IV. The Religious Right

Let's pursue this in terms of politics. Evangelicals in America have recently re-emerged into the political sphere on a grassroots level, but not as the individuals who provide the intellectual basis for politics. Why don't we have evangelical public intellectuals providing that kind of force for conservative politics?

Mouw: One reason is that we do not have a theology of public life yet. So in the political sphere, we went from unthinking noninvolvement to unthinking involvement, which translated into the triumphalistic takeover mentality that we find in many active evangelical political movements today. They are not guided by careful theological reflection.

We do have public spokespersons like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, but they really haven't thought these issues through theologically. The result is that the theological basis for what their political followers have advocated has been at best minimal and at worst perverse.

How then should evangelicals be engaged politically? Are Christian political groups wrong for fighting abortion, homosexuality, and immorality?

Mouw: All of these issues are important. My theology of homosexuality, abortion, and sexual immorality is the same as many in the Christian Right. But I am wary of the arrogant and unrepentant spirit that I see in some of these organizations.

Christians should remember that one of the reasons the culture is in such bad shape sexually is that we failed in the past to address the issues in a positive, biblical way and instead fostered a sexually oppressive subculture. We did not treat the sexual sinner well. We have not done a good job at manifesting a healthy, self-critical, repentant attitude toward our actions. We have treated homosexuals horribly in the past. And if homosexuals today are angry with the church, we first need to repent of our past sins and then try to seek the credibility in this society to begin speaking.

Our scandals are as bad as anybody else's. We have no business appearing self-righteous. And so, I'm troubled not by the theology or the ethical perspective of Christians on the political front, but by their tone and spirit.

Bock: We're also selective about what we fight for. Take welfare reform. Have we thought about what we are going to do with the people who are impacted by the reform? Where do words like compassion, justice, and fairness fit into the discussion? Will we give those issues the kind of energy that we give to abortion or sexuality? The church has to transcend any political identification so that whether the particular problem is to the left or to the right, the church is able to address the issue.

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Another aspect of having a public theology is having Christian public intellectuals who act as bridges between the strictly academic world and popular movements. Roman Catholics have leaders such as Michael Novak, William F. Buckley, and Richard John Neuhaus. How can we encourage more evangelicals to do the same?

Mouw: Actually, we've done this. Evangelical historians have made the greatest contribution toward an evangelical public theology as they have engaged with the American experience in their work. Look at the kind of study that Mark, George Marsden, Nathan Hatch, Grant Wacker, and others have done. And tens of thousands of young people in Christian evangelical colleges and seminaries are receiving a trickle-down effect from their professors' work. These are our future laypeople and the leaders of the laypeople. And I am hopeful, because significant work has been done on this in the evangelical academy in the last decade or so.

Noll: I believe the academy is generally in better shape than the populace. But this is part of the problem. For a public theology to emerge, people have to be seriously biblical. But this is just not taking place among evangelical popular political leaders. Basic injunctions like "love your enemies," "do good to those that spitefully use you," and "the Son of Man came not to be ministered to but to minister" drop out of sight when people go on a warpath.

Mouw: I think there needs to be more empathy on the part of evangelical scholars toward the everyday Christian; we need to take their agenda seriously. Our approach should not be to walk in and say, "You're arrogant." Instead, we should say, "Let's go back to the Bible that you taught me to regard with all my heart, and let's look at what the Lord requires of us."

McGrath: But first we must gain the confidence of everyday Christians and convince them that we in our ivory towers do take their concerns seriously.

Most seminaries work on the assumption that "Christians should trust us and respect us because we are who we are." But I think we need to earn that respect. We scholars need to go to the front lines ourselves. While difficult, it will help us to overcome the trustworthiness gap.

John Stott is good example of a trust-earner. He has no institutional authority whatsoever, but he has earned respect globally by resonating with what people are concerned about.

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The irony is that 30 years ago, people were predicting that America was becoming secular, that religious issues were no longer going to be important. Yet now they're back in a big way. And while you're all wringing your hands, I'm just amazed. In England, we are wrestling with the issue of how to even bring religious concerns to a secular agenda. And if I may say so, yours is the nicer problem to have.

V. The future of the evangelical mind

Institutionally and personally, evangelicals continue to struggle with contemporary science. How can we move forward on this issue?

