This past week, The City published my article, “The New Evangelical Scandal,” which they had graciously allowed me to write. The piece has prompted a number of responses, primarily at InternetMonk, who graciously called it a “must read.” And then there’s “Wenatchee the Hatchet,” who has been prompted to take his tool to the piece. Somehow he found enough interesting things to write a 10 post series on the article. Or rather, he found enough errors and omissions to justify a 10 post skewering of the article (to mix metaphors).
While I won’t be able to respond to every criticism or clarify every point–I have the sort of job that really only affords me weekends to read and write–I did want to offer a few reflections on the article and its reception.
- In a moment of unintentional irony, InternetMonk originally attributed the article to “Matthew Lee Arnold.” While Arnold and I share cultural conservatism, I suspect we would have little else in common.
- Who knew that “From whence” would prove so amusing? I must say, though, that I did not mean to be condescending with it–as readers of this blog know, a bit of a rhetorical flourish here and there is simply my style. And by “rhetorical flourish” I mean forgotten words from the 18th century.
- It seems like what I did NOT say is just as important as what I did say. The article was long enough–too long, I suspect–but apparently did not include everything it should have. I knew when I was writing it that I would have to leave off very interesting and important questions about evangelicalism, and that such deficiencies would inevitably be pointed out. If someone would like to commission me to write a book, I’d be more than happy to fill the gaps.
- The definition of “evangelicalism” is always a problem, and many of InternetMonk’s commenters point out my shortcomings in that arena. I had originally written a footnote (that apparently did not make the cut) identifying my narrow segmentation of evangelicalism: white, largely college educated evangelicals. I focused on that simply because that is primarily the segment the news media has focused on, and because that is where many of the shifts are currently transpiring. Unfortunately, this meant I had to leave aside the very interesting movements among the young Reformed crowds (which has clear overlap with the trends I identified) and the black evangelical community.
- Not mentioning NT Wright’s redefinition of “apocalyptic” was clearly problematic and something I very much regret. I would point out, however, that while Wright is careful enough to keep eschatology at the center of his theology, many of those who popularize and adopt his work are not. As a result, it seems eschatology has taken a muted–though not necessarily absent–role among those who follow him.
- Many of the commenters seem to suggest that they know what I think about a lot of these issues (dispensationalist eschatology=good!, old evangelicalism=perfect!). In fact, as readers of this blog know, I have expressed many reservations about evangelicalism in the past, not least of which has been my criticism that evangelicals have implicitly gnostic tendencies. I too can play the “beat up evangelicals” game. However, few people seem willing to also defend that which they criticize. Left Behind is embarrasing. However, it is an irony that for as lamentable the series is as a work of fiction, evangelicals have been correct in moving eschatology near the center of their theologizing. They may have gotten some of the details wrong, and those details have consequences, but what I perceive as the young evangelical minimization of eschatology also has negative consequences that I rarely hear young evangelicals talk about. Would that young evangelicals spend less time criticizing the old guard and spend more time examining the theological specks in their own eye (insert requisite, “And yes, I should do that too!” here).
- I don’t think of myself as a sociologist. In fact, I have often criticized the discipline of sociology (especially when it is confused with theology). I am inclined to think of the essay as a piece of cultural pathology. My hope was to illuminate some of the deeper ideas and sentiments that I think are undergirding the various trends I identified. Of course, this necessitates painting in broad strokes. Not every young evangelical will fit the description. In fact, the most I had hoped for was that those who read the article would recognize in it trends that they might have seen, even if they had not articulated them.
- I understand even more Chesterton’s line about the division of labor with respect to writing: I have written the article and am no longer really interested in reading it.
- It’s funny to me to be talked about on other people’s blogs, as if I didn’t really exist and couldn’t respond to questions or comments. It’s also amusing to have one article treated like it is the sum and total of my thoughts on evangelicalism, especially when I have four years of such thoughts written here. Thanks to those of you who emailed me directly or commented here–I appreciate your feedback enormously, and I do hope you’ll keep reading.