The State of the Evangelical Mind | Book Review


In 1994, Prof. Mark Noll published The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind which opened with this arresting sentence: “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” For Noll, the word mind pointed to “serious intellectual life,” “the effort to think like a Christian…across the whole spectrum of modern learning.” The book offered a historical explanation for the scandal, outlined its effects on how evangelicals approach politics and science, and suggested that an “evangelical renaissance” might be underway.

The State of the Evangelical Mind picks the story up twenty-five years later, assessing the quality of evangelical intellectual life across four sets of institutions: churches, parachurch organizations, colleges and universities, and seminaries. Noll himself kicks off the volume with an essay titled, “Reflections on the Past.” His paradoxical conclusion? “The evangelical mind…seems to be fading fast, even as more and more evangelicals cultivate with more and more integrate the life of the mind.” In other words, while many evangelicals are making contributions to “serious intellectual life,” their contributions are not “specifically evangelical.”

Jo Anne Lyon, former superintendent of the Wesleyan Church, argues that evangelical churches need to recover “the [historic] evangelical commitment to works of love, mercy, and justice,” even as they recognize that it is an “imperfect tradition” All movements are guided by a “strong narrative,” she points out, but when they lose that narrative, “it becomes very difficult to resist the seduction of political power that results in moving from prophetic to partisan to nationalism and civil religion.” Additionally, it leads to “seclusion and hopelessness,” on the one hand, and the attempt “to find hope in secularism,” on the other. Lyon’s analysis seems to me to perfectly capture the current state of white evangelicalism.

David Mahan and Don Smedley survey the state of the evangelical mind in parachurch organizations. Both work with the Rivendell Institute at Yale University, which is part of the Consortium of Christian Study Centers. Mahan investigates “the impact of secular university-based parachurch organizations on the growth and development of evangelicalism” as well as how these organizations might impact “the future of evangelicalism and evangelical thought.” Smedley critiques aspects of Noll’s thesis in Scandaland suggests that “evangelicals move more of the focus [on forming an evangelical mind] from the public square to the pew.”

Drawing on John Henry Newman’s classic work, The Idea of a University, Timothy Larsen outlines the five foundational ideas of a university and shows how Christian schools contribute to them. His conclusion: “Not only students, but the entire academy will be better off throughout the twenty-first century if there continues to be a thriving sector of Christian liberal arts colleges embodying the best ideas offered in John Henry Newman’s classic text.”

In her chapter on seminaries, Lauren Winner argues that “the most basic thing seminaries [should] do” is “teach people to speak Christian language as the primary language through which all else is arranged and construed, and serve as a space where people practice seeing with Jesus-adapted eyes.”

Whereas Noll offered “Reflections on the Past,” James K. A. Smith forecasts “Prospects for the Future” in his chapter. Like Noll, Smith sees evangelical intellectuals making serious contributions to the life of the mind. “But now the problem: we simply have to recognize and confess how utterly disconnected all of this is from the vast majority of evangelical congregations and the networks that comprise ‘evangelicalism’ in the United States.” Smith goes on: “The chasm between the aspirations and hopes of ‘the evangelical mind’ and the habits and dispositions of the celebrity cult that is evangelicalism is no smaller now than it was in 1994. If anything, it is worse.” The solution? “We need a generation of Christian scholars who articulate a fundamental critique of evangelical assimilation [to American culture] but who nonetheless are invested in reform. You cannot be a prophet on your way out the door.”

This book will hold special interest for those who lead evangelical institutions such as churches, parachurch ministries, and graduate and undergraduate schools. Other readers will have to catch as catch can. While all the chapters in The State of the Evangelical Mind have something interesting to say, in my opinion, the essays by Noll and Smith are worth the price of the book.

Book Reviewed
Todd C. Ream, Jerry Pattengale, and Christopher J. Devers, eds., The State of the Evangelical Mind: Reflections on the Past, Prospects for the Future (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2018).

P.S. If you liked my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

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Christians in the Age of Outrage | Influence Podcast


America is angry. Turn on TV news, tune into talk radio, check your timeline on social media, and chances are good you’ll see someone angry—outraged!—about something. Some commentators even worry that our nation is on the verge of a civil war.

It would be nice to say that Christians in America are tamping down the fires of outrage, but unfortunately, that’s not always true. Instead, some Christians are fanning the flames. They’re kicking outrage up to 11.

One Christian leader who’s trying to turn the outrage down is Ed Stetzer. He thinks outrage is unbiblical and anti-Great Commission. In his new book, Christians in the Age of Outrage, he explains why Americans are mad, why that’s bad, and what Christians should do about it.

