Someone has quipped that an evangelical can be defined as someone who says to a liberal, Ill call you a Christian if youll call me a scholar. Though Wheaton College historian Mark Noll knows all the one- liners about evangelicals, this one does not make his book. Evangelicals anti-intellectualism is no laughing matter. The scandal of the evangelical mind, he laments, is that there is not much of an evangelical mind. Since the movements birth in the transatlantic revivals of the early eighteenth century, it has brought millions to deep and lasting Christian faith. Even today, polls tell us, a solid majority of the folk who regularly attend and participate in the life of local churches are evangelical in belief and behavior. But in the process, Noll argues, they have paid a terrible price, for they have abandoned the universities, the arts, and other realms of high culture.
By mind Noll does not mean theology or biblical studies per se, where, all things considered, evangelicals have done quite well. His target, rather, is evangelicals failure seriously to confront the whole spectrum of modern learning, including economics and political science, literary criticism and imaginative writing, historical inquiry and philosophical studies, linguistics and the history of science, social theory and the arts.
The problem, in short, is evangelicals appalling parochialism, their unwillingness to break out of the vast but all-too-comfortable ghetto of evangelical churches and colleges and publishing networks and engage an intellectual world long ago captured by Marx and Darwin and Freud.
Nolls work is a jeremiad, profound in implication but simple in form. The tragedy of evangelicals poor scholarship, he argues, is that it grew from negligence, and the roots of that negligence go way back. In his view evangelical thought is best understood as a tissue of unexamined assumptions arising from early nineteenth century American values. Those values included revivalism, separation of church and state, political republicanism, social democracy, economic free enterprise, philosophical realism, and patriotic nationalism. Evangelical thinking suffered additional damage from the disaster of fundamentalism. In its holiness/pentecostal form, fundamentalism encouraged morbid inwardness; in its dispensationalist form, it fostered wooden literalism and an unhealthy preoccupation with predicting the future.
According to Noll, these influences have left modern evangelicals pathetically ill-equipped to confront the world of contemporary learning. They substitute activism for study, populism for the wisdom of the centuries, pragmatism for time-tested orthodoxy. Assuming themselves to be purely objective, disinterested readers of the biblical text, they display little concern for the staggering problems of hermeneutics. Bereft of self-criticism or subtlety, they show only grudging willingness to grapple with complexity and doubt. Evangelicals world is a Manichean one of absolutes, affording little sense that the line between good and evil runs not between groups but (in Solzhenitsyns terms) through every individual soul.
Things did not have to turn out this way. Medieval monastics, the Reformers, the Puritans, and Jonathan Edwards himself had determined to bring every aspect of life under the guidance of Christian thinking. Noll even finds the efforts of certain late-nineteenth-century giants like Charles Hodge and Augustus Strong compelling because of their determined effort to embrace the knowable world within Christian categories. If evangelicals had listened more to them, if they had been willing to draw upon the riches of other traditions like the Dutch Reformed, the Lutheran, and the Orthodox, if they had been humble enough to take a few cues from their counterparts in the British Isles, the story might have developed quite differently. But it did not because evangelicals followed the path of least resistance.
Hard words, to be sure, but they are the words of a wounded lover, as Noll calls himself, the words of an evangelical insider calling other insiders to humility in the face of a great heritage squandered. Though the book is concisely and elegantly written, it reflects awesome erudition. The footnotes stand out as a treasure in themselves, not stacked up like index cards in a shoebox but judiciously brought forth as needed. Still more importantly, Noll shows, very much as H. Richard Niebuhr did in The Kingdom of God in America , how to be passionately committed to a cause without sacrificing fairness (laying ones own assumptions out on the table) or publicness (remembering that all bits of evidence and lines of argument must be open to the scrutiny of insiders and outsiders alike).
Not surprisingly Noll (like all good historians) stirs up more questions than he answers. Some readers will feel that he errs by being too charitable toward the secular academic world. If George Marsden, Bradley Longfield, and other historians are right about the growing hegemony of secular assumptions in the modern research university, it may be difficult for orthodox voices of any kind to be heard since they are excluded from the conversation to begin with. Yet Noll seems not to think so, or at least he seems to think that evangelicals do well first to focus upon their own shortcomings rather than outsiders prejudices.
