Friday, February 10, 2012

The Complicated, Contradictory World of Evangelicals - Part Two

This is Part Two of A. Thomas Walker's article from the October 3, 2011 issue of the Weekly Standard.

I never know quite what to expect when I post a blog piece. More often than not, the expectations I have never come to pass. In posting "The Complicated, Contradictory World of Evangelicals," I frankly expected some blow back from those of you who are associated with evangelical or fundamental Christian groups. That didn't happen at all. Every comment I got was fully supportive of Mr. Walker's views.

Here is the second half of the article:

Good News Bears
The Complicated, Contradictory World of Evangelicals. 

BY A. THOMAS WALKER a policy analyst Jor the Family Foundation
The Weekly Standard October 3, 2011
Part Two

The criticism offered here is punctuated by a tone of dismissal and reliance on academic pedigree. Ken Ham is eviscerated as an uncredentialed profligate who peddles fear as he does homeschooling textbooks; David Barton of the "Christian America" thesis is a likable dunce preoccupied with theocracy; .and James Dobson is a colloquial, grandfatherly sap offering sage advice on how to prevent homosexuality in youth. All of them have "undermined the academic status quo" and deter intellectuals from embracing the Christian faith. 

To be sure, the authors are not wrong in many of their assessments. As they state, A winsome preacher who can quote the Bible and tell heart-warming stories of God's blessings may possess more authority on global warming for believers than an informed climatologist ... from Harvard. 

And an anti-intellectual current does drive much of populist evangelicalism, as Mark Noll famously lamented in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. The castigation evangelicals receive is often far from unwarranted. Yet one can hardly say that evangelicals are the only ones to blame for glossy truisms and simplistic maxims in American culture. The authors ground anti-intellectualism in a larger American enthusiasm for commonsense explanations, plus an aversion to overtly cerebral leaders. The authors are also driven by their search for a version of evangelicalism with greater intellectual awareness and capaciousness, an evangelicalism at home with academic elites that rejects the "democratic impulse" of populist evangelicalism. 

Not all evangelicals are rebuked here, Giberson and Stephens have little problem with what the sociologist and Gordon College president Michael Lindsay refers to as "cosmopolitan" evangelicals — the culturally literate, for example, who read the New York Times and accommodate evolution to their faith. The authors highlight laudable individuals such as the Anglican scholar N. T Wright, the geneticist and National Institutes of Health (NIH) director Francis Collins, and the aforementioned Notre Dame historian Mark Noll as intellecmally minded evangelicals deserving of cultural and academic praise. 

The proclivity for holding positions on the social periphery rather than the cultural center plagues younger evangelicals. Profiling one student's experience toward the end of the book, the authors show that the fault lines dividing younger evangelicals from their parents seem to be as much intellectual as spiritual. As younger evangelicals become aware of secular inroads, a battle of head-versus-heart ensues. And when such dissonance occurs, a crisis of faith for those willing to accept the veracity of secular claims can be resolved, for some, with a "simple liberalizing," whereby, specific beliefs — biblical literalism, young earth creationism, homosexuality as perversion, eternal torment of the damned in a literal hell, the sinfulness of abortion — are abandoned and other beliefs — the Bible as literature, concern for the environment, racial and cultural equality for oppressed groups, universality of salvation, an emphasis on social justice, tolerance of diversity — move to the center as animating ethical and theological concerns.

One can register uncertainty on issues such as origins, and the difficulty of navigating biblical genres, but modifications on other issues (as those quoted above) suggest a betrayal of long-held positions in Christian orthodoxy and sexual ethics, The authors assume that evangelicalism is a cultural and doctrinal monolith, which it is not. Young-Earth creationism is far from a settled issue within evangelicalism, Outside certain cloistered elements of evangelicalism, debate on the origins of the universe remains open. The same can be said for psychology. 

What their paradigm cannot compute, however, is an individual like Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who couples intellectual acumen and columns in the Wall Street Journal with views unacceptable to prevailing academic opinion. Many other public intellectuals who are also Christian, dissent from secular opinion as well; and on issues political, cultural, theological, and social. Such evangelicals may hold unpopular positions, but one can hardly characterize differing opinion as uninformed opinion. The assumption here is that intellectual veracity will necessarily entail acceptance of the secular consensus on issues of psychology, science, and so on. The authors seem uncertain about how to handle that breed of evangelical academics with reputable degrees who still cling to positions outside the mainstream. 

Secularism, for Stephens and Giberson, is not a devaluing of the sacred; but the informed opinion of scholarly consensus, and The Anointed raises questions about the extent to which secularism and evangelicalism can align with one another when competing truth claims conflict.


It has been said that if God didn't exist men would create Him. Even though I consider myself a Christian, I'm enough of an agnostic to consider the possibility that we, as the society of human beings have done exactly that.

We are told that God never changes, that He is constant. Yet it doesn't take too much scholarship to see that the God of the Old Testament is very different from the God of the New Testament Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This week the news wires are alive with the dust up between President Obama and the Catholic church over the matter of whether or not Catholic institutions should be forced by the Federal Government to provide insurance coverage for birth control pills and morning after pills for their employees. There is doubt it is a tough question and one that cannot be compromised in any way that will be acceptable by each side.

Yet, I think it is significant that, but hardly ever mentioned, that the stance of the Catholic Church, meaning the people who fill the pews, is much different from the Catholic hierarchy, meaning the Priests, Bishops, Cardinals and the Pope. Members of the Catholic hierarchy are vehemently opposed to birth control. However, on the contrary, Catholics in first world countries not only do not share the views and the demands of the hierarchy but ignore the whole teaching of the church in matters of birth control. When I asked one of my family members who is Catholic how he manages to use birth control in spite of the churches teaching, his answer was simple. I only confess my sins to the priest. I do not confess things that are not sins. That includes the use of birth control. The majority of Catholics in the U.S. agree.

