I've been reviewing Molly Worthen's, Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism.
Chapter 1 (Birth of Neo-Evangelicalism)
Chapter 2 (Evangelicals on the Edges)
1. I gave my own title to the chapter above, but Worthen's title is "Fundamentalist Demons." For her, this chapter seems to be about the struggle for individuals like C. F. H. Henry to distinguish the new evangelicalism from its fundamentalist roots, while also courting financial sources. Ground zero for this chapter seems to be the new evangelical magazine, Christianity Today, started in 1955.
A lot of thoughts ran through my head reading this chapter, including parallels with today. First, meaning no disrespect to these individuals, I'm glad most of them are gone. When an important figure from the past dies, a lot of wisdom dies with them to be sure. But a lot of baggage dies with them too.
It is both a blessing and a curse that young people have fresh eyes to look at the issues of the day. It is a curse because sometimes they go on to repeat the mistakes of the past. It is a blessing because a lot of people get stuck in their ways and can't see things objectively. They are always seeing the shadows of the past.
So if this chapter is even half right, it is clear that the Cold War, coming out WW2 and the struggle against Hitler, played a significant role in forming the psyche of the neo-evangelicals of the 50s. Indeed, the primary funder of Christianity Today (it ran at a huge loss for its first years because it distributed so many copies to pastors for free to get them hooked), Howard Pew, was apparently more interested in CT fighting communism than in Henry's desire for promoting good theology.
Apparently, Henry was forced to resign as Editor-in-Chief in the late 60s after tensions between him and Pew reached its peak. By that point, Pew was calling him a socialist because he believed social justice was part of the gospel, which of course it is. Henry was conservative by any normal standard, but that's where America was in the 1950s and 60s.
I'm glad most Americans my age and younger didn't grow up with the fear of communism that so dominated the previous generation. We should at least have the potential to be more objective about such things. But beware, 9-11 has revived some of those dynamics. As far as I can tell, America is in no danger of becoming socialist by any knowledgeable standard of history or political philosophy, but a similar fear rhetoric is back.
2. It is interesting that Pew and others saw themselves in a battle for civilization. Communism was the enemy then, just as Islam was in the last decade. Now the same rhetoric has shifted to Obama and his "socialism." It is worth noting that the constant here is not the object of fear, but the drive to fear itself.
Henry and CT carefully tried to negotiate this complex social situation. On the one side was Pew's money, the hand that fed CT. He had his own interests--capitalism and anti-communism. He would rather side with economic conservatives than with those of his own theological stripe. Like today, there was the usual blurring of conservative Christianity with conservative politics and economics.
On the other side was the desire not to be divisive and separatist like fundamentalists. They wanted to engage Catholics, Methodists, and Lutherans while staying firmly Calvinist and Reformed in their base. They even invited neo-orthodox theologians in Germany to submit articles, people like Brunner and Barth. Soon enough, they had more readers than the old mainline Christian Century.
As someone who is part of a Christian university, I feel these tensions deeply. How do you make students of all theological stripes feel welcome while retaining a core Wesleyan identity? How can you be faithful to critique the dark side of capitalism if wealthy donors are courting you? If you can become more "respectable" by downplaying your differences with mainstream evangelicalism, should you do it to play ball with the big boys?
3. So if CT was balancing political conservatism with a desire to reach out to non-Calvinist Christian conservatives, it was also trying to distinguish itself from fundamentalist forces that were more separatist in nature. Here Worthen especially has Bob Jones and Bob Jones University in mind. She depicts Bob Jones as an authoritarian who strongly disagreed with how Billy Graham cooperated with non-evangelicals like Roman Catholics.
Billy Graham and his father-in-law, Nelson Bell, were the founders of CT. Bell was a Presbyterian medical missionary and a pragmatist. He would go on behind the scenes advocating for the magazine and his son-in-law. Bell promoted it in part as having the same theology as the fundamentalists "in the old sense of the word" but having a different method, one that sought common ground rather than emphasizing points of disagreement.
What I am seeing here continues to support what I have been intuiting for some time now. It was not until the 50s and 60s that the sense of fundamentalist shifted from those who wrote The Fundamentals to refer to conservative separatists like Bob Jones. Time magazine would describe CT as a kind of "high-brow fundamentalism." Today, I think of a fundamentalist as a militant, religious idealist. Words change meanings over time.
4. I didn't realize that Billy Graham, Carl Henry, and others had tried to start an evangelical research university, "Crusade University." It never happened and I am not surprised. There is an inherent contradiction between a movement whose core principles are anti-evidentiary and the aspiration to be a top-flight evidentiary institution.
The quest has continued. Baylor probably comes closest. But to the extent that an institution bases its identity on presuppositions that limit how you can interpret evidence, it will have difficulty becoming a great research institution, IMO.