Thursday, July 30, 2009

Evangelical progress at last

You can waste your time in lots of places (really, lots of places), but if you actually hope to make progress in determining the future of evangelicalism (should there be one), you have to get the current copy of The City, a good part of which is devoted to the aftermath of Matthew Lee Anderson's humdinger.

First, the punches fly, gloves off. I think I even saw a trident. Respondents John Mark Reynolds and Francis Beckwith take the opportunity to vent about the "new evangelicals" (distinguishable, methinks, from the newest) that Anderson is attempting to understand. To ensure you procure the issue, I'll only quote my second favorite lines:

Here's Reynolds:
A false belief about how boorsish the [Evangelical] community is... provides a built in excuse when one's creation fails to sell. ("I broke too many barriers. I was too daring. I was too witty.") The fact that it also cuts you off from the majority of Evangelicals is an added bonus, because it gives you the benefits of a bloodless martyrdom from people you wanted to despise anyway.
Then, Beckwith:
If Evangelicalism is to survive, it has to grow up and not "emerge"... Sorry to say, but if your worldview has more in common with Al Gore than Thomas Aquinas, your not a "questioner."
Following this, the dust settles, and Anderson responds with the clear solution that his critics goaded him to afford. That solution? Christendom - which is to say, Christian culture. No, "worldview" is not enough - never was. "If the Church is not a culture," says Anderson, "then it exists only in relation, and in response, to secular reason." Yes. Yes. Yes. The solution to evangelicalism's woes - and, according to Wilken, to the future woes of Global South Pentecostalism - is Christian culture. One might even call it Cold Blooded Christianity (self-link: drink!).

Needless to say, this quest - should it be pursued - will cause Evangelicals to feel that Tiber tide all the stronger. So be it. Though we can't compete with Catholic culture (just try keeping up with these guys, I dare you), we must learn from them. Still, the home grown American Protestant resources for evangelical cultural recovery are nevertheless there. The New Calvinists should - wait, make that need - to discover Charles Hodge's brightest student, High Church Calvinist John Nevin (who, after long struggle, decided not to go to Rome).

Furthermore, North American Anglicans need forgo their powerpoint projectors and make the Anglo-Catholic tradition their own. In addition, everyone needs to just wake up and smell the Ralph Adams Cram. You want homegrown Protestant, historically informed, beautiful Christian culture? It's there for the taking, and there to be taken further.

Speaking of which, a superior example of embodied evangelical culture building is on offer in the very same issue of The City. The first article is a deeply informed, downright haunting meditation on the history and prospects of American urbanism penned by Wilfred McClay. So not only does the current issue of The City suggest the need for a renewal of Christian culture, it kicks one off.

But if that's too much for you, no need to worry. Reynolds notifies us of another vision for evangelical involvement in the arts, one whose goal is to let the "kids know it is o.k. for Christians to say 'bastard.'" No doubt this vision is equally compelling.