The Future of Evangelical Colleges: From Neo-Evangelicalism to Neo-Fundamentalism?

Written by Bruce Ellis Benson

Bruce Ellis Benson is Executive Director of the Society for Continental Philosophy and Theology. He works in aesthetics, hermeneutics, phenomenology, and philosophy of religion. He is the author or editor of a dozen books. Among his most recent books are Liturgy as a Way of Life: Embodying the Arts in Christian Worship and (with J. Aaron Simmons) The New Phenomenology: A Philosophical Introduction.

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Whatever else resulted from the fundamentalist-modernist controversy of the early twentieth-century, the fundamentalists emerged rather scathed. At least in the eyes of much of society, they appeared to be ignorant and backward. Even the fundamentalist Bernard Ramm once wrote of his fellow fundamentalists that “many times they were dogmatic beyond evidence, or were intractable of disposition, or were obnoxiously anti-cultural, anti-scientific, and anti-educational.”

There’s an old joke to the effect that “fundamentalism” is “no fun, all damn, and no mental.” To what extent that was simply a caricature is certainly open to debate. Yet what is not at all open to debate is that fundamentalists were largely marginalized, both by themselves and by society at large. Partly this results from the very ideal of fundamentalism, the insistence that true Christians should be “set apart” from society at large. Thus, fundamentalists practiced what was called “double separationism,” and so attempted to have as little to do with “the world” as possible. With this in mind, for instance, it’s not surprisingly that fundamentalists didn’t go to Hollywood movies or Broadway plays: they realized that paying for a ticket was subsidizing industries that they saw as inimical to their very identity. Of course, Hollywood and Broadway returned the favor: fundamentalist Christians were generally portrayed as out-of-touch bumpkins.

But, in the forties, a certain group of fundamentalists wanted to break away from that identity and perception. They wanted a different sort of climate, one that still held to what they perceived as the fundamentals of the Christian faith, but without being dogmatic and divisive. They were open to scientific research and education in general. They were also open to historical-critical study of the Bible. In short, they wanted to move away from the fear that had generated fundamentalism in the first place. Among these reformers were Billy Graham and Carl F.H. Henry. They realized that, if they were to become relevant to society at large, they had to move away from their narrow enclaves and become players in a broader cultural context. But given their fundamentalist history and the prominent social perceptions of that history, they needed a serious makeover. In place of the word “fundamentalist,” they adopted the word “evangelical” or “neo-evangelical.” To be sure, the word “evangelical” had been around for a long time, but now it was being repurposed. It was a shrewd move. The fundamentalists were known for their fiery rhetoric against the “liberals,” but these new evangelicals wanted to tone things down. Not surprisingly, the classic fundamentalists responded, well, just as you would expect. John R. Rice wrote: “Although they claim to believe the Bible, they are buddy-buddies with the infidels who spit on the blood of Jesus, deny the inspiration of the Bible and the blood of the atonement, while they despise us fundamentalists.” Showing the historical connection between evangelicalism and fundamentalism, the historian George Marsden defines a fundamentalist as “an evangelical who is angry about something.”

The questions and challenges faced by Graham and Henry are not simply of historical note. They remain important today in the context of the very evangelical colleges and universities that were established in light of the neo-evangelical upsurge. But, how does one, practically, continue to move away from the angry, fearful world of fundamentalism within an evangelical academic setting? One way is to broaden the curriculum to include more mainstream theology while teaching students theories regarding how the Bible came to be within specific historical and cultural settings. Or, another way might be to take philosophy seriously and to present evolution as a view worth considering. Further, one might invite speakers to campus who don’t necessarily sound or look like the student body or faculty. Yet another way is to admit of disagreement and allow flexibility regarding lifestyle expectations for both faculty and students. Such steps are certainly in keeping with the history of evangelical colleges. For example, it is hard for many students at such colleges today to fathom that, not so long ago, students were not allowed to use tobacco or alcohol or attend movies or play cards, and that their professors were expected to live by the same rules. In general, most evangelical colleges have made these and other moves in the attempt to live into the dual vision of the initial neo-evangelical reformers: standing for what they took to be Christian truth while also standing for the importance of intellectual rigor. In other words, evangelical colleges have historically been defined by an attempt to bring the life of the mind and the life of faith together as a lived reality.

All along, though, faculty at these institutions realized that there were limits as to just how much they could say and what they could teach, even if those limits were constantly changing and never perfectly defined as evangelicalism itself continued to change. Yet before we can address this concern, it is important to set these limitations in a wider context. Consider the following claim: “We know perfectly well that we are not free to say just anything, that we cannot simply speak of anything, when we like or where we like.” While that line could easily come from a professor at an evangelical college, it is actually from a lecture (L’ordre du discours) Michel Foucault gave at the Collège de France in 1970. In other words, there are always boundaries, whether we are talking about colleges, or the Rotary Club, or your kid’s soccer game. One can argue that the climate—at least in American colleges and universities—is more restrictive than it would have been for Foucault in Paris. Today it is common to hear that “political correctness” restricts speech on college campuses, both by faculty and students (and even speakers who get “uninvited” if they are perceived to be saying something one can’t say). No doubt, these complaints have some basis in fact. Yet the idea of “political correctness” hadn’t even been invented when Foucault made that statement. Indeed, Foucault is speaking about social discourse in general, not just academic discourse.

