Blue Crabs and Evangelicals – Part 2

Blue Crabs and Evangelicals – Part 2 November 20, 2013

Aside from getting to feast on some great crab cakes and see a beautifully crafted ballpark, I have had the opportunity to listen to several very good papers while attending the Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Baltimore, MD, today.

This morning, I was privileged to moderate a panel of three solid presentations loosely gathered around the theme “Evangelicals, American Politics, and Political Theory.”  First, my colleague John D. Wilsey offered a paper on American exceptionalism. John distinguishes between providential exceptionalism and exemplarist exceptionalism, offering a history and careful critique of each.  The paper is part of a larger project that will be published by IVP next year.

Second, Matthew Hall placed the varied approaches of the SBC to the black freedom struggle within their Cold War context.  The Cold War provided the categories whereby all sides insisted that their position was necessary to a U.S. victory over global communism.  Matt’s paper comes from his dissertation which he is completing at the University of Kentucky.

Third, Gary Steward traced a long Reformed tradition of resistance to political tyranny all the way to Calvin.  His efforts suggest that Reformed ministers in colonial America might have drawn upon that long tradition of resistance as much as they did Enlightenment thought when they made their case for revolt against George III.  Gary hopes to build upon this work in writing his dissertation at Southern Seminary under Greg Wills.

This afternoon, our American Christianity study group held its first session, “Inerrancy and 20th Century Evangelicals: Issues and Debates.”

First, Craig Blaising presented the history behind the 2003 open theism dust-up.  In a room packed to overflow, he drew upon personal recollections, putting his penchant for engaging storytelling on display.  He also demonstrated that this controversy did not emerge out of the blue but was the culmination a twenty-five year history in which the organization worked to define what is meant by its doctrinal committee to inerrancy.

Next, my good friend Doug Hankins presented a paper on postwar parachurch movements, wondering why they did not explicitly embrace the concept of inerrancy when they so clearly demonstrated they believed it. Jim Rayburn (Young Life), Dawson Trotman (Navigators), and Bill Bright (Cru) all embraced the Bible as the authority upon which they built and conducted their ministries. Doug revealed several interesting tidbits that enlivened the presentation, including Trotman’s personal habit of reviewing 1,000 memorized Bible verses each day!

Third, Owen Strachan presented his paper on the neo-evangelical desire to renew evangelicalism.  At the elite level, that vision involved engaging—and engaging in—top notch scholarship in every field.  In this vein, Carl F. H. Henry, and at times Billy Graham, had a vision and ambition to build an Ivy League-level evangelical university. Its name? Crusade University.  Owen did the archival work to uncover this story for his dissertation.  To our benefit, it should be published within the next year or so.

Tomorrow, I have another full slate of papers to attend, and a few to present.  I present my own paper, “When Inerrancy Failed: Twentieth-Century Evangelicals and Race in America,” first thing in the morning.  In the afternoon, I will moderate a book review session focused on fellow Anxious Bench blogger David Swartz’s book, Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism.  If tomorrow’s sessions meet the standards set by todays papers, it will be a great day.


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