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A prior version of this essay was delivered as the Carl F. H. Henry lecture and plenary address at the “Living Accountably” symposium on Faith and Culture at Baylor University in October 2021 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Christian Scholar’s Review. Joel Carpenter is a historian and former provost at Calvin College, and is currently senior research fellow and founding director of the Nagel Institute for the Study of World Christianity at Calvin University.

In May of 1970, representatives from fifteen northern evangelical liberal arts colleges met at Wheaton College to form a journal, the Christian Scholar’s Review. It was to be devoted, they agreed, to Christian thought and scholarship, and to the theoretical concerns of Christian higher education.1 In this invited essay, CSR’s officers have asked me to reflect not on the career of their journal, but more broadly on how the Christian scholars’ movements have fared since then and how they might address the daunting challenges that they face today. I have been a participant observer in this story for a long time, and I feel accountable for how things have turned out, so please allow me to give an account.2

CSR has been broadly interdisciplinary, and so has the movement it represents, so this story has very broad dimensions, across a wide array of fields: in the fine arts, in language-focused and literary fields, in mathematics and the natural sciences, in the social sciences, and in professional realms as well. The story is so large and busy that I don’t know how to tell it all at once. I will focus for the most part, then, on the fields of history and philosophy, where I know the story line fairly well and where some particular developments proved to be strategic for the larger movement. What I have learned is that there has been a renaissance of Christian academic intellectual life over the past half century, but one of the most important subsidiary aims of this initiative, which has been to deepen and ennoble evangelical Christianity in America, has not fared so well and still faces some daunting challenges. In sum, we have seen a renaissance but not a reformation.

After telling the tale of an intellectual renaissance, then, I must bring in the opposing tale of white evangelicals joining the populist uprising that led to the storming of the U.S. Capitol. I argue that evangelical intellectuals are still accountable for their promises to enlighten the whole movement, and that there are some unexpected sources of wisdom and insight that, by God’s grace, are available for us as we press on with our calling.

The Christian Scholar’s Review first appeared in the fall of 1970, just when I was enrolling as a freshman at Calvin College. Little did I know it then, but Calvin was one of the liveliest intellectual outposts of a rising movement: a drive among American evangelical Protestants to recover from the “intellectual disaster of fundamentalism,”3 as Mark Noll puts it, and to re-engage the life of the mind and its responsibilities to the present age. This activity was part of what the old-timers at Calvin called “the project”—by which they meant the Christian cultural mandate to engage all of life creatively and redemptively, thereby anticipating God’s reign. Those Calvinites encouraged me to make that project my own, and I have been at it ever since.

Saving the West: 1945-1975

Renewing Christian culture may have seemed a fresh venture to evangelical scholars in the early 1970s, but the idea arose three decades earlier. Alan Jacobs writes in The Year of Our Lord 1943 that even though it was clear by then that the Allies would win the war, it was not at all clear what sort of civilization would inhabit the postwar world. Jacobs examines the works of Christian intellectuals in Western Europe—Jacques Maritain, T. S. Eliot, C. S. Lewis, W. H. Auden, and Simone Weil—who were seeking the way forward for a morally and spiritually exhausted West.4 Americans too were joining the chorus, notably New Yorkers Reinhold Niebuhr and Jacques Barzun.5 American Catholic intellectual leaders such as John Courtney Murray offered their help; they were experiencing an intellectual and cultural revival in their rapidly developing universities, where scholars hoped to apply “the culture of Catholicism” to all of American life.6 Meanwhile, sounding the call for mainline Protestants, Methodist bishop G. Bromley Oxnam said that the postwar world needed a revival of religion to unleash “the regenerating power of God’s love and forgiveness, righteousness and justice.”7 And three Reformed Christian philosophers, William Harry Jellema of Indiana University (formerly of Calvin), Cornelius Van Til of Westminster Seminary, and Gordon Clark of Butler University (formerly of Wheaton), were teaching that only the recovery of a “Christian world and life view” could save and rebuild the West.8 A young professor at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, Carl F. H. Henry, followed these jeremiads intently and drew inspiration especially from the Reformed philosophers. By the mid 1940s, Henry was working summers on a doctoral degree at Boston University and teaching at nearby Gordon College.9 Henry’s ambitious first book, Remaking the Modern Mind (1946), joined the postwar jeremiads in calling for “the controlling ideas of the Hebrew-Christian world-life view” to rejuvenate Western culture.10 Lectures he gave at Gordon College eventually became his second book, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (1947), a hard-hitting rebuke. Fundamentalism, Henry insisted, was not up to the task of remaking the modern mind or reforming society, either. Even so, Henry held out hope that a “new evangelicalism” might “develop a competent literature in every field of study” and enact “a new reformation.”11

Henry and several young fundamentalists with doctoral degrees from Harvard, Boston, Penn, and New York University joined in a venture led by Harold Ockenga, the scholarly pastor of Boston’s Park Street Church, to found Fuller Theological Seminary in 1947.12 Fuller’s opening, Ockenga declared, was the beginning of a new age for evangelical theology, which he hoped would rethink and restate the “principles of western culture.”13

These founders of “the new evangelicalism” aimed to reform the fundamentalist movement and produce a rebirth of Christian thought and culture. The early movement was driven by theologians, but it inspired Christian humanists, scientists, artists, and social scientists. Gordon College became an early center of this new, culture-redeeming vision, and hence the creation of The Gordon Review in 1955, which re-emerged as the Christian Scholar’s Review fifteen years later.

The aspirations of this evangelical intellectual movement were very high, but the achievements were quite thin. In 1960 Billy Graham and Carl Henry convened a number of wealthy benefactors in New York to discuss the formation of an evangelical postgraduate university. The talks broke off for a number of reasons, including a concern that the project might not be able to recruit enough outstanding evangelical scholars to become its faculty members.14 As a fallback, Henry organized the Institute for Advanced Christian Studies (IFACS) in 1967 with support from the Lilly Endowment. IFACS never found a physical home, but with support from Lilly it continued for many years as a convening and research grants agency. One of the more notable grants it made was to Nicholas Wolterstorff for a Christian philosophy of art, which Eerdmans published in 1980 as Art in Action: Towards A Christian Aesthetic. Several of IFACS’ earliest board members were scientists, such as V. Elving Anderson, a geneticist at Minnesota; C. Everett Koop, a pediatric surgery professor at Penn; and Gordon Van Wylen, dean of engineering at Michigan. Most of the early IFACS conferences quite naturally dealt with issues in science and technology.15 Evidently, evangelical scientists of note were easier to find and convene in those days than were humanists.

The late 1960s and the early 1970s were a time of tremendous ferment among evangelical intellectuals. One of the great discoveries for evangelical humanists was C. S. Lewis, the Oxford and Cambridge don who was an incisive literary critic, a talented author of fiction, and a champion for the academic life as a Christian calling. He presented a refreshing alternative to fundamentalist moralism, sectarianism, and anti-intellectualism. Clyde Kilby, professor of English at Wheaton College, was an early advocate for Lewis, and Lewis’ fame spread rapidly in American evangelical circles.16

The other meteoric flash on the scene was Francis Schaeffer, an American fundamentalist Presbyterian who after several years of mission work in France and Switzerland, emerged as a Christian cultural critic and an apologist to European youth via his “L’Abri” retreat in the Swiss Alps. He was doing what Carl Henry had hoped to see: engaging Western thought, art, and culture by means of a “Christian world-and-life view.”17 In 1965 Schaeffer gave lectures across America and young evangelicals received him with great excitement. His first two books, Escape from Reason (InterVarsity, 1968) and The God Who Is There (InterVarsity 1968), made their way rapidly through evangelical reading circles. Careful scholars in philosophy, theology, history, art, and politics soon found distortions and inaccuracies in Schaeffer’s approach, but initially his work fired evangelical students’ imagination and bolstered their confidence in the realm of ideas.18

Evangelical professors, meanwhile, were busy putting together networks. The Conference on Christianity and Literature, founded in 1955, established a journal, Christianity and Literature, in the 1960s; likewise the Conference on Faith and History emerged in 1967 and its journal, Fides et Historia, began a year later. The Society of Christian Philosophers, which arose in part from the annual meetings hosted by Arthur Holmes at Wheaton College since the 1950s, organized in 1978. Today, more than three dozen Christian learned societies in North America represent scholars, artists, scientists, and professionals from across academe and professional practice.19 These scholarly societies provided much-needed contact and fellowship for their widely scattered members, and they provided a forum for Christianity-animated thinking as well.