As Walker suggests in his article above, intellect is trumping dogma in many of today's churches. True, some people who are well educated continue to espouse the traditional dogma, but they do so for one or two reasons. They choose to set aside their intellect in matters of dogma just to be on the safe side, or they espouse publicly what they do not believe privately.

I talk frequently with a Texas Catholic Priest on line. He is a homosexual man. This, of course, puts him at odds with much of Catholic teaching. He seems unconcerned. He feels that he can do much good in the church by being a sort of conscientious objector. I'm absolutely sure he is not the only such priest. There are many.

For the homosexual or bisexual man, the take away from this article is clear. All men are sinners. In God's eyes all sin is equal. No sin is greater than another and there is no unforgivable sin. It is craziness to subject yourself to all kinds of pain and to self-hatred because you are a homosexual or bisexual man. You might as well subject yourself to all that because you broke the speed limit on the way home from work. If  homosexuality and bisexuality are sins, and I don't think they are, the sin is no greater that the sin of speeding or eating too much or telling a white lie.

As people become more and more educated, evangelicals and fundamentalists are going to die at the hand of the sword they have wielded, their own Bible. Those who insists that every word of the Bible is the word of God are the worst at separating the word of God from the word of men.

The Bible specifically tells each of us that we must work out our own salvation with God. No man is worthy to be our Priest. We are each our own priest and we can come to God just as we are at any time with out the need for anyone to intercede.

Jack Scott


  1. Thanks for this Jack, it makes me feel better for who I am, a non follower. That's not to put you in a lesser place, knowing your conviction to God; this isn't aimed at you.

    Oddly, some of the most religious people seem to be the worst people to be around. It's always interesting to me when I meet these people who have to wear their religion on their sleeve. It's almost as if they need to convince themselves of their own belief. In turn they feel superior for telling you so; my boss is one of them. She feels that if she's dumped a Jesus bomb a few times a week, she's in the clear, and Jesus is going to recognize her efforts. It's the most childish behavior, always with a "so there" attitude attached. The ironic thing is we both feel that we have "the answer". [She thinks it's anything Jesus. I feel there is no answer.] She also makes it a point to read her bible during her lunch break, always with the door open so we can all see. It's amazing how she can interpret the bible, yet I have to interpret her email from others for her. I also have to proof her out going mail.

    My closest coworker is a devout Catholic. He wears a cross, has the fish on his bumper, and is quite active in his church as well as other activities. You should see what happens when he feels he's being short changed, or when it's time to sign up for vacation. If he's not the first person in line, if he doesn't get his way, if he doesn't get all that's coming to him, or he has to take a back seat in decision making or being recognized for something, he becomes quite the scoundrel. He lets everyone know his displeasure, and stays sour for days. He's miserable.

    I look at it this way:

    "Go placidly amidst the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.
    Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
    Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
    Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.
    Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.
    Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
    Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.
    And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful.
    Strive to be happy."

    Max Erhmann

    1. Bob, you always come through even when you don't know what I need from you. I've been trying to remember enough of the Max Erhmann poem to Google it and you deliver it right to my comment page.

      I'm going to feature it in a blog. Thanks!!!

      The The Complicated, Contradictory World of Evangelicals did not gain as much attention as I hoped. People did read it, but not many chose to comment on it. I was hoping to hear from both believers and non believers on the issue. It is an important one.

      With the coming election in 2012 Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism are going to be very very important issues for all of us. I'm a Christian, a person of faith and the Fundamentalists and some of the Evangelicals scare the shit out of me.

      If they scare me as a Christian myself, it seems to me that the country ought to be considering carefully what their political goals are and what their agendas are.

      But then I've been wrong before.

      Thanks again for the Erhmann piece

      Jack Scott

    2. Yeah, what is it with the lack of comments lately??? Not just here, it's everywhere! Peak of winter hibernation I guess...

    3. I do know that I am just barely hanging on to time. It seems like I get up, read the paper, check my email, go to the gym and the day is gone.

      I think many of us lead to fast paced lives and take to little time to relax.

      Jack Scott

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I deeply regret that I must reinstate the verification process for those who want to leave comments on my blog. This is due to the intolerable amount of spam that spammers are attempting to leave on the blog.

At the same time I am changing settings so that those of you who have a Google Blogger ID or other recognized blogger ID will not have to have your comments moderated. My hope is this will encourage more readers to take the time to comment. The fact is I want to read comments with those of you who disagree with me as well as those of you who agree with me. All I ask is that you keep your comments clean and non-threatening.

The only reason I take the time to write this blog is to spur your thoughts and comments. Please do not let the spammers cause you not to comment. I know entering the verification words and numbers is a pain in the ass, but I hope you will not let the spammers cause you not to comment.

I still very much look forward to hearing from you.

Jack Scott

Anyone can comment on what I write in this blog. Regretfully, the recent amount of spam in my email account as required that I reinstate the word verification process for comments which I personally hate.

But at the same time I have loosened the comment moderation process so that those of you who have a Google Blogger ID or other recognized blogger ID will no longer need to wait for your comment to be moderated. I'm hoping this will tempt you to take the trouble to comment.

The truth is I want respectful comments both from those who agree with me and those who do not. All I as is that you keep comments to the point, clean and non-threatenting.

I look forward to hearing from each of you.

Jack Scott