Patrick Henry's book The Ironic Christian's Companion records a scene of wonderful irony. His mother-in-law, saying grace before a meal in which she meant to ask God to "make us ever mindful of the needs of others," asked God instead to "make us ever needful of the minds of others." The more I thought about it, the more I liked her prayer.
Evangelicals in particular have not always acknowledged their needfulness of others' minds. I remember church deacons in 1963 distributing If America Elects a Catholic President, a scary booklet by a prominent evangelical author. Well, America did elect John F. Kennedy, who, contrary to prophecy, did not follow orders issued directly from the Vatican.
America's best-selling nonfiction book of the 1970s was Hal Lindsey's The Late Great Planet Earth. Reading that now brings me more chuckles than fear; the world has changed, but not necessarily in the way Lindsey foretold.
In the 1980s evangelicals on national radio programs fed the AIDS hysteria by warning that HIV could be passed by mosquito bites or contact with toilet seats. In 1999 some evangelical publishers made a fortune on scary predictions about Y2K. Others kept forecasting an economic meltdown during the greatest boom ever. I wonder, is there no place for public apology or at least sheepishness? What would happen if every evangelical institution that profited from scaremongering agreed to place all those profits in a fund to relieve Third World debt?
Such notable evangelical "bloopers" demonstrate the point Mark Noll made in his book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Few question evangelicalism's passionate heart, and even critics envy its methodology and results, but the evangelical mind may be the movement's weakest link.
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.