My reservation with American Enlightenment is that its dismissal of the post-war liberal consensus is too strong. Marsden concludes that the "mostly secular moderate-liberal cultural leaders had nothing to offer beyond piecemeal solutions to the cultural challenges that they identified, and even less to offer to counter the unanticipated challenges of fragmentation." This judgment, however, underestimates the seriousness of liberals' critique of the moral foundations of Enlightenment and historic Protestant faith—a point strongly emphasized, for example, by the Berkeley historian David Hollinger (in his account of Protestant liberalism, After Cloven Tongues of Fire).
Nonetheless, Marsden's overall argument proves compelling. The challenge is to bring all voices to the table—secular and religious mainline figures, historically excluded populations, and traditionalists of all sorts—not simply as a matter of equity, but as a desperately needed source of wisdom. And the conversation itself should be esteemed. Participation does no good when it descends into cacophony. Our civilization faces threats from radicalized Islam, environmental degradation, and innumerable forms of greed and cruelty born of intractable sin. Amidst so many perils, we need all the sagacity we can find. If memory serves, the apostle Paul had some thoughts along those lines too, something about seeing through a glass darkly.
Grant Wacker is professor of Christian History at Duke Divinity School. He is the author of Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals and American Culture (Oxford University Press) and a forthcoming book about Billy Graham, to be published by Harvard University Press.