A more troubling question is whether any religious person can expect to gain a hearing in the surging diversity of the modern academy. The only way for evangelicals and Jews and Muslims and the mass of academics who do not care very much about any faith to get along is to agree on certain rules of exchange, and those rules usually mean not talking about the issues that lie deepest in their hearts. The plain fact is that the pluralism of modern university culture makes the language of strong commitment difficult to sustain on a day to day basis. Teaching about a Maimonides or a Barth is one thing; actually working with them in a faculty meeting may be quite another.
Finally, it is not clear that evangelicals do in fact need to establish a Christian view of everything. To be sure, it is important to know that Christians in general and evangelicals in particular can engage the highest and most demanding forms of intellectual work, but it is doubtful that the adjective evangelical makes much difference when we are talking about the work that most scholars, especially those in the natural sciences, undertake most of the time. Even for Noll, an historian of religion, most of what he does (and he does a lot) can be assessed by technical protocols of historical scholarship that are pretty much applicable to everyone in the profession.
However we answer these questions, the largest one remains: Do resources for renewal lie within the evangelical tradition? Yes, Noll believes, but they can be salvaged only with strenuous effort. Noll thus urges evangelicals to historicize themselves, to see how their favored modes of reaction are conditioned by time and place. He calls them to develop a sense of irony, to see, in words historian Peter Brown used in a different context, that the first and final enemy of the Christian intellectual is the patina of the obvious. It was said of Jonathan Edwards that he smelt of the lamp; Noll reminds Edwards latter day heirs that there is no substitute for long grueling hours in the library, the study, the laboratory. And in an age obsessed with narrative, when everyone seems to think that his own story is as valid as anyone elses, Noll effectively says No, there really is a normative conversation out there, a conversation defined by the reality-shaping institutions of our society, and it is high time for evangelicals to enter into it.
Thus this sermon, like all true jeremiads, ends on a note of hope. Noll urges these reforms upon evangelicals, not because they will afford them more power and prestige, but solely for the glory of God. The search for a Christian mind is not, in the end, he tells us, a search for mind but a search for God. Evangelicals purport to speak biblical truth, but in fact sold their soul to American culture long ago. The lips are Esaus but the voice is Jacobs. So for Noll evangelicals must become bilingual. They must continue to address the world with the life- giving words of faith that they know so well. At the same time, they must learn to translate those words into the language of the public academic sphere.
The great and pleasant irony of this book is that as long as the evangelical subculture is able to turn out a mind as learned and as Christian as Mark Nolls, its future promises to be a lot brighter than he supposes.
Grant Wacker is Associate Professor of American Religious History at Duke Divinity School.
Largely because Mark Nolls The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind is a crie de coeur, and indeed an epistle from a wounded lover, I suspect it is more likely to get a hearing among evangelicals than David Wells more combative No Place for Truth: Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology and his more recent God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams . But I think we would do well to read these evangelical authors together, for their diagnosis of the sorry state of evangelical scholarship-or, more accurately, their analysis of why American evangelicals have such a hard time nurturing the habits of mind required to produce quality scholarship-complement each other.
How bad do Noll and Wells think things are? After dismissing evidence for a resurgence in Christian scholarship as accidents of personal history, Noll observes that even when the evangelical heritage is not actually a deterrent to God-honoring thought, one finds little encouragement for the life of the mind in evangelical Protestantism. The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is no evangelical mind. Wells, a professor of Systematic Theology at Gordon-Conwell, a major evangelical seminary, is no less pessimistic. He reports that in recent years he has watched with growing disbelief as the evangelical church has cheerfully plunged into astounding theological illiteracy, a phenomenon his recent books have tried to explain.
While Noll and Wells agree that contemporary evangelical Protestantism does not encourage the habits and dispositions necessary to sustain the life of the mind, they locate the source of the problem somewhat differently. This difference seems to turn in large measure on their understanding of the relationship between contemporary evangelicals and their evangelical heritage, especially fundamentalism.
Noll admits that fundamentalism preserved essential aspects of orthodox Christianity, but argues that the lingering effects of certain theological innovations central to the fundamentalist movement, particularly dispensationalism, Pentecostalism, and holiness spirituality, continue to wreak havoc on the evangelical community. His chapter on the The Intellectual Disaster of Fundamentalism can be summed up by his quotation from Nathan Hatch:
Let me suggest somewhat whimsically that the heritage of fundamentalism was to Christian learning for evangelicals like Chairman Maos Cultural Revolution [was] for the Chinese. Both divorced a generation from mainline academia, thus making reintegration [into larger worlds of learning] a difficult, if not bewildering task.
