The New Evangelical Scandal

My second publication is now available online at The City, the new (and free!) journal from the up-and-coming Houston Baptist University.

I have much more to say about the piece later–including commenting on related events that have occurred since I wrote it–but for now I thought Mere-O readers would be interested in reading the piece itself.  As always, comments and questions are welcome.

From the beginning, then:

In the 2008 Presidential campaign, the dominant story once again focused on how the evangelical voting bloc would align itself. In late 2007, amidst stories that the influence of the so-called “values voters” was waning, evangelicals launched Mike Huckabee’s previously struggling campaign into the national limelight. Though Huckabee’s inability to move beyond his evangelical base ensured his influence would not last, his politics and campaign drove a wedge not only between the evangelical public and the evangelical elite, but between the evangelical public and the Republican intelligentsia, most of whom offered nothing but loathing for the Arkansas governor.

Read the rest here.

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  • millinerd

    As a big fan of this article, I wonder if I can ask you to elaborate. You write: “One could reasonably argue that the distinctives of evangelicalism are such that it is exactly where intellectuals ought to be, and that they have an obligation to remain evangelical.”

    How would one so argue? How would you go about making that case for “obligation to remain”?

    Many thanks.

  • The Dumb Ox

    As another big fan of your article, I would also like to ask a question. You write at one point:

    …Such sentiments are common. And while authenticity has a political dimension, it is also a social virtue. Young evangelicals frequently decry the inauthenticity of the mega-church and individualistic evangelical tradition, where people put on a happy face and “played church.” Experiencing “real life together” is the pursuit of the new evangelical small group, where “real life” is always “messy.” Authenticity in social settings is frequently an excuse for sharing sins and problems within a group of people who doubtlessly share the same sins and problems.

    I was a little confused by the tone of this paragraph, which was neither preceded nor followed by a conclusive evaluation of small-group culture. As a member of a theologically and politically conservative evangelical church that participates in small-group ministry, I wonder whether I am supposed to read this paragraph and disdain such practices. What’s wrong with small groups? Or do I misread you?

    Cheers,

    Ox

  • http://mereorthodoxy.com Matthew Lee Anderson

    Millinerd,

    Many thanks for your overly generous words. I read them at your blog and wondered if you read the same article I wrote.

    I figured that line would catch someone’s attention. It definitely needs clarification, but the editors graciously gave me a lot of pages and I didn’t want to overextend my welcome at The City TOO much.

    Here’s where I’m going to be a terrible blog host: may I beg your patience until this weekend? My day/night job kept me out until 9:15 this evening and I have an early meeting tomorrow. I’d rather wait until the weekend to more adequately address the question.

    Highest regards,

    matt

  • http://mereorthodoxy.com Matthew Lee Anderson

    Ox,

    Any conservative evangelical who takes a nickname from Aquinas as a pseudonym is okay by me. I hope you stick around!

    I will want to wait until the weekend to address this more fully (Sunday is my writing day, typically), but for now I would simply point out that I am not against small groups. In fact, if you search the archives of this site or click on “discussion leading” under the topics you’ll find an overly long series (brevity is not my gift) on how to lead good discussions. It’s a skill I’m passionate about. My complaint is not against small groups, but against the idea that “real life” is primarily composed of sin and brokenness, or that such sin and brokenness need to be shared within the context of the small group for it to be deemed an “authentic community.” I see the new evangelical small groups as indicative of my broader point about new evangelicals: same format, new ethos. Does that help at all?

  • millinerd

    No problem – I appreciate your willingness to answer and please take your time.

  • The Dumb Ox

    Thanks, Matthew. That clears it up for me. I, too, have worried over the rhetoric of authenticity, and I was pleased to see you criticizing it; I just didn’t know where small group ministry connected with it. I think I understand now. Thanks again.

    Also, I too am looking forward to seeing how answer Millinerd’s question. Being a graduate student at Notre Dame, the Catholics make an attempt on my soul nearly daily, if not with their invitational words, with their invitational lives.

    Cheers,

    Ox

  • http://mereorthodoxy.com Matthew Lee Anderson

    Gents,

    I appreciate your patience. I have survived work and made it to the weekend.

    I think there’s a long essay in here somewhere, but I won’t trouble you with that. Let me start, however, by pointing out the narrowness of my claim: a reasonable case could be made that intellectuals have an obligation TO REMAIN. I don’t want to make the broader claim that all Christian intellectuals should convert to evangelicalism (at least not yet, anyway).

    The case for remaining can be made from three directions, I think.

