Jacobs on "The Evangelical Rejection of Reason"

Alan Jacobs comments (below) on this article from New York Times: The Evangelical Rejection of Reason. First and excerpt from the article:

The rejection of science seems to be part of a politically monolithic red-state fundamentalism, textbook evidence of an unyielding ignorance on the part of the religious. As one fundamentalist slogan puts it, “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.” But evangelical Christianity need not be defined by the simplistic theology, cultural isolationism and stubborn anti-intellectualism that most of the Republican candidates have embraced.Like other evangelicals, we accept the centrality of faith in Jesus Christ and look to the Bible as our sacred book, though we find it hard to recognize our religious tradition in the mainstream evangelical conversation. Evangelicalism at its best seeks a biblically grounded expression of Christianity that is intellectually engaged, humble and forward-looking. In contrast, fundamentalism is literalistic, overconfident and reactionary.

Jacobs says,

There’s some truth to this, of course, but — forgive the griping — it’s deeply annoying to me. First, it doesn’t say anything that Mark Noll didn’t say in 1994; and second, the only reason it’s in the NYT is that it flatters the prejudices of the readership. A more nuanced view of evangelicals, like the one Alan Wolfe wrote for the Atlantic some years ago, would never run in the NYT.

The problem here actually has little or nothing to do with evangelicalism per se: it’s the long-standing know-nothingism of American populism, which comes in varying religious and not-so-religious flavors, has connived at the evisceration of American public education, and makes millions of Americans unable and unwilling to understand evidential arguments. Blaming the evangelicals is cheap and easy, especially for evangelicals. The real issue is far larger and deeper, and its consequences can be seen even in New York City itself — and there are versions of it overseas as well, though not always populist ones. The very same intellectual flabbiness that makes some people trust Answers in Genesis makes others believe that the Earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare’s plays.

I do recommend reading the Atlantic article.

Dyrness on Fundamentalism and Modernity

“How can conservative Christians, who entered the century determined to oppose modernism and all it stood for, end up being so influenced by the culture this modernism produced? We have noted that Marsden stressed the anti-modern character of twentieth-century fundamentalism, which led to its consistent opposition and the cultural polemics it engendered. In his history of Wheaton College during this period (1921-65), for example, Michael Hamilton argues that Wheaton demonstrates the ability of fundamentalism, like its evangelical forebears, to adopt modern technology and appropriate (especially) the youth culture in its evangelistic and mission institutions.”

What is happening here? How did a movement nourished by the separatism of the holiness movement become so enamored of cultural innovation? The answer, I believe, lies in the inability of conservative Christians to understand the nature of the cultural challenge and their tendency to conceive of its problems in strictly intellectual terms, they did not understand the challenge of social modernism.”

William Dyrness, The Earth is God’s, New York: Orbis Books, 1997, pg 61.

Bauder on Pillsbury

Ht: Andy Naselli

Earlier this week Pillsbury Baptist Bible College, a fundamentalist college in Owatonna, Minnesota, published this announcement:

The Pillsbury Baptist Bible College Board of Trustees has announced that the college will cease academic activities on December 31, 2008. National economic conditions combined with deficits caused by declining enrollment have exhausted Pillsbury’s financial reserves, leaving the college without funds to complete the school year.

Pillsbury is committed to help current students complete their educational goals. Several sister institutions are working with the college to facilitate the transfer of credits and academic programs for those who choose to transfer.

Pillsbury will invite college representatives from sister schools to the campus to inform students of the academic and financial assistance programs they are making available to Pillsbury students affected by the closure.

The Registrar’s Office and Financial Aid Office will assist current students transferring to other colleges. Transcripts and academic records will be maintained for perpetuity at a sister college. The campus will be sold and the proceeds used to meet obligations to creditors as well as assist faculty, staff and students with the transition.

Kevin Bauder’s essay this week is entitled “Reflections upon Hearing the Announcement.” Here are some significant excerpts:

In a way, Pillsbury Baptist Bible College is a microcosm of what is happening within institutional fundamentalism everywhere. The fundamentalist movement has never been really cohesive, but during the past decade it has shown significant deterioration. Whether the overall numbers of fundamentalists are increasing or decreasing is hard to say. What is clear is that the mainstream of historic fundamentalism is dwindling.

The question is not whether fundamentalism is collapsing. The question is how we should respond to the collapse. More fundamentally, the question is how we should even be thinking about these events. What ought to occur to us first is that God does not need fundamentalism. . . . We ought humbly to recognize that God’s work in the world is much larger than institutional fundamentalism. Some days I wonder whether all of fundamentalism put together accounts for more than a footnote in the book of God’s present dealing with humanity. Much as we might prefer to think otherwise, wisdom will not die with us.

Not all of fundamentalism is worth saving. Fundamentalist structures have not infrequently been used to perpetrate abuses or to perpetuate silliness. If those districts of the fundamentalist movement were to disappear, we would be none the worse.

The fundamentalism that I value is not essentially a movement or a collection of institutions. It is an idea. It is a good idea, even a great idea.
If we are going to talk about saving fundamentalism, then let us be clear that the thing we need to save is the idea. All of our associations, colleges, seminaries, mission agencies, preachers’ fellowships, networks, alignments, and coalitions are of value only to the extent that they maintain and perpetuate the idea. If they are not propagating the idea, then let them perish.

This much is clear: nobody ever was simply a fundamentalist. Every fundamentalist has also been something else, and that “something else” has defined the quality of every variety of fundamentalism.