on my hands. So I set my other book aside and got to work.

You write, “The person who wants to think will have to practice patience and master fear.” What do you mean? 

Practicing patience because almost all of us live in a social-media environment that demands our instantaneous responses to whatever stimuli assault us in our feeds, and gives us the tools (reposts, likes, faves, retweets) to make those responses. Everything in our informational world militates against thinking it over. And mastering fear because one of the consequences of thinking is that you can find yourself at odds with groups you want to belong to, and social belonging is a human need almost as important as food and shelter. I’ve come to believe that our need — a very legitimate need! — for social belonging is the single greatest impediment to thinking.

Read the entire interview here. Learn more about How to Think here.

 

Is There an Evangelical “Faculty Lounge?”

Lounge

The “Faculty Lounge.”

This is what Fred Clark, aka “Slacktivist,” calls the “Books & Culture crowd” or the “evangelical clergy, academics, and educated laypeople who read Mark Noll’s Scandal of the Evangelical Mind and nodded in sad agreement.”  Check out his post on the recent “The State of the Evangelical Mind” conference: “The faculty lounge meets to discuss the faculty lounge.”

Here is a taste:

The term is descriptive. It’s my attempt to sketch the outlines of an actual thing that simply is. The term “faculty lounge” is not in any way — on its face or in its intent — disparaging or judgmental. It’s just a description. One can dispute the accuracy of my description, certainly, but it would be just … weird to decide that the offering of any description at all is some kind of attack.

Read the entire piece here.

So here is my question for Fred:  Are you a member of the faculty lounge?  If not, why not?

The State of the Evangelical Mind: Opening Plenary

Sag

The Sagamore Institute (Indianapolis) was the site of the “State of the Evangelical Mind” conference

The organizers of “The State of the Evangelical Mind” conference in Indianapolis chose to open the festivities with a session titled “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind: A Tripartite Review.”  Jay Green, Eric Miller, and yours truly served as the warm-up act for Mark Noll. We offered reflections on the current state of the evangelical mind and how evangelical intellectual life is faring at the Christian schools (Covenant College, Geneva College, Messiah College) where we currently teach.  Our “review” will be published in a forthcoming issue of Christian Scholar’s Review, so I cannot share the content here.  But I can offer a very small taste of what I said in this session.  Here are two disconnected paragraphs from the presentation. If you want context you will need to wait until the talk appears in print:

Today, as a college professor working at a Christian college, I pray that my students–whether they are first-generation college students or not–will experience something similar to my own intellectual transformation.  I also want them to know that whatever awakening of the mind I experienced in my early 20s happened WITHIN evangelicalism.  It was believing scholars–mostly historians–whose work created something akin to an evangelical republic of letters for me.  I know I speak for my other panelists up here, and even some of you in the audience as well, when I say that this community was sustained through the medium of e-mail, conversations at the Advanced Placement U.S. history readings and academic conferences that lasted well into the night, and the on-going sense that our work was somehow going to make a difference in the world.

And this:

I am sure many of you have heard this kind of jeremiad before.  It’s an old story.  But that doesn’t mean we should give up, or stop telling it.  Those inspired to press onward by Noll’s manifesto will find that the journey can be a tiring and lonely one.  Indeed, those who speak prophetically about the need to worship God with our minds will find themselves in lover’s quarrels with fellow evangelicals, and we will no doubt suffer emotional and psychological wounds along the way. (I am playing here off of Noll’s “wounded lover” metaphor). But in the end, these are the burdens we must bear when we follow what Noll, in another context, has called the “Christ of the academic road.”

Stay tuned.  More posts on the “State of the Evangelical Mind” conference are forthcoming.

Is There an “Evangelical Mind?”

400e1-nollscandalAfter a weekend of conference-going and watching one of the greatest NCAA Division III volleyball rivalries in history (Hope College vs. Calvin College), I am easing my way back into the blogging life.