    1) The Chestertonian patriotic/loyalist angle: loyalty is a fundamental virtue (as demonstrated by the faithfulness of God to His people), and all things being equal it ought be determinative of ecclesiastical affiliations. I think this would be built on top of a very high view of the Church as a shaper of our Christian identity, particularly the local Church. The Church as “Mother” fits here–most evangelical intellectuals, in turning their back on evangelicalism in favor of “high church ecclesiologies” actually do the reverse.

    2) The sanctification angle: in his Commentary on Romans, Barth suggests that the Church is a place where Christians go to identify with Jesus on the cross (I can try to find the exact quote if you wish). There are few better places to lay to rest one’s sense of control, one’s expectations, one’s perceived need for self-fulfillment than the evangelical Church (I suspect that these things would have to be laid to rest in other denominations as well, but I also think that the perception of finally(!) having one’s needs met would cover them over for longer.

    3) The theological angle: evangelicalism (broadly defined, of course!) is the most accurate expression of the fullness of the faith. I know that sounds weird to a lot of people, but I actually think that’s the case. Sola scriptura, adult baptism, speaking in tongues, inerrancy, congregationalism–I’ll stand by those doctrines any day of the week (while I’ll only stand by bad worship songs from the 70s on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays).

    More often than not evangelicalism gets a bad rap because its excesses get so much attention, and because of that it’s not intellectually sophisticated to be an evangelical. When I spend time with my wife’s Ph.D. fellows at her Catholic University, they respond with shock that we are evangelicals. For many intellectuals who have been raised within evangelicalism, I think that results in an unfair disposition toward evangelical theology that makes it difficult to treat the arguments honestly or seriously. And when that disposition goes away, in my experience conversion away from evangelicalism has proved inevitable. Additionally, I have heard some converts away from evangelicalism admit that there are doctrines or practices about their newfound religion that they don’t like, but that they accept on grounds of church authority. I would argue that a similar subordination or “benefit of the doubt” ought be extended to evangelical theology while said intellectuals are evangelicals. However, that rarely happens, which makes me believe there are other forces beyond the intellectual ones at work.

    Each of these angles need further unpacking, of course. And at the end of the day, the ‘obligation’ may not exist–instead, it may only(!) be a ‘superogeratory’ action for evangelical intellectuals to remain. The fact of the matter is that evangelicalism needs its intellectuals, and if the core doctrines are true, then I would suggest there is an opportunity for Christian intellectuals to win crowns in heaven while participating with the sufferings of Christ by remaining evangelical.

    Feel free to push back at me. I always enjoy the conversation, even if I don’t have as much time for it as I might like.

    Matt

  • http://mereorthodoxy.com Matthew Lee Anderson

    One other thing: Matt Jenson, a professor at my alma mater, has written a piece on this issue that I largely agree with. I recommend it highly. http://theotherjournal.com/article.php?id=210

  • The Dumb Ox

    Matthew,

    I largely agree with your arguments to remain evangelical. In the midst of all the Romanizing, I have often said that the desire to swim the Tiber is in fact the MOST Protestant thing one can do in our culture. It is simply the final church-hop on a long spring of church-hopping. Fidelity and loyalty are much harder to come by in this day and age, and fidelity and loyalty in membership are what make particular churches great.

    That said, I do have one concern over evangelical, especially congregationalist doctrine that I think makes it nearly impossible for evangelicals to give their own Protestantism the “benefit of the doubt” that you commend to them. The Roman Catholic, as you say, is taught to and must indeed accept problematic teachings as valid simply because of the church’s authority. In the case of a radical congregationalist mentality, it seems to me that the culture is often one of hyper-individualized certainty. This often results in a situation in which it is nearly impossible for a Protestant to justify remaining loyal to his church if that church deviates from what he takes to be the theological truth. Take as a very good case in point the Episcopal churches that are leaving because of the homosexuality issue. And that is happening in a very highly articulated ecclesiology. In any case, I do think it is MUCH harder in a congregationalist context to cultivate the kind of loyalty we want than it is to cultivate in the Roman Catholic context, if for no other reason than because the resources for such cultivation are wanting in the theological bedrock.

    But I don’t think it’s impossible, either. And that’s why I’m an evangelical trying to learn from and to teach other evangelicals why it’s good to be one.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    Cheers,

    Ox

  • http://mereorthodoxy.com Matthew Lee Anderson

    Ox,

    Thanks for the comment. I think your association of “hyper-individualized certainty” with the inability to accept church authority is interesting. I have found that the sort of desire for certainty you speak of often drives individuals to Roman Catholicism (in particular), as they are very clear on the infallibility of the Church. Usually such arguments for infallibility of the Church and why we need it are grounded on that desire for certainty.

