Do Evangelicals Have What It Takes?

Does it feel like the world has turned upside down and inside out? Does it feel like people whom you love and know — good people — almost seem like they are under some kind of spell right now? Saying odd hateful, hurtful things you can’t account for based on your history with them? Does it feel like there we are under some sort of powerful corporate mass delusion? Are you shocked, not only at what is being said, but what is not being said by Church leaders whom you have known to have a heart for justice, mercy and truth?

There are real reasons for this. This is apocalyptic time. “Apocalypse” in Scripture means “revealing” or “unveiling.” And these are the days when the hearts of men and women in America are being revealed — deep divisions that have long been present are being exposed. Apocalyptic time is inside-out, upside down kind of time. In apocalyptic time, some things are dying and some things are being born. But mostly, it feels like things are dying, at least at first.

(Jonathan Martin, 11/12/16)

I found that quote via Sharon Hodde Miller, who tells in Evangelicals and the Lose of Prophetic Imagination of the “apocalypse” that changed her:

This year has changed me. I say this in all earnestness and with no dramatic intent, but this year really has changed me. I am not the same person I was, and my calling has shifted too.

It’s difficult to pinpoint when the change occurred. Perhaps it was a series of events. It began when conservative evangelicals began to endorse a presidential candidate whose rhetoric, lifestyle, and priorities resembled nothing of Christ, but much of the fool as described in Proverbs.

I watched Christians use dubious biblical interpretations and downright bad theology in an “ends justify the means” kind of ethic. I watched those same Christians bend over backwards to prove that this man, who possessed no discernible fruit of the Spirit, was a Christian. I watched Christians remain silent as the man they put in office continued to lie, name call, belittle, and slander. And I watched conservative Christians take up the mantra “Do not judge” in lock-step with the liberals they used to deride, as if Jesus’ words were intended to silence sound judgment.

I saw the same thing, though it affected me much less since I’m no longer an evangelical. It also surprised me less (though the cravenness of it did surprise me) because I had already lost confidence in the ability of evangelicals to conserve anything at all when the heat was on.

But Albert Mohler, who is evangelical (Southern Baptist), made a startling revelation in interviewing Rod Dreher, for Mohler’s podcast, about Dreher’s forthcoming book, The Benedict Option.


Late in the interview, he said something to the effect of, “Now, I have to ask you a tough question, and I want you to be honest when you answer me.”

I seized up. He continued, “Do you think that Evangelicalism has what it takes to do the Benedict Option?”

I gave him my honest answer: “I don’t know.” I explained that I don’t want to make a comment on a form of the Christian faith about which I know so little. I told him that I have to believe it is possible, because I know Evangelicals personally who are doing it (and interviewed some of them for my book), but in general, I don’t see that they have nearly the resources in their tradition that Catholics and Orthodox do. But that could just be my ignorance.

He replied that he is certain that Evangelicalism does not have the internal resources to do the Benedict Option — but that classic Protestantism does. He talked about how Evangelicals need to plunge deeply back into their Reformation roots and recover the spirituality and structure of the Reformers.

(Emphasis added)

At that admission, I cannot claim to be anything less than stunned. “Does not have the internal resources” for reform is, I believe, the sociological meaning of “corrupt.”

With some evangelicals capitulating to the full spectrum of what now is styled “LGBTQ Rights,” others (perhaps there’s overlap?) becoming Trumpistas, and Al Mohler tacitly calling evangelicalism corrupt, telling it to to go ad fontes to borrow some classic Protestantism to heal its infirmities, I can only wonder

what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

(W.B. Yeats, 1919)

UPDATE: Rod Dreher has heard from some folks who consider themselves evangelicals who think their traditions (Anglican and Reformed) have what it takes or are in the process of reclaiming it. I was Reformed, and considered myself “equivocally Evangelical” when I was. Anglicans as evangelicals seems a stretch to me, but “evangelical” is notoriously hard to define.

UPDATE 2: More response to Dreher, this time from someone who’s starting to confront the shallowness of his “Bible-believing Church.”

UPDATE 3: Three very thought-provoking responses, one each from an Evangelical, a mainstream Protestant, and an Orthodox.

* * * * *

As I look at the way we are now, I see a people who wish to be light, free from the weightiness of responsibility, limits, duties. We want sex without fertility, food without calories, endless consumer goods without (observable) environmental degradation, religion without law, divorce without fault, mobility without loneliness, bodies without aging, entertainments without limits. We want our freedoms to be endless and without cost, allowing us to float free from now this to now that, casting off identities and  responsibilities like old clothes discarded.

Of course, to those who are unbearably light, nothing is more repugnant than weight, but we are in our very natures called to weightiness, for we are moral agents, responsible for all.

