Here is a taste of her lecture.
Watch the entire thing here.
I was struck by a couple of tweets:
“Students crave a sense of knowing who they are…of being part of a human and humane community… You can give them a sense of where they stand in the broad sweep of Christianity.” @MollyWorthen#CCCUForum
— CCCU (@cccuorg) January 31, 2018
— kate shellnutt (@kateshellnutt) January 31, 2018
I really wish that Molly Worthen was right about this. I really do. But I just don’t see it. With a few exceptions, I rarely encounter evangelical students (or students of any faith for that matter) who “crave a sense of knowing who they are….” If there are students who are “hungry for a historical renaissance,” I have not met them yet. I am sure that there are professors at other CCCU institutions who might be able to tell a different story.
I wrote about this at length in a May 2014 post after I learned that only a handful of students signed-up for a class I offered at Messiah College on the history of American evangelicalism. The course had four regularly enrolled students and two auditors. Here is how I would describe the students:
These were great students, and I enjoyed teaching them, but most of them were just there to fulfill a history requirement that fit their schedules.
I am sure there a lot of reasons why this course, which was capped at 25 students, was so under-enrolled, but I am guessing that lack of interest in the subject was at the top of the list.
I doubt many students will ever be interested in this subject at Messiah College. Yes, we have A LOT of evangelical students, but we have very few professors in the humanities and liberal arts who self-identify as evangelicals or who might be interested in exploring evangelical identity with students. This is just not how we assimilate our students into the life of the college. Evangelical identity not a priority. Sadly, we do a disservice to hundreds and hundreds (thousands?) of students from evangelical backgrounds. They will learn very little about their heritage. For most of the students at the Christian college where I teach, a course on evangelicalism will be viewed as just another elective–a course that students think about in the same way that they think about a course on the American Revolution or world religions.
In some respects we are all Anabaptists these days–at least those of us who are bothered by the way politicians tend to conflate the church and the United States of America.
I don’t know what the prevalence of Christian nationalism today has to do with recent trends in the historiography of American evangelicalism, but I am confident that future historians will make this connection.
My colleague Devin Manzullo-Thomas, the Director of the Sider Institute at Messiah College and a Ph.D student in American history at Temple University, has a nice review in The Conrad Grebel Review of three important books on the history of American evangelicalism. They are David Swartz’s Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism; Brantley Gasaway’s Progressive Evangelicals and the Pursuit of Social Justice, and Molly Worthen’s The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism.
Here is a taste of his piece, “The Not-So-Quiet in the Land: The Anabaptist Turn in Recent American Evangelical Historiography.”
In the historiography of North American Anabaptism, evangelicalism typically functions in one of two ways. Some Mennonite-produced analyses have depicted evangelicalism as a threat to Anabaptist distinctives, infiltrating and infecting thought and practice on peace, simple living, and the gathered church—a so-called declension thesis. By contrast, other scholarship—often produced by Anabaptist groups outside the denominational orbits of the (Old) Mennonite and the General Conference Mennonite churches—has envisioned evangelicalism as an ally to Anabaptist values. It argues that shared convictions have guided the two traditions toward mutual influence and fruitful dialogue—a kind of integration thesis. Whether focusing on corruption or cordiality, though, these two divergent historiographical models share at least one conviction: Given evangelicalism’s demographic and cultural dominance within North American Christianity throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the Anabaptist story cannot be told without some reference to this larger tradition.
Yet for all the attention paid to evangelicalism by scholars of Anabaptism, scholars of evangelicalism have paid little to no attention to Anabaptists. Mennonites and Brethren in Christ rarely feature as actors in narratives of evangelical experience in America. A variety of factors shapes this historiographical reality, including Anabaptists’ own ambivalence about their status as evangelicals. Perhaps the most significant factor in the absence of Anabaptism in evangelical historiography is what historian Douglas A. Sweeney has termed the “jockey[ing] for historiographical position” among two factions of scholars that he terms the Reformed and Holiness schools of evangelical history. The historiographical models proposed by these two schools have dominated the literature on evangelicalism as it has emerged over the last three decades. In effect, they have so determined the actors in histories of evangelicalism that related groups—including groups like Anabaptists that do not always claim the evangelical label yet nevertheless moved through the 20th century in related ways—have been excluded from the narrative.
Even so, in recent years the prevailing models of evangelical historiography have proven too limiting. Several studies of post-World War II American evangelicalism published since 2012 exemplify the emergence of a new trajectory that moves beyond the “essential evangelical dialectic” of the Reformed and Holiness schools. It constitutes an Anabaptist turn in recent evangelical historiography, as scholars have inserted Anabaptists as key figures in the history of American evangelicalism.
