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.

20 Reasons Piper Doesn’t Take Potshots at Fundamentalists

Link: Piper

1. They are humble and respectful and courteous and even funny (the ones I’ve met).

2. They believe in truth.

3. They believe that truth really matters.

4. They believe that the Bible is true, all of it.

5. They know that the Bible calls for some kind of separation from the world.

6. They have backbone and are not prone to compromise principle.

7. They put obedience to Jesus above the approval of man (even though they fall short, like others).

8. They believe in hell and are loving enough to warn people about it.

9. They believe in heaven and sing about how good it will be to go there.

10. Their “social action” is helping the person next door (like Jesus), which doesn’t usually get written up in the newspaper.

11. They tend to raise law-abiding, chaste children, in spite of the fact that Barna says evangelical kids in general don’t have any better track record than non-Christians.

12. They resist trendiness.

13. They don’t think too much is gained by sounding hip.

14. They may not be hip, but they don’t go so far as to drive buggies or insist on typewriters.

15. They still sing hymns.

16. They are not breathless about being accepted in the scholarly guild.

17. They give some contemporary plausibility to New Testament claim that the church is the “pillar and bulwark of the truth.”

18. They are good for the rest of evangelicals because of all this.

19. My dad was one.

20. Everybody to my left thinks I am one. And there are a lot of people to my left.

Evangelical Manifesto

The recent Evangelical Manifesto
One who did not sign: Al Mohler
Review by Alan Jacobs of Wheaton

Interesting notes on fundamentalism:

Sixth, Evangelicalism should be distinguished from two opposite tendencies to which Protestantism has been prone: liberal revisionism and conservative fundamentalism. Called by Jesus to be “in the world, but not of it,” Christians, especially in modern society, have been pulled toward two extremes. Those more liberal have tended so to accommodate the world that they reflect the thinking and lifestyles of the day, to the point where they are unfaithful to Christ; whereas those more conservative have tended so to defy the world that they resist it in ways that also become unfaithful to Christ.

The fundamentalist tendency is more recent, and even closer to Evangelicalism, so much so that in the eyes of many, the two overlap. We celebrate those in the past for their worthy desire to be true to the fundamentals of faith, but Fundamentalism has become an overlay on the Christian faith and developed into an essentially modern reaction to the modern world. As a reaction to the modern world, it tends to romanticize the past, some now-lost moment in time, and to radicalize the present, with styles of reaction that are personally and publicly militant to the point where they are sub-Christian.

Christian Fundamentalism has its counterparts in many religions and even in secularism, and often becomes a social movement with a Christian identity but severely diminished Christian content and manner. Fundamentalism, for example, all too easily parts company with the Evangelical principle, as can Evangelicals themselves, when they fail to follow the great commandment that we love our neighbors as ourselves, let alone the radical demand of Jesus that his followers forgive without limit and love even their enemies.

Whereas fundamentalism was thoroughly world-denying and politically disengaged from its outset, names such as John Jay, John Witherspoon, John Woolman, and Frances Willard in America and William Wilberforce and Lord Shaftesbury in England are a reminder of a different tradition. Evangelicals have made a shining contribution to politics in general, to many of the greatest moral and social reforms in history, such as the abolition of slavery and woman’s suffrage, and even to notions crucial in political discussion today, for example, the vital but little known Evangelical contribution to the rise of the voluntary association and, through that, to the understanding of such key notions as civil society and social capital.

D.A. Carson on Evangelicalism (and Fundamentalism)

ht: Naselli

Two (lengthy) MP3s by D. A. Carson:

Take special note of 42:10 to 46:30 in the second one.