That’s the question that was put to some of evangelicalism’s best and brightest, who gathered at Veritas Riff, the new program from the estimable Veritas Forum, to learn the weighty art of…improv theater.
You won’t hear me belittling the good that can come from learning improv. I think it’s a fantastic training ground for all sorts of skills, not least of which is the ability to conduct meaningful conversations and discussions.
But the event seems to betray a populist approach to culture, as though the professor’s work won’t really be influential unless it is communicated to a popular audience. As the article states, they want to equip “Christian thought leaders with the communication skills and peer support to become recognized and compelling cultural commentators.”
Maybe it’s my own skepticism about the good I’m doing in the world, but I tend to think that the real work isn’t being done by the nebulous “cultural commentators,” who seem to be a dime a dozen, but by real thinkers who are devoted to investing deeply in the next generation of Christian leaders and scholars. If there’s a problem with “staid Christian scholars,” in other words, I suspect it’s less one of skill and more one of passion, drive, and connection to their student’s lives.
VF’s diagnosis of the problem is that the reason evangelical academics have a disproportionately small influence on their students and American society at large is that they lack media and theatrical training. I wonder if it is not more likely that the cause of low influence is that evangelicals as a group have a disproportionately low interest in pursuing academic careers…
I have a more effective proposal for the founders of VR. If you want to shape the academic world outside of the evangelical enclave, leave Ms. Fey to do her own thing (a craft which, by the way, took her more than four days of intensive training to hone). Evangelical leaders should instead heed the well-established strategies of other religious movements in this country. Establish endowed chairs for their outstanding scholars at nonevangelical institutions. This will ensure a solid sphere of influence outside of the evangelical subculture.
In wrestling, that’d be two points.
In the Q&A at the AEI event with Dr. Hunter, he casually remarked that if you really wanted to know where a culture is going, follow its academics, a principle that I have argued for in the past and wholeheartedly endorse. Somehow, I don’t think this was precisely what he had in mind.