Modern American evangelicals are the spiritual descendants of leaders and movements distinguished by probing, creative, fruitful attention to the mind. What went wrong? The Protesttant Reformers, the English Puritans, leaders of the eighteenth-century evangelical Awakenings like John Wesley and Jonathan Edwards, and a worthy line of stalwarts in the last century like Francis Asbury, Charles Hodge, and John Williamson Nevin—all believed that diligent, rigorous mental activity was a way to glorify God. None of them believed it was the only way, or even the highest way, but all believed in the life of the mind. And they believed in it because they were evangelical Christians. Yet we modern evangelicals have not pursued comprehensive thinking under God or sought a mind shaped to its furthest reaches by Christian perspectives.
We are, rather, in the position once described by Harry Blamires for theological conservatives in Britain: “In contradistinction to the secular mind, no vital Christian mind plays fruitfully, as a coherent and recognizable influence, upon our social, political, or cultural life.… There is no packed contemporary field of discourse in which writers are reflecting christianly on the modern world and modern man.”
Although Blamires’s assessment may not be as true today (in America or Britain) as was the case 50 years ago, yet we would be deluding ourselves if we thought that evangelical thinking in our day has progressed very far. Our recent gains are modest. The general impact of Christian thinking on the evangelicals of our country, much less on the nation’s academic culture, is slight.
The problem is not primarily formal theology as such. With the likes of Tom Oden, J. I. Packer, Gabriel Fackre, David Wells, ...1
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