Evangelical colleges also began to organize. Thirteen of them formed the Christian College Consortium in 1971 to collaborate on conferences, faculty development, and off-campus student programs. All of these colleges, and many more, joined the Christian College Coalition (now the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities—CCCU), founded in 1976 in Washington, D.C. Strengthening these home bases for hundreds of Christian scholars was a very good development, but it did not necessarily indicate that these colleges were equipped and motivated to promote scholarship. That aim was a secondary one at the CCCU, and to this day there is a very wide disparity in the investments that CCCU member institutions make in research and scholarship.

Gaining Strength, 1975-1990

The research and scholarship emerging from these sources was largely a conversation about how to respond in authentically Christian ways to the critical issues of the day. Books published by the Grand Rapids publishers and by Inter-Varsity Press were the main media of this discourse. A critical issues think-tank emerged in 1977: Calvin College’s Center for Christian Scholarship. It existed to contribute “to the solution of the complex problems facing humankind today.”20 Its first research team, featuring environmental scientist Calvin De Witt, produced Earthkeeping: Christian Stewardship of Natural Resources (Eerdmans, 1980). Another landmark was After Eden: Facing the Challenge of Gender Reconciliation (Eerdmans, 1993), by a team led by a psychologist, Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen. The Calvin Center pursued timely, incisive works, but because these studies came out with Christian trade publishers, they were mostly hidden from larger intellectual circles.

A different kind of development arose in American religious history. I became a doctoral student at Johns Hopkins in 1974 with Timothy L. Smith, who was focusing then on the role of evangelicals in shaping the nation.21 Smith had received funding from Robert Lynn of the Lilly Endowment to run a Program in American Religious History, which supported graduate students and regularly convened some senior scholars in the field. Smith pushed us to uncover lost features of the American evangelical story. Unlike the Calvin Center, Smith’s program was aimed directly at the academy.

Books by conservative Protestant scholars aimed at scholarly audiences, however, were still quite rare in these days. Two early examples were Alvin Plantinga’s God and Other Minds: A Study of the Rational Justification of Belief in God (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1967), and Nicholas Wolterstorff’s On Universals: An Essay in Ontology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970). A pioneering work in my own field was Nathan Hatch’s The Sacred Cause of Liberty: Republican Thought and the Millennium in Revolutionary New England (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977). Hatch, a Wheaton alumnus who had been working on this book during a postdoctoral year with Smith at Hopkins, represented a rising trend: graduates of evangelical colleges pursuing a call to academe.

Meeting Structural Challenges, 1975-2000

As evangelical colleges continued to grow and gain institutional strength, they were staffed by these aspiring young professors. But could they do frontline inquiry while managing heavy teaching loads and with very little support for scholarship? Obviously, they could not match the frequency of publishing that their peers at research universities accomplished, but they could hope that their work might be enriched by liberal arts learning. George Marsden, for example, published his revised dissertation on the New School Presbyterians just three years after landing at Calvin, but it took a full decade for his next book, Fundamentalism and American Culture to appear. Marsden’s first book has been largely forgotten, but his second one, written at a liberal arts college, is one of the most influential works in American religious history.22

Marsden was an inspiration to many of us in that field, including Mark Noll at Trinity, Grant Wacker at North Carolina, Nathan Hatch at Notre Dame, Harry Stout at Connecticut, and Margaret Bendroth, studying with Smith at Hopkins. Noll started inviting these colleagues to little weekend conferences at Trinity College (Deerfield, Ill.). He moved to Wheaton in 1979 and with Hatch he organized a conference on the Bible in America funded by Lynn and the Lilly Endowment. Lynn then encouraged Hatch and Noll to found an institute at Wheaton to sustain scholarship on American evangelicals, and they hired me to run it, so the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals was born. Over its 32-year career at Wheaton College, the ISAE became an influential convening center for evangelical scholars and for American religious history more generally. It also gave early support to the so-called “Gang of Four,” professors from Calvin, Wheaton, Furman, and Akron who pioneered what became a major trend in political science, the study of religion’s political role.23

During the 1980s several accomplished scholars at evangelical colleges departed for major universities where they could do more research and mentor younger scholars. For example, James Davison Hunter, a sociologist who conducted pathbreaking studies on American evangelicals, left Westmont College for the University of Virginia in 1983. Calvin lost Alvin Plantinga to Notre Dame in 1982, George Marsden left for Duke in 1986, and Nicholas Wolterstorff went to Yale in 1989. As this trend continued, evangelical graduate students could more readily find encouraging mentors at elite universities.

Meanwhile, the ISAE’s success pointed to a way of fostering research and scholarship at small evangelical colleges. For a fairly modest sum, topically focused centers and institutes could become conveners for sustained lines of inquiry. Calvin founded the Meeter Center in 1982 to serve the field of Reformation studies. Wheaton College’s Marion E. Wade Center, formally organized in 1974 to archive papers of C. S. Lewis and six other prominent British Christian authors,24 was hitting stride as a locus for scholarship by the 1980s. The idea of centers and institutes caught on fast, and many have been formed over the past 35 years; they address a wide variety of academic and professional fields. Currently Calvin and Wheaton each have twelve of them, and many colleges have one or more.

Evangelical Protestants’ intellectual quest was not the only such Christian movement. Catholic scholarship continued to flourish, and while it no longer had one unifying philosophy or outlook, Catholic scholars were doing exemplary work and were well supported by their universities. The University of Notre Dame became a leading Catholic intellectual center, and its achievements in Christian scholarship regarding law, economics, sociology, architecture, and political studies, which all gained inspiration from Catholic social thought, drew evangelicals’ attention. Even more so did Notre Dame’s excellent programs in history and philosophy. One early point of contact with evangelicals was the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism, founded and directed by historian Jay Dolan, which began holding gatherings in the early 1980s for scholars in American religious history. A similar trend developed among philosophers. After Alvin Plantinga was named to a chair in philosophy at Notre Dame in 1982, a steady stream of evangelical graduate students headed there. The same would happen in history when George Marsden arrived a decade later.

By the late 1980s evangelical scholarship showed much improvement from twenty years earlier. In addition to the evangelical colleges’ own improvements and the dozens of Christian scholarly guilds that had arisen, there were now a growing number of convening centers to sustain the networks, and a few scholars who had earned notice in the larger academy. Scholars of the “boomer” generation teaching in evangelical colleges were working hard to sustain their scholarship and they were mentoring undergraduates who also hoped to become scholars.

Looking over this situation, Nathan Hatch, then a dean at Notre Dame, saw both the promise and the structural impediments.25 After becoming acquainted with staff at the Pew Charitable Trusts, he learned that they were feeling pressure to support evangelical Christianity. So Hatch drew up a plan for an evangelical scholars program, which made project funding awards to scholars to pursue topics of high interest and relevance and to publish the results in the best of scholarly media. I had been recruited by Pew to direct its religion program, so I ran Hatch’s proposal past my secular-minded peers there, arguing that developing an evangelical intelligentsia would advance a constructive agenda that might counterbalance the Religious Right culture warriors.