So what do we make of his point about discursive limits when applied to the task and identity of evangelical colleges? Some might argue that evangelical colleges actually are more upfront than secular institutions about what can and cannot be said, since the former have doctrinal statements and the latter don’t. The thinking behind this line of argumentation is quite simple: every place has its exclusions and prohibitions, but they are more explicit at evangelical colleges due to their Christian commitments. In such cases, maybe it is better because at least you know which things are not open to discussion. In contrast, at secular institutions, very little is spelled out and yet the limits continue to exist. There is something to this argument that should not be too quickly ignored. By having a doctrinal statement that everyone is expected to endorse, the limitations are made public. Most evangelical colleges even have such statements on their websites.

Yet, as always, the devil is in the details. What normally is not published—on websites or anywhere else—is exactly what those statements (and individual clauses) mean and, more important, what those statements entail. In regard to the former, if the clause concerns something like the inerrancy of the Bible, what does it mean to say that the Bible has no errors? In other words, define “error.” This seems like an easy enough task, until one actually tries to do it. Socrates was particularly deft at showing that things like “virtue” that we all supposedly understand turn out to be really difficult to define. Alternatively, by entailments, I simply mean: if you believe X, what other things are you thereby affirming (however implicitly)?

It should go without saying that documents are not self-interpreting (though perhaps our current cultural and political climate would benefit from more people actually saying it more often). The stability of a doctrinal statement depends upon who gets to do the defining and determining the entailments. So things aren’t nearly as cut and dried as they might seem. With this in mind, the argument that evangelical colleges are more upfront about their prohibitions than secular institutions loses a good deal of its force because it all depends on

  • how narrowly or broadly these documents are interpreted,
  • how far reaching those entailments go, and
  • who defines these two items.

Likely, this varies significantly among evangelical institutions. So one needs to know the culture of the institution in order to know how its principal documents have been interpreted and what the entailments are as a result. But then we are right back to the situation found on secular campuses, namely that there are unwritten codes about what you can and cannot say. Since they are unwritten, a faculty member has to figure them out by asking colleagues (who may or may not be forthcoming, often out of fear). So, not only is discussion limited by explicit statements, it is likewise limited by all of the implicit statements that go along with them. And one may not find out what those implicit statements actually are until one has already said something that conflicts with them. But by then it may be too late. If you add into the equation that the doctrinal statements of most evangelical colleges take quite a lot off of the table for discussion to begin with, then it is hard to think that evangelical colleges really have as much intellectual freedom as might be ideally desired for an academic institution, regardless of its religious affiliation.

You may have noticed that the title of this blog post ends with a question mark. That is because I’m wondering what is happening at evangelical colleges, today, at this particular moment in time. Part of why I say that I am “wondering” about this, rather than that I believe that such and such is the case for them, is that there are quite a few evangelical colleges and it would be rather presumptuous to claim to understand them all. Actually, it’s hard enough to understand any one in particular. As Foucault also reminds us, discourses aren’t really “owned” by anyone. Power is much more diffuse than that. So one can’t point to faculty or students or administration and say “well, there’s your answer” to the state of evangelical colleges.

Still, my question boils down to this: are evangelical colleges at risk of sliding from neo-evangelicalism to something like “neo-fundamentalism”? In other words, are evangelical colleges (or perhaps evangelicals in general) making a retreat from the world and embracing a new sort of solitude? Fundamentalism, as we noted, is not just about standing for the truth but doing so in a way in which one purposely separates oneself from the “world.” Here I should point out that this question cannot be answered simply by saying “this is what evangelical colleges are ‘intending’ to do.” The famous principle of double effect is that one might well intend to do X and, in so doing, also do Y. So I’m not asking whether evangelical colleges are explicitly moving to neo-fundamentalism. Instead, I’m asking whether, given the ways in which they are responding to the world around them, neo-fundamentalism is actually the direction they are heading even without realizing it or intending to do so. Further, and perhaps this is where the real rubber meets the road, if they are sliding toward neo-fundamentalism, does this mean that they are becoming culturally irrelevant as a result?

Perhaps my question comes as a surprise. After all, there was a time during which evangelicals as a whole exerted an important influence on politics or culture at large in the US. Because of the election of Jimmy Carter, Newsweek named 1976 “the year of the evangelical” (a bit premature, since many evangelicals hate him—and I choose the word “hate” quite deliberately). In 2000, George W. Bush, a self-identified evangelical, became president. Even as recently as 2005, Time had a cover story on “America’s Twenty-Five Most Influential Evangelicals.” Yet, even though political commentators still talk about the “evangelical vote,” that influence seems to be waning. In effect, evangelicals marched right into the culture wars—and were soundly defeated. My impression of evangelical colleges is that they are hunkering down, rightly realizing that they are increasingly in the minority when it comes to academic institutions generally and, more specifically, the broad trends of cultural awareness and political orientations of the students they have traditionally attracted. And this gets