On the Risk of Evangelical Colleges That Desire Respectability

Thomas Albert Howard and Karl W. Giberson write:

Periphery movements seeking the legitimacy of the center crave the approbation of others.  This has been true of the evangelical intellectual resurgence (sometimes to the point of obsequiousness).  It has not been remiss in coming.  In 2000, the movement received a boost from Alan Wolfe’s cover story in The Atlantic Monthly, “The Opening of the Evangelical Mind,” in which he argued that evangelicals, long the wayward stepchildren of serious Christian thought, had begun at last to exhibit some intellectual heft.  Catholics, too, have taken notice.  Writing in Commonweal, the historian James Turner of Notre Dame described contemporary evangelical intellectual life as “something to be reckoned with.”  And the impact has begun to be felt in the academy at large, as C. John Sommerville indicates in his book The Decline of the Secular University.

* * *

It should not go unacknowledged, however, that the desire for respectability is fraught with dangers from the standpoint of Christian spirituality.  In John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, one of the more dangerous tempters encountered is Mr. Worldly Wiseman, who seeks to lure the protagonist, “Christian,” off the path toward the Celestial City, not by sin or heresy, but by compromising accommodations to moral duty, legality, and the approval of “the world.”  C. S. Lewis argues a similar point in his essay “The Inner Ring”; nothing will corrupt a good man as incrementally, imperceptibly, and thoroughly as when he is mastered by the desire to sit at the table of the wealthy, the influential, the respected.  Dante’s Inferno is populated by the educated and well-heeled. 

– “An Evangelical Renaissance in Academe?” (Inside Higher Ed)

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