A few weeks back I offered the umpteenth iteration of my standard description of the evangelical “faculty lounge.” This is my general term for what I’ve also often referred to as “the Books & Culture crowd” or as the “evangelical clergy, academics and educated laypeople who read Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind and nodded along in sad agreement.” These are the people who read and write all those books published by InterVarsity Press and Baker Books and Zondervan and Eerdmans.
I settled on the term “faculty lounge” even though these folks are not all literally faculty (although many of them are, and most of the faculty at evangelical colleges and seminaries are part of this sub-cultural subculture). The point is that the faculty lounge is where professors can relax and speak candidly amongst themselves without worrying about who else might be listening in.
The term is descriptive. It’s my attempt to sketch the outlines of an actual thing that simply is. The term “faculty lounge” is not in any way — on its face or in its intent — disparaging or judgmental. It’s just a description. One can dispute the accuracy of my description, certainly, but it would be just … weird to decide that the offering of any description at all is some kind of attack.
That’s why I was mostly just bewildered by Wheaton professor Noah Toly’s strange indignation at my reference to the faculty lounge. No such thing exists, he insisted. My description of it was simply some kind of nasty accusation at which he was eager to take offense. The idea that there is some kind of sub-set of evangelicalism that might be described as “the Books & Culture crowd” or as the audience for Noll’s Scandal was, Prof. Toly said, “uncharitable, uninformed, incomplete, and incorrect.” And it was, he said, uncivil and ignorant of me to suggest that any such imaginary group had any need to worry about ever being able or being allowed to discuss any kind of subject with the general evangelical public.
So anyway, there was a conference last week. It was called “The State of the Evangelical Mind: Reflections upon the Past, Prospects for the Future.” Here’s how Christian college professor John Hawthorne summarized the gathering:
In part a retrospective on Noll’s book and in part a recognition of the service John Wilson performed as editor of the journal Books & Culture, it involved a series of papers reflecting on issues both deeply related to the conference question and some slightly more tangential (yet still interesting).
Yeah. I don’t think I’m making this up. And I don’t think my description could easily be made any more accurate.
John Fea — blogger extraordinaire and history professor at Messiah College — has a great series of posts discussing various presentations at this faculty lounge gathering (including his own).
Hawthorne’s larger reflections on the conference also line up very closely with the two-part dilemma I have long described for the evangelical faculty lounge: Communicating complex ideas to a broader general audience is just plain difficult; and, in the evangelical world, such ideas may be seen as threatening and met with hostility.
We’ll return to this topic later to discuss both of those challenges facing the evangelical faculty lounge. Here I just mainly wanted to point out that, yes, the faculty lounge is a real thing that really matches my description of it.
And I wanted to dunk on Noah Toly.