As regular readers know, I spent part of the weekend in Indianapolis attending (and speaking at) the “State of the Evangelical Mind Conference.”  I hope to carve out some time this week (in addition to my regular links and posts) reflecting on what I heard and what I learned about the state of the so–called “evangelical mind.”

On Thursday evening, University of Notre Dame historian and self-identified evangelical Christian (although he implied that he is no longer entirely comfortable with the label), Mark Noll reflected on the state of evangelical intellectual pursuits since the publication of his 1994 classic The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.  He argued that since 1994, the evangelical mind was cultivated through the now-defunct periodical Books and Culture (which took the place of Reformed Journal for many Calvinist evangelicals); the now-defunct Pew Evangelical Scholars Program which poured millions of dollars into the work of evangelical scholars and intellectuals; the now-defunct Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals (ISAE), an organization at Wheaton College that published books and hosted scholarly conferences on American evangelicalism; and the ever-growing number of evangelical scholars working in the academy today–both the Christian academy and the secular academy.

No one in the room at the Sagamore Institute in Indianapolis could miss the fact that three of these institutions–Books and Culture, the Pew Scholars Program, and the ISAE–no longer exist.

While Noll was optimistic about the proliferation of Christian scholarship and the increasing number of Christians doing first-rate intellectual work, he was no longer convinced that such work should be labeled distinctly “evangelical.”  Here he drew on some of the ideas in his book Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind.  (Noll said that not many people read this book because it wasn’t as “angry” as Scandal).  He noted that many believing scholars today are drawing on the rich tradition of the ancient Christian creeds and the insights of a variety of Christian expressions, including Roman Catholicism, the Reformed tradition, Anglicanism, Lutheranism, Anabaptism, etc….  In other words, Noll doubts whether or not there really is a distinct and unique “evangelical mind.”  He encouraged evangelicals to press on in their work, drawing from the larger, confessional, and ecumenical resources of historic Christianity.

About twenty-four hours later, Mark Galli, the editor of Christianity Today, took the stage to deliver the final presentation of the conference.  Galli agreed with Noll about the importance of evangelical scholars drawing on a variety of Christian traditions, but he was not yet ready to abandon the word “evangelical” as either a distinct way of pursuing Christian faith or as a unique way of thinking about scholarly endeavors.

According to Galli, “Evangelicalism” is a “unique way of being a Christian.”  He described it as a “mood” and compared it the kind religious ethos Perry Miller uncovered in his studies of 17th-century New England Puritanism.  Galli argued that because Evangelicalism is ultimately rooted in Augustinian theology, it will never go away.” At the heart of evangelical religion, Galli reminded us, is an “encounter with the triune God.” This encounter, he added, will ultimately lead one toward a life of piety.  Borrowing a term from writer Anne Lamott, Galli said that evangelical Christians are “Jesusy Augustinians.”

Galli did not elaborate fully on how this “Jesusy Augustinianism” should inform scholarly endeavors, but he did think that evangelicals can make a distinct contribution to intellectual work.  For example, Galli pushed the evangelicals in the room to think hard about how they use the Imago Dei in their scholarship.  Many Christians, including myself, argue that we should love all people–Muslims, drug addicts, enemies, people who are not like us, etc.–because all human beings were created in the image of God and thus have dignity and worth.  This understanding of human dignity provides a theological foundation for much of Christian scholarship today.  All voices matter.  All of the human beings we study are important because they are image-bearers.  But Galli finds such an approach to be rather vague and generic for the evangelical scholar.  Instead of always appealing to the Imago Dei, evangelical scholars might argue that all people have human dignity and worth because they are sinners for whom Christ died.  Such an approach puts the Gospel and the the doctrine of the atonement at the heart of our scholarship.

After Noll spoke on Thursday night, I was convinced that Evangelicalism, the term “evangelical,” and the project of the “evangelical mind” had seen its last days.  Galli made me think harder about such a proposition.

I will keep thinking.

