Given the usual media treatment of things evangelical, it was stunning to see the cover story in this month's Atlantic Monthly, "The Opening of the Evangelical Mind," by Boston College's Alan Wolfe: a substantial, fair-minded article by a sympathetic yet not uncritical outsider, the like of which I can't recall. Wolfe's essay includes a brief but generous mention of Books & Culture, and for some readers that will disqualify me from further comment. Never mind. In any case what interests me here is not the details of the essay, provocative as those are; rather, should we regard its appearance as heralding a significant change in the way evangelicalism figures in what is wistfully called "the national conversation," or is Wolfe's thoughtful engagement with the evangelical mind merely an anomaly?

In the early responses to Wolfe's essay, alas, there are signs that we may be returning to business as usual. Consider, for example, Judith Shulevitz's Slate essay, "Alan Wolfe Turns Evangelical." Shulevitz notes that Wolfe's article does not discuss the Intelligent Design movement. But she doesn't simply note this omission: she charges Wolfe with flagrant intellectual dishonesty, claiming that he deliberately suppressed any mention of the Intelligent Design movement because he wanted to make evangelical thought "seem better than it is."

The idea is that Intelligent Design is a skeleton in the closet, a terrible embarrassment to evangelicals, who haven't progressed so far after all from the days of the Scopes trial. If Wolfe had acknowledged the existence of this embarrassment, you see, his carefully constructed case for the newly found intellectual respectability of evangelicalism would fall apart.

Oddly, while charging Wolfe with one ...

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