Ed is Billy Graham Distinguished Professor of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College; dean of its School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership’ and executive director of the Billy Graham Center. He’s also my guest for Episode 159 of the Influence Podcast. I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine, and your host.

P.S. You can read my review of Ed Stetzer’s book here. If you like my review, please click “Helpful.”

How to Be a Man-Friendly Church


Roughly half the U.S. population is male, but fewer men attend church on average than women do. In the Assemblies of God, for example, the latest statistics indicate that men account for 31.5 percent of Sunday morning attendees, while women account for 40.4 percent. This gap in attendance reveals a ministry opportunity.

Earlier this year, Michael Zigarelli — professor of Leadership and Strategy at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania — conducted a qualitative survey of seven Protestant churches with greater parity in attendance between men and women. His working paper, “Churches that Attract Men,” identified transferable principles of man-friendly churches and is the springboard for today’s Influence Podcast conversation between him and me.

Topics of conversation include why attracting men is a good church-growth strategy and what man-friendly churches have in common. But Zigarelli also addresses “pushback questions”: Why are we talking about man-friendly churches in a culture that’s talking about “toxic masculinity”? Does being man-friendly trade on shopworn gender stereotypes or complementarian views of church leadership? And does attracting men create a void of ministry to women and children?

It’s an interesting, informative conversation, so make sure to listen to the entire thing!

A Mental Health Inclusion Strategy for the Church | Influence Podcast


May is Mental Health Month. In today’s episode, Influence magazine executive editor George P. Wood talks to Dr. Stephen Grcevich about a mental health inclusion strategy for the local church.

Dr. Grcevich is founder and president of Key Ministry. He is a child and adolescent psychiatrist with over thirty years of clinical experience and extensive research experience evaluating medication prescribed to children and teens for mental health disorders. A past recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, he is the author of Mental Health and the Church, published this year by Zondervan. (The link takes you to my review of the book.)

How Churches Can Support Foster Parents | Influence Podcast


May is National Foster Care Month.

In today’s episode, Influence magazine executive editor George P. Wood talks with Jay Mooney and Johan Mostert about how churches can support foster care parents and thus solve the twin problems of America’s foster care system: capacity and stability.

Jay Mooney is executive director of COMPACT Family Services, formerly Assemblies of God Family Services Agency. Johan Mostert is director of COMPACARE, one of COMPACT’S initiatives.

To learn more about COMPACT Family Services, go to CompassionateAction.com, or follow it on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Episode 139 Notes

  • 00:00 Introduction to podcast
  • 00:05 TruFire Curriculum sponsor ad
  • 01:17 Introduction of Jay Mooney and Johan Mostert
  • 01:39 The size and nature of America’s foster care problem
  • 05:19 What happens when kids enter foster care
  • 08:36 The twin problems of capacity and stability
  • 13:35 How can churches can help solve the foster care problem
  • 17:15 What church members can do to come alongside foster parents
  • 19:29 How to access the COMPACARE systems manual for your church
  • 22:55 The COMPACARE strategy is low-cost and scalable
  • 28:12 More information about COMPACT Family Services
  • 31:01 Conclusion

Extraordinary Women of Christian History | Book Review


“One Half of the World does not know how the Other Half lives,” wrote Benjamin Franklin in Poor Richard’s Almanack. That is certainly true of church history, the standard volumes of which are dominated by accounts of the thoughts and deeds of men. Ruth A. Tucker’s Extraordinary Women of Christian History tells readers about the “Other Half” of Christendom by means of biographical snippets of famous Christian women.

Tucker has served as a professor of church history at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Calvin Theological Seminary. She is best-known for her biographical approach to both the history of Christian missions in From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya and of church history more generally in Parade of Faith. In 1986, she and Walter L. Liefeld coauthored Daughters of the Church, which is a systematic account of “Women and ministry from New Testament times to the present,” in the words of the book’s subtitle.

Like Daughters of the Church, Extraordinary Women arranges its material chronologically. Chapter 1 begins with the apocryphal, but nonetheless influential, Thecla, erstwhile missionary compassion of the apostle Paul. Chapter 14 ends with Helen Roseveare, missionary doctor to the Congo in a time of civil war. Along the way, readers peak into the lives of women, both Catholic and Protestant, some married but others not, who professed the Christian faith with their thoughts, lives, and deeds.