Whether you think of the text as Holy Writ or mere literature of the past, the early chapters of Genesis indicate to us with bracing clarity the choice before us now. The human emerges from the dirt and yet is somehow responsible for the dirt, capable of tending, keeping, filling, and ordering the very dirt from which he is. The human is told to build, till, improve, cultivate–to husband (in the old sense) the cosmos as its responsible priest. And yet he is to exercise this creativity within the limits of fidelity, for he is steward and not Creator, always dependent, and obligated to be responsible.

How will we make our world and ourselves? Will be we unbearably free, infinitely light, using our creative capacities to cast off our responsible nature and soar into the beyond? Or will we be heavy, using our skill to tie ourselves into the loam from which we came, hoping to be faithful to obligation, duty, and the task of responsibility? Will the tapestry we weave have substance, or just the play of newness, with the shuttle undoing all that has been created before?

I want to be heavy. I want my children to be heavy. I want my life to be one of creative fidelity, finding new ways to be obligated and woven into the fabric of the world and the lives of my lover, my children, my neighbors, and friends.

And yet, weight is difficult to bear, especially for those of us weaned in an age of the insufferably light.

(R.J. Snell, Creative Fidelity and Weighty People, 2/9/12, emphasis in original)

* * * * *

“The truth is that the thing most present to the mind of man is not the economic machinery necessary to his existence; but rather that existence itself; the world which he sees when he wakes every morning and the nature of his general position in it. There is something that is nearer to him than livelihood, and that is life.” (G.K. Chesterton)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Sunday 11/6/16

A Secondary Thing

What is the telos of university?

The most obvious answer is “truth” –- the word appears on so many university crests. But increasingly, many of America’s top universities are embracing social justice as their telos, or as a second and equal telos. But can any institution or profession have two teloses (or teloi)? What happens if they conflict?

As a social psychologist who studies morality, I have watched these two teloses come into conflict increasingly often during my 30 years in the academy. The conflicts seemed manageable in the 1990s. But the intensity of conflict has grown since then, at the same time as the political diversity of the professoriate was plummeting, and at the same time as American cross-partisan hostility was rising. I believe the conflict reached its boiling point in the fall of 2015 when student protesters at 80 universities demanded that their universities make much greater and more explicit commitments to social justice, often including mandatory courses and training for everyone in social justice perspectives and content.

Now that many university presidents have agreed to implement many of the demands, I believe that the conflict between truth and social justice is likely to become unmanageable.  Universities will have to choose, and be explicit about their choice, so that potential students and faculty recruits can make an informed choice. Universities that try to honor both will face increasing incoherence and internal conflict.

(Jonathan Haidt, Why Universities Must Choose One Telos: Truth or Social Justice; H/T Rod Dreher)

Haidt acknowledges that this has been a miserable year for voters, but avers that it’s a great, great year for studying moral psychology, his field, which he thinks can explain it all. There is additional material, an outline, a PowerPoint, and a 66-minute YouTube video of Haidt’s talk on this topic at Duke, all at the preceding link.

I didn’t have time for viewing a long video, but if you’re a stranger to Haidt, you might want to make time.

A First Thing

I would a thousand times rather my Christian children attend a secular college that claims Truth as its telos than attend a Christian college that makes Social Justice its telos, or that fails to make Truth its exclusive telos.

But Haidt’s insight is also true for churches today. If we diligently seek Truth, and seek to conform our lives as much as possible around what we believe to be True, then we will inevitably achieve a form of Social Justice. But there can be no Justice, social or otherwise, without Truth. And Truth can never be what serves a pre-determined goal — the Revolution, the party, equality, the nation, the family, the temporal interests of the Church, nothing.

Those contemporary churches that put anything above the fearless pursuit of Truth, and living in Truth, will die, because they have no way of protecting their vision of the True, the Good, and the Beautiful — which is to say, God. They subordinate it to worldly, temporal concerns, and destroy their only mechanism (so to speak) for perceiving God clearly. To be clear, it is impossible for any church to see the entire Truth, and in any case, for Christians, Truth is not merely a set of propositions, but is a Person, Jesus Christ. This has profound implications that we can’t really get into in this post. My point is, churches, like universities, that place politics, culture, or any other goal over Truth are signing their own death warrants.

(Rod Dreher, Truth, Or Social Justice: Pick One (emphasis added), reacting to Haidt and to philosopher Elaine Scarry’s book On Beauty And Being Just)

Would a Church ever choose “social justice” over truth? Many already have. The social justice Sirens are singing their song to as many others as have not resolutely stopped their ears to them.

This does not mean we resolve to be unjust. It means we refuse to be seduced into a view of justice that does not comport with truth.

* * * * *

“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.