Friday, December 27, 2013

Christianity Today and Social Complexity 4

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.


Susan Moore said...

Part 1 of 8.
“…and thy Word was a perfect work. And then was the spirit, and darkenesse, and silence were on euery side; the sound of mans voice was not yet formed. Then commandedst thou a faire light to come foorth of thy treasures, that thy worke might appear…For God has commanded the light to shine out of darkenes, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ” (1Esdras 6:38C-40, 2Cor. 4:6 KJV 1611).

Susan Moore said...

Part 2 of 8.
Why is a discussion on evangelism necessary? If evangelizing is proclaiming the risen King, as discussed in an earlier blog, why is proclaiming the risen King necessary? Risen from what?
In the beginning, the Creator had made a perfect world, and then physically walked in that world with Adam and Eve. He gave the human only one rule: Don’t eat from tree X.
But Eve, one of God’s created things, was deceived by another of God’s created things. She wanted to be more like God, which is in and of itself not a bad thing, because even Christians desire to be more like Jesus, who is God. But she was deceived into thinking she could simply do something human, like bite an apple, and therefore become more like her Creator: It was the first demonstration of a works theology. In a works theology a finite and physical created thing is always worshiped and served, instead of the immortal Creator who is Spirit.
Eve fell to temptation and began to worship and serve created things: that was the sin that separated her from God.

Susan Moore said...

Part 3 of 8.
Adam alone had been given the one rule by God; Eve had not yet been made. And Adam was with Eve when she was deceived. He did not stop her and protect her, and them, but instead intentionally rebelled against God and went along with Eve’s work theology and began to worship and serve created things, too -mainly his pride. Adam’s intentional rebellion against God and his hardened heart towards what God had made for him (Eve) are what separated Adam from God.
The lack of discussion in scripture of the fall of mankind does not infer that that event had not been understood and internalized.

Susan Moore said...

Part 4 of 8.
Paul’s understanding of the fall (sin) of mankind as expressed in Romans 1 is absolutely magnificent, “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator…”
It’s only after we understand what was lost in that fall, that we are able to appreciate what He has risen from, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2Cor. 5:21).
In that way, Christ became the new Adam in our/ His new creation, “And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead” (Col. 1:18).

Susan Moore said...

Part 5 of 8.
But that can only have greater meaning when one comprehends this:
As Adam and Eve were leaving the Garden random mutations were starting to occur as thorns and thistles appeared in the fields. Two brothers met out in a field, “And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Able and killed him”; thus the first recorded account of survival of the fittest is written in Gen. 4:8; and the murderer was the fittest.
Only two chapters later, “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time (Gen. 6:5). But Noah found favor in the Lord’s eye. In this case it meant 8 humans got to survive God’s wrath as He washed the earth clean of its inhabitants and started over. Getting rid of the behavioral problem and the poor teachers on the earth and starting over would surely correct that problem of sin, one would think.

Susan Moore said...

Part 6 of 8.
But in the next paragraph the sons of Noah are free on the washed earth and the youngest son takes advantage of his father and is cursed (Gen. 9:20). Sin is more than a behavioral problem; the very being of mankind is corrupt.
Three chapters later God appears to Abram and offers him a promise that will make Abram wealthier in worldly things and status, or so it seems. And Abram believes and goes (Gen. 12:1-9).
Three chapters later God credits Abram’s faith as righteousness.
Then comes the 10 commandments and the law as God gives His good boundaries to immoral humans’ behavior.
And the prophets come as intercessors of faith between God and God’s chosen people.
And then Jesus comes as an intercessor between God and all mankind, “But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. When He comes, He will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world (Satan) now stands condemned…” (John 16:7-11).

Susan Moore said...

Part 7 of 8.
The sending of the seed to the manger was not the first step towards our salvation, it was the next step. The cross and resurrection and ascension were not the final steps, but the step that preceded the permanent indwelling of the Spirit in the hearts of the ones who have chosen to turn their hearts away from worshiping and serving the created things, and back to worshiping and serving the Creator.
If the law and the prophets represented the age of the fear of God and wisdom, and the time of Jesus represented the age of the incarnate Son of God, then our time represents the age of the Spirit of God.
Because it is the Spirit in us who works through and with our God-given faith to make all things new.

Susan Moore said...

Part 8 of 8.
Thus we proclaim Him, the risen King, “We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with Him like this in His death, we will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin –because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.
Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, He cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over Him. The death He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life He lives He lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus…For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace” (Romans 6:3-11, 14).