Future of Evangelicalism
The Future of Evangelicals in Academia
Certainly there is a great deal more cooperation, a great deal more awareness and discussion between at least some Catholics and some Protestant evangelicals. On education, for example, there has been a great deal of mutual interchange and learning, a great deal of reading of one another's books. Since most of the tasks of higher education are really not denominationally specific, these set up domains where there is a lot of cooperation possible.
I do think there is a certain segment within evangelical Christianity today that is more concerned about the past, the historical liturgy, the sacrament. And whenever you get these kinds of interests, you obviously have a strong interest in Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy as well. Among Catholics, I think the stress on the Bible, the stress on the life and teachings of Jesus, has been attractive to evangelicals. So, without thinking that there is soon going to be any convergence or reunion, it does seem to me that there are many more avenues today of profitable discussion and mutual learning.
Let's talk more about education, then. Your work, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, had an enormous influence amongst evangelical intellectuals. You have taught at Wheaton and Notre Dame, flagships institutions for evangelicals and Catholics. Was there ever a similar Scandal of the Catholic Mind? Or what can evangelicals learn from Catholics about education and cultural engagement?
The history of Catholic higher education is in many ways quite different from Protestant higher education. Catholics in America always had an anchor in European discussions, always had an outlet for training leaders. They retained an interest, for example, in Thomas Aquinas and in the philosophical and theological debates of the early modern period, in a way that is not common among Protestant evangelicals.
Catholics have confronted the different problem of figuring out how to bring ancestral wisdom to bear on very modern conditions. In the 19th century, popes who were conservative in their culture and philosophy as well as their theology made more difficult for American Catholics the task of communicating in a modern liberal democracy such as the United States. Since the mid-20th century there have been many exemplary Catholic intellectuals who have shown how that leap to the modern world can take place. They range across a wide spectrum, but you can think of people like Alasdair MacIntyre, Charles Taylor, and Mary Douglas. They are by no means identical in what they do or say, but they all show how the historical riches of Catholicism can be brought to bear on modern intellectual debates.
So, was there a scandal of the Catholic mind? Maybe so, in the sense of not knowing how to articulate traditional Catholic teaching in an American setting, but it was a different kind of problem than what engaged Protestant evangelicals.
Having seen the institutional approaches of these two flagship educational institutions for Catholics and Evangelicals, how might evangelicals benefit from learning about the Catholic way of doing education?
Two things would be most valuable for evangelicals to go to school on. The first would be what we've been talking about, the way in which Catholic higher education at its best brings alive resources from the past. Again, you'd have to ask the philosophers for the details, but I'm impressed with how a focus on Thomas Aquinas and the general Thomistic tradition has helped to give depth and breadth to Catholic theorizing.
Dr. Timothy Dalrymple is the Associate Director of Content at Patheos, and writes weekly on faith, politics, and culture for Patheos' Evangelical Portal. Follow him at his blog, Philosophical Fragments, on Facebook or on Twitter.