Saturday, January 10, 2009

Brilliant Article Alert

Matthew Lee Anderson's The New Evangelical Scandal in the current issue of The City is a triumph. I enjoyed this insider's account of evangelicalism so much that I didn't even have emotion left over to be envious that I hadn't written it myself.

A few (okay, more than a few) exerpts:
In the face of declining partisanship, patriotism, and eroding family ties, young evangelicals have increasingly turned away from their roots in search of a sense of grounding and stability. They have the intelligence to notice the flaws, but often lack the charity and the patience to work to fix them.

The renewed focus on community and on institutional structures is still grounded in the decisionism that has aways marked evangelicalism. The fact that we are born as Americans - or as evangelicals - is unimportant. What is important is that we choose to be patriotic, that we choose to be Republican, that we choose to be evangelicals (or emergent, or Catholic, or Presbyterian) - and that we make that choice independent from and irrespective of any tradition that may have shaped us.

The young evangelical fashions himself into his own preferred identity, and then finds others who have done likewise. More often than not this results in a rejection of the traditions - political or otherwise - in which younger evangelicals were raised...

No book is more exemplary of this need to create our own identity than Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz... For many young evangelicals, it functions as a modern-day Confessions, with two important exceptions: there is no attempt to discover the unity behind the decenteredness and fragmentation, and there is no interlocutor. It is difficult to see how his rambling and disjointed narrative and his distaste for social institutions and religion are not simply Fifties beatnik ideology baptized. The fact that it has resonated with so many young evangelicals reveals that most of us are struggling to pick up the pieces of an ever-expanding world and form a unique identity for ourselves, which is precisely what Donald Miller attempts to do. He simply has been more successful than most.

Younger evangelicals' claims to be above the fray may be true politically - but in the place of political power they have begun to seek cultural influence. The new movement to become culture creators is driven largely by the rejection of the evangelical artistic sub-culture... But young evangelicals' language about engaging the arts suggests that their new pursuit has little to do with excellence for its own sake - rather, artistic engagement is frequently subsumed under the hope and promise of cultural influence.

focusing on building the Kingdom here and now [i.e. Brian McLaren] to the exclusion of a robust eschatology ignores the inevitable failure of the Church to influence the world for Jesus that eschatology presupposes, creating idealistic (and ultimately, humanistic) notions of Chrisitianity and its potential for progress in the world. It is disingenuous of young evangelicals to criticize the political triumphalism of the religious right while ignoring the cultural triumphalism that this presupposes, and which undergirds our own cultural ethos.

I get the sense that for many of my young evangelical peers, the doctrine of eschatology is less important not because of careful reflection upon the Scriptures, but because of the political and cultural scorn the doctrine has earned. For most young evangelicals, eschatology is cringe inducing not because traditional formulations are wrong, but because they are weird. That all Christians would disappear in a flash will hardly earn Christians cultural acceptability - and cultural acceptance, today, is their paramount desire.

Theologically and ecclesiastically, it is fair to say that the exodus from evangelicalism by many of its intellectual leaders will continue. One could reasonably argue that the distinctives of evangelicalism are such that it is exactly where intellectuals ought to be, and that they have an obligation to remain evangelical.
I'd include more, but I may have already broken a copyright law. While the author seems to have a blog over here, you can get a free copy of the article in The City (published three times a year) by filling out this form which will take all of thirty seconds.

UPDATE: The article is now online.