Most evangelical college grads have a story like this one

Most evangelical college grads have a story like this one March 5, 2014

Here’s a bit from the first chapter of Jonathan Dudley’s important book Broken Words. He’s describing his time at Calvin College:

In my freshman biology class, I sat riveted as the professor explained why scientists believe in evolution (I had never learned about the subject in high school). The summer after my first year, I pored over a summer-school psychology book by an evangelical professor, who argued (shockingly, to me) that gay people don’t choose their orientation and cannot readily change. Over the course of my second year in college, I learned why scientists think there is an environmental crisis. And during my last year of college, a bioethics professor argued against popular evangelical thought on abortion. I was surprised to find out during an office visit that many other evangelical scholars shared his view, though not surprised when he said they would rather not speak up about it due to the avalanche of protests it would generate from college donors. …

My bioethics professor reinforced a conclusion I had drawn from my undergraduate and seminary years: There is a significant gap between the opinions that dominate the popular evangelical culture (which is the only part of evangelicalism with political muscle) and the opinions that prevail among leading evangelical scholars.

Most evangelical college graduates have a story like the one Dudley tells. They can relate to the trajectory he relates there — the shock of new ideas as an underclassman and then, later, the candid conversations during office visits in which a professor explains what is and is not allowed to be said and how it differs from what is and is not true.

That office visit conversation usually only comes after the professor has learned that the student is headed off to graduate school (Dudley was on his way to Yale for seminary). On arrival at grad school, such students will be ill-served by what Peter Enns describes as:

… The same apologetically driven, and inadequate, answers to perennially difficult questions [that] keep being repeated in the classroom. Once students leave the environment where such apologetics is valued, they find that the old answers are often inadequate, and in some cases glaringly so.

That’s from a post last fall in which Enns describes the desperation he’s heard from many, many academic colleagues in evangelical institutions:

I had the latest in my list of long conversations with a well-known, published, respected biblical scholar, who is under inhuman stress trying to negotiate the line between institutional expectations and academic integrity. His gifts are being squandered. He is questioning his vocation. His family is suffering. He does not know where to turn.

I wish this were an isolated incident, but it’s not.

I wish these stories could be told, but without the names attached, they are worthless. I wish I had kept a list, but even if I had, it wouldn’t have done anyone much good. I couldn’t have used it. Good people would lose their jobs.

Yep. That. It’s pandemic.*

And it’s not just in academia. I’ve heard similar stories from clergy, journalists, musicians, missionaries and aid workers — all wrestling with the conflict between what they know to be right and “institutional expectations” shaped by the threat of an “avalanche of protests” from donors with political muscle. Not healthy. Not good.

– – – – – – – – – – – – –

* Update: For those too lazy or too deliberately obtuse (cough *Kevin* cough) to read this in context with the previous post, here again, from that post, is the link to Barna’s research providing the data from one of many, many surveys that confirms Dudley’s experience is not unusual.

Of course, survey data is only one way of exploring the claim above that “most evangelical college grads have a story like this one.” Another way to explore that claim would be by, you know, talking to evangelical college grads. Or maybe reading one of the dozens of post-evangelical-schooling memoirs published recently.

Listening to other people’s stories and reading other people’s stories is often a good way to learn about other people’s stories. Listening to other people’s stories also tends — anecdotally, at least — to make the listener more inclined to regard those people and their stories as legitimate, worthy of respect and not just something to be dismissed because people and stories lack a sufficient number of digits after the decimal point. Listening to other people, in other words, is one way to avoid being a tedious pedant.

 

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