Noll: The evangelical, fundamentalist, dispensational protest against naturalistic science has been a glorious protest. I have no problems at all with antievolutionism when evolution is taken to mean a science that artificially excludes God. This kind of protest was needed. My difficulty is with the extremes of the protest.

Evangelicals and fundamentalists cannot be faulted for keeping God as the framer and sustainer of the natural world, but they can be faulted for trusting in themselves more than in God to learn about the natural world. A humble empiricism is a Christian (and biblical) way of approaching the natural world.

McGrath: Most academic theologians and Christian naturalist scientists quite easily reconcile Genesis, for example, and modern science. The problem comes from everyday Christians who ask, "Is Genesis true?" A scholar could respond, "It all depends what you mean by truth," which demonstrates perfectly that truth is a complex idea. And then laypeople want to know, "Are you, the scholar, challenging my belief in the trustworthiness of Scripture?"

This is the issue we have to face. It's virtually impossible to address these questions at a popular level because of the complexity of the issues involved. There is always going to be a degree of popular anxiety about this issue, which scholars will never be able to dispel because it is going to be seen as an either-or proposition: either the Bible is right or the Bible is wrong; it's either a six-day creation or evolution.

This is a difficult subject to explain. And when, as a scholar, you start to explain, you give the impression that you are "soft on inerrancy," which discourages discussion. Those who are qualified to address the issues feel that they will compromise themselves by entering into debate, because what they say will be interpreted to mean something different from what they really meant.

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We've described the vocation of the Christian academic as someone who has both to give an apology to people in the pews for what he or she is doing and also engage his or her non-Christian peers with an apology for why it is legitimate to do this from a Christian perspective. It sounds stressful, exhausting, and lonely. Is this a fair picture?

Mouw: It's never going to be easy to be a Christian scholar. On one hand, there's a loneliness to the scholarly life, a give and take requiring leisurely thinking that simply does not fit the practical patterns of everyday life. Scholars have a whole outlook that is difficult for people who aren't scholars to understand. This loneliness and give-and-take spirit will never sit well with everyone in the Christian community.

On the other hand, the offense of the Cross has to be understood in this regard. Our commitment to Jesus Christ and our belief in the absolute trustworthiness and sufficiency of the Scriptures is never going to go down well with people who do not accept the gospel. A hostility to the gospel will inevitably confront the Christian scholar wherever she or he is.

And so, the situation will never be great for the Christian scholar. The real question is, how can we at least make it better? Plato once said that if you want philosopher-kings, either philosophers have to become kings, or kings have to become philosophers. For a scholar to have a Christian intellectual life that's more acceptable to the body at large, he or she has to become a little more down-to-earth while laypeople become a little more intellectual.

We can work at this by taking the agenda of everyday Christians seriously; by demonstrating better than we have in the past that the biblical studies, historical studies, philosophical studies, and scientific studies we're doing really speak to the task of bringing the gospel to the world and bringing God's people into maturity in Jesus Christ.

Bock: One of the ironies of the postmodern world is that by creating an open table and relativizing everything, there is now no reason to exclude a Christian from the table. He or she has every right to be there with everybody else. And the question is, what kind of depth and character are we Christians going to bring to the table? For this reason, we need to cooperate and work with one another.

Part of the problem comes from the very specializations that we develop because of the information age. Each of us works in a discipline that has a specialty with subspecialties. To keep up with our own sub-subspecialty takes a lifetime of work. So when am I ever going to network with the scientist across the table to have any kind of appreciation for what he's going to say and do, or to give him any kind of help?

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The fundamental issue here for the church is one of attitude. We're going to have to work together, because we are people with breadth and width, with different specialties and interests, and there's no way for any one person or group of people in a given field to maintain enough expertise to be able to address all the other fields that we've talked about.

As our culture changes from being product-based to being based on knowledge and information, are there new challenges for the evangelical mind that weren't there twenty years ago?

Mouw: We do not have a theology yet that helps us understand what it means to live in a world in which we're constantly processing information. (And I don't think process theology is going to help us here.) Articulating a biblical world-view for this information age is a tremendous task.

We can see a process mentality emerging all over the place: "consciousness is just a process of one thing after another; history is just one thing after another." So this is an important time for people to stand back and be reflective. We need to develop a natural theology for the information age; we need to contextualize aspects of the biblical revelation in new ways for our time.

