The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind

On vacation this weekend, I’ve been reading Mark Noll’s “Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.” He’s a Wheaton professor and mainly uses a historical lens to critique the current lack of evangelical intellectual acumen. Anyone else read this who has comments or thoughts on it? I read bits of Sider’s “Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience” this summer as well, where Sider takes ths premise Noll fought for and uses it to provide an entry point to critiquing the lack of Christian living that Sider, Barna, and others comment on.

Overall, Noll seems to be pointing out a truth that I have witnessed, and sometimes embody myself, from my church tradition – that is, unless something can be summarized in a pithy quote, explained in a three-point allegorical way, or sung to a short tune with drums, its hard to always keep the attention of evangelicals on intellectual matters. I can say this because I am one…. (and because I embrace my ADD tendancies). It also reminds me of some of the funny questions I have run into at each stage of my academic journey – the deeper I have gone into study and academia, the more some people have thought I was crazy to care about this area of life, or to think it might have a relationship to topics that I care about (like living out authentic faith, how race matters, fighting poverty in practical ways, strengthening communities and congregations, etc.) I do think evangelical culture has largely abandoned aspects of intellectual thought in favor of our focus on the experience and evangelism of the “soul” as separate from other parts of life – something that the Pietists used to renew the church in their time. I am still working through the book, but its good food for thought – and brings up the fun question of, what/who is evangelical, anyway?

Faith AND Politics – humility

As a Christian involved in various forms of political advocacy, I often wrestle with the nuances of how faith and politics intersect. Throw in a healthy dose of passionate emotion, reactionary thinking, and the need to put everything into simple black and white categories – all road blocks to discussing the topics of faith and of politics – and you’ll see why some people caution to never talk about these two “personal” areas of life. But of course, if I am a person of true faith, my call to live into the kingdom of God and “be salt and light” in this world means that my political action (or inaction), should flow from my faith. Too often people compartmentalize their “politics” from their “Christianity” – when Christianity is no more and no less than a way to live, a way to walk by following Christ and imitating Him. Faith must permeate every part of life.

This Sunday morning on our drive to a state park, we listened to an interesting program on Minnesota Public Radio called “Speaking of Faith.” Today’s guest was former Republican Senator and ambassador to the U.N., John Danforth – who is now retired from his days as a stateman, but remains a practicing attorney and an Episcopalian priest. The conversation fascinated me on several different levels – as a person in ministry, a practicing theologian, an organizer with a Christian non-partisan lobby group, and the wife of a man studying public policy. More on Danforth and the two op-eds he recently wrote are available on MPR’s site (and here I am not discussing his past strengths or weaknesses as a Senator or Ambassador), but his comments on the program today centered on the need for humble, “moderate Christians” to caution the rising polarity and sometimes theocractic tendancies of the Republican party. He is a self-labeled conservative, traditional Republican who is troubled by the mis-use of faith and a claim to “truth” in politics lately. Although the word “moderate” is pretty loaded for me, and the topics here are rich enough to make me want to digress on various other threads for quite awhile, I’ve decided to write out more on why faith and politics should mix later on. For now, read an except of what I heard this morning that got me thinking:

It would be an oversimplification to say that American culture wars are now between people of faith and nonbelievers. People of faith are not of one mind, whether on specific issues like stem cell research and government intervention in the case of Terri Schiavo, or the more general issue of how religion related to politics. In recent years, conservative Christians have presented themselves as representing the one authentic Christian perspective on politics. With due respect for our conservative friends, equally devout Christians come to very different conclusions. It is important for those of us who are sometimes called moderates to make the case that we, too, have strongly held Christian convictions, that we speak from the depths of our beliefs, and that our approach to politics is at least as faithful as that of those who are more conservative. Our difference concerns the extent to which government should, or even can, translate religious beliefs into the laws of the state….

Many conservative Christians approach politics with a certainty that they know God’s truth, and that they can advance the kingdom of God through governmental action. So they have developed a political agenda that they believe advances God’s kingdom, one that includes efforts to ‘put God back’ into the public square… Moderate Christians are less certain about when and how our beliefs can be translated into statutory form, not because of a lack of faith in God, but because of a healthy acknowledgement of the limitations of human beings…

Aware that even our most passionate ventures into politics are efforts to carry the treasure of religion into the earthen vessel of government, we proceed in a spirit of humility lacking in our conservative colleagues… To assert that I am on God’s side and you are not, that I know God’s will and you do not, and that I will use the power of government to advance my understanding of God’s kingdom is certain to produce hostility. By contrast, moderate Christians see ourselves, literally, as moderators. Far from claming to possess God’s truth, we claim only to be imperfect seekers of the truth. We reject the notion that religion should present a series of wedge issues useful at election time for energizing a political base….

Following a Lord who cited love of God and love of neighbor as encompassing all the commandments, we reject a political agenda that displaces that love.