    So, I would probably agree on your sociology–it’s harder to cultivate loyalty among evangelicals–but disagree about your claim that it’s not in the theological bedrock. If anything, I would say that all the resources are there–evangelicals have simply failed to mine them appropriately.

    Highest regards,

    Matt

  • millinerd

    Nice answer. I find number three the hardest to swallow (Amazing how the church got by for so long without the fullness!). Number two is rather Radnerian (see Ephraim Radner’s “The End of the Church”). As to number one, (which Chesterton didn’t follow) the matter of loyalty is significantly complicated when one was baptized and confirmed Catholic and became evangelical later, as with Francis Beckwith for example.

    Still, your response causes me to recall a “While We’re At It” remark of the late Richard John Neuhaus. He suggested that if triple-convert (Prot to Cath to Orth) Rod Dreher had displayed the charity towards Catholicism that he now exhibits towards Orthodoxy, he would still be Catholic. An evident retort had not occurred to me until I read your response here. Take the charity and patience back one step further, and Dreher would still be Protestant.

    Your willingness to respond is a kindness I am grateful for. Let me know if the full article materializes. I’d be very interested.

  • http://mereorthodoxy.com Matthew Lee Anderson

    Millinerd,

    Thanks! I appreciate it. As for the third, it is tough to swallow, I agree. However, I don’t think the Church has yet attained the fullness of the faith. I don’t think that happens until the eschaton.

    If you don’t like that thesis, I’d argue a more limited one: evangelicalism is the closest expression to the fullness of the faith in this day and time. While the Lord might have had other plans in previous generations, he might have his work accomplished now in and through evangelicalism.

    That Radner book looks really interesting. I’ll spend some of my Amazon gift money to buy it so I can read it in five years or so.

    As for the loyalty issue, I agree that converts to evangelicalism are a much more difficult case. I am, to be honest, more sympathetic to their return to Rome, especially when their Catholicism was a significant part of their religious upbringing. I don’t know how to sort that out, so I simply argue that everyone should stay evangelical. That solves the problem.

    • Dan Jones

      Just going back through some old writings. I’m grateful for your work, Matt.

      You said you don’t believe there is any “fullness of the faith” until the eschaton. My question would be what purpose would there be for “faith” in the eschaton?

      I’m thinking of the three virtues of faith, hope, and love. We have faith in the power of the cross to overcome sin. We have hope in the resurrection assured by Christ. And love binds us all to His glory. (Simplistic, I know.)

      But in the welcoming “fullness” of His Glory (eschaton?), what reason for faith is there? Further, what reason for hope is there? Love remains. Love is all, at that point. But faith or hope?

      Assuming I’m not completely off base here, and assuming that a thing called the “fullness of the faith” actually exists, I don’t think it would/could exist in the eschaton. That only leaves sometime before.

      DJ|AMDG

      P.S. Love ya’ man. I’ve been on a wonderful journey of faith these past 3 years. I credit a few people for helping me on it. You’re one of them. Blessings.

  • millinerd

    Here are some Radner quotes that are more to the point than the very long and dense In the Ruins.

    I am still having difficulty reconciling your claim to be crucified with an imperfect church to your claim that evangelicalism is the best option out there.

    The Matt Jenson article was quite good (I graduated with him). Not converting can be a protest against evangelicalism’s worst aspects (decisionism). But could one use that same rationale for staying Mormon – or even pagan? (I admit, by the way, that’s an unfair question.)

    Indeed, the quest must be truth-driven, which is why it seems your call to loyalty hinges upon your faith in evangelicalism being superior to Catholicism and Orthodoxy, and that’s a toughy.

  • millinerd

    Sorry – by In the Ruins I meant The End of The Church. An understandable confusion, however, as the former is also an apology for staying (albeit from someone who left).

    In that article, Reno freely admits the brilliance and sanctity of Radner: “I perverted Ephraim Radner’s scriptural figure because in the corruption of my heart I made it empty and void.”

    Strangely, however, Reno’s reason for converting was also to intentionally avoid a degree of self-guiding decisionism.

    It’s all quite a puzzle.

  • odlaram7

    So I know this a bit of a tangent, but I’ve been looking for an evangelical intellectual with whom to discuss the validity of evangelicalism compared to Catholicism and Orthodoxy. (I am technically an evangelical, but already on my way out) You say that you think evangelicalism has the fullness of the faith, but what do you do about its lack of apostolic authority? Do you say no church has it, or that it doesn’t matter anymore? Or something else?

  • http://mereorthodoxy.com Matthew Lee Anderson

    Millinerd,

    The difficulty reconciling the two aspects is mine, not yours. I am inclined to think that every denomination shares its imperfections, each of which requires the crucifiction of the self to be overcome. However, there is a sense within the body of Christ that strength should be fit together with weakness, and vice versa. I make the case that Christian intellectuals have a responsibility to stay in evangelicalism because doctrinally, it’s the best option out there, even if sociologically it may not fit everything we wish or desire. It is the latter aspect that requires our sanctification.