Getting the Band Back Together To Discuss the State of the Evangelical Mind

eac22-scandalI am happy to announce that in September I will be participating in a conference in Indianapolis titled “The State of the Evangelical Mind: Reflections upon the Past, Prospects for the Future.

Here is a description from the conference website:

Evangelicalism, however one defines it, finds itself at the intersection of a host of crossroads.  After decades of relative prosperity in North America, the churches, universities, and seminaries that evangelicals cultivate, populate, and depend upon for leadership are wrestling with legal, social, and ultimately theological questions on a wide variety of fronts. 

For many, the financial challenges that compelled Christianity Today to close Books and Culture after twenty-one years were tangible expressions of those challenges.  Caught between fear and hope, some observers proposed the evangelical mind is now on the threshold of another “scandal.”  In contrast, others propose the opportunities for faithful intellectual engagement and witness are greater now than in recent history.    

This symposium offers a context in which participants can reflect upon that past but also think critically about the prospects for the future of the evangelical mind.  Those prospects will depend in many ways upon the influence of evangelical churches, universities, and seminaries.  What role then will each one of those institutions play?  What kinds of relationships will they need to share with one another?  What kinds of relationships will churches, universities, and seminaries need to forge with other institutions? 

By drawing upon the wisdom of the past, perhaps some of these questions might be best navigated by reflecting anew upon the common and respective purposes animating the church, the university, and the seminary.  Please consider joining us as we explore these questions at “The State of the Evangelical Mind: Reflections upon the Past, Prospects for the Future,” on September 21-22, 2017.Confessing History Available for Pre-Order

I am even more excited to announce that I will be joining my old partners in crime, Jay Green (Covenant College) and Eric Miller (Geneva College), for a plenary panel titled “Mark Noll’s Scandal and the CCCU: A Tripartite Review.”  If you are a regular reader of The Way of Improvement Leads Home you will know that we co-edited Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian’s Vocation.

(Our session was just added to the conference program. At the time I am writing this post it does not yet appear on the conference website.  The conference organizers at the Lumen Research Institute tell us that we will be presenting at 7:00pm on Thursday evening as the lead-up to Mark Noll’s plenary address).

The other conference speakers (in addition to Noll) are Jo Anne Lyon (Wesleyan Church), Timothy Larsen (Wheaton College), Lauren Winner (Duke Divinity School), and James K.A. Smith (Calvin College).  The conference will also honor former Books & Culture editor John Wilson.

I hope to see some of you in Indianapolis in September!

73bee-confessingatteds

with Green (left and sporting the nice argyle sweater vest) and Miller (center)

 

Solitude and the Christian Historian

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Over at The Pietist Schoolman, Chris Gehrz riffs on my piece on intellectual loneliness by suggesting that loneliness, and even solitude, may be a good thing for Christians.

Here are a few snippets from his post “The Loneliness (and Solitude) of a Christian Historian“:

To varying degrees, I’ve felt several of these lonelinesses myself at various points. And this might not be unique to historians, academics, or evangelical Christians. I wonder if fear of loneliness isn’t helping to produce polarization in American society, as people seem so desperate to belong to ever-smaller groups that they’d rather conform to ever-longer lists of intersecting membership criteria than risk one of John’s lonelinesses….

What if disciplined study of the past enabled us to do like Jesus, John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul, and many contemplatives since and, in Dallas Willard’s terms, “[choose] to be alone and to dwell on our experience of isolation from other human beings.” In the process, he argues, we interrupt “patterns of feeling, thought, and action that are geared to a world set against God” and start to develop a “freedom from the ingrained behaviors that hinder our integration into God’s order” (The Spirit of the Disciplines, p. 160)…. (Here Chris copies an extended quote from Foster on the difference between “loneliness” and “solitude.”)

