Evangelical Elite Failure, Etc.

Around the Web with American Reformer

This article marks the beginning of a regular series at American Reformer linking to, and sometimes briefly commenting on, writings and events of significance from around the web. The editors of American Reformer see these articles as promoting ideas we think are important or as drawing attention to important issues and debates taking place in the evangelical world (with the usual caveats about how we do not necessarily endorse all of the content linked to).

The Failure of Evangelical Elites

Evangelical elites were the focus of much attention online over the last two weeks. Our own writers John Ehrett and Nate Fischer were ahead of the curve in addressing this topic, Ehrett writing on evangelical elite embarrassment with core evangelical theological convictions and Fischer writing about the example of Francis Collins–a self-professed evangelical–who as head of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) defended NIH research using fetal tissue from aborted babies and wrote in an official capacity in unqualified support of homosexuality and transgenderism.

In a Gospel Coalition podcast Kevin DeYoung is right to note that, despite the mostly pejorative sense usually attached to the word elite, there will always be elites who control the levers of power in an institution. The right question is not whether we will have elites, but whether we will have good ones. Much of the recent discussion of elite evangelical failure, although framed as a general critique of elites, is really about why these elites shouldn’t retain their positions of power and influence. Opposition to elites simply because they are elites is the sole prerogative of those perpetually on the outside of institutional power, those who never have to consider how to build and maintain actual institutions.

Former Christianity Today editor (now Roman Catholic) Mark Galli, responding to a piece in the American Conservative entitled “Church, State, and the Future of American Evangelicalism,” writes about how the history of twentieth-century evangelicalism is largely one of evangelicals desperately wanting “to appear respectable to the elite of American culture.” Galli then notes that “when you seek to win the favor of the powerful, you will likely be used by them to enhance their own status. And along the way, many of your convictions will be sidelined.” In a follow-up article on the same topic Galli links to Ehrett’s American Reformer piece.

Carl Trueman, in a more academic piece at First Things, shows how this accommodationist impulse is nothing new. Although this temptation can be seen in every age of the church Trueman traces it back to the Enlightenment when major figures like the philosopher and theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher attempted to respond to Enlightenment claims that the fundamentals of Christian teaching had been proven impossible by modern science and philosophy by himself claiming, in essence, that Christianity was merely a religion of spiritual feeling. While the specific arguments have changed, this mentality is just as prevalent today as it was then: whenever you see Christians emphasizing that their actions are justified solely by what they feel God “leading them to do” you’re not far from the ghost of Schleiermacher. Trueman provides several additional examples of this evangelical elite failure in our day, also bringing Francis Collins into the discussion.

You can also see the evangelical “embarrassment reflex” in the numerous contemporary evangelical attempts to defend Christianity by showing its compatibility with the claims of science and human history without so much as posing a single impertinent question about the validity of the underlying philosophical frameworks of those fields of study. This kind of evangelical approach can be see quite clearly, for example, in William Lane’ Craig’s recent attempt to show that the biblical story of Adam and Eve can be squared completely with the claims about human origins found in modern evolutionary biological theory.

Finally, Gerald McDermott has written an eye-opening piece on the consequences of elite evangelical embarrassment at evangelical colleges in America, including at Wheaton, the crown jewel of evangelical higher education. McDermott’s closing questions are vital for all evangelicals to consider, especially those who think that sending their children to evangelical colleges will protect them from the onslaught of the anti-Christian philosophies and frameworks that dominate secular universities:

Why are evangelical universities adopting secular strategies to address a spiritual problem? . . . And what if, in their attempts to avoid criticism, evangelical colleges embrace a secular gospel that has nothing to do with true kingdom diversity?

McDermott is specifically addressing race, but his questions are applicable across the whole range of disciplines at evangelical colleges (and seminaries as well).

The Church will never arrive at a point where it is not defined by Christ’s words in John 15:18–20:

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.

We cannot make the cross any less foolish or offensive to the unbelieving eyes of the world (see 1 Corinthians 1:18–2:16), but we can do great damage to our souls and the witness of the church by trying. In the realm of higher education it is not always obvious that compromises with the reigning paradigms of the day are attempts to do this very thing. Such compromises are therefore all the more insidious.

Additionally…

Kyle Mann (of the Babylon Bee) appeared to be having much too much fun at the expense of the Atlantic author who recently interviewed him in “The Christians Who Mock Wokeness for a Living.” One comes away with the distinct feeling that the author thought she was making Mann look un-Christian rather than merely showing how dour, humorless and puritantical the progressive left (Christian or otherwise) has become.

Stay tuned for the next edition of “Around the Web with American Reformer.”

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