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Craig E. Mattson, Arthur DeKruyter Chair in Faith and Communication at Calvin University, writes an engaging and in-depth review of five books to pose and suggest an answer to the question of how faith-based academic institutions should define their role and identity in the multi-directional process of community engagement and development. The books used in the essay are:

Erica K. Yamamura and Kent Koth, Place-Based Community Engagement in Higher Education: A Strategy to Transform Universities and Communities (New York, NY: Routledge, 2023).

Karin Fischer, College as a Public Good: Making the Case through Community Engagement (Washington, DC: Chronicle of Higher Education, 2023).

Davarian L. Baldwin, In the Shadow of the Ivory Tower: How Universities Are Plundering Our Cities (New York, NY: Bold Type Books, 2021).

David J. Staley and Dominic D. J. Endicott, Knowledge Towns: Colleges and Universities as Talent Magnets (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2023).

Seth Kaplan, Fragile Neighborhoods: Repairing American Society, One Zip Code at a Time (New York, NY: Little Brown Spark, 2023).

Through these books, Mattson describes several models of community engagement, suggesting that the key role might just be creating genuine, give-and-take friendships to build reciprocal social capital between town and gown while moving away from the grandiosity of marketing to students that their colleges or universities will prepare them to become global world-changers. This thoughtful essay is 21a marvelous resource for on-campus discussions of appropriate place-based engagement and who or what, in such neighborly interactions, should be the focus of change.

Daniel K. Williams, Senior Fellow at the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University, provides our second review essay entitled “Two Visions for an Evangelical Reformation,” drawing on recent popular books by Russell Moore (Losing Our Religion: An Altar Call for Evangelical America, New York, NY: Sentinel, 2023) and Karen Swallow Prior (The Evangelical Imagination: How Stories, Images, and Metaphors Created a Culture in Crisis, Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2023). As most readers of this journal will know, both Moore and Swallow Prior departed from significant roles at Southern Baptist institutions in the past few years. As Williams points out in the review of their books, both invite their readers inside their sensemaking of 21st-century evangelical faith and what it could look like unencumbered by the demands of human institutions. Moore’s remedy is greater reverence for the authority of Jesus from whence our identity should derive. On the other hand, Swallow Prior asks her readers to expand their imaginations to understand how our own cultural traditions and presuppositions may have been shaped by a more human, albeit evangelical imagination, rather than a direct application of biblical ideas.

Neither Moore nor Swallow Prior are “exvangelicals,” remaining deeply committed to their evangelical faith. But they suggest different paths forward for themselves and their evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ. As Williams writes,

Moore is calling his fellow Christians to repent and believe, and then to receive a new infilling of the Holy Spirit or a new sense of assurance and pardon. If evangelical Christians followed Moore’s advice, they would become more dedicated evangelical Christians, with a new love for others, a new determination to be soulwinners, and a new zeal for the gospel—along with far less desire for political power. But Prior may be calling for something slightly different. In her view, the problem is not merely that evangelicals are not being true to their movement’s eighteenth- or nineteenth-century principles, but rather that those principles have overemphasized or even distorted some scriptural principles, while neglecting others. While her book says far more about the crisis than about a proposed solution, her vision for a reformation, to the extent one can discern it, seems to include a move away from the individualism of the evangelical movement and especially a rejection of evangelicals’ overemphasis on an instantaneous “born again” conversion that expects individual transformation without the long, hard process of repentance and sanctification.

He ends by noting that while Swallow Prior and Moore articulate in their own ways the immensity of our current evangelical crises, they both believe the gospel is greater still.

Other reviewers in this issue:

Alex Massad, assistant professor of world religions at Wheaton College, reviews Cory C. Brock and N. Gray Sutanto’s Neo-Calvinism: A Theological Introduction (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Academic, 2023).

Jakob Miller, associate professor of political science at Taylor University, reviews Thomas C. Berg’s Religious Liberty in a Polarized Age (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2023).

Richard Mouw, president emeritus and senior professor of faith and public life at Fuller Seminary, reviews Matthew T. Martens’s Reforming Criminal Justice: A Christian Proposal, with a Foreword by Derwin L. Gray (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2023).

Daniel Edward Young, professor of political science at Northwestern College, reviews Kevin Vallier’s All the Kingdoms of the World: On Radical Religious Alternatives to Liberalism (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2023).

Cite this article
Margaret Diddams, “Preface to Reviews”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 53:3 , 85-87

Margaret Diddams

Dr. Diddams is an Industrial / Organizational Psychologist and Editor of Christian Scholar's Review.