From 1990 to 1999, the program spent $4 million on 100 grants to evangelical scholars. Seventy-five percent of the awards met their basic goal of producing a high-end university press publication. Perhaps the most successful in causing a national stir was Charles Marsh’s God’s Long Summer: Stories of Faith and Civil Rights (Princeton, 1997), which was featured in the Washington Post, on NPR, and by other influential media. Several Pew Scholars’ books became immediate must-reads in their fields and catapulted their authors into more influential roles, notably Margaret Bendroth’s Fundamentalism and Gender: 1875 to the Present (Yale, 1996); and Dale Van Kley’s The Religious Origins of the French Revolution (Yale, 1999). Bendroth went on to become the president of the American Society of Church History, and Van Kley left Calvin to mentor doctoral students at Ohio State University. Stephen Evans, an often-published philosopher at St. Olaf College, also received one of these awards, contingent on his publishing with a high-end university press rather than with InterVarsity or a Grand Rapids publisher. The result was The Historical Christ and the Jesus of Faith, published with Oxford University Press in 1996. It was a career-changing breakthrough for Evans, who went on to help Baylor develop a doctoral program in philosophy.

Perhaps even more influential in the long run was a program that Hatch’s chief operative, Michael Hamilton, designed: the Pew Younger Scholars program, which ran from 1993 to 2000. It prepared many dozens of evangelical undergraduate students to enter doctoral programs and a scholar’s vocation. It was a major investment in the coming generation of evangelical scholars. This program never received the summative review it needed to gauge its overall effectiveness, but everywhere I go in American academe today, I meet established profs who tell me, “I was a Pew Younger Scholar.”26

In addition to these programs, Pew made startup grants for a summer seminars program at Calvin, and for an intellectual magazine, Books & Culture. Pew and Lilly also made many project grants for research during the 1990s, and then turned to investments in centers and institutes that would further excellent work in important fields and connect Christian scholars with each other and with the larger academy. We invested in the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton, headed by sociologist Bob Wuthnow and historian Albert Raboteau. We supported projects at the Center for Law and Religion at Emory University, headed by the prolific legal scholar, John Witte; and at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at Virginia, headed by James Hunter. We invested in a program in American religious history at Yale, co-directed by Harry Stout and Jon Butler. And we leveraged endowing support from Notre Dame for its Center for Philosophy of Religion.

By the new century it was clear that evangelical scholars had made major progress in scholarly achievement, and evangelical colleges and universities, which had grown rapidly over the prior decade, were taking the task of supporting Christian scholarship more seriously. One indicator of that trend was the Lilly Endowment’s ongoing investment in the Lilly Fellows postdoctoral program at Valparaiso University for young humanities scholars and the ensuing development of the Lilly Fellows Network of nearly 100 church-related colleges and universities, which animated a renewal of thinking about faith and learning across a very broad array of Protestant and Catholic institutions.27

One of the dominant features of this long march in Christian scholarship has been the salience of religion as a topical focus. There have been calls for broadening out the topics and approaches to Christian scholarly inquiry, and I heartily agree with them. I can imagine few limits to the kinds of inquiries that might benefit from scholars whose work is Christian in purpose, practice, or perspective.28 Even so, the focus on religion has played an important strategic role. American academe was dominated by a secular outlook and ethos in the 1950s and 1960s, based on naturalistic and positivistic assumptions. The reigning belief was that scholarship could and should be objective, and that religion was an atavistic, largely spent force in modern society. So for Christian scholars to work from a religious perspective and to show the importance of religion in society and culture were very creative and fruitful contrarian moves. They have made quite a difference in some fields. In history, for example, religion attracted very little interest in the 1960s, but in 2015 the American Historical Association reported that since 1975, religious history had grown nearly 150 percent as a specialization.29 Among the membership of the American Philosophical Association, philosophy of religion has seen a major revival, and 12 percent of the APA’s members were also in the Society of Christian Philosophers.30

One of the more dramatic institutional developments at the turn of the century was the emergence of Baylor University as a serious player in this field. Baylor was laying plans to become both a decidedly Christian university and enter the top echelons of research, and it has made major strides toward those goals over the past 20 years.31 Baylor today is a university where Catholics and Protestants work together under an ecumenical Christian rubric and where the faculty are invited (although not required) to do their work according to religiously informed ideas and norms.32 So Baylor provides an encouraging partial answer to a question posed by George Marsden some 35 years ago: “Why is there no major evangelical university?33 It joins Notre Dame as a supportive host and encourager of Christ-animated scholarship.

The Best of Times

Faith in the Halls of Power, an intriguing study of this arc of achievement among evangelical intellectuals by sociologist D. Michael Lindsay, appeared in 2007. Lindsay showed that evangelical academics, alongside their counterparts in the arts and media, in corporate boardrooms, and in the halls of Washington, had made an entry into the elite institutions that shape American culture.34 One telling episode of that achievement was a ceremony on November 9, 2006 at the White House, where the prolific evangelical historian, Mark Noll, received the National Humanities Medal from President Bush.35 Noll, who had begun work at Notre Dame that fall after 25 years at Wheaton, had been named one of the 25 most influential evangelical leaders in a Time magazine story the year before. Only a decade earlier, Noll had published The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Eerdmans, 1994), which exposed the anti-intellectual character of the tradition, especially what he called “the intellectual disaster of fundamentalism,” marked by a distrust of expertise, skepticism about science, and millenarian-tinged conspiratorial thinking. But here was Noll, an evangelical, being honored for his extraordinary intellectual achievements.

This event marked the apogee, I think, of a long advance of evangelical achievements in intellectual, academic, and cultural realms. It was “the best of times,” as Dickens put it, to be a Christian scholar, even of an evangelical sort. Lest they become too triumphal, James Hunter warned Christian academics that for all of their rhetoric of changing the world, a settled elite in the United States inhabited, and patrolled the great national institutions. They held the levers of world-shaping power, and evangelicals did not. The best that evangelical intellectuals could do was to gain trust and a hearing because of their faithful presence.36 It was wise advice, I think, but the mere fact that some high-achieving evangelicals had joined the American elite did indeed mark a new day.

Over the past 15 years we have seen evangelical scholars continue to grow in number and accomplishments and to chip away at the secular legacy of twentieth-century academe. The rising generation of evangelical scholars are many in number, remarkably talented, and high achievers. Twenty-five years ago, publication with a highly reputed university press was big news on a campus like Calvin’s. Today it is no longer that newsworthy.37 The current generation of evangelical scholars has communicated more broadly, too. The catalogs of InterVarsity Press and the Grand Rapids publishers brim with their titles, and they have produced amazing amounts of thoughtful content for online media. The current generation also lives in a much-changed university environment. American academe is no longer a realm of “established nonbelief,” as Marsden put it 30 years ago, but now is frequently described as post-secular, where there appears to be no reigning paradigm or authority to govern research and scholarship.38 It is an intellectual “Wild West,” Noll says, where despite enduring anti-religious bias, those who do their homework, mount strong evidence, and communicate well can have a hearing.39Even the attempts of the “woke” anti-liberal left to control campus discourse probably will not prevail. Over the decades, evangelical scholars have been remarkably resilient and nimble-footed in dealing with issues and trends that arrive, and I do not see a major intellectual or ideological threat to their continued presence and vitality.

The Worst of Times

What is more threatening is the sharp decline of interest in and support for the arts, humanities and some social sciences in American universities today. The liberal arts ideal, thriving for a century and a half in American higher education, has come upon hard times. Student enrollments in liberal arts fields in four-year colleges have declined dramatically, departmental faculty complements have shrunk, and non-elite colleges that are centered upon the liberal arts have suffered.40 Christian colleges and universities have felt the shock, especially in the northern U.S., where there is also a demographic decline. These institutions have leaned heavily on the humanities to provide contextual and principial thinking, but university leaders are responding to their constituents’ values and choices with a scramble to reconfigure their programs and staff. Calvin University, arguably one of the finest of these institutions, which has seen its enrollment shrink more than 20 percent over the past 15 years, announced a $22 million gift to establish a school of business.41 Meanwhile, its vaunted history and philosophy departments have lost half of their faculty positions. Across the CCCU and among CSR charter members, reports come in of the liberal arts in crisis. So just when Christian scholars have achieved new heights in the arts, humanities and social sciences, they find that most evangelical students and parents don’t want what they have to share.