I need to think more on this notion, but it seems possible that the discipline of history can foster a spiritually healthy isolation. By temporarily stranding ourselves outside of our own time and entering what A. G. Sertillanges (another recent topic of John’s) called a “laboratory of the spirit,” Foster thinks that we not only cultivate a “deeper, fuller exposure to [God’s] Presence” but gain “increased sensitivity and compassion for others… a new freedom to be with people… new attentiveness to their needs, new responsiveness to their hurts” (pp. 108-109).

Read the entire post here.

Quote of the Day

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

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

The Intellectual Life–Part 3

sertillangesRecently I reread the A.G. Sertillanges’s classic work on the life of the mind: The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods.  Sertillanges (1863-1948) was a Catholic writer and a member of the Dominican Order.  He published The Intellectual Life in 1934.  Read the entire series here.

p.19: …by feeding the mind on truth one enlightens the conscience, by fostering good one guides knowledge

p.21: On what, first and foremost, does all the effort of study depend?  On attention, which delimits the field for research, concentrates on it, brings all our powers to bear on it; next, on judgment, which gathers up the fruit of investigation.  Now, passions and vices relax attention, scatter it, lead it astray; and they injure the judgment in roundabout ways.

p.21: Knowledge depends on the direction given to our passions and on our moral habits.

p.22: Purity of thought requires purity of soul…

p.25: …ambition may injure studiousness, and hinder the usefulness of its results.

p.28-29: …study must first of all leave room for worship, prayer, direct meditation on the things of God.  Study is itself a divine office, an indirect divine office; it seeks out and honors the traces of the Creator, or His images, according as it investigates nature or humanity; but it must make way at the right moment for direct intercourse with Him.

p.32: Neither knowledge, nor any other manifestation of life, should be separated from its roots in the soul and in reality–where the God of the heart and the God of heaven are revealed and are one.

p.37: Live as much as possible in the open air.  It is a recognized fact that attention–the nerve of study–is closely related to breathing, and for general health we know that plenty oxygen is a first condition…walks before and after work or even combined with work according to the Greek tradition; all these practices are excellent.

p.38: Set aside every year, and secondarily in the course of the year, time for real vacations

p.38: Pay still more attention to your sleep. Take neither too much nor too little.  Too much will make you heavy, stupid, will slow up the blood and the power of thinking; too little will expose you to the risk of prolonging unduly the stimulation of work and dangerously superimposing strain upon strain.

What Happens to Evangelical Intellectual Life After “Books & Culture?”

bcI started graduate school in 1994.  That was the same year that Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind was published. One year later, Christianity Today Inc. began publishing Books & Culture: A Christian Review with John Wilson as editor.  I subscribed immediately.  I have read every issue in its 22-year run.

Books & Culture was a book review modeled after the New York Review of Books.  It was a place where evangelicals turned to worship God with their minds.  My heart always skipped a beat when I opened up my mailbox and found the recent issue waiting for me.

John Wilson was always good to me and my career as a historian and writer.  In 2008 he published Lauren Winner’s review of my book The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America.  Then in 2012 he called upon Jay Green, Eric Miller, and myself, the editors of Confessing History: Christian Faith and the Historian’s Vocation, to reflect on the historian’s vocation.  Later that year John published Paul Kemeny’s review of my Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction.  This year, Books & Culture published Peter Thuesen’s review of The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society.

I have also done a little writing and reviewing for the magazine.  Back in the summer of 2015 John published my review of Kevin Kruse’s One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America.  I have also written a for short reviews for the Books & Culture website.

But more importantly, I have learned a great deal from the many reviews I have read by Christian scholars interested in the life of the mind.  My friend Eric Miller was a fixture in the pages of Books & Culture over the years.  In the early years Don Yerxa interviewed a lot of important intellectuals, including John Lukacs, Jonathan Spence, Andrew Walls, Barry Strauss, and Max Hastings.  Wilson gave a voice to writers that were new to me at the time that I first read them: Lauren Winner,  Mary Noll Venables, Matthew Milliner, Alister Chapman, Preston Jones, Jane Zwart, Agnieszka Tennant,  Alissa Wilkinson, Elisha Coffman, Agnes Howard, Eugene McCarraher, Virginia Stem Owens and Sarah Hinlicky Wilson all come to mind.