From the outset, Tucker confesses that her accounts of these women’s lives will be anything but hagiographical. Analogizing her choice of subjects to “the tastiest candy from this sampler box of chocolates,” she notes that “in many cases [i.e., other writes’ accounts of these women’s lives] the candy is too sweet for the palate—sugarcoated heroines.” Tucker’s accounts are anything but sugarcoated. Indeed, if anything, they tend toward bitter chocolate. She writes, “I was struck by how many failed marriages and failed ministries had become added ingredients of this volume” (x). At times, this non-sugarcoated approach becomes too much, as if the failures outweighed the successes, at least to my mind.

Regardless, I appreciate Tucker’s reminder: “These women are anything but the super-saints of pious heroine tales. They are real people, and they are like us” (x). There is hope in that statement. God can make a beautiful thing out of the crooked timber of humanity.

One final takeaway as a male reader—or rather, a question. The women Tucker portrays advanced the kingdom of God despite opposition, especially the opposition that arose because so many of them labored against the grain of traditional gender roles and expectations. Ironically, the Protestant Reformation made the leadership of women even more difficult. “Protestants disdained monasticism,” Tucker writes, “which incidentally had been the primary path to ministry for women” (53). One can feel the sting of that opposition to women’s contributions in the complaint of nineteenth-century preacher and social reformer Phoebe Palmer:

We believe that hundreds of conscientious, sensitive Christian women have actually suffered more under the slowly crucifying process to which they have been subjected by men who bear the Christian name than many a martyr has endured in passing through the flames (148).

Interestingly, Palmer countered this “crucifying process” with a long, rigorous defense of women’s preaching ministry in a book whose title alludes to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, as recorded in Acts 2—Promise of the Father.

The question(s), then, that rises from reading Extraordinary Women of Christian History is this: If the Spirit has been poured out upon “all people,” both “sons and daughters” (Acts 2:17, cf. Joel 2:28), why do so many churches continue to erect barriers to the full involvement of women in all of their ministries? Would not the work of the kingdom advance more steadily if its daughters were not unduly hindered? The women whose lives Tucker sketches did much. One cannot help but wonder whether they could have done much more, had they worked without hindrance from within the church.

Book Reviewed
Ruth A. Tucker, Extraordinary Women of Christian History: What We Can Learn from Their Struggles and Triumphs (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2016).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Thoughts and Prayers Are Not Enough | Influence Magazine


Note: The following column will appear in the March/April 2018 issue of Influence magazine. I wrote it prior to yesterday’s deadly shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Its purpose is to encourage local congregations to respond holistically to people’s needs when tragedy strikes their community.

*****

The deadliest mass shooting in the United States took place the night of October 1, 2017, when a gunman opened fire on concertgoers at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada, leaving 58 dead and 851 injured. In the aftermath of that shooting, people across America took to social media to offer “thoughts and prayers” for the victims. Their sentiment was heartfelt, but was it enough?

According to the Bible, the answer is no.

James 2:15–16 says, “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”

No good at all.

Similarly, 1 John 3:17 says, “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?”

It can’t be. So, John exhorts us, “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (verse 18).

Words are insufficient responses to a tragedy, crisis or need unless we pair them with deeds.

By the same token, however, deeds also are insufficient responses to a tragedy if we fail to pair them with words and prayers.

Why? Because we have minds as well as bodies. We need to know that our lives have meaning, that our pain has a purpose. According to the apostle Paul, being at “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” enables us to make sense of our suffering. We can “glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:1,3–4).

Consequently, an authentic Christian response to tragedy combines deeds and words, action and prayer, help and hope. It’s a both/and effort, not an either/or choice.

Let me close by suggesting three concrete needs victims have that your church should provide if — God forbid! — tragedy strikes your community.

First, victims need shelter, a safe place where their immediate physical and material needs are met. Providing shelter is a Matthew 25:34–36 ministry to the hungry, thirsty, homeless, naked, sick and imprisoned.

Second, victims need shoulders to cry on, a community that affirms their emotional response to loss. Responding with empathy is a Romans 12:15 ministry: “Rejoice with those who rejoice,” Paul teaches us; “mourn with those who mourn” (emphasis added).

Third, victims need shepherds. Helping people find meaning in their suffering is a Psalm 23:2 ministry. It leads them to the “green pastures” and “quiet waters” of faith in God.

When tragedy hits, people’s immediate needs are for shelter and shoulders. Over the long term, though, as they mentally and emotionally process their experience, they increasingly need shepherds. Your church will do a great service to the community if it’s prepared to respond to people’s needs holistically in times of tragedy.