“TAKING THE BIBLE AS IT IS”

Familiarity breeds contempt, the saying goes. A dubious adage if taken universally, it certainly captures an aspect of human experience. Perhaps more accurately, if less sagely, it could be said that familiarity transforms our relationship to things (and vice versa). For me, one of those transformative familiar things is a compilation of ancient texts, the Bible. Raised in the WASPy heartland of evangelicalism in Canada, the Bible has been part of my moral and imaginative vocabulary since I was a child. It has indelibly shaped the way I see the world. While I may no longer hold to the certainties ostensibly derived from it, and acknowledging its limitations, I am in fact quite grateful for the education evangelicalism gave me. Part of that gratitude stems from evangelicalism’s earnest attempt to maintain the sense in which a text from the past, the Bible, can speak to us in the here and now. Though it scarcely needs to be added that evangelicals are not alone in this. Just this week, on the bicentenary of her death, Jane Austen has been honoured with a place on the ten pound note in the UK. Several essays have been duly published in various newspapers and magazines that attest to the lasting influence her novels continue to wield. Continue reading ““TAKING THE BIBLE AS IT IS””

SEEING “THE CASE FOR CHRIST”

All together there were five of us sitting comfortably in the dark. Truth be told, I was a little surprised I wasn’t the only one there. This movie wasn’t going to break any box office records after all, and it was 10am on Friday.

I first read The Case for Christ as a teenager. My mom worked at an evangelical Christian bookstore in Red Deer, Alberta, for much of her life. It was called “Gospel Books and Music” before it relocated to much bigger premises and strategically rebranded under the banner of an American franchise: “Parables Christian Marketplace.” Thanks to online retailing and digital books, the store is now a shell of its former self, run not so much for profit as for conviction. Continue reading “SEEING “THE CASE FOR CHRIST””

PHILIP YANCEY’S AMERICA

When asked about evangelical support for Donald Trump in a recent interview, prominent evangelical writer Philip Yancey replies with astonishment. How, he wonders, could Trump be an evangelical hero? But surely (hopefully?) Yancey isn’t ignorant of how race, class, and gender figure into this equation. The reality is that a much more specific subset of evangelicals consider Trump a hero, and presumably a larger subset see him merely as a temporary political ally. Philip Gorski suggests Trump support among evangelicals derives from those whose religion is a form of national identity, which Gorski calls “Christianism”. Such Christianism is often “restorationist”, as Max Perry Mueller observes, which helps to explain why evangelicals might resonate with the phrase “make America great again”. Continue reading “PHILIP YANCEY’S AMERICA”

THE EVANGELICAL IMAGINATION: READING MOLLY WORTHEN

American evangelicalism is anti-intellectual. Such a view has enjoyed fairly wide currency since Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. In Apostles of Reason, Molly Worthen attempts to correct this view, but not by rejecting it outright. She shows how American evangelicals have been engaged in a range of intellectual projectsinstitutions, magazines, bible schools, etc.albeit ones often at odds with the prevailing norms of secular academies. Even anti-intellectualism is an intellectual project, then, and Worthen roots this loose program in what she calls the “evangelical imagination.” Three elemental concerns unite evangelicals: how to repair the fracture between spiritual and rational knowledge, how to assure salvation and a true relationship with God, and how to resolve the tension between the demands of personal belief and the constraints of a secularized public square. Continue reading “THE EVANGELICAL IMAGINATION: READING MOLLY WORTHEN”

EVANGELICAL TESTIMONY AND CHRISTIAN APOLOGETICS

One of the most influential visions of Christian apologetics in the history of Western Christianity comes from Augustine’s De doctrina Christiana, where the figure of the apostle Paul encountering Stoic and Epicurean philosophers at Athens (Acts 17) becomes inflected with the oratorical skills of a Ciceronian rhetorician: Continue reading “EVANGELICAL TESTIMONY AND CHRISTIAN APOLOGETICS”

AN EVANGELICAL MIND: READING MARK NOLL

Nearly 20 years ago Mark Noll published The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, a clarion call for evangelical Christians to re-examine their attitude towards the life of the mind. Noll wanted to understand why contemporary evangelicalism seemed to ignore the life of the mind in preference for a more affective faith, and how this fact could be explained historically. In so doing Noll also alerted readers to the sometimes sophisticated intellectual life of evangelicals in the past. Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind extends these aspects of the Scandal’s aims by outlining more concretely the resources upon which evangelicals might draw in order to cultivate the life of the mind as an integral part of their faith. Continue reading “AN EVANGELICAL MIND: READING MARK NOLL”

BEYOND BIBLICISM: READING CHRISTIAN SMITH

In The Bible Made Impossible Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith makes an impassioned argument for a move beyond evangelical biblicism and theological liberalism. Biblicism is a package of beliefs and practices about the Bible which emphasize its “exclusive authority, infallibility, perspicuity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning, and universal applicability.” The main thrust of Smith’s book is directed towards this package and the fact that evangelical adherence to biblicism has done nothing to prevent or even address what he calls pervasive interpretive pluralism. In other words, biblicists may share their biblicism with one another, but they ignore the fact that they radically disagree about an enormously wide range of beliefs and practices central to the Christian religion. Continue reading “BEYOND BIBLICISM: READING CHRISTIAN SMITH”

EVANGELICALISM’S FUTURE: READING DAVID FITCH

In 1667 Richard Allestree, a prominent clergymen in the Church of England, wrote a lengthy work entitled The Causes of the Decay of Christian Piety. As he surveyed the world around him, he was convinced that England was a country which had, for its sins, experienced the wrath of God’s providential judgment. In 1666 a massive fire had burned down a substantial part of London. Fire was and is a potent symbol; it signified the holiness of God (burning bush, Pentecost) in both its beneficent and judicial forms – God was a consuming fire in more ways than one. For Allestree the solution to the problem was evident, as the rest of his title makes clear: An Impartial Survey of the Ruines of Christian Religion, Undermin’d by unchristian Practice. Continue reading “EVANGELICALISM’S FUTURE: READING DAVID FITCH”