    Obviously, many of these thoughts are still in formulation. I have had these conversations numerous times in private, but very rarely in public. I hope you will forgive the lack of clarity.

    “Indeed, the quest must be truth-driven, which is why it seems your call to loyalty hinges upon your faith in evangelicalism being superior to Catholicism and Orthodoxy, and that’s a toughy.”

    It is tough. But I don’t see the burden as insurmountable at all.

    Matt

  • http://mereorthodoxy.com Matthew Lee Anderson

    Odlaram7,

    I should say that I am no theologian. In fact, I’m not sure what I am, other than a guy who is interested in this stuff and who thinks a lot about it.

    There are very few comments or questions that I receive that I am reticent to answer: yours is one of them. I don’t like debating the merits of Catholicism versus Orthodoxy versus evangelicalism, especially when it’s with evangelicals considering leaving. It’s time-consuming, it’s very difficult to be clear about what I’m saying and not saying, and more often than not it reinforces divisions. I would much rather talk theology with those who are firmly within their tradition, as there is usually less at stake and the opportunity to learn from each other is much more pronounced.

    Hence, with all due respect I’m going to demur on your question and invite you instead to email me privately at matthew dot l dot anderson at gmail dot com. I’d be more than happy to discuss the issues with you there as I have time to (thoug you’re better off, to be honest, going and reading some folks who are much smarter than I on the issues!).

    Highest regards,

    Matt

  • bengeorge

    I don’t mean to come across as the dime store Catholic apologist, but in what way can evangelicalism be said to represent the fullness of faith, or as you might say, the most full expression this side of New Jerusalem?

    If lex ora lex credendi is at all true then evangelicals don’t give a damn about the Eucharist and don’t want much if anything to do with any theologian pre-1600s-or-so (maybe Augustine, but only parts). Liturgy, meh. Ecclesial unity? Invisible anyhow.

    How is that catholic? And, since not catholic, how “full”?

    I know that there are a few who do care about these issues, but the vast vast vast vast x 1000 majority fit my description. Is there some secret “true” evangelicalism that is in strong disagreement with the 99.999% of evangelicalism as practiced? Some catholic evangelicalism in discussion with and drawing vitality from the 1700 years of church life that came before it?

    As long as you’re going to bang your head against the wall, come bang where there’s something to bang against: be Lutheran, or be Orthodox, or be Catholic, but be Eucharistic!

  • jdietz

    Quite impressed with this article. Will chime in again later if I have something more to say.

    Cheers.

  • jdietz

    I’d be quite interested in being included in whatever private conversations go on. I have some reflections on my own journey to Rome from the Evangelical fold and would be happy to share more via email.

  • http://mereorthodoxy.com Matthew Lee Anderson

    Bengeorge,

    Many thanks for the question. I am sorry for the delay–I had a very busy week, and unfortunately the next two will be even busier. I work as a financial planner and I am just getting my practice going, so my blogging has taken a bit of a back seat for a while. I hope you will be patient!

    Unfortunately, that means that I won’t be able to engage a long dialoge (right now) about the merits of evangelicalism versus Roman Catholicism. Needless to say there are several points in your post that we would need to hash out and which I would take issue with. For now, I’d simply say this:

    I have sometimes borrowed Chesterton’s line to describe evangelicalism: “It is not that evangelicalism has been tried and found wanting–it is that it has never been tried at all.” There’s much more to be said, but I think his point is that we shouldn’t judge the religion by the way it’s practiced. If we do, then it’s going to get messy for everyone really quickly.

    Apologies for my brevity–I’ll doubtlessly have more to say down the road.

    Matt

  • dvnilsen

    Matt,

    With regards to your point number 3, are you suggesting that if one does not hold to credo-baptism, tongue-speaking, and congregationalism, that they are outside of “evangelicalism”?

  • http://mereorthodoxy.com Matthew Lee Anderson

    Dave,

    Not necessarily. I wanted to leave the definition broad, which I realize quit happening as soon as I started enumerating ‘boundary markers.’ Those are doctrines that do NOT characterize other branches of Christianity (Orthodox, Anglican, RC) and so I pointed to them as exemplars (and pointed to them because I agree with them). But yes, I think that one could be a paedo-baptist and still be an evangelical (as many of the young reformed are).

    That, of course, probably muddies the water even more, though!

    matt

  • Dan Jones

    …extraneous comment so I can throw the “notify me” switch…

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