Sunday, February 07, 2010

Carl Trueman on the "New Evangelical Liberalism" and Academic Respectability

In the e-Journal by 9Marks ministry (Jan/Feb 2010, 7:1), Carl Trueman wrote an excellent article entitled The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, playing a pun on Mark Noll's book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Eerdmans, 1995). In his article, Trueman addresses the issue of the need for acceptability and academic respectability among the [New] Evangelicals. As he wrote:

... there would seem to be a pervasive evangelical inferiority complex. This means that, while we do not wish to exclude anybody, we dread being excluded ourselves. Indeed, for the evangelical academic, in a world so ill-defined, it is always tempting to cut just a few more corners, or keep shtum on just a couple of rather embarrassing doctrinal commitments, in order to have just that little bit more influence, that slightly bigger platform, in the outside world. This is particularly the temptation of evangelical biblical scholars and systematicians whose wider guilds are so utterly unsympathetic to the kind of supernaturalism and old-fashioned truth claims upon which their church constituencies are largely built. In so doing, we kid ourselves that we are doing the Lord’s work, that, somehow, because we have articles published in this journal or by that press, we are really making real headway into the unbelieving culture of the theological academy. Not that these things are not good and worthy—I do such things myself—but we must be careful that we do not confuse professional academic achievement with building up the saints or scoring a point for the kingdom.

It remains true (as James Barr pointed out years ago) that evangelical academics are generally respected in the academy only at precisely those points where they are least evangelical. There is a difference between academic or scholarly respectability and intellectual integrity. For a Christian, the latter depends upon the approval of God and is rooted in fidelity to his revealed Word; it does not always mean the same thing as playing by the rules of scholarly guild.

New Evangelicalism from its inception desires favor with the world, and the world's respect for its teaching. Far from compromising the truths of Scripture, the entire New Evangelical experiment desired both favor with their academic peers and no compromise of the Gospel message — an experiment in trying to have their cake and eat it too, as the case of the early New Evangelicals Harold Ockenga and Edward Carnell showed [Iain H. Murray, Evangelicalism Divided: A Record of Crucial Change in the Years 1950 to 2000 (Carlisle, Pennsylvania, USA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2000), p. 20].

Christian scholarship is indeed important, and intellectual integrity especially. But because Christian scholarship is, for lack of a better term, Christian, it MUST needs be despised and to some measure rejected by the world for moral and spiritual reasons. It is treachery to desire the favor of a world in rebellion against her Creator if we ourselves profess allegiance to this same Lord of heaven and earth.

Instead of desiring the recognition of a God-hating world, Christian scholarship should be about desiring the recognition from God and the edification of His body the Church.

... too few evangelical academics seem to have much ambition. ... Yet true ambition, true Christian ambition, is surely based in and directed towards the upbuilding of the church, towards serving the people of God, and this is where evangelical academics often fail so signally. The impact evangelical scholars have had on the academy is, by and large, paltry, and often (as noted) confined to those areas where their contributions have been negligibly evangelical. Had the same time and energy been devoted to the building up of the saints, imagine how the church might have been transformed.

This is not to say that high-powered scholarship should be off-limits, nor that the immediate needs of the man or woman in the pew should provide the criteria by which relevance is judged; but it is to say that all theological scholarship should be done with the ultimate goal of building up the saints, confounding the opponents of the gospel, and encouraging the brethren. The highest achievement any evangelical theological scholar can attain is not membership of some elite guild but the knowledge that he or she has done work that strengthened the church and extended the kingdom of God through the local church.

As the world grows ever more and more wicked, and with the failure of the New Evangelical experiment, a time is coming when the New Evangelicals will have to count the cost and choose whom they will serve

The day is coming when the cultural intellectual elites of evangelicalism — the institutions and the individuals — will face a tough decision. I see the crisis coming on two separate but intimately connected fronts. The day is coming, and perhaps has already come, when, first, to believe that the Bible is the Word of God, inspired, authoritative, and utterly truthful, will be seen as a sign at best of intellectual suicide, at worst of mental illness; and, second, to articulate any form of opposition to homosexual practice will be seen as the moral equivalent of advocating white supremacy or child abuse. In such times, the choice will be clear, those who hold the Christian line will be obvious, and those who have spent their lives trying to serve both orthodoxy and the academy will find that no amount of intellectual contortionism will save them. Being associated with B. B. Warfield will be the least of their worries.

As Trueman said, the problem with "[New] evangelical scholars and scholarship" is not there is no mind or little thinking, but there is "precious little evangel;" little Gospel. After 50+ years of the New Evangelical experiment, the time has come to terminate it for its horrendous fruits it has produced and continue to produce in the Church.

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