Sunday, January 12, 2014

Mennonites, Nazarenes, and Neo-Evangelicals in the 50s (5)

Continuing to unclog my blogging backlog, here are some thoughts on chapter 4 of Molly Worthen's, Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism. Reviews of previous chapters include:

Chapter 1 (Birth of Neo-Evangelicalism)
Chapter 2 (Evangelicals on the Edges)
Chapter 3 (The Strivings of Christianity Today)

Now chapter 4, "Reform and Its Discontents."

This chapter finishes the first section of the book, "Knights Inerrant."My take-away from this chapter is that "evangelicals" like Mennonites and Nazarenes didn't fit neatly with Reformed "neo-evangelicals" like Henry and friends.

John Howard Yoder features as the prominent Mennonite reaction to neo-evangelicalism in this chapter. Yoder apparently was no moral model. In fact, his life seems to have been an anti-type of his theology. He is best known for his advocacy of non-violence, yet he was an abusive personality. The fact that his thinking was the opposite of his life suggests there may be something redeemable in it.

His words to C. F. H. Henry are worth quoting:

"Your ultimate criteria are your idea of reason... in theology the chances are great that they will get in the way of Christ as the only source of knowledge" (75).

Worthen concludes, "Yoder had hit on the crux of the divide between Reformed evangelicals and many other evangelical traditions." For Mennonites, "discipleship more than dogma, was the the primary way to follow Christ" (76).

The neo-evangelical and a fundamentalist worldview, according to Worthen, were making great strides in churches like those of the Mennonites and the Nazarenes. I have noted to myself that is it incredibly easy to make a pre-modern into a fundamentalist, and I fear it of my own time. You take someone who knows little of reading the Bible in context and sprinkle historical scholarship on them in a threatening way.

So I picture it being in the 50s. Scholars like Harold Bender in the Mennonite tradition and H. Orton Wiley in the Nazarenes walked these careful political lines. The Mennonites strove to make sure that their belief in pacifism did not get displaced in the middle of crises like Vietnam. They strove to strengthen their own institutions so that their ministers did not become allured of mainline institutions. They strove to maintain the importance of experience in the Christian life. The neo-evangelicals largely ignored them.

The Wesleyan Theological Society was founded as a Wesleyan version of ETS and was very neo-evangelical in its founding. Interestingly, Nazarenes did not feel very welcome at first. In the words of one Nazarene theology professor in 1967, "A 'Wesleyan' society should make Holiness its main point and not get involved in this fundamentalistic shibboleth of inerrancy" (92). Things have changed dramatically since then as WTS underwent a broadening something like Fuller did.

If the Mennonites strove not to lose distinctives like pacifism, Nazarenes fought to maintain elements like social justice amid outside influences. Mildred Bangs Wynkoop clarified the nature of holiness in terms of love and, in my opinion, provided important language to translate the doctrine of holiness into terms that would speak to a new generation.

By contrast, Reformed fundamentalism threatened to sever the link between personal piety and social justice, as it still does today. William Greathouse led a "back to Wesley" movement to try to get Nazarenes back in touch with their theological roots. These efforts would spill over into thinkers in the Free Methodist and Wesleyan Methodist church as well.

Restorationist and Pentecostals are briefly mentioned. Influenced by Reformed presuppositionalism but remaining on the periphery. Influenced by worldview language but on the periphery. Treating Scripture as a compilation of ideas and objective facts was the neo-evangelical way. There was a great fusion of elements in each tradition going on in the mid-twentieth century.

Another element in the midst (and I'm not really sure what makes this chapter hold together) is the fact that a lot of budding young scholars in this time period ran off to Europe to do their doctoral work. Yoder went to Basel to study with Barth. Paul Jewett at Fuller ran off to study with Emil Brunner at Zurich. George Ladd and Dan Fuller went to Basel. "Evangelicals who spent time at Basel and other European universities usually did not convert to more liberal forms of the faith, but they sometimes revised their views of biblical inerrancy and eschatology" (80).

It is interesting that this same phenomenon was taking place in England when I did my doctorate in the 90s. British universities neither had the biases against conservatives that a lot of American universities did, yet they were not as biased against liberals as a lot of American evangelical institutions were. In short, there was a freedom to British universities in the 90s to have faith and yet explore ideas freely as well.

My sense is that the era of conservatives running to Europe for education has slowed down significantly. Part of it is the fact that the market for experts in biblical studies, theology, and church history has dried up. I think there are also more and more accessible doctoral programs here in the US. The British universities of the 90s were doing very well with part-time doctorates, with the allure of going to Europe. But American institutions are catching on or dying.

I think I'll leave the chapter with that. It was a chapter full of emotion for me. I am thankful for the opportunities I have had to study with some truly great minds and to think through ideas with anyone who was interested. I used to say I would "teach" (or at least banter together) for free if I had some other means of supporting my family.

Yet people don't pay for what some teacher wants to say, even if the teacher thinks they need to hear it. People pay to hear what they want to hear. Institutions that forget this fundamental dynamic die, IMO.


Susan Moore said...

There will always be a place for institutions and people who teach the truth about God. Meeting and loving the estranged Church has taught me that. No worries. :-)

Ken Schenck said...

If I might put it a little more pessimistically, "There will always be a place for institutions and people who teach the 'truth' their constituencies want to hear." ;-)

Susan Moore said...

Well then, I guess placing me with the estranged Church was a match made in heaven.
And I tell people that I'd take care of people if someone would pay my monthly bills. I guess we've both learned that one can't love people for money, because money puts a condition on the loving, and the loving becomes spiritual prostitution, or idolatry.
Thus being back in hospital nursing gives me as much joy as it goes against my conscience. Hospitals often don't provide spiritual care any more, because 3rd party payers don't cover the expense.
What great giggly joy it gives me to have patients ask me to lay hands on them and pray for healing!!!

vanilla said...

Your ultimate paragraph is spot-on, and this truth applies not only in the seminary and the university, but in the church and in the broader society as well.