Nobel prize-winning social psychologist Daniel Kahneman and his colleague Amos Tversky1discovered a quirk in the perceived value of everyday items. Referred to as the bias toward “loss aversion,” they found that people tend to see more monetary value in things they already own but are less likely to pay that same amount if they came across that item in a store. The mere face of ownership imbues value. Thus, we have a bias against easily giving things up and are more sanguine about not having something if we never possessed it in the first place.
I have been thinking about the sting of loss aversion as the expected “hot vax summer” hit up against the Delta variant. Having dutifully worn my mask for more than a year at my local gym, I gleefully gave it up in July only to have our Washington state governor order an indoor mask mandate at the end of August regardless of vaccination status. Masking up was so much harder this time around as I felt the loss of not just of being without the mask, but a deeper sense of the loss in my belief that the pandemic was finally winding down.
In that brief summer window, the leadership team at Christian Scholar’s Review was coordinating our 50th anniversary celebration with Darin Davis, Director of Baylor’s Center for Faith and Learning with the plan to host the celebration in conjunction with Baylor’s annual fall symposium on Faith and Culture. But then in mid-September, as COVID was showing no significant signs of abatement, we came to the difficult decision to cancel our celebration and annual editorial meeting, not wanting to increase the risk of exposure for our editorial board and campus representatives. I felt the loss more keenly than if we had never planned for it in the beginning. I was experiencing Kahneman and Tversky’s loss aversion.
One of the planned highlights of our celebration was a Christian Scholar’s Review sponsored keynote address by Joel Carpenter, historian, former Provost at Calvin College, and currently Senior Research Fellow and founding director of the Nagel Institute for the Study of World Christianity at Calvin University. Although we had canceled our meetings, Dr. Carpenter gave his keynote address at the conference in October. We are pleased to print his lecture, titled “Reawakening Evangelical Intellectual Life: A Christian Scholar’s Review” as our lead article.
In the first issue of our 51st year, we published four essays by Susan VanZanten, Susan Felch, Philip Ryken, and Julia Hejduk reflecting on George Marsden’s newly published revised edition of “The Soul of the American University Revisited,” whose subtitle now reads, “From Protestant to Postsecular,” followed by a response to the essays by Marsden. Carpenter’s lecture complements this set of essays by reviewing the road evangelical Christian scholars have traveled since the days of Carl F. H. Henry’s 1947 clarion call to move away from the strictures of fundamentalism.2 Carpenter makes the point that the early neo-evangelicals’ goals were a full court press not only to shape the Christian life of the mind and subsequent scholarship but to change society itself, starting with fundamentalism’s own too narrowly focused beliefs and cultural mores. He pulls no punches in describing today’s bifurcated evangelical culture that, at least for those of us with PhDs, has found some notable success in meeting the goal of robust intellectual engagement and a footing in the academy writ large while the broader goal of social change can make no similar claim. To quote Carpenter, “Indeed, the past five years appear to be ‘the worst of times’ if we ask how much the renaissance of evangelical intellectual life has permeated the movement’s rank and file.” He ends by asking the reader to look outside of the West to examples from the majority world, specifically the work of Ghanaian Kwame Bediako, to reclaim the broader goal of Christian intellectualism in service to the Church and society.
It is a difficult piece to read as it is a none too favorable reckoning of the neo-evangelical project, but Carpenter is not willing to jettison “evangelical.” In fact, quite the opposite, he is asking to enlarge the vision to meet the needs of a world that has become truly global. But that also means giving up some aspects of white Western evangelicalism that is kind of working, only working for some, shouldn’t be working, and acknowledging what is just broken down and tuckered out. It means reassessing the value associated with the ownership of evangelicalism as a Western phenomenon. It means dealing with our own loss aversion to claim a more excellent way, finding value instead in living into the dictum Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda.
We offer three scholarly articles in this issue. While we tend to publish articles as soon as possible without regard to content, all three in this issue ask their readers to reimagine some aspect of the Christian faith. In “Converting the Gaze: From Gazing to Seeing in Richard Wilbur’s ‘The Eye,’” William Tate, Professor of English and Dean of Arts and Letters at Covenant College, delves into the difference between “gazing” and “seeing” as represented in Richard Wilbur’s poem “The Eye.” He does so by creating a dialogue among Richard Wilbur’s poem, the Philosopher Jean-Luc Marion’s account of “saturated phenomena” in “The Visible and the Revealed,” and Charles Taylor’s concept of “regestalting” in “The Language Animal.” As Tate writes,
“The Eye” narrates a transformation of perception. It characterizes this shift as away from subjective, constituting autonomy and towards recognition of the independence of the other—to the extent that the speaker submits to being constituted by the claim of the other and accepts responsibility to receive the other (as other) in love.
In “Planting Churches or Selling Them? New Competitors for the Metaphors We Use,” Kevin Hargaden, the Director and Social Theologian at the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice in Dublin Ireland, asks the reader to consider the deficiency of using marketplace descriptors with their underlying rational choice models as metaphors for understanding church participation. Drawing on the work of Gladys Ganiel’s “Transforming Post-Catholic Ireland,” he demonstrates why this is an attractive yet deficient frame for examining religious practice. Instead, he offers an alternative model of reimagining churches within a biome or eco-system metaphor as potentially more fitting for the ways in which religious movements co-operate as well as compete.
It is common to talk about the transformational nature of a Christ-centered education as a central outcome for graduates, but perhaps not enough is written about messiness, uncertainty, and fear that accompanies the state of transformation for students. In “Christian Higher Education as Sacred Liminal Space,” Jessica Daniels, Program Director and Professor in Bethel University’s Ed.D. in Leadership in Higher Education, asks the reader to consider the importance of transformation not just as an end state but as a process of liminality, reimagining this time of transformation as sacred. She writes that in the liminal space of Christian higher education,
intellectual curiosity and Christian conviction are reframed as complimentary values that when combined foster the most faithful pursuit of truth and potential for responding to the “wounds of humanity.” The purpose of a Christian college or university is for students to encounter God and follow the example of Jesus through the fearless and faithful process of discovery, service, and transformation.
With this issue we bring back essays that tie intellectual engagement to the author’s vocation and praxis as a Christian scholar and teacher. In the past, we have published these essays under the heading of “Reflection,” but I don’t think that heading captures the scholarly robustness that accompanies these personal narratives. Subsequently, we are relabeling these essays under the category of “Perspectives.” Richard Steele, Professor of Moral and Historical Theology at Seattle Pacific University, writes about adjusting his approach to teaching historical theology as his seminary students increasingly read modern dilemmas into ancient church texts. In his piece titled “Toward a Hermeneutic of Gravitas,” he frames the pushback he receives from students as a “hermeneutic of grievance” and his efforts to increase his students’ empathy and understanding of the purposes of early church writings, especially those that do not directly translate to twenty-first-century sensibilities, moving them from a hermeneutic of grievance to one of gravitas.
In this issue’s “Advice to Christian Professors of…,” Kenman Wong, Professor of Business Ethics at Seattle Pacific University, lays out the challenges of being a business professor as well as teaching business students at a Christ-centered institution grounded in the liberal arts. He notes the tension in “simultaneously serv[ing] greater (eternal) purposes like ‘transforming business,’ while also meeting the immediate demands of students, employers/ practitioners, academic guilds and accreditors.” He then goes on to explore how teaching, scholarship, and community engagement activities would look different if business education reflected an intentional participation in God’s mission (‘Missio Dei’) of redeeming all things in order to shape students, businesspeople, and institutions to serve God and neighbor.
Given that our last two issues were thematic, we have a backlog of book reviews that have been ably curated by our book review editor Steve Oldham. Most notably, we have a review of Steven Smith’s Pagans & Christians in the City3 by T. M. Moore and a response by Smith. The rest of the book reviews span the past year. We are grateful to the reviewers who were able to take time out of adjusting their workloads to COVID to complete their timely pieces.
We have two changes among our associate editors. In gratitude, we acknowledge the two years Amanda Benckhuysen served as our theology co-editor before stepping down earlier this year. We welcome Karin Stetina, Associate Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies at Biola University, into this role. We also thank Stacy Keogh George of Whitworth University for her three years of service as our Social Science Associate Editor and welcome Elizabeth Hall, Professor of Psychology at Biola, as our new associate editor. Traditionally, this associate editor position also reviewed articles addressing economics, but with Hall’s appointment Peter Snyder of Calvin University will be responsible for Business, Economics, and the Professions.
- Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, “Choices, Values and Frames,” American Psychologist 39.4 (1984): 341-350.
- Carl F. H. Henry, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1947; repr., 2003).
- Steven Smith, Pagans & Christians in the City: Culture Wars from the Tiber to the Potomac (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2018).