Read the rest (with the footnotes) here.
Is the lecture dead?
Not according to Molly Worthen, the University of North Carolina history professor and the author of Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism.
In today’s New York Times she defends the lecture. Here is a taste:
Those who want to abolish the lecture course do not understand what a lecture is. A lecture is not the declamation of an encyclopedia article. In the humanities, a lecture “places a premium on the connections between individual facts,” Monessa Cummins, the chairwoman of the classics department and a popular lecturer at Grinnell College, told me. “It is not a recitation of facts, but the building of an argument.”
Absorbing a long, complex argument is hard work, requiring students to synthesize, organize and react as they listen. In our time, when any reading assignment longer than a Facebook post seems ponderous, students have little experience doing this. Some research suggests that minority and low-income students struggle even more. But if we abandon the lecture format because students may find it difficult, we do them a disservice. Moreover, we capitulate to the worst features of the customer-service mentality that has seeped into the university from the business world. The solution, instead, is to teach those students how to gain all a great lecture course has to give them.
When Kjirsten Severson first began teaching philosophy at Clackamas Community College in Oregon, she realized that she needed to teach her students how to listen. “Where I needed to start was by teaching them how to create space in their inner world, so they could take on this argument on a clean canvas,” she told me. She assigns an excerpt from Rebecca Shafir’s “The Zen of Listening” to help students learn to clear their minds and focus. This ability to concentrate is not just a study skill. As Dr. Cummins put it, “Can they listen to a political candidate with an analytical ear? Can they go and listen to their minister with an analytical ear? Can they listen to one another? One of the things a lecture does is build that habit.”
Listening continuously and taking notes for an hour is an unusual cognitive experience for most young people. Professors should embrace — and even advertise — lecture courses as an exercise in mindfulness and attention building, a mental workout that counteracts the junk food of nonstop social media. More and more of my colleagues are banning the use of laptops in their classrooms. They say that despite initial grumbling, students usually praise the policy by the end of the semester. “I think the students value a break from their multitasking lives,” Andrew Delbanco, a professor of American Studies at Columbia University and an award-winning teacher, told me. “The classroom is an unusual space for them to be in: Here’s a person talking about complicated ideas and challenging books and trying not to dumb them down, not playing for laughs, requiring 60 minutes of focused attention.”
Read the entire article here.
The Resolutions of the National Association of Evangelicals’ Commission on Evangelical Action, organized early in the NAE’s history, give some measure of what “social action” meant to mainstream evangelical leaders in the early 1960s. At the commission’s September 1960 meeting, members discussed the top challenges facing American evangelicals: communism, “the Roman Catholic situation,” IRS pressure on ministers who preached politics from the pulpit, the provision of alcohol to passengers by airlines, and Hollywood’s recent “attacks on evangelical Christianity in such films as “Elmer Gantry” and “Inherit the Wind”
–Molly Worthen, Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism, p. 178
I should add that my students got some good laughs yesterday when they read the line about alcohol and airlines.
Thoughts on Molly Worthen’s Apostles of Reason
Thoughts on Molly Worthen’s Apostles of Reason
Thoughts on Molly Worthen’s Apostles of Reason
Today my History of American Evangelicalism course at Messiah College is reading chapter three today in Molly Worthen’s stimulating treatment of post-war evangelicalism: Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism. (Stay tuned for some forthcoming “Office Hours” episodes covering the book).
Much of chapter three focuses on Christianity Today, the flagship periodical of the neo-evangelical movement. So this morning I went to the Messiah College library and asked the librarian if I could borrow the original issue of the magazine. (Thanks, Michael Rice!) It was published in October 1956.
When I tweeted the picture below, one of the current CT editors, Ted Olsen, responded:
For part one of this series click here.
After Darren Dochuk offered this thoughts on the Bebbington Quadrilateral, Mark Noll of Notre Dame University took the lectern. It was fun watching these two giants in the field–Bebbington and Noll–debating the history and definition of evangelicalism.
Noll argued that there was no such thing as a monolithic movement known as “evangelicalism.” (Yes, you read that correctly!) The term is not helpful when it comes to writing historical narratives. Noll preferred to say that many Christian groups have certain evangelical “traits,” but it is very difficult to think about some kind of unified movement. He thought that Bebbington’s Quadrilateral was a helpful tool for identifying these “traits” or “essences,” but could not bring himself to embrace the idea that evangelicalism exists. Throughout the talk and the Q&A that followed, Noll suggested that many Catholics, for example, exhibited evangelical commitments to the authority of the Bible, the centrality of the cross, and the need for evangelism, but they historically have had little in common with folks like Billy Graham. When John Wilson of Books & Culture asked the panel how African-American conservative Protestants fit into the discussion, Noll concluded that they were a vibrant Christian movement who shared evangelical traits, but were not part of any specific movement known as evangelicalism. He concluded: “There is no such thing as evangelicalism and David Bebbington has provided the best possible definition for it.” Needless to say, this brought loud chuckles from the audience.
