Well . . Doh!

In the latest weekly digest I get from Aaron Renn’s The Masculinist, Renn highlights an essay by John Ehrett in American Reformer The entitled “The Embarrassment Reflex: Evangelicals and Culture.”

An excellent summary of the import of Ehrett’s essay comes from one of its Ehrett’s most severe critics, Matthew Loftus, who presents Ehrett’s thesis this way:

There is a strain of commentary that has been more or less constant for the past decade or so, and its thesis is basically thus: A certain group of Christians, by virtue of their cultural position, are embarrassed by the Church and their fellow Christians. They think that the Gospel will be advanced if Christians suck up to their cultural overlords, jettison or hide anything that clashes with the consensus of cultural elites, vote Democratic, and (worst of all) be winsome instead of bold. The world, which is negatively inclined against Christianity (but may not have been up until recently), laughs at such efforts. These “elite” evangelicals are misguided at best and malignant at worst, driving the Church into syncretism (or worse) with their interminable niceness.

A couple of thoughts popped up as I read this summary of Ehrett from one who emphatically disagrees with him:

First, Loftus’ summary of Ehrett is spot on, though Ehrett himself pulls all the punches that Loftus rightly discerns in Ehrett’s essay. Note, for example, how soft is Ehrett’s analysis of non-Christian social notions:

…a critical question: what if these alternative disciplines of history, sociology, and economics—the fields of the “social”—tend to embed certain assumptions of their own that are not theologically neutral?

I invite you to search for this quote in Ehrett’s essay and read the entire paragraph which it introduces. Soft stuff. Punch-pulling stuff. Sounds like the mushy syle of modern legal writing (and Ehrett is currently a law student at Yale, so I’d expect him to be well-practiced in such writing style).

Second, I do not know how old Ehrett is, but he appears quite young (to me, at least), and I’d guess he were not born when I was a seminarian in the early Seventies, about 50 years ago.

My greater age allows me to report this: Loftus’ summary of Ehrett’s thesis is exactly what I and many of my conferes thought about “leading evangelical elites” back in the Seventies! We used to derisively refer to the publication Christianity Today as Christianity Astray. And our chiefest complaint was the way such evangelical elites eagerly pussy-footed and dilly-dallied with the academy which constantly threatened to smear them with the term fundamentalist!

And this tactic still works against evangelicals?? Oh my! Truly someone somewhere said:

That which has been is what will be, That which is done is what will be done, And there is nothing new under the sun.

Is there anything of which it may be said, “See, this is new”? It has already been in ancient times before us.

Fifty years ago is hardly “ancient times,” unless you’re a youthful evangelical.

By the way, Loftus too is historically myopic. The “strain of commentary” he thinks has been around for a decade or so was alive and well half a century ago, probably older than that. Indeed, you could argue easily that it’s a couple of millennia in age. Someone else somewhere said:

These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.

But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. For “who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ.


… Your preferred solution has been tried and failed (a quote from the Loftus essay). Ouch, even if I don’t necessarily agree.

Christianity Astray can certainly be faulted, and how. That said, it was a response to the Fundamentalism of the forties and fifties, which itself was saying that what they called Neo-evangelicalism, had succumbed to the temptations of the Academy. That criticism was a fair one, and still is. But what Billy Graham and others did realise, was that Fundamentalism had itself had succumbed to the temptations of its culture - in this case, and especially in its Southern, baptistic, variant - the culture it had developed in. This is why Graham was prepared to desegregate his evangelistic meetings at a time AFAIK when no Fundamentalist evangelists of the time (e.g. John R Rice) would have done so. Graham is still persona non grata in the Fundamentalist community, but in this respect, he did get it right.

There are big discussions to be had about how we as Christians engage in our post-Christian cultures (assuming that our culture was once “Christian”). My own view is that we need to take the approach that we are exiles, or resident aliens - the situation faced by Christians in many parts of the world, already. In this respect, Jeremiah 29:1-11 may be a good place to start, although we would no doubt want to work it out differently to the way that Tim Keller has.

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