Future of Evangelicalism
The Future of Evangelicals in Academia
The second area is the catholicity of Catholic higher education. Evangelical colleges (and we have one or two universities) tend to be more restrictive in hiring practices, and selecting students. Catholic schools tend to be less so. Notre Dame's faculty, for example, is about half Catholic and half non-Catholic. Evangelicals can go to school on the successes and difficulties of trying to organize higher education in that way. It is a different way of organizing higher education, and it has weaknesses as well as strengths. But the differences can be instructive to evangelicals.
James Davison Hunter's book, To Change The World, has aroused a lot of discussion in recent months. He sounds a call for "faithful presence." How do you see this in light of your call sixteen years ago for the cultivation of an evangelical mind?
Well, I should read the book before I pontificate. I've read some reviews and articles, and if I correctly understand what he's saying, it seems entirely compatible with what I was trying to urge. My own sense as a Christian believer is that there is never any guarantee for the outcome of what individuals do in any sphere of life. The Christian calling is always to pursue the vocation and pursue the virtues that have been set before us. So in that regard, success or influence is relatively out of the control of actors, although actors are to be faithful in what they are called to do. If that's the burden of his book, then I agree with it.
It's also an analysis of how influence works in culture through institutions of broad, extensive authority. As far as I understand it, that is an important point as well.
Since there is a sort of broad compatibility between your work and Hunter's, I want to mention two concerns that might be raised against Hunter or against you. One is voiced well by Andy Crouch in his review. He wrote: "A more practical question is what evangelicals might have done in the last century instead of retreating to the margins. A subcultural strategy can sometimes be wise -- if nothing else, it preserves an identity distinct from the dominant culture. I spent some of my formative years among mainline Protestants for whom ‘faithful presence' was the very watchword, but in practice that meant nearly complete cultural accommodation. This is perhaps the greatest practical obstacle to enacting Hunter's vision. Creating a strong alternative community to counter the dominant culture, while still boldly commissioning that community's members for presence even in places of great cultural power, has proven quite the sticky wicket for two millennia now." How would you respond to the challenge that faithful presence, or the desire to permeate institutions and elite circles, can, over the long haul, transform us away from the gospel more than it transforms the world toward the gospel?
That's quite a legitimate concern. And the history of mainline Protestantism should be a cautionary tale for all faithful Trinitarian confessional Christian believers.
I would read the history a little differently, however, and say that pulling from the margins, as evangelicals did through much of the 20th century, had some real weaknesses and some real differences. It was not like becoming Amish, separating from society. It was like setting up an alternative intellectual world. Yet nothing is gained for intellectual purposes by setting up, for example, an alternative science.
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.