Bebbington began his remarks in response to Noll by saying “I have a firm principle: Whatever Mark Noll says is right.” He then went on to argue with Noll’s claim that evangelicalism does not exist. Bebbington said that evangelicalism exists because evangelicals have thought that evangelicalism exists. It was another great laugh line. But despite the humor, Bebbington was basically challenging Noll to explain organizations such as the National Association of Evangelicals or magazines such as Christianity Today who have taken the label “evangelicalism” seriously.
In response to Wilson’s question about African-American evangelicals, Bebbington argued that most conservative Protestant African-American churches uphold the four prongs–biblicism, activism, conversionism, crucicentrism–of his Quadrilateral. They could thus be viewed as part of evangelicalism.
Following Noll, Molly Worthen offered her thoughts on Bebbington’s Quadrilateral. Rather than focus on the more traditional theological definition of evangelicalism, Worthen wanted to push Bebbington to consider a more social or cultural definition. She argued that evangelicalism is defined by anxieties over the relationship between faith and reason–anxieties that are inevitable in a movement that lacks no real ecclesiastical authority. How does one form a movement without an appeal to reason or a magisterium of some type? Bebbington largely agreed with Worthen on this point, but still clung to the theological components of the Quadrilateral to define the movement.
Worthen then wondered if Bebbington’s Quadrilateral was still useful now that the center of evangelicalism had moved to the Global South. I wish that there was more conversation on this issue because it is a very important one.
Worthen ended her talk by suggesting that evangelicalism is not going away anytime soon. She may be right, but I have also found that many of my students at Messiah College do not identify with the term. Some of them have never even heard of it. Several tweeters who teach at Christian colleges tended to agree. This leads me to wonder just how long the term (or the movement) “evangelicalism” will last.
In the end, perhaps Noll is correct. Evangelical “traits” such as the New Birth, evangelism and social action, the centrality of the cross, and a belief in the authority of Bible are not going away anytime soon. But what about evangelicalism? This session made me wonder if “evangelicalism” is really little more than a movement founded by Baby Boomers in the wake of World War II that has just about run its course.
For example, the college where I teach–Messiah College–is certainly evangelical in essence, but it is also diverse enough–both in terms of student body and faculty–that it does not seem to identify with “evangelicalism” in the way that a place like Wheaton College might identify with the term or the movement. While some of our students and faculty might find a theological and ecclesiastical genealogy in the organizations and churches affiliated with the National Association of Evangelicals or Christianity Today or Billy Graham, others come from Anabaptist, Pentecostal, theologically conservative or moderate mainline Protestant, or even Roman Catholic backgrounds. Messiah is a very evangelical place. It strongly adheres to the authority of the Bible, the belief that Christians should be sharing their faith and addressing social problems, the centrality of the Cross, and the need for conversion (although not everyone would completely endorse a belief in the New Birth). But is it part of a movement known as “evangelicalism?” Maybe.
Molly Worthen of the University of North Carolina reviews two new books on Jimmy Carter. One of them is actually written by Carter.
They are: Randall Balmer, Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter and Jimmy Carter, A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power.
Here is a taste:
In the early 1970s, the Christian right was not yet the political juggernaut it would become. Fundamentalists like Jerry Falwell were still wondering if activism was compatible with the Gospel. But then Paul Weyrich, a Catholic from Wisconsin who had been trying to organize conservative Christians since the Goldwater campaign, struck political gold when the I.R.S. revoked the tax exemption of whites-only Christian “segregation academies.” Conservative evangelicals felt victimized by court decisions and new regulations that policed their private schools — and they blamed the evangelical in the White House. The call to defend “religious liberty,” not the legalization of abortion, first summoned them to politics.
“Weyrich finally had discovered the issue that would persuade evangelical leaders of the importance of political activism: defense of racial segregation, albeit framed as a defense of religious expression,” Balmer writes. For all of Carter’s personal piety, he was out of touch with his fellow believers’ rightward tilt. In 1980, televangelists mobilized their media empires in the Republican cause. Balmer charges that the culturally conservative, fiscally libertarian platform of the Christian right “bore scant resemblance to evangelical activism in the 19th and early 20th centuries.”
