OUR SHIBBOLETHS ARE BETTER THAN YOURS: “The Evangelical Rejection of Reason.”
Charismatic leaders like these [i.e., Ken Ham, David Barton, and James Dobson] project a winsome personal testimony as brothers in Christ. Their audiences number in the tens of millions. They pepper their presentations with so many Bible verses that their messages appear to be straight out of Scripture; to many, they seem like prophets, anointed by God.
But in fact their rejection of knowledge amounts to what the evangelical historian Mark A. Noll, in his 1994 book, “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind,” described as an “intellectual disaster.” He called on evangelicals to repent for their neglect of the mind, decrying the abandonment of the intellectual heritage of the Protestant Reformation. “The scandal of the evangelical mind,” he wrote, “is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”
There are signs of change. Within the evangelical world, tensions have emerged between those who deny secular knowledge, and those who have kept up with it and integrated it with their faith. Almost all evangelical colleges employ faculty members with degrees from major research universities — a conduit for knowledge from the larger world. We find students arriving on campus tired of the culture-war approach to faith in which they were raised, and more interested in promoting social justice than opposing gay marriage.
Scholars like Dr. Collins and Mr. Noll, and publications like Books & Culture, Sojourners and The Christian Century, offer an alternative to the self-anointed leaders. They recognize that the Bible does not condemn evolution and says next to nothing about gay marriage. They understand that Christian theology can incorporate Darwin’s insights and flourish in a pluralistic society.
I’m sympathetic to the authors’ critique of evangelical anti-intellectualism. I’ve read Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. In fact, I was a student of Noll’s at Wheaton College. But here’s what bugs me about this article: The authors seem to have substituted their own shibboleths (social justice, evolution, gay marriage) for the shibboleths of the activists they critique (Christian nationalism, young Earth creationism, and traditional marriage).
AFFIRMATION & CRITIQUE: “What Should Christians Think about Democracy?”
Democracy is not only a moral system, but it is a self-interested moral system. There have been times where the self-interested nature of a democracy has produced positive results. A belief in democracy has resulted in a political culture where the self-interests of the marginalized—women, labor, African-Americans, to name a few—have been heard.
But democracy also leads men and women to see themselves as isolated individuals who feel, to quote Tocqueville again, that they “owe nothing to man and expect nothing from any man.” Democracy always has the potential of producing people who “acquire the habit of always considering themselves as standing alone.”
While democracy celebrates the personhood and the dignity of individuals, it fails to create human beings who see themselves as something larger than themselves. Democratic individuals forget the past because the wisdom of the ages has little to teach them.
In the end, democracy alone cannot provide answers to life’s deepest moral questions. Yet it remains the best form of government we have to offer in a flawed and sinful world. Let’s celebrate our democratic freedoms, but do so with a certain degree of caution and prudence.
The author of this article is historian John Fea. On Tuesday, November 29, at 2:00 p.m. (Central), I’ll interview Fea about his excellent book, Was American Founded as a Christian Nation? You can read my review of the book here.
THE MARRIAGE CULTURE: “The ‘Big Love’ Strategy.”
The Judeo-Christian tradition, as interpreted by Jesus (Matt. 19:3-9; Mark 10:1-12; Luke 16:18), defines marriage as the joining of one man and one woman in a lifelong covenantal union that is open to children, the mutual care of husband and wife, and the flourishing of the human community. Christians today are called to model this ideal of marriage in our own families and to reach out in love and forgiveness, as Jesus did, to those within and outside the Christian community who fall short of it. We are also called to renew the marriage culture by opposing practices that undermine and destroy it.
Today, unimaginable though it is, that includes polygamy.
CALCULATED CRUELTY IN GOD’S NAME: “When Child Discipline Becomes Abuse.”
However, after reading To Train Up a Child, I believe that the line between the Pearls’ “child training” and child abuse is blurry at best. Theirs seems anything but biblical child rearing, rather, a program of calculated cruelty in the name of a God who loves kindness and mercy; a God who bears with the weakness and rebellion of stubborn people of all ages, and who became flesh to suffer in our place and for our healing. One child suffering under this training is too many; it’s my hope that the Pearls will be widely discredited, and soon.
POLITICS & RELIGION:“Who does God want in the White House?”
There was a time when if a candidate wanted to inject faith into a campaign he or she would be photographed going to church or shaking the Rev. Billy Graham’s hand.
Now it seems many GOP campaigns aren’t complete without claiming God’s seal of approval, which suggests the other candidates may be running without it. Such a sentiment is an ideological piñata for comedians like Bill Maher and Jon Stewart, but for conservatives trying to secure the GOP nomination, it’s a highly manipulative campaign tool.
POLITICS & RELIGION II: “The liberal church of Herman Cain.”
The black church has long been a paradox. It is one of the most politically liberal but theologically conservative institutions in the black community. Cain’s house of worship embodies some of these contradictions.
Antioch is a member of the National Baptist Convention USA Inc., a denomination in which some churches do not ordain women. The denomination’s leadership publicly broke with King over his civil rights activism.
But like many black Baptist churches, Antioch has developed a strong social justice component to its ministry over the years. It offers ministries for people suffering from drug addition and those infected with HIV/AIDS, and it has been a Sunday stopover for black politicians running for office.
QUESTIONS (ALMOST) NO ONE IS ASKING: “Why Does God Love Beards?”
HEADLINE OF THE DAY: “Circus ministry a high-wire act of faith for chaplain.” Who knew that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had a department called “The Circus and Traveling Show Ministries”? Wonders never cease!
GORE FAIL: “Replicating Al Gore’s Climate 101 video experiment shows that his “high school physics” could never work as advertised.” Obviously, this has nothing to do with religion—unless you consider global warmingism a science—but I thought it was interesting nonetheless.
GOVERNMENT, NEVER IN RECESSION: “The Federal Government Spent 32 Percent More in 2011 than in 2007.” This also has nothing to do with religion.
WHAT INCOME INEQUALITY?“5 reasons why income inequality is a myth—and Occupy Wall Street is wrong.” Three non-religion stories in a row. Money quote: “No doubt the past few years have been terrible. But the past few decades have been pretty good—for everybody.”