I don’t have any easy answers for this crisis in educational values, but I think that it is a moment of truth for Christian higher education. Our main message, that college is to equip its graduates to lead a God-honoring life and to become agents of God’s reign, seems to be shouted down by the prevailing cultural message, that college is for gaining the skills to become economically secure. A college education has become a commodity, an investment, an experience to be bought or sold. Christian colleges and universities have made their way in the past by being at least a bit counter-cultural,42 and today they need to convince themselves and their constituencies that the prevailing view is profoundly mistaken. If higher education is to be deeply Christian, then the liberal arts project, which has the habits and mandates to address the great Gospel and culture questions, must take the lead. Surely there are people of means among our universities’ alumni who would subsidize the liberal arts project to help it weather rough cultural seas. Surely there are ways to persuade students to pursue what it means to be human and to live with integrity. We can, and we must, if we are to save the soul of Christian higher education.

Selfish and narrowly instrumental values are not the only problems with the thinking, belief, and practice among evangelical Christians today. If Carl Henry were alive, he might wonder whether the new evangelicalism had, in the end, lost out to the fundamentalists. More than ever, Mark Noll concludes, the “evangelical mind” appears to be an oxymoron.43

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. When Dickens penned this phrase, he was of course referring to the howling, murderous mobs of the French Revolution, and here in the United States we beheld a similar spectacle, the assault on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. Watching that god-awful display, replete with “Jesus and Trump” banners, was one of the worst moments of my life. I thought back to our noble goals as a band of evangelical historians nearly 40 years ago, when we founded the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College. We aimed first to promote a deeper understanding of the role of evangelical Christianity in shaping America, and then, not incidentally, to foster a deeper and more critical self-understanding among American evangelicals. We developed both scholarly monographs and more broadly targeted books and media. Yet as I watched the news on that dark day in January, I had the sinking feeling that our second goal was an abject failure. I had to ask: what good did it do for Mark Noll to receive a medal from a U.S. president for his virtuous achievements, when evangelical voters in two successive elections overwhelmingly supported an amoral and dangerous presidential candidate who was profoundly lacking in the virtues needed to serve in high office? What did it mean for Noll to have been named one of the nation’s most influential evangelicals?

His influence did not reach very far, it seems. Noll had warned repeatedly about the fallacies and failures of Christian nationalism,44 but not many evangelicals were reading or heeding him, it seems. Instead they embraced simplistic and strident calls to make America great again.45 Noll wrote about the ways that race and racism have haunted America and its politics from the beginning,46 but white evangelicals are among the least likely to admit that racial injustice is still pervasive in America.47 Noll reminded us that evangelical thought leaders 150 years ago revered the work of scientists, and he encouraged contemporary evangelicals to put away the science skepticism they inherited from the fundamentalists.48 But evangelicals today are among the most likely to deny human-induced climate change49and to doubt the reliability of scientific knowledge about pandemics and vaccines.50 Noll warned about the destructive effects of conspiratorial thinking,51 but white evangelicals today are among the most likely to believe the vicious theories of QAnon and other lies, such as a stolen presidential election.52

So we see extraordinary intellectual achievements among evangelical and other determinedly Christian scholars. We see also the many evangelical institutions of higher learning, 150 of them now affiliating with the CCCU, some very strong academically and many others vastly improved over the past 30 years. They uphold the value of learning and the patient search for truth. One would think that they also reflect widespread support and respect among evangelicals for careful thinking and hard intellectual work. Yet at the same time, we see evangelicals increasingly going for populist preachers and parachurch leaders who are dismissive of such efforts and who express attitudes and opinions that are demonstrably contrary to the Gospel. Says Mark Noll, “No half-baked conspiracy, however lacking in responsible verification, seems too much. Are the Christian colleges and universities failing; or are they just spitting into the whirlwind?”53

Jesus said that false prophets would arise and that they would try to deceive the very elect (Matt. 24:24), and so they have. Charisma magazine was full of such false revelations.54 Some of these prophets are chagrined that they falsely predicted President Trump’s re-election.55But the real false prophecy was endorsing him in the first place. We are seeing signs of civilizational decline, and in times like these, real prophets speak hard truths. They do not endorse rulers who personify the nation’s idolatry of money, sex, and power. John Calvin summarized the findings of true prophets when he said, “Those who rule unjustly and incompetently have been raised up [by God] to punish the wickedness of the people.”56 Not many evangelical leaders are prophesying like that.

So, what are evangelical scholars going to make of this state of affairs? One thing to consider is that while the situation seems extreme today, it is not totally new. Recall that when Carl Henry and Harold Ockenga began their efforts to reform fundamentalism, they had to contend with the likes of Carl McIntire, John R. Rice, and Bob Jones. These populist power brokers led a movement that had lost almost all institutions that honored the life of the mind, and instead, these militants were teaching antievolutionism, misogyny, racial segregation, and communist conspiracy theories.57

These threats have changed in the particulars but not that much in nature. In 1985, when the ISAE hosted the first of its several major conferences on evangelicals and the life of the mind at Wheaton College’s Billy Graham Center, the Moral Majority was at high tide and a fundamentalist takeover was beginning in the Southern Baptist Convention. Behind the scenes at the Graham Center, anxious advisers were telling Billy Graham that the ISAE’s critical scholarship was tending to sow confusion among the faithful, and that he ought to have the ISAE removed. Graham, bless his heart, firmly replied that Christian academics needed the freedom to address varying viewpoints and to ask uncomfortable questions.58

A quarter-century later, as Michael Hamilton reflected on the impact of the Pew Scholars programs, he counseled that there would “always be anti-intellectual forces within evangelicalism, and anti-Christian forces in the evangelical world.” The need to “identify, support, and network talented and committed evangelical scholars” to combat these forces will be ever before us.59 So one part of the answer as to what evangelical and other Christian scholars are to do is to stay the course. No turning back, my friends, no turning back. Through the years, the Christian scholars movement has been fueled by the conviction that it was a band of brothers and sisters with a cause. My main concern for the current generation of Christian scholars, who are more numerous and talented and accomplished than ever, is that it must persist as a movement, if not to save the West, then to save the integrity of Christianity in our time.

Our times, however, present some formidable obstacles to our engaging the evangelical rank and file. American social and economic structures have changed drastically over the past 50 years. In my parents’ generation, ordinary Americans with blue-collar jobs could own their own homes, buy nice cars and send their kids to college. Both Steve Evans and I were born into such homes. His father was a bus driver, and mine worked for the phone company. Both of us went to good private colleges and then on to grad school and became professors. Today, that sort of upward social mobility is much less likely to happen. The worlds of working families and of those who graduate from or teach in private universities are increasingly distant and alienated.

This alienation comes from the rise of an elite class in the U.S. now to which professors, even junior professors, tend to belong. Some have called it the creative class, the meritocracy, the cosmopolitans, or, says David Brooks, the BoBos: Bohemian Bourgeoisie. Our status as professors distances us from most white evangelicals. George Packer and David Brooks especially have argued that not only are there great economic gaps and barriers between the cultured elites and many other folk today, but these cosmopolitans are becoming increasingly alienated toward many affluent Americans who do not share the elites’ educational credentials, learned professions or cosmopolitan values. What is worse, many ordinary Americans deeply resent the insinuations that they hear from this meritocracy: that they are smarter, more enlightened, and more tolerant than other people.60 Trump won in 2016 because he made the white working-class and a large swath of the middle class who consider themselves “Real Americans” feel heard. As Brooks put it, “When you tell a large chunk of the country that their voices are not worth hearing, they are going to react badly—and they have.”61

White evangelicals evidently made up a large part of that pro-Trump coalition, and Kristin Du Mez’s hard-hitting book, Jesus and John Wayne (Liveright, 2020), explains why that happened. For several decades now, she said, the evangelicals who embraced Trump have believed that they and the cosmopolitan elites were engaged in a war for the soul of the nation, and they have become used to looking for forceful, even violent heroes who would rescue them from their foes. The movement has been embracing authoritarian religious leaders too, and the people in the pews have repeatedly excused these megachurch and parachurch celebrities’ moral lapses. Meanwhile, evangelical men’s, women’s, and family ministries have embraced the gender ideals of forceful men and submissive, nurturing women, and have been glorifying violent action as a mark of true manhood. Embracing the likes of Trump, then, was not all that difficult to accept, especially when he promised to promote evangelicals’ anti-abortion efforts and protect their anti-LGBT institutional stances. He could play the warrior hero they had come to revere.62

Du Mez’s book was a revelation to me. I had heard of these sorts of developments within evangelicalism over the years, but distantly. I had not encountered such attitudes and behavior firsthand in church. I think that like many evangelical intellectuals, I had found congregations that sheltered me from these values and trends. Many of us, I suspect, have sought out liturgical and mainline Protestant congregations that would accept and affirm our evangelical piety while insulating us from many of the beliefs, practices and values that now pervade white evangelicalism. In joining ranks with the meritocracy, we have not only insulated ourselves from evangelical excesses, but also have accepted much of the cosmopolitan elites’ definition of the good life. Our life trajectories and the new class structures of America have put us into less and less contact with ordinary Americans, including many white evangelicals. They feel left out, threatened, and disrespected by the meritocracy, and they are fighting back. This trend is not just a seasonal or incidental matter; it has major social forces and economic structures undergirding it.

