George Marsden Posts
January 13, 2010 by Gerald Hiestand
Carl Trueman has a piece over at 9Marks that resonates with much of what the SAET stands for regarding ecclesial theology. Trueman’s basic point is that there is tendency among (some) evangelical academics to pander to the fancies of the secular establishment, and that such pandering is harmful to the church and her theology. I used to push this message more ardently in the early days of the SAET, but have since concluded that stones can be thrown with more precision and care when thrown from the inside. Trueman, an academic himself (WTS), knows of what he speaks, and has earned the right to offer this insider’s critique.
…There would seem to be a pervasive evangelical inferiority complex. This means that, while we do not wish to exclude anybody, we dread being excluded ourselves. Indeed, for the evangelical academic, in a world so ill-defined, it is always tempting to cut just a few more corners, or keep shtum [is shtum British slang?] on just a couple of rather embarrassing doctrinal commitments, in order to have just that little bit more influence, that slightly bigger platform, in the outside world. This is particularly the temptation of evangelical biblical scholars and systematicians whose wider guilds are so utterly unsympathetic to the kind of supernaturalism and old-fashioned truth claims upon which their church constituencies are largely built. In so doing, we kid ourselves that we are doing the Lord’s work, that, somehow, because we have articles published in this journal or by that press, we are really making real headway into the unbelieving culture of the theological academy. Not that these things are not good and worthy—I do such things myself—but we must be careful that we do not confuse professional academic achievement with building up the saints or scoring a point for the kingdom.
It remains true (as James Barr pointed out years ago) that evangelical academics are generally respected in the academy only at precisely those points where they are least evangelical. There is a difference between academic or scholarly respectability and intellectual integrity. For a Christian, the latter depends upon the approval of God and is rooted in fidelity to his revealed Word; it does not always mean the same thing as playing by the rules of scholarly guild.
Years ago, Mark Noll wrote a book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, in which he argued that the scandal was that there was no such thing. When it comes to evangelical scholars and scholarship, I disagree: the scandal is not that there is no mind; it is that these days there is precious little evangel.
On a related note, have you read George Marsden’s, The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Unbelief, or his shorter follow-up, The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship? I’m not quite done with either, but I can already confidently recommend them to anyone interested in understanding how the academic scene in North America got to where it is today.0 Comments