In April we interviewed Balmer as part of our “Author’s Corner” series. Check it out here.
The best reviews are behind the paywall, but it is definitely worth going to your library and looking at the hard copy for these two reviews alone:
Kevin Schultz reviews George Marsden’s The Twilight of the American Enlightenment
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?
Over at Marginalia: A Review of Books in History, Theology, and Religion, Art Remillard interviews Molly Worthen about her new book, Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism.
I have been giving a lot of attention to this book here at the blog, but I still need to read it! Daniel Walker Howe’s What Hath God Wrought is next in the queue, but I think I may try to get to Worthen’s book before I tackle Howe’s Pulitzer-Prize winning tome.
Here is Art’s interview:
Check out John Turner’s review of Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism. Here is a taste:
We have mentioned Molly Worthen’s new book Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism a few times over the course of the last month. Over at Religion & Politics, Worthen discusses the book with R&P editor Tiffany Stanley. The entire interview is worth reading, but here is just a taste:
R&P: How did you come to this project?
MW: I came to this project out of my background as a journalist. I had observed certain things going on among contemporary American evangelicals that I wanted to explain, particularly trends among young evangelicals. I got very interested in young evangelicals who were protesting what they perceived to be their parents’ Religious Right. These young folks called—or began to call themselves in the 1990s and early 2000s—the Emergent Church. These were Millennials or, in some cases, Gen-Xers, who had grown up in big, white, suburban, politically conservative megachurches and were challenging that heritage by appealing to other parts of the church tradition, acquainting themselves with theology that they had never been exposed to and even looking toward the Catholic tradition. I just thought: What is the story here? What’s going on? And I tried to reverse-engineer their process and create a kind of genealogy of their ideas. As I did that, I ended up uncovering for myself this story of how one particular theological and political tradition within evangelicalism had come to be so dominant and come to be the public face of evangelicalism in America—despite the fact that evangelicalism is an incredibly diverse, sometimes self-contradictory world. My book tells the story of the intellectual civil war within evangelicalism, the backstory to the rise of the Christian Right. Scholars usually describe this in purely political terms, as a story of backlash against the liberation movements of the 60s and a continuation of the anti-Communist movement. But increasingly, I felt that to really understand what’s going on in this country, even just politically, you have to get into the ideas. You have to start looking at what’s happening in missions, spiritual revivals, the way worship is changing, how all these different communities within this huge subculture that we call evangelicalism are interacting. That’s the only way you can understand today’s landscape. –
L.D. Burnett is one of the more thoughtful and dedicated writers in the history blogosphere today. I have no idea how she manages to work on her dissertation in intellectual history at the University of Texas at Dallas and still write such compelling posts at the U.S. Intellectual History blog, but I enjoy reading what she writes.
In her recent post, entitled “Secular Academic Homilitecs 101,” Burnett reports on Washington University’s inaugural Danforth Distinguished Lecture. The lecturer was noted Berkeley historian David Hollinger and the topic was his current project on evangelical missionaries. Jon Butler, Darren Dochuk, and Molly Worthen responded to Hollinger’s lecture and Hollinger offered a rejoinder.
You can read all about the lecture here, but I particularly enjoyed Burnett’s description of Molly Worthen’s comments:
There was nothing static about conservative American evangelical missions in Molly Worthen’s telling – nothing static about the evangelicals, and nothing static about how Worthen brought them to life. Instead of delivering her remarks from her seat at the table, Worthen took the podium. And then she took the room. Her argument about the vitality and complexity of evangelical thinking about missiology was not only clear in her prose but mimetically instantiated in her delivery. Molly Worthen didn’t just give a talk; she it, in the fullest and best sense of the word. Everyone in that room, from the distinguished historians at the front to the junior scholars at the back, saw and heard in Worthen’s contribution a pitch-perfect match between style and substance, argument and audience. She has studied Billy Graham, but she clearly could have schooled him too. Like both Butler and Dochuk, Worthen brought a smart, strong challenge to Hollinger’s argument, and she delivered with clarity and confidence that gave listeners every confidence that she knew exactly what she was talking about. That to be a hard act to follow.
This is the same Molly Worthen I experienced only a few days earlier in Chattanooga and it is the same L.D. Burnett I have been reading for several years now. Excellent.
Yesterday morning I posted about my experience at the “Religion and the Making of American Citizens” teacher’s institute in Chattanooga. I spent most of that post discussing Tracy McKenzie’s talk on the role of religion in the history classroom. Though I found McKenzie’s talk to
be the most engaging, there were other excellent presentations during the two-day event. I don’t have the time or space to address the content of all of the sessions, but here are a couple worth noting: