Future of Evangelicalism
The Future of Evangelicals in Academia
The strength of Crouch's comment is its emphasis on the need for Christian integrity. Maintaining Christian integrity is a problem wherever you are, whether you're in an isolated or semi-connected or entirely connected stance toward intellectual institutions. The specifics may vary, but there is a common problem in general of maintaining Christian integrity. That's the big challenge.
But again, the question of influence is related. The marginalization of evangelical, fundamentalist groups was not undertaken with the intention of completely withdrawing. It was trying to present an alternative way of influencing the public. In some instances that was quite helpful. The evangelistic effort of someone like Billy Graham, for instance, was by and large very positive. But if you try to influence things in politics and science and some other spheres from the outside, it just isn't effective.
The other concern is this. Whether it's your own emphasis on the development of scholars, or James Davison Hunter's emphasis on powerful institutions, or Michael Lindsay's emphasis on the circles of extreme power, these seem to be top-down approaches. Is that just a reflection of the fact that Mark Noll and James Davison Hunter and Michael Lindsay are members of the elite? Do we need a vision for transformation from the bottom up? In other words, all this talk of transforming culture from the top down, is it not elitist?
That too is quite a legitimate concern, and probably the answer would have to be that these theories are elitist. It's hard for me to imagine, however, if you want Christian direction in science and the history of science, or philosophy or sociology, or even historical studies, which does not require a special vocabulary -- in some sense it demands elite training and elite presentation.
The legitimate reason for the concern would be, I think, related to your earlier question, that if Christian believers are so taken up with the status or the power of elite circles, and they try to gain that power and status and influence for their own sake, then there are real problems. But if the recognition is that elite circles are where the most serious engagements with the physical world, and the human world of politics, take place -- then what you're after is not so much elite status but substantive engagement with the subject matter.
My next question concerns the life and psychology of the scholar. In Between Faith and Criticism, you say, "a history of evangelical biblical scholarship must heed both the professional community in which scholars willingly adopt a mien of intellectual neutrality, and the community of belief, in which the same scholars embrace a childlike faith."
In my own graduate education, I sometimes heard believing professors and historians say that, "As a historian I believe X, because I am required to operate according to a certain methodology. But as an individual believer, I believe Y." The question is: Is that a stable arrangement? Over the long haul, the more that one practices a methodological naturalism, or something of that sort, will one eventually come not only to practice naturalism as a methodological matter but to accept it as a metaphysical matter? Is it practical to bifurcate ourselves as scholars into one part that draws conclusions according to rigorous methodological criteria and another part that confesses a different set of beliefs?
That's a very good question. I actually think it's fatal for long-term Christian thinking and fatal for the long-term health of Christianity per se to live under different basic commitments in professional life and church life. To say that I adopt the rules of the game for academic life Monday to Friday, and the rules of church life on Sunday, that's a real problem.
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.