Now What?

So what can we do about this problem? For many of us, the main encounter we have with the residents of “Real America” is on campus and in the classroom. How has that gone? Indeed, what do we expect our colleges and universities to be doing about this culture war? Is it our job to turn Real Americans into cosmopolitans? That is not likely. Those who hold populist views have lived in social relationships that have reinforced those beliefs for years, and just going to college is not likely to knock them out.63 Furthermore, thoughtful Christians should be able to see that there are aspects of the cosmopolitan class’s beliefs, values, and ways of living that are not in tune with the Gospel, and that there are beliefs, values, and lifeways among the rural working class and in non-elite suburban middle America that do honor God’s ways and will. David Brooks is especially perceptive on this point. He chides the cosmopolitans for their individualism and rootlessness, while he commends Real America for its loyalties to particular places and the people who dwell there, and to family and kin.64

Since none of these social sectors has a lock on what it means to live according to God’s will and God’s ways, my hope is that we Christian scholars might try to do and be something else. What comes to mind is John Stott’s call for a counter-cultural “radical discipleship” back in the 1970s,65 and Jamie Smith’s more recent call for education as formation, whereby Christian campuses strive, by God’s grace, to live out a social imagination shaped by a biblical and ecclesial vision of the Kingdom of God.66 As Christian intellectuals and many of us also citizens of Christian academic communities, what can we do to champion a campus life that more faithfully gives witness to “that mode of human flourishing which the biblical writers call Shalom?”67 I would urge that we pursue these aims with a more acute awareness of the new class structures that are part of the principalities and powers with which we contend.

On the research and scholarship front, I am thinking that we can encourage our colleagues to do what Nick Wolterstorff calls “praxis-oriented” scholarship, which makes its contribution to a more just society by its “analysis of the structure and dynamics of our social world, a critical appraisal of that structure and those dynamics, and an uncovering of the strategies that have some chance of preserving what ought to be preserved and changing what ought to be changed.”68

So what sorts of praxis-oriented scholarship might we be doing to bring justice and reconciliation? The gap between “Real America” and the “Cosmopolitan Class” is reflected in the increasing polarity in our national election returns. Joe Biden’s road to victory in 2020 ran through urban counties. Trump swept the rural ones. Much of the “praxis-oriented” scholarship at Christian colleges today focuses on urban conditions and racial injustice. Doing that work is right and good and still needed, but the lines of the current culture war also run between, for example, my neighborhood in Grand Rapids, which has some “Black Lives Matter” signs in the front yards of white people, and my hometown of Allegan, 40 miles away, where the only yard signs I see are for Trump. Small-town America is in deep trouble economically and culturally, and Christian scholars and Christian colleges could be doing critical appraisals of what’s wrong and developing strategies to right those wrongs.

Christian academic communities can not only study these problems but also intervene. They can feature small-business dynamics in business courses and internships, and they can engage the community more directly with students and faculty participating in local arts and civic endeavors. Real Americans and cosmopolitans have lost touch with each other, and need to reconnect. How might that happen? Students might learn from local talent how to work and create with their hands. For many generations Berea College, a Christian institution in rural Kentucky, has taught students manual skills and required them to perform manual labor. More of us should. If our campuses are not accessible to the lower middle class, are not teaching about contemporary American social strains and rifts, and are not engaging Real American communities—their gifts as well as their pathologies—we will not truly address the structure and dynamics of our social world. We need to become something better than mere finishing schools for cosmopolitans.

The key to making a difference today, I believe, is recognizing two things about our situation: first, the historic “evangelical” project of the postwar era has fallen on very bad times and is much in need of reform and renewal. Evangelicals’ push for power in this culture wars era has been profoundly corrupting, and it has come to dominate the public image of evangelicalism. Second, we should recognize that we live as a religious minority in a religiously and culturally diverse nation, and we would do well to try to bless others with wholesome, creative, and constructive thinking and living rather than continuing to try to impose our will on others. Historic evangelical movements and their counterparts today in other parts of the world have thrived on the margins, where they do not forget to seek their own integrity and renewal in the faith and do not focus on judging others. Let us invest our lives, then, in intellectual and creative communities that give a witness to that beautiful mode of flourishing the Bible calls shalom.

Help for the West

I could stop at this point, but I would not be true to my own pilgrimage as a Christian scholar if I did. For the past two decades I have been studying and promoting the rise of Christianity and Christian thinking elsewhere in the world. Christianity is now a predominantly non-Western religion, with its main centers of its adherence and vitality in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, and that fact changes everything for Christian scholars. I have spoken on campuses across this continent, emphasizing the importance of learning about and learning from world Christianity, and I twisted the arms of Susan VanZanten, Nick Wolterstorff, and Mark Noll to write book-length testimonials as to how their personal and scholarly lives have changed because of a turn toward the global South and East.69 Through the Nagel Institute at Calvin, we have raised over $10 million for projects to strengthen Christian scholarship in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Our projects have directly benefited at least 500 scholars on these continents and engaged several hundred more North American Christian scholars as partners in such work.70

That is all well and good, no doubt you are thinking, but with a crisis here, shouldn’t we be focusing on our own situation? The problem with that approach is that even with very insightful investigators, critics, and guides, we have trouble seeing the cultural waters we inhabit and considering ways of being and doing that come from beyond them.

Let me cite two large examples. More than we know, and despite all of our critical efforts, it is very hard for Western Christian scholars to think beyond the outlook and assumptions of Christendom, with its officially supported and culturally assimilated Christianity. The same is true for the Enlightenment and its rationalistic values and reductionistic outlook, even though these have come under critical fire in recent decades. Majority World Christians, however, do not share these basic legacies, so they can look across the cultural grain and help us see things differently. We need their help, I think. In this final section, then, let me offer some examples, all drawn from one exemplary Christian scholar from West Africa, the Ghanaian theologian, Kwame Bediako.

Kwame Bediako (1945-2008), the founding rector of the Akrofi-Christaller Institute in Ghana, was “the outstanding African theologian of his generation,” according to the Scottish historian, Andrew Walls. Bediako focused on Christianity’s encounter with African religions and from that analysis he created fresh approaches to such theological fields as Christology, theology of religions, biblical interpretation, worship, and the gospel-and-culture dialectic. Ever conscious that the West might be listening, Bediako, said Walls, “did perhaps more than anyone else to persuade mainstream Western theologians and mainstream Western theological institutions that African theology was not an exotic minority specialization but an essential component in a developing global Christian discourse.”71 What I have discovered while studying Bediako is that African Christian perspectives throw new light on a very wide array of Western fields and topics. I see at least four themes in African Christian thought, à la Bediako, that come to bear powerfully on the tasks at hand for American Christian scholars.


Identity has been a prime theological category for African Christian thinkers. What does it mean to be Christian and to be African, especially when so many critics say that Christianity is foreign to Africa? 72 Western Christendom can hardly imagine this problem. It would seem odd for a Westerner to ask what it means to be Christian and Polish, or Italian, or American. But seeing Africans’ struggle to come to terms with this question might prompt us to see fault lines and tensions between Christian faith and action and our own national identity. This question should help us discern, for example, the deeply problematic nature of Christian nationalism. Any nation that claims to be Christian in character and purpose holds up a far more searing and judgment-laden standard to its national life than most Christian nationalists can bear. Where, for example, do some of the values that we Americans uphold in our public affairs, such as revenge and honor, come from? Perhaps from the distant forests of our pagan past, but not from the Gospel of Jesus Christ.73 We tend to think of syncretism as an African problem, but we too retain some pagan values. They are hidden under the veneer of Christendom, however, so Africans, who see the idols with which they contend much more clearly, might help us to identify ours and contend with them more acutely. We should ask more often, and with a more critical edge, what does it mean to be Christian and American, and what American idols contend for our loyalties?74


Religious experience and practice are central to being human, but the intellectuals of the Post-Enlightenment West have deemed religion a spent force and not terribly relevant to contemporary life and thought. Bediako taught that religious consciousness is primal to humanity, and that its deep currents that will rise to the surface even in the “Post-Christian” West.75 In Africa and Asia in particular, Christians also live in religiously plural societies, and they learn via daily encounters to take life’s religious and spiritual dimensions seriously and to appreciate the spiritual and moral dimensions of other faiths. In western Christendom, Christianity’s religious monopoly has given it scant preparation for this task, even while religious diversity grows by the year. We need to attend to multiple religious perspectives and practices and to see religious experience and obligations as prime reference points for Christian thinking.76 African Christians’ long experience with thinking religiously can guide us as we address the new religious pluralism here and the religious vectors of our daily lives.

Political Power

One of Bediako’s more frequent themes, especially in the face of authoritarian rule in postcolonial Africa, was the way in which traditional societies had sacralized power and bestowed it on rulers because of their priestly status as mediators to the gods and the ancestors. Christian teaching, however, de-sacralizes power. Any power rulers have is bestowed on them by God and this delegated power is contingent on rulers continuing to honor God’s will and God’s ways.77 Yet in our day, both in the West and in the Majority World, we see the rise of authoritarian rulers who attempt to mythologize their rule and to create an aura of godlike grandeur around their person. Bediako deflates these pretensions by returning to the outrageous political claim of the Apostle Paul that “Jesus Christ is Lord.”78 So in politics, Bediako teaches, Christians are to embody the power of the Lord Jesus and of the Cross, which produces self-sacrificing love, non-dominating and humble leadership, and accountability: not only to the people that one serves, but to the Lord and Savior of the World who turned the world upside down by going to the Cross.79


Thanks to Archbishop Desmond Tutu we hear more these days about this Zulu word, which means “I am because we are.”80 Africans are communal people who think and live much more in “we” terms than in “I” terms. Christianity is remembered in Western intellectual history for opening up the sense of selfhood, which is what begat modern individualism. But Christianity in places like Ghana and South Africa is deeply communal, as it was in the New Testament. Professor Walls was quite smitten with these values, and his vision for the Christian renewal of Western thought and academe was to form “ashrams,” modeled after those Indian communities of intense spiritual and intellectual cultivation.81 Walls thought that the Bediakos’ Akrofi-Christaller Institute (ACI) was a prime example of the intellectual creativity and spiritual integrity that such focused communities could produce. And part of the genius of ACI was its being open to ordinary members of the church and town. They participated regularly in its daily Bible studies and devotionals.82

Our profession does not much reward communal impulses. It honors individual achievement. But I have found great joy, wisdom, and power in communal scholarly gatherings. What I have treasured most in my 50 years within Christian intellectual circles has been the fellowship. And I will never forget what Kwame Bediako said in his final public address: “In our own generation the practice of Christian scholarship is the nurture of a living community of scholars and much less the nurture of one’s individual career.”83

Even so, we cannot let ubuntu values lead us into our own brand of tribalism, with closed intellectual enclaves and an implicit acceptance of the alienation driven by the new class structures of America. That is one of the problems I have with the inclination of many of us to scrap the “evangelical” label and to repackage our identity. It might in fact be an attempt to distance ourselves from some rude and unruly kinfolk for whom we should remain accountable. I would rather that we dig deeper and re-employ the impulses of the original evangelicals, in the days of Wesley and Whitefield. They were striving for the renewal of spiritual integrity within older Christian traditions and “seeking the welfare” of the society in which they were planted.84 Evangelical participation in populist attempts to seize power have done horrific damage to the movement’s public reputation and inner integrity. It is time for evangelical intellectuals to step away from power grabs and to “build anew,” as my Catholic friend Todd Hartch puts it, seeking, by God’s grace, “the true, good and beautiful” in our communities and in our engagement with others.85 We need to bloom where we have been planted and keep open the doors of fellowship and mutual reproof and correction so that we are ever ready to speak—and hear—the truth in love. As David Brooks put it, instead of being BoBos, let us be bridge builders.86


The “new evangelical” theologians who founded Fuller Theological Seminary and the hopeful Christian scholars at Gordon College and beyond who founded the Christian Scholar’s Review would stand amazed at the scope and quality of the movement they started. There has indeed been a rebirth of evangelical scholarship, artistry, and higher education, in partnership with intellectuals from other Christian traditions. We have not saved Western civilization, and it was presumptuous to think that we might. Instead, we have built a remarkable network of thought, fellowship, and agency for Christian cultural engagement that strives for integrity in its witness to God’s reign. Even so, this has been a renaissance of intellectual life without an ensuing reformation of evangelical Christianity. The fundamentalist impulse is at least as strong as it was in Carl Henry’s day and is probably even more dangerous now than it was then. Contemporary American values and social structures also pose formidable challenges, as does the state of higher education. Yet by God’s grace, we have been given remarkable resources and opportunities to address these challenges, not least the wisdom to be gained from Majority World Christianity. I have been blessed deeply by my participation in “the project” of Christian intellectual and cultural engagement and I know that you will be too. As my wise colleague, Neal Plantinga, once put it, “According to God’s intelligence, the way to thrive is to help others to thrive; the way to flourish is to cause others to flourish; the way to fulfil yourself is to spend yourself.”87 That has been true for me. May it be so for you.

Cite this article
Joel Carpenter, “Reawakening Evangelical Intellectual Life: A Christian Scholar’s Review”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 51:2 , 127-151


  1. The initial sponsoring institutions of CSR were Anderson College, Barrington College, Bethel College (MN), Calvin College, Geneva College, Gordon College, Houghton College, Northwestern College (IA), Nyack Missionary College, Spring Arbor College, Taylor University, Trinity Christian College (Palos Hts., IL), Trinity College (Deerfield, IL), Westmont College, and Wheaton College. From Todd Steen and Grace Stevenson, “Fifty Years On: The History of the Christian Scholar’s Review,” Christian Scholar’s Review 51:1 (2021): 9, fn 8.
  2. I have benefitted greatly from reading recent essays by Mark Noll and George Marsden. See Marsden, The Soul of the American University Revisited: From Protestant to Postsecular (New York: Oxford University Press, 2021), especially his Epilogue, “An Unexpected Sequel: A Renaissance of Christian Academia,” 365-389; and Mark A. Noll, “The American ‘Evangelical Mind’ Today.” This paper is to be published as the Afterword in a new edition of Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, forthcoming).
  3. This is Mark Noll’s title for the pivotal fifth chapter of The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 109-145.
  4. Alan Jacobs, The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018).
  5. Reinhold Niebuhr, The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness: A Vindication of Democracy and a Critique of Its Traditional Defense (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1944); Jacques Barzun, Darwin, Marx, Wagner: Critique of a Heritage (Boston: Little, Brown, 1941).
  6. Philip Gleason, Contending with Modernity: Catholic Higher Education in the Twentieth Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 128-166.
  7. G. Bromley Oxnam, The Church and Contemporary Change (New York: Macmillan, 1950), 29-30. See also Charles Clayton Morrison, Can Protestantism Win America? (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1948), which republished a series of articles by Morrison in the Christian Century in 1946.
  8. George M. Marsden, Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987),43-45, 76-79; Rudolph Nelson, The Making and Unmaking of an Evangelical Mind: The Case of Edward John Carnell (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 36-49.
  9. Carl F. H. Henry, Confessions of a Theologian: An Autobiography (Waco, TX: Word, 1986), 111-113.
  10. Henry, Remaking the Modern Mind (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1946).
  11. Henry, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1947), 89.
  12. Nelson, Making and Unmaking of an Evangelical Mind, chapter 5, “Fundamentalism on the Charles,” 54-72.
  13. Harold J. Ockenga, “The Challenge to the Christian Culture of the West,” typescript summary of convocation address inaugurating Fuller Theological Seminary, 1 October 1947, 10. Quoted in Marsden, Reforming Fundamentalism.
  14. Owen Strachen, “Carl Henry’s University Crusade: The Failed Founding of Crusade University,” in Strachen, Awakening the Evangelical Mind: An Intellectual History of the Neo-Evangelical Movement (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015), 127-158.
  15. Henry, Confessions of a Theologian, 272-275.
  16. On Lewis’ growing influence, see George M. Marsden, C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity: A Biography (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2016).
  17. I was actually more moved and captivated as a student by Edith Schaeffer’s call for intellectual communities that cultivated beauty, hospitality and caring for each other. Edith Schaeffer, L’Abri (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1970).
  18. The best overview of Schaeffer’s life and work is Barry Hankins, Francis Schaeffer and the Shaping of Evangelical America (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008).
  19. See InterVarsity’s web page, “Christian Professional and Academic Societies,” which lists them and provides links to their home pages. (accessed 9 September 2021).
  20. Susan Felch, “Christian Scholarship at Calvin College,” published on the web pages of the Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship. The quotes I draw from this source are from the bylaws of the Center. (accessed 8 September 2021).
  21. Smith’s first book, Revivalism and Social Reform in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Abingdon, 1957), was a pioneering study of the influence of evangelicalism in the United States. By the mid-1970s he was circling back to similar topics after working for years in the histories of immigration and education.
  22. George M. Marsden, The Evangelical Mind and the New School Presbyterian Experience (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1970); Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism, 1870-1925 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980).
  23. The ISAE received permission from the Pew Charitable Trusts to make a sub-grant out of one of its research grants to the ISAE to Lyman Kellstedt of Wheaton, Corwin Smidt of Calvin, James Guth of Furman, and John Green of Akron. Their pioneering work in “operationalizing” religion as a political factor, e.g. in post-election studies, caught the eye of major funders, Pew first. Today there is a lively and large section of the American Political Science Association given to the study of religion and politics. Evangelical scholars have led the way. See John Schmalzbauer, People of Faith: Religious Conviction in American Journalism and Higher Education (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2003), 39, 155-157, 198; and Ted Jelen, “Research in Religion and Mass Political Behavior in the United States: Looking Both Ways after Two Decades of Scholarship,” American Politics Quarterly 26.1 (1998): 110-135.
  24. The others are J. R. R. Tolkien, Dorothy L. Sayers, George MacDonald, G. K. Chesterton, Owen Barfield, and Charles Williams.
  25. “Nathan O. Hatch, Evangelical Colleges and the Challenge of Christian Thinking,” in Making Higher Education Christian: The History and Mission of Evangelical Colleges in America,ed. Joel A. Carpenter and Kenneth W. Shipps (Grand Rapids: Christian University Press/Eerdmans, 1987), 155-171.
  26. For this paragraph and the one preceding it, I have drawn details from Michael S. Hamilton’s report, “An Analysis of the Pew Programs in Support of Evangelical Scholarship, 1990-2004,” Seattle Pacific University, August 2008.
  27. Some of the freshest recent thinking about faith and scholarship has issued from these Lilly funded projects, including, for example, Richard T. Hughes and William B. Adrian, eds., Models for Christian Higher Education: Strategies for Success in the Twenty-first Century (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997); Douglas Jacobsen and Rhonda Hustedt Jacobsen, Scholarship and Christian Faith: Enlarging the Conversation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004); and Nicholas Wolterstorff, Educating for Shalom: Essays on Christian Higher Education (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004).
  28. See, e.g., Michael S. Hamilton, “Reflection and Response: The Elusive Idea of Christian Scholarship,” Christian Scholar’s Review 31:1 (Fall 2001): 13-30.
  29. Robert B. Townsend, “The Rise and Decline of History Specializations over the Past 40 Years,” Perspectives on History, December 1, 2015. (accessed 21 September 2021).
  30.  Schmalzbauer, People of Faith, 37, 221 n90.
  31. This project has been a struggle, I have learned. For an account of the first decade or so of it, see Barry G. Hankins and Donald D. Schmeltikopf, eds., The Baylor Project: Taking Christian Higher Education to the Next Level (South Bend, Ind.: St. Augustine’s Press, 2007).
  32. This is the current state of affairs at Baylor, I gather from Perry Glanzer’s recent posting with the CSR blog site, “Is Your Institution Serious about Its Christian Identity? Learning from a Comprehensive Diversity Initiative,” August 27, 2021. (accessed on 9 September 2021).
  33. George M. Marsden, “Why No Major Evangelical University? The Loss and Recovery of Evangelical Advanced Scholarship,” in Making Higher Education Christian: The History and Mission of Evangelical Colleges in America, eds. Joel A. Carpenter and Kenneth W. Shipps (Grand Rapids: Christian University Press/Eerdmans, 1987), 294-304.
  34. D. Michael Lindsay, Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007). Lindsay served as president of Gordon College from 2011 to 2021 and now is president of Taylor University.
  35. Office of the Press Secretary, “Press Release: President Bush Announces 2006 National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal Recipients,” White House, November 8, 2006. (accessed 10 September 2021).
  36. James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity Today (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).
  37. For some concrete examples of the quality and breadth of scholarship now being produced, see Noll, “The American Evangelical Mind Today,” 11-15.
  38. Marsden, Soul of the American University Revisited, 351-363.
  39. Noll, “The American ‘Evangelical Mind’ Today,” 8. On anti-religious bias, see George Yancey, Compromising Scholarship: Religious and Political Bias in Academia (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2011).
  40. Victor E. Ferrall, Jr., Liberal Arts at the Brink (Harvard University Press, 2011).
  41. “Calvin University Receives $22.25 Million to Launch School of Business,” Philanthropy News Digest, May 18, 2020. Accessed 4 October 2021.
  42. Timothy L. Smith, “Introduction: Christian Colleges and American Culture,” in Making Higher Education Christian, 1-15. See also Smith’s Uncommon Schools: Christian Colleges and Social Idealism in Midwestern America, 1820-1950 (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1978).
  43. Mark Noll, “Preface,” 1. This paper is from a working draft of the preface for the forthcoming revised edition of The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.
  44. Mark Noll, Nathan Hatch, and George Marsden, The Search for Christian America (Westches-ter, IL: Crossways, 1983); Noll, One Nation under God: Christian Faith and Political Action in America (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988); Noll, ed., Religion and American Politics: From the Colonial Period to the 1980s (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989); Noll, America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002).
  45. Andrew L. Whitehead, Samuel L. Perry, and Joseph O. Baker, “Make America Christian Again: Christian Nationalism and Voting for Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election,” Sociology of Religion 79.2 (Summer 2018): 147–171.
  46. Noll, God and Race in American Politics: A Short History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008).
  47. PRRI Staff, “Summer Unrest over Racial Injustice Moves the Country, But Not Republicans or White Evangelicals,” Public Religion Research Institute, August 21, 2020. (accessed 10 September 2021).
  48. Mark Noll and David Livingstone, eds., B.B. Warfield, Evolution, Science and Scripture: Selected Writings (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000); Noll, Livingstone, and D. G. Hart, eds., Evangelicals and Science in Historical Perspective (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).
  49. Adrian Bardon, “Faith and Politics Mix to Drive Evangelical Christians’ Climate Change Denial,” The Conversation, September 9, 2020. (accessed 10 September 2021).
  50. “Intent to Get Vaccinated Against COVID-19 Varies by Religious Affiliation in the U.S.,” Pew Research Center, March 22, 2021. (accessed 10 September 2021).
  51. Mark Noll, The Civil War as a Theological Crisis (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2006); Noll, ed., Religion and American Politics; and Noll, Christians in the American Revolution (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977).
  52. Daniel A. Cox, “Social Isolation and Community Disconnection are not Spurring Conspiracy Theories: Findings From the January 2021 American Perspectives Survey,” Survey Center on American Life, American Enterprise Institute. March 4, 2021. (accessed 10 September 2021).
  53. Noll, “Preface” (2022), 2.
  54. William L. De Arteaga, “Why Christians Fell for False Prophecy,” Pneuma Review 24:1 (Winter 2021). Ac-cessed 12 October 2021.
  55. Craig Keener, “Failed Trump Prophecies Offer a Lesson in Humility,” Christianity Today, January 20, 2021. 14 September 2021).
  56. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, vol. 2, ed. John T. McNeill, transl. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), 1512. I borrow this quote and its framing from Christopher J. H. Wright in his truly prophetic work, “Here Are Your Gods”: Faithful Discipleship in Idolatrous Times (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2020), 161.
  57. One of the best windows into those times is George M. Marsden, Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987). Two recent books delve into the nether world of militant fundamentalism in those days: Markku Ruotsila, Fighting Fundamentalist: Carl McIntire and the Politicization of American Fundamentalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016); and Keith Bates, Mainstreaming Fundamentalism: John R. Rice and Fundamentalism’s Public Resurgence (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2021).
  58. Sterling Houston, memorandum to John Akers, Allen Emery, Billy Graham, and Art Johnston, March 5, 1986; Billy Graham to Sterling Houston, March 13, 1986; Archives of the Billy Graham Center, Collection 580, Box 136, folder 15.
  59. Hamilton, “An Analysis of the Pew Programs,” 17.
  60. David Brooks, Blame the BOBOS,” The Atlantic, September 2021, 56-66; see also George Packer, “The Four Americas,” The Atlantic, July/August 2021, 63-78, for a similar analysis. Packer has written a larger work from which his Atlantic essay is drawn: Last Best Hope: America in Crisis and Renewal (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2021). Brooks first developed the “BoBos” concept in Bobos In Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001). In his recent Atlantic article, Brooks helpfully cites additional works that describe and analyze the emerging class structures in the United States, notably Richard Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class, Revisited (New York: Basic Books, 2014); Michael J. Sandel, The Tyranny of Merit: Can We Find the Common Good? (New York: Ferrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2020); and Thibault Muzergues, The Great Class Shift: How New Social Class Structures are Redefining Western Politics (London, Routledge, 2019).
  61. Brooks, “Blame the Bobos,” 62.
  62. Kristin Du Mez, Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation (New York: Norton/Liveright, 2020).
  63. See, for example, Jonathan Hill’s study of what conditions might change the beliefs of evolution skeptics. Hill, “Rejecting Evolution: The Role of Religion, Education, and Social Networks,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 53 (2014): 575–594.
  64. Brooks, “Blame the Bobos,” 64-66; see also Packer, “The Four Americas,” 78.
  65. John R. W. Stott, Christian Counter-Culture: The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1978).
  66. James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009).
  67. Nicholas Wolterstorff, Educating for Shalom: Essays on Christian Higher Education (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 126.
  68. Ibid., 100.
  69. Susan VanZanten, Reading A Different Story: A Christian Scholar’s Journey from America to Africa (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013); Nicholas P. Wolterstorff, Journey toward Justice: Personal Encounters in the Global South (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013); and Mark A. Noll, From Every Nation: A Historian’s Discovery of the Global Christian Story (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014).
  70. (accessed 21 September 2021).
  71. This quote and the prior one are from Andrew F. Walls, “Bediako, Kwame, 1945-2008: Presbyterian, Ghana,” Dictionary of African Christian Biography, (accessed 18 September 2021). Some of Bediako’s works that were aimed more directly at Western audiences include Christianity in Africa: The Renewal of a Non-Western Religion (Edinburgh and Maryknoll, NY: Edinburgh University Press and Orbis Books, 1995), which contains Bediako’s Duff Lectures at the University of Edinburgh; “Five Theses on the Significance of Modern African Christianity,” Studies in World Christianity 1.1 (1995): 51-67; “Africa and Christianity on the Threshold of the Third Millennium: The Religious Dimension,” African Affairs 99 (2000): 303-323; and “The Emergence of World Christianity and the Remaking of Theology,” Journal of African Christian Thought 12.2 (2009): 50-55.
  72. Bediako, Theology and Identity: The Impact of Culture upon Christian Thought in the Second Century and Modern Africa (Oxford: Regnum, 1992).
  73. I am grateful to Prof. Esau McCaulley of Wheaton for his clear thinking on this point. See his recent op-ed essay, “The Dangerous Politics of ‘We Will Not Forgive,’” New York Times, September 19, 2021. (accessed 20 September 2021).
  74. Again, see Christopher J. H. Wright, “Here Are Your Gods”: Faithful Discipleship in Idolatrous Times. Wright, an Old Testament scholar who taught in India, has gained a prophetic eye to see the West’s idolatries.
  75. Bediako, Christianity in Africa, 91-108.
  76. Bediako, “The Holy Spirit, the Christian Gospel and Religious Change: The African Evidence for a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism,” in Essays in Religious Studies for Andrew Walls, ed. James Thrower (Aberdeen: Department of Religious Studies, University of Aberdeen, 1985), 44-56.
  77. Bediako, Christianity in Africa, 234-251.
  78. Most famously in Romans 10:9, and Philippians 2:11. “Lord and Savior of the World” was in apostolic times a common appellation for Caesar. Saying that Jesus is Lord implied that Caesar was not, and hence Roman suspicions about Christians’ lack of allegiance to the Empire.
  79. Bediako, “Christian Witness in the Public Sphere: Some Lessons and Residual Changes from the Recent Political History of Ghana,” in The Changing Face of Christianity: Africa, the West, and the World, eds. Lamin Sanneh and Joel A. Carpenter (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 117-132.
  80. A main source for reading Desmond Tutu’s teaching on ubuntu is his No Future Without Forgiveness (New York: Doubleday, 1999).
  81. Andrew Walls, “Of Ivory Towers and Ashrams: Some Reflections on Theological Scholarship in Africa,” Journal of African Christian Thought 3.1 (June 2000): 1-4.
  82. Andrew F. Walls, “Kwame Bediako and Christian Scholarship in Africa,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 32.4 (October 2008): 192.
  83. Bediako, “Andrew Walls as Mentor,” in Understanding World Christianity: The Vision and Work of Andrew F. Walls, eds. William R. Burrows, Mark R. Gornik, and Janice A. McLean (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2011), 9.
  84. Jeremiah 29:7; On the dynamics of early evangelical movements, see Mark Noll, The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity, 2003).
  85. Todd Hartch, A Time to Build Anew: How to Find the True, Good and Beautiful in America (Brooklyn, NY: Angelico Press, 2021).
  86. David Brooks, The Second Mountain: Quest for A Moral Life (New York: Random House, 2019).
  87. Neal Plantinga, Engaging God’s World: A Reformed Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 22.

Joel Carpenter

Calvin University
Joel Carpenter is a historian and former provost at Calvin College, and is currently senior research fellow and founding director of the Nagel Institute for the Study of World Christianity at Calvin University.


  • Richard Edlin says:

    Thanks for a great review and important challenge Joel. I know it’s not possible to include everyone of significance in a brief overview like this, but given the impact of his book “The Christian Mind”, I wonder if the work of Harry Blamires, (described in Christianity Today arguably as the person “who taught the church to think like Christians in the face of a secularizing culture,”) was worth a mention in your historical overview?