Bock: This requires an ecclesiology, too, but not the kind of divisive ecclesiology we see: Which denomination do you belong to? What worship practices do you have? How do you view high or low worship? Instead, it requires an ecclesiology that rediscovers the concept of the body of Christ in a broadly defined way. Christians are going to have to supply information, background, and expertise to one another in a way that I alone would have no prayer of ever being able to develop. It goes against the one-man-knows-all approach to a very different portrait where we recognize that without some sense of working together, we are not going to get anywhere.

So how should the church go about developing the evangelical mind?

Noll: The key issue is that Christian thinking must aspire to the norms of the gospel. Christian thinking should aspire to all the complexity, beauty, and simplicity that are in the gospel.

I'm encouraged about the work of Christian scholars today. But on the other side, there is much aimlessness and distraction that undercuts the possibility of good scholarship. Institutions, including Christian colleges, have potential; and, as Rich said earlier, no one is in better shape to begin. But that's exactly where these institutions are: at the beginning. The danger is to think either triumphalistically that they've arrived or pessimistically that nothing can be done.

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In seminaries, positive achievements are under way. The maturation of dispensationalism as reflected by Darrell and other progressive dispensationalists is marvelous. I will know it is truly marvelous when it produces a progressive dispensationalist art history or history of science-which it will, given a chance. My hope is that no one will ever want to reissue The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind because its message will be vitiated.

In the church and the popular Christian world, we've seen the American evangelical populace demonstrating both tremendous strength and significant weakness. As an academic, I'm concerned about the weakness; as a Christian, I want to be sure to balance what I see as the strengths and weaknesses.

McGrath: We need role models who will guide us and inspire the next generation. Maybe this means reaching back into our past, to hear from people like Jonathan Edwards. Whatever the case may be, we are at a defining moment in the history of evangelicalism where it is now able to do things it could not have done in the past.

Darrell mentioned earlier the past bleeding heart of evangelicalism. I like the phrase, but I want to point out that evangelicalism could bleed again, and other evangelicals are the ones who could make it happen. There is a real need for love, fellowship, and mutual support among evangelicals. We need to support one another and not enter into vicious discussions like the ones in the twenties over nonfoundational issues. The need to be able to work together, especially with those who are working on the interfaces where they are going to take flak from all sides, is crucial. These people need support as they seek to extend the Christian mind into areas where a previous generation could not have gone.

Bock: It's important that the people in the pews understand that there needs to be an affirmation of community. The church needs to affirm those who begin stepping out in the Christian academic community, since there will be risks taken or mistakes made. Will we have the compassion as a community to think hard about how we will act when this takes place? Or will we dismember someone in the process? Will we seek to be a restorative community in the way we address our conflicts? Our tendency is to take someone who's wounded and make sure that they die rather than to try to keep them alive.

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My one plea to the people in the pew is this: Appreciate what's being attempted here. Get behind what's being attempted with your energy and resources. Encourage scholars. Be supportive of the development of the intellectual aspect of the church alongside the other good things that are happening.

Mouw: I used to be very enthusiastic about the evangelical mind. And I haven't lost my enthusiasm, but I've tempered it, because I do not want us to set impossible or unrealistic goals for ourselves. The very talk of an evangelical mind could itself reinforce the triumphalism that the work of our minds will solve the world's problems or the academy's problems or the church's problems. That prideful tendency can even sneak into the academic mentalities of those who are themselves reacting against evangelical triumphalism.

A reason why we may never develop "the" evangelical mind or "an" evangelical mind is that we are a people who have historically been called by God as a protest movement to emphasize certain things. At other times, perhaps other issues should be emphasized. So the more holistically we think, perhaps the less uniquely evangelical we will sound.

And while we have received wounds, we've certainly also inflicted wounds. Many wounded people have no love for the church because of the way they were treated by their fellow evangelicals. While we have been a bleeding community, we have also drawn blood. We have to repent of these actions. It may be that the evangelical mind, as it develops, must be modest, tentative, humble, and searching as opposed to thinking in categories of finality.

As scholars from different areas of specialty, we are not saying we have it all together, but that all things hold together in Jesus Christ and that all of the disciplines and all of the intellectual discussions are held together in him. The intellect, will, emotions, missionary activity, evangelism, plumbing, farming, and scholarly activity-all are held together in him. Our job is to grow into an awareness of our unity and life in Christ, to show this force to a world that desperately needs to know something about the One who is both the Savior and our Lord.


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