And then there were some of the more familiar names (at least to me) in the world of Christian thought and scholarship:  Mark Noll, Grant Wacker, Betty Smartt Carter, Philip Jenkins, Allen Guelzo, Timothy Larsen, Alvin Plantinga, Alan Jacobs, Carlos Eire, David Bebbington, Daniel Walker Howe, Karen Swallow Prior,  Dale Van Kley, Wilfred McClay, John Schmalzbauer, Thomas Albert Howard, Brad Gregory, James Bratt, George Marsden, David Lyle Jeffrey, Paul Harvey, Bruce Kuklick, John Stackhouse, Stephen Webb, Bruce Ellis Benson,  Miroslav Volf, James Calvin Schaap, John G. Turner, Catherine Brekus, Dana Robert, Joel Carpenter, Gerald McDermott, Harry Stout, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, David Hempton, Richard Cawardine, Roger Lundin, Tim Stafford, Jill Pelaez Baumgaertner, D.G. Hart, Aaron Belz, Harold K. Bush,  Christian Smith, Thomas Kidd, Charles Marsh, Douglas Sweeney, Richard Mouw, James K.A. Smith, David Skeel, Kristina Bieber Lake, Susan VanZanten, Joseph Bottum, Mark Walhout, John McWhorter, Laurance Wieder, Scott Cairns, Susan Wise Bauer, Ralph Wood. C. Steven Evans, and Nicholas Wolterstorff.

John Schmalzbauer, the Blanche Gorman Strong Chair in Protestant Studies at Missouri State University, seems to feel the same way that I do about the end of Books & Culture. Check out his piece, “The Life and Death of Evangelicalism’s Little Magazine” at Comment magazine.

Here is a taste:

Ending its run at twenty-one, Books & Culture did not live to see middle age. Its closing has left the evangelical intelligentsia searching for answers. Among the questions being discussed:

  • Has the evangelical intellectual renaissance run its course?
  • Do conservative Christian philanthropists care about the life of the mind?
  • Can evangelicalism sustain a publication that bridges the ideological divide?

In approaching these questions, it is helpful to consider the wider context of evangelical intellectual history. Too narrow a focus on 2016 will keep us from seeing some of the larger issues.

Downplaying his own publication’s significance, Wilson once called Books & Culture a “Small Good Thing (Even a Small and Very Good Thing),” adding that “if you know of any philanthropists who might agree, send them my way.”

Schmalzbauer’s piece suggests some places where “those who care about evangelical book culture” can turn now that Books & Culture is off the scene.  It is a great list, which includes Englewood Review of Books, Byron Borger’s Hearts and Minds blog, and Eighth Day Books.  I would also add the ever-popular “Author’s Corner” published most Mondays and Thursdays right here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.

Read the entire piece here.

Were the Neo-Evangelicals Public Intellectuals?

CFHHenry

Carl FH Henry

No.

But Owen Strachan want them to be.

Strachan, who teaches at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, wants to turn post-fundamentalist evangelicals such as Carl Henry, E.J. Carnell, and John Harold Ockenga into mid-twentieth century public intellectuals.  His piece is a response to Alan Jacobs’s Harper’s essay, “The Watchmen: What Became of the Christian Intellectuals.”

Neo-evangelicals were those fundamentalists who attempted to give some intellectual credibility to American evangelicalism in the decades following World War II. I will not go into detail about them here. Read books by George Marsden, Joel Carpenter, and Molly Worthen.

