Regardless of how one defines it, American evangelicalism is at a crossroads. The last quarter of the twentieth century was replete with signs of prosperity. Many churches, parachurch organizations, universities, and seminaries grew at unprecedented rates. Some analysts argued that the individuals populating those institutions were contributing to an intellectual renaissance. For example, in the October 2000 issue of The Atlantic, Alan Wolfe notes, “evangelical scholars are writing the books, publishing the journals, teaching the students, and sustaining the networks necessary to establish a presence in American academic life.” 1
However, a host of legal, financial, social, and ultimately theological questions now face evangelicals, threatening that renaissance. One key example is the financial challenges that compelled Christianity Today to cease publication of Books & Culture after 21 years. That decision is a tangible expression of those challenges, and its closure came after various herculean efforts by several leading evangelicals to save the thought journal. This collection of essays stems from both the veneration of Books & Culture’s contributions, and a symposium held to reflect on various factors and possibilities around this historical signpost.
Caught between fear and hope, many observers propose the evangelical mind is now on the threshold of another “scandal.” In contrast, others propose that the opportunities for faithful intellectual engagement and witness are greater now than in recent history. 2
The answers to those questions have ramifications for evangelicals as well as a nation such as the United States in which many evangelicals find a home. For example, in The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America, Frances FitzGerald argues evangelicals defined the nation in a host of ways. They comprise about 25 percent of the US population but, as the Pulitzer Prize–winning author notes, evangelicals are far from a homogeneous group. As a result, she contends that how evangelicals engage issues ranging from climate change to immigration will have an impact on the range of debates and possible courses of action taken in the United States. 3
The articles in this theme issue of Christian Scholar’s Review offer a context in which readers can reflect upon that past while also thinking critically about the prospects for the future of the evangelical mind. As argued, those prospects depend in many ways upon the influence exerted by churches, parachurch organizations, universities, and seminaries. For example, what role will each one of those institutions play? What kinds of relationships will they need to share with one another? What kinds of relationships will churches, parachurch organizations, universities, and seminaries need to forge with other institutions? The articles in this issue frame many of the resources needed for answering those questions while also suggesting how those institutions should chart both their respective and common courses for the future.
By drawing upon the wisdom of the past, perhaps some of these questions are best navigated by also reflecting upon the common and respective purposes animating churches, parachurch organizations, universities, and seminaries. Such work was undertaken at a symposium in Indianapolis, Indiana, hosted by Indiana Wesleyan University, the Sagamore Institute, Excelsia College, and Christianity Today on September 21–22, 2017.
Along with a companion volume from InterVarsity Press that bears the same title, the essays in this theme issue reflect what emerged from that effort. As with the symposium, this issue opens with what is referred to as a tripartite review in which noted historians Eric Miller (Geneva College), Jay Green (Covenant College), and John Fea (Messiah College) each offer an autobiographical review of what changed and what stayed the same since Eerdmans published Mark A. Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind in October 1994.4 The issue then turns to four blocks of three essays each that explore the roles the previously noted institutional types play in the cultivation of the evangelical mind:
Andrew T. Draper (Urban Light Community Church)
C. Christopher Smith (The Englewood Review of Books)
Maureen Miner Bridges (Excelsia College)
Rachel Maxson (John Brown University)
Mark Stephens (Excelsia College)
Timothy Dalrymple (Polymath Innovations)
Rick Ostrander (Council for Christian Colleges & Universities)
David M. Johnstone (George Fox University)
Jack R. Baker and Jeffrey L.Bilbro (Spring Arbor University)
Grant D. Taylor (Beeson Divinity School–Samford University)
Erin E. Devers and Jason D. Runyan (Indiana Wesleyan University)
Karen J. Johnson (Wheaton College)
These essays are not designed to be comprehensive appraisals but, in their own ways, to offer insights into how those four types of institutions are contributing to the formation of the evangelical mind. These articles are shorter than ones often found in Christian Scholar’s Review in part so all of the worthy contributions could find their rightful place. Their length, however, has less to do with space limitations than an overriding emphasis on raising important questions intended to be “conversation starters.” As a result, readers are encouraged to find their own places in this conversation and seek to fill in the vast array of details still needing consideration.
Cite this article
- Alan Wolfe, “The Opening of the Evangelical Mind,” The Atlantic (October 2000), https://www.theatlantic.com/ magazine/archive/2000/10/the-opening-of-the-evangelical-mind/378388/.
- Interesting assessments of this range of opinions are found in Dale M. Coutler, “Evangelical Identity and Its Crises,” First Things (November 30, 2017), https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2017/11/evangelical-identity-and-its-crises and Mark Labberton, ed., Still Evangelical? Insiders Reconsider Political, Social, and Theological Meaning (Downers Grove, IL:InterVarsity, 2018).
- Frances FitzGerald, The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017).
- The Scandal became a springboard for numerous discussions and a text intersecting most evangelical circles of higher learning. Like the opening illustration in the following review, many of you reading this will have your own reference points to Mark Noll’s Scandal and likely its sequel, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind (2011). The review begins: “‘Who is Mark Noll?’ was an awkward question coming from an academic administrator, accented by his dazed look when I mentioned The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. I left that Christian campus with mixed feelings, appreciative of meeting goodhearted professors but pricked deeply by that conversation—his obvious unawareness of a leading Christian thinker.” Jerry Pattengale, The Cresset 73.2 (Advent-Christmas 2009): 59–62; a review of Pierre Bayard, How to Talk about Books You Haven’t Read (New York: Bloomsbury, 2009).