Sometime in the next few weeks, it will be the third anniversary of the moment when each of us realized that the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 would not remain isolated to Asia and a couple of cruise ships but was bearing down across the globe. On March 10th, 2020, I shrugged off The Atlantic article titled “Cancel Everything” as overwrought.1 Five days later, faculty across the globe would start moving their courses to an online format. When I think of those weeks in March and April, I am struck by the speed of change, how much we didn’t know, and the anxious fact that we knew we didn’t know what might come next, trying to make good decisions given the impossibility of knowing if we were making the right ones—practicing epistemic humility on the fly.
I was brought back to those weeks as I recently read organizational psychologist Adam Grant’s 2021 book, Think Again: The Power of Knowing What you Don’t Know.2 In it, he emphasizes that in the absence of well-worn assumptions, instincts, and habits, we make room for the moral and intellectual virtues of the flexibility of thought, the willingness to be wrong, the value in collective decisions, and the joy in learning something new. For most of 2020 and 2021, our work, home, church, neighborhoods, and greater communities were in a state of constant improvisation, if not turmoil. But I suspect, rounding the corner into the fourth year of a questionable “new normal,” we also have a greater sense of what and whom we value, clarity as well as charity in where we have disagreed with others, our personal limits, and what we have been willing to give away (literally and metaphorically). Each article in this issue highlights an idea or person, out of step with its time, that must be approached with humility in their time and ours.
Fabrizio Cilento, Professor of Film & Digital at Messiah University, reviews the work of French Cinema critic André Bazin who was out of step with other mid-century critics writing from a Christian existential framework. Cilento notes that in his “writings, the relationship between cinema and religion works on a double binary. On the one hand, he introduces religious topics into his responses to secular films; on the other, he develops sociological arguments out of religious films.” While his contemporary critics marginalized him, a younger generation of cinematographers coming of age in the 1950s were influenced by his more complete vision of film, and who, in turn, launched the New Wave cinematic movement represented by Truffaut’s 400 Blows and Godard’s Breathless.
There is no denying the culminating horrors of the holocaust that found their roots in the early 20th-century eugenics movement, an ideology that found support among leading American pastors and theologians. Less well understood is American Christianity’s reticence to address the very real questions raised with new forms of eugenics that are less about ideology and more about a marketplace catering to individual choices. Charles McDaniel, Associate Professor in the Interdisciplinary Core Program of Baylor University’s Honors College, raises such issues in “American Christianity and the New Eugenics: Consumerism, Human Genetics, and the Challenge to Christian Personhood.” He writes, “eugenic attitudes are resurfacing not through the influence of state policies, court decisions, or civil society activism, but rather because markets advancing genetic technologies in an expanding and variably regulated global economy desensitize the population to their moral consequences.”
Among Evangelical Christians, after Margaret Mead, perhaps the best-known anthropology major is Billy Graham. Christian colleges have historically championed anthropology in preparing their graduates for the mission field (while remaining somewhat suspicious of sociology and psychology). However, as many denominations have shifted to investing in local, in-country leadership and full-time ministry is redefined as any vocational calling, anthropology and intercultural studies carry a different purchase for students than older generations. How do institutions deal with declining enrollments in courses that clearly align with missions whose goals include serving God’s diverse kingdom throughout the world? Jenelle Paris, Professor of Anthropology and Sociology at Messiah University (and regular blog contributor to Christian Scholar’s Review), writes about this time of “creative destruction” in “Small is Vulnerable: Anthropology at Christian Colleges and Universities.” She writes, “with high stakes and with broken hearts, students may join us as we ask God to show us how to live in right relation with God and with all creation for the sake of our own well-being and that of all creation. Where anthropology remains, it offers its gifts toward this end: the ethnographic method, the culture concept, and the anthropological perspective.”
In “E. Stanley Jones: Actor in God’s Network Theory,” Nathan Crissman, pastor and doctoral student at Regents University, reviews Jones’s ministry as one of the best-known missionaries in the 20th century through the lens of Actor-Network Theory (ANT), which observes how any given network of people, objects, and cultures influence each other and other existing networks. He emphasizes how Jones, in presenting a “disentangled” Jesus, was able to emphasize interconnectedness with Hindus and those of other faiths without diluting his unwavering Christian faith. Crissman, noting Jones’s utter dependence on God to provide opportunities for dialogue, evolves ANT to AGNT—Actor in God’s Network Theory—to encompass Jones’s belief that God had already created the network in which he worked. During his lifetime, Jones was beloved, misunderstood, criticized, and brought people to Christ, a legacy that continues through his writings and Christian Ashrams in India, America, and elsewhere in the world.
Our book review editor, Steve Oldham, has once again curated an outstanding set of reviews:
In a review and response, Elmer John Thiessen, adjunct professor of philosophy at Emmanuel Christian College, reviews Perry L. Glanzer and Nathan F. Alleman’s, The Outrageous Idea of Christian Teaching (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2019) with a response from Glanzer and Alleman.
Curtis Gruenler, professor of English at Hope College, provides a review essay on two of theologian Anthony Bartlett’s recent works (both published by Cascade Books), Theology Beyond Metaphysics: Transformative Semiotics of René Girard (2020) and Signs of Change: The Bible’s Evolution of Divine Nonviolence (2022).
Benjamin B. DeVan, professor of humanities at Palm Beach Atlantic University, provides an extended review of Don’t Look Up? Four Views on Heaven, edited by Michael E. Wittmer (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2022).
Caleb W. Southern, director of retention at Southern Wesleyan University, reviews Fred P. Edie and Mark A. Lamport’s Nurturing Faith: A Practical Theology for Educating Christians (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2021).
Brad D. Hickey, director of gaming at Dordt University, reviews Benjamin J. Chicka, Playing as Others: Theology and Ethical Responsibility in Video Games (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2021).