Strachan writes:

These were not retreat-minded individuals. They came to play. But though they possessed sterling credentials and unquestionable ability, men like Henry and Carnell (each the possessor of two doctorates, Carnell’s from Harvard and Boston University) were never going to receive a gilded invitation to the academic mainstream, the elite dinner-party. It simply wasn’t going to happen. Why? Not because of a lack of tremendous intellectual power, research ability, or personal initiative. These and other evangelicals were not even in serious competition for the top university post or the nighttime host of a public affairs television show. They weren’t then, and they aren’t now, and they may never be.

And this:

Look, Carl Henry should have had the corner office at Yale University. E. J. Carnell should have had a 1-1 load at Princeton. George Eldon Ladd should have been famous the world over for his studies of the kingdom of God. Ockenga should have had a weekly broadcast on NBC. On and on it could go. These were fantastically gifted individuals, but their beliefs consigned them to the margins, and that was that. So it is today. Evangelicals will pop up on newscasts and panels; they’ll publish with some big houses, and they’ll participate in some big debates. But in terms of Niebuhrian influence, lasting presence in the nexus of global power, that’s going to be tough (though not impossible) to come by. Their stubborn belief in an exclusivist Christ already renders them suspect, and out of step with the spirit of the age, to say nothing of the ramifications of holding a Christian view of sexuality.

Strachan obviously likes people like Henry, Carnell, Ockenga, and Ladd.  He likes them because the  reclamation of these figures (especially Henry) have played a significant role in current efforts by conservative Southern Baptists to articulate a particular kind of Christian intellectual life. It is thus understandable why Strachan is upset that Jacobs does not acknowledge the neo-evangelicals contribution to such a life in his Hartper’s piece on the history of Christian public intellectuals in America.

The neo-evangelicals were smart, if not brilliant men. (I took a course with Henry at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in the early 1990s–he was a first-rate mind). But they were hardly “public intellectuals” in the way that Jacobs uses the term.

Here is a taste of Jacobs’s response to Strachan:

I agree with Strachan that these were all first-rate intellects whose abilities deserved the kind of stature that he imagines for them in an alternate and better universe. But I also think that they had intellectual priorities that made them poor candidates for playing the role of the broadly public Christian intellectual, or for holding the top-tier university post. My thinking about this is shaped primarily by George Marsden’s great book Reforming Fundamentalism, and I think Marsden’s title gets at what these men were up to. They looked around at their fellow evangelicals and they saw people who were simply not prepared to engage with the larger world of ideas, and so they took it upon themselves to educate their fellow evangelicals in these matters. A book like Henry’s The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism— and this is true of most of Henry’s work — is not meant for a general audience, it is meant for an audience of evangelical and fundamentalist Christians. And I think all of the figures Strachan cites were basically pastoral and pedagogical in their vocational orientation. They were less concerned to engage directly with the culture at large than to provide the intellectual foundations that would allow later generations of evangelical Christians so to engage.

Strachan joins the chorus of folks who are upset with Jacobs for not acknowledging their favorite Christian thinkers in his article.

My Aeon Piece on Evangelicals and Secularism

flagSome of you may have seen the piece I wrote recently for Aeon, a relative new online magazine.  I wrote the article in an attempt to get intellectuals and other thoughtful observers to understand the mindset of some American evangelicals.

I understand, and in some cases sympathize, with the largely negative comments that are appearing in the comments section of the piece.  On the other hand, I am afraid that many of the comments confirm a lot of what I was trying to say in the article.

I hope readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home will interpret the piece in the larger context of my work here at the blog and elsewhere.

Here is a taste:

Whether it be academia, popular entertainment, or some other sector of culture, secular progressivism is a real threat to evangelical Christian values. Christian culture warriors are often sloppy and usually inconsistent in the way that they apply Christian faith to public life, but not all of them are crazy. They are astute observers of modern culture who represent the values and fears of a significant portion of Americans. And, as long as secular progressives continue to remain intolerant about the deeply held religious convictions of these Christians, and refuse to understand them as part of a larger conversation about national identity and the common good, it will be difficult for US democracy to move forward.

Read the entire piece here.

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

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

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

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