Faith in History
The Scandal of the Evangelical Experts?
Several critics have reasonably asked what Giberson and Stephens would not have evangelicals give up in order to satisfy mainstream academic sensibilities? One letter from a secular Harvard scientist following the New York Times editorial said Christian scholars would only earn his intellectual respect if they abandoned the notion of the supernatural entirely. The authors do not wish to go that far. But exactly how far evangelicals should go is left unclear.
In The Anointed, Stephens and Giberson express admiration for evangelical scientist Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, and his belief in the resurrection of Christ and the virgin birth. So are these core Christian beliefs, but others, such as belief in the devil, a literal hell, and the historicity of Adam and Eve (doctrines the authors mention negatively) are not? Reading the book, I'm simply not sure. Giberson and Stephens don't give evangelical readers much guidance on how to draw the line between wisely appropriating mainstream scholarship and abandoning essentials of the faith.
The Anointed raises important questions about the way that some evangelicals sequester themselves in intellectual cul-de-sacs. But the book also makes me wonder what Christians in positions of academic influence can do to help upgrade the intellectual rigor of American churches. Obviously, academic Christians have largely failed to reach a general audience of believers or there would be less of a market for the populist entrepreneurs to fill. But deriding evangelicals' intellectual deficiencies in venues such as The New York Times probably isn't the most promising way to start addressing that failure.
Thomas S. Kidd teaches history and is a Senior Fellow at Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion. He is the author of Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots and God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution. Follow his writings via Facebook and Twitter.