Toward the end of this chapter Noll anticipates a plausible objection to his story: Surely we are flogging a dead horse by being so preoccupied with beliefs and practices from the early twentieth century that must now exert only a residual effect on the evangelical community. While Noll admits, for instance, that the specific theological propositions of dispensationalism probably do not have quite the importance across the evangelical spectrum that they once did, he insists that fundamentalist intellectual habits . . . have been more resilient than fundamentalism itself. It is not so much the specific tenets of dispensational, holiness, and Pentecostal theologies that are at issue for a more general consideration of the intellect, but rather the patterns of thinking encouraged by these theologies.
In sum, Noll thinks fundamentalism was such a complete intellectual disaster that contemporary evangelicals contribution to the life of the mind will remain scandalous until they go beyond it. What sporadic intellectual activity evangelicals do display points to their only intellectual hope:
Where evangelicals sift fundamentalist theology and spirituality to retain traditional Christian orthodoxy, where they are able to benefit from other Christian traditions, and where they make use of learning from the world more generally, then thinking for the glory of God has taken place.
The main points of Nolls criticism of fundamentalism are indisputable. But perhaps the current sad state of affairs is due less to a fundamentalist hangover than to even more disturbing new trends within evangelicalism itself, trends with a more tenuous link to a fundamentalist past than suggested by Noll.
Here Wells proposes that evangelicals have leapt from the fundamentalist frying pan into the fire of modernity. Wells suggests that modern evangelicals are not up to the task of sifting the fundamentalist chaff from the orthodox Protestant wheat largely because they no longer have the theological resources to do so.
Being evangelical has come to mean simply that one has had a certain kind of religious experience that gives color to the private aspects of daily life but in which few identifiable theological elements can be discerned or, as it turns out, are necessary. Evangelical faith is pursued as a matter of internal fascination but abandoned as a matter of external and public relevance . . . .
For contemporary Evangelicals, to believe that God can work dramatically within the narrow fissure of internal experience is sufficient.
They have lost interest . . . in what the doctrines of creation, common grace, and providence once meant for Christian believers, and even in those doctrines that articulate Christs death, such as justification, redemption, propitiation, and reconciliation.
I dont know whether Noll would take issue with all this, but Wells criticism is distinct from Nolls because he understands this evangelical turn inward toward the self to be of more recent origin, distinguishable from fundamentalism in important respects.
This turn toward the self is also a strategic retreat from the world, says Wells, no less than that of the fundamentalists of the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. At least then fundamentalists knew that they were cognitive aliens within the culture and thus used doctrine to define their own cultural boundaries. Doctrine served to seal in believers and seal out unbelievers. As a result, their commitment to the formal and material principles of Protestantism was unyielding. But in one crucial respect contemporary evangelicals are even worse off than the fundamentalists. The new turn inward to the self
is not the kind of retreat that the fundamentalists engineered, preserving their view of the world by separating themselves from the unbelieving world outside. It is the retreat into internal privacy, into a world that need never come to terms with the unbelieving world outside. The evangelical form of separation is as real as was that of the fundamentalists; it is simply not as effective, and it is much more damaging to the Protestantism of which they are heirs.
Evangelicals, no less than liberals before them whom they have berated, declares Wells, have now abandoned doctrine in favor of life, a life defined by inward experience emptied of cognitive content.
Noll accounts for the scandal of the evangelical mind by seeing it as a defective attachment to its fundamentalist history. For Wells, the scandal of the evangelical mind stems more from what it has in common with the very modernism and liberalism evangelicals fundamentalist parents and grandparents rejected.
Without a sharp, cogent, differentiating identity, evangelicals, no less than liberals before them, are simply absorbed into the conventions of the modern world in which they live. It is no mystery, therefore, why they are failing to outthink their cognitive opponents. The reason is that they are not that different from these opponents, and the motivation to outthink them is no longer compelling.
Whos right? I suspect they both are. A large part of evangelical Protestantism continues to be burdened by the legacy of fundamentalism. And a large part has been given over to the worst aspects of a uniquely modern brand of subjectivistic pietism that makes cognitive engagement irrelevant and a recovery of a vibrant Protestant orthodoxy next to impossible. This should not be surprising given that evangelical Protestantism is such a wide and diverse phenomenon in the first place. But if this is indeed the case, then the scandal of the evangelical mind is greater than either Wells or Noll suggests individually. And thats pretty scandalous.
Keith Pavlischek is the Director of Crossroads, an educational ministry of Evangelicals for Social Action, and the author of John Courtney Murray and the Dilemma of Religious Toleration .
J. Daryl Charles
In the early to mid 1970s, during the aftermath of the Jesus Movement, a popular evangelical apologist was fond of provoking his audience: If Jesus is the answer, what is the question? Over two decades later, though the cultural climate has changed, that provocation remains every bit as relevant. Indeed, what questions should evangelicals be asking?
A similar concern surfaced in a recent lunch discussion among friends. Someone probed further. Where are all the evangelical thinkers? Disturbed at the paucity of names that came to mind, the group was left to concede that, more often than not, influential Catholic thinkers-whether philosophers, ethicists, or social critics-had played a greater role in stimulating each persons intellectual development.
Protestant evangelicals would do well to ponder those unsettling questions. What is the nature of the question we should be asking in light of the Churchs cultural mandate? And where are the evangelical thinkers of our day? It is such questions that constitute the burden of Mark Nolls book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind .
Prof. Noll knows whereof he speaks. Having taught for many years at a leading institution associated with the Christian College Coalition, he is able to document with force and clarity the cultural, theological, and institutional factors that have contributed to the evangelical skandalon . The Coalition itself, numbering close to ninety Christian liberal arts colleges of varying denominational affiliation, is to some extent a microcosm of the intellectual vacuity that plagues evangelicalism. Two extremes-the tendency toward isolated pietism on the one side, a tendency toward infatuation with social issues and cultural relevance on the other-manifest themselves in varying degrees at most Christian colleges.
To illustrate, many of the Coalition faculty earn their doctorates at elite universities where little regard for faith, intellectual breadth, and Christian worldview is to be found. Consequently, one of the hallmarks of Coalition faculty members, upon returning to the Christian college environment to teach, is not the aspiration to cultivate intellectual excellence for the glory of God so much as a deathly fear of being labelled fundamentalist. This, however, is not the antidote for the sort of anti-intellectualism that Prof. Noll deftly critiques.
What is often lacking in the scandal called the evangelical mind (something of an oxymoron to some) is the development of biblical worldview thinking, i.e., thinking and learning holistically. It will not suffice merely to integrate faith and learning, as the catalogue of virtually every Christian liberal arts college states. Such integration in and of itself demonstrates the false dichotomy that already exists in evangelical thinking, not only among academics but among most lay people as well. If all things-things epistemological and metaphysical, things material and physical-indeed cohere in Christ, then integration, a well-intended evangelical response to the fragmentation of knowledge that characterizes the modern university, should give way to the notion of epistemological unity or uniformity. In contrast to integration, which carries the connotation of mixing, blending, or kneading, uniformity would give evidence that evangelicals have begun to perceive the reality of theology as the queen of the sciences, as John Henry Newman noted 140 years ago. Newman, it should be remembered, was chiding Protestant educational institutions for their wholesale abandonment of theological foundations and consequent disciplinary fragmentation.
In addition to remedying evangelical fragmentation, such unified thinking would also force evangelicals to draw the inseparable link between orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Scandal invites us, and rightly so, to think more Christianly, but what does this entail? While it encourages serious evangelical reflection on matters philosophical, scientific, and political, as Prof. Noll points out, it also bridges the common gap between belief and behavior, doctrine and ethics-an omission in the book that deserves some comment. It matters little that evangelicals develop the life of the mind when the ethical life leaves much to be desired. Evidence of this ethical scandal, even among evangelical academics, is omnipresent.
For example, a renowned professor of Christian ethics at an elite midwestern university is caught in sexual impropriety involving students. Although his denomination censures him, he goes on teaching Christian ethics without missing a stride. A noted evangelical thinker and critic of American evangelical subculture separates from his wife, falling prey to the very tendency he has so eloquently decried over the years. A highly respected evangelical teacher divorces his wife of over three decades on the grounds of incompatibility, and his ministry continues unabated. An evangelical professor of sociology, worked up to a near froth over what he views as intractable evangelical homophobia, remains blissfully unable to comprehend the Churchs historical teaching on human sexuality. A robust intellect, unharnessed by an equally robust Christian ethos, can only produce a different (though equally odious) strain of the evangelical scandal.
The utter necessity and extraordinary merits of Prof. Nolls book notwithstanding, Scandal contains, from a Protestant evangelical standpoint, one conspicuous omission. The one evangelical thinker over the last thirty years who, perhaps ahead of his time, described the evangelical disaster in forthright and unequivocal terms goes essentially unnoticed by the author. One sentence and one brief footnote on p. 223 are deemed sufficient to sum up the cumulative influence of Francis Schaeffer, who founded LAbri Fellowship in 1955, emphasized the importance of substantial Christianity, and, along the way, managed to write over thirty books on Christian worldview, the church, and culture. Despite occasional criticisms of methodological unsophistication, the very minimum that deserves to be said is that this was an evangelical thinker who at least asked the right question: How shall we then live? The evangelist and popular apologist Francis Schaeffer, notes Prof. Noll in passing, also urged . . . more careful attention to the theological meaning of general cultural developments. One wishes that Prof. Noll, an historian, had resisted the rather breathtaking use of understatement at this point. After all, it was Schaeffer who kept probing the scandal of the evangelical mind by raising the question that largely fell on deaf ears: If Jesus is the answer, then what is the question?
J. Daryl Charles is Resident Scholar at the Wilberforce Forum in Reston, Virginia.
Mark Nolls assertion that there is no evangelical mind requires us to think hard about the evidence. A close reading of his book suggests that five kinds of evidence are particularly worthy of consideration. Four of them can, in my view, be dealt with rather easily; the fifth gets at the heart of the contemporary scandal.
1. There is no respectable Christian periodical comparable to the New York Review of Books . In one sense, this is a trivial concern. Would physics, chemistry, psychology, or literature be much worse off without the New York Review of Books ? Of course not. In another sense, it is an odd concern. Would the New York Review of Books be as good if it published articles reflecting only one philosophical perspective? I doubt it. But in another sense, Nolls concern is well taken. His lament is for the lack of a distinct evangelical voice capable of shaping public discourse in an intellectually respectable way. And he is right in pointing at the failure of evangelicals themselves, rather than blaming the secular media for excluding Christians.
But I am not convinced that this gap, in itself, amounts to a serious breach in Christian scholarship. On the one hand, the influence of periodicals such as the New York Review of Books is easy to overestimate. On the other hand, Christian scholars regularly contribute to journals such as the Reformed Journal/Perspectives , Cross-Currents , Soundings , Christianity Today , Christian Century , and First Things , and their books are often reviewed in the New York Times , New Republic , Newsweek , and elsewhere. At this writing, some effort is being devoted to founding a journal of literary opinion that would bring Christian perspectives to bear on important intellectual issues. Were such an effort successful, there are plenty of scholars to contribute articles and plenty of savvy publishers, interested journalists, and prominent media people to keep it going.
2. There is no Christian university. Maybe not. Jerry Falwells Liberty University, the Southern Baptist Conventions recent efforts to rein in its system of colleges and universities, or rapidly expanding graduate programs and professional schools at Wheaton College, Calvin, Gordon, and elsewhere do not fit Nolls criteria of a great university. But what if evangelicals had a university comparable, say, to Notre Dame or Brandeis? They would probably feel better, but I doubt that history would look more favorably on them. The very logic of the modern university is to bring diverse intellectual perspectives together. We have no University of Feminism, yet feminism is part of every university. Biology, Marxism, Judaism, and Christianity are all approached better at the graduate level within an integrated setting than in isolated, marginalized settings.
Most of the interest in a Christian university has been rekindled in recent years by scholars who teach at evangelical colleges. Many would like to see stronger support for research, writing, and teaching at an advanced level. But this is already happening in limited but significant ways, even in the absence of a Christian university. Christian colleges have improved immensely in the past two decades, especially when judged against the decline in many public institutions of higher education. First-rate scholars who combine dedicated teaching with rigorous intellectual work are increasingly common in these colleges. Much more needs to be done. But foundation support is being found for sabbatical leaves and special projects, internet links are creating closer relationships among scholars on separate campuses and in secular universities, students are taking advantage of exchange programs, and many administrators are working hard to improve the academic standards of their institutions.
Mark Noll decries the waste and duplication of effort that has resulted from the denominational history of Christian colleges. The great German graduate universities founded in the nineteenth century, however, flourished because of similar competition among the German states. Competition was also the secret of American higher education. Christian colleges function within a dynamic market that fosters such competition. Some of these colleges have closed their doors, others have developed special relations with their communities, a few have risen to positions of intellectual leadership.
3. Christian scholars are no longer the leading contributors to their respective disciplines. Mark Noll points to leading intellectual figures of the eighteenth century, such as Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and John Wesley, and asks, can anyone now identify an evangelical who commands prominence in physics, literature, sociology, or history? Implicitly, there is also a contemporary comparison: despite their numbers, evangelicals have not produced as many leading intellectuals as Jews or Catholics.
I have trouble with this argument in both its historical and contemporary aspects. One would be hard put to argue that evangelical Christians were the dominant contributors to intellectual developments in the eighteenth century, especially if Europes influence were included. And at present, the truth has much more to do with whether leading scholars display their evangelical credentials in public than with whether they are actually evangelical Christians. In virtually all disciplines, devout Christians have made substantial contributions-so much so, in fact, that contemporary critiques often focus on the implicit Christian assumptions underlying those disciplines. But Christians can also pass more easily than scholars from subcultures identified by surnames or by racial and ethnic characteristics. If there is a scandal, it has less to do with who is actually contributing to the life of the mind, and more to do with how those contributions are framed.
4. Scholars are unwilling to address their subject matter seriously within a Christian framework. This criticism comes closer to the heart of the matter, but is easy to misconstrue. Noll himself, I believe, is ambivalent about what exactly is missing. On the one hand, he argues that evangelical Christians should be addressing their disciplines from a distinct Christian framework that privileges Christian assumptions about human nature, God, Christ, redemption, and eschatology. On the other hand, he seems to be suggesting that the best scholarship is done by people who simply take the created order seriously enough to study it with as much care as anyone else. I am more in sympathy with the second view than with the first. In a time of growing pluralism in academic circles, it is easier for self-proclaimed Christians to advance their special perspectives, just as it is for gays, Marxists, feminists, or any other group. To be sure, some settings may be less conducive to Christian perspectives than to these other perspectives. But solid Christian theology, Christian literature, and studies featuring the integrity of evangelical and even fundamentalist communities have all become more common in recent years. The harder task is to take ones subject matter seriously enough to understand it from many different perspectives. For if that is the goal, then good Christian scholarship may be virtually indistinguishable from scholarship done by anyone else. In my own discipline of sociology, for instance, studies of impoverished families, community service, personal morality, health reform, sexuality, and values have all flourished in recent years-much of it is compatible with a Christian worldview, and yet little of it flaunts that perspective.
I think Noll provides the best advice in the concluding paragraph of his book, suggesting that the Christian endeavor is ultimately not a search for the mind but a search for God. That quest is rightly going to run afoul of popular labels, even labels as worthy as evangelicalism. Truly searching for God requires having faith that God is sufficiently great to be evident in more ways than we may imagine and sufficiently mysterious to remain only partly disclosed in all intellectual endeavors.
5. American evangelicalism is an intellectual embarrassment. Noll complains that seventy-five million evangelicals-who attend church far more often than other Americans-ought to be doing better at supporting intellectual work; instead, they have succumbed to a cultural style of activism, populism, pragmatism, and utilitarianism. Among other things, this means that intellectuals who may be evangelical by disposition or background are frequently embarrassed to identify themselves as such. It also means that evangelicals get a bad press from secular intellectuals. And it means that evangelical churches do little to raise money for top- notch Christian academic endeavors, such as colleges or journals, and that bright young people are often discouraged from pursuing academic careers.
Noll does not depict evangelicals as a righteous remnant, disdainful of intellectual work because it runs counter to their faith. Rather, he suggests that evangelicals are thoroughly a product of American culture. In fact, I would go further: American evangelicalism is the quintessential adaptation to a society dominated by the marketplace and consumerism. It is such a late-twentieth-century phenomenon that most evangelicals would hardly recognize themselves in Jonathan Edwards or George Whitefield. To be sure, evangelicals are generally devout, church-going Christians who take the Bible seriously and try to live in obedience to their Lord. But study after study shows that they seldom understand the Bible very well, know little about theology, buy heavily into the therapeutic culture of feel-good-ism, and are caught up in a cycle of overspending and consumption like everyone else. In my view, this is the real scandal of American evangelicalism.
Robert Wuthnow is the Gerhard R. Andlinger Professor of Social Sciences and Director of the Center for the Study of American Religion at Princeton University. His most recent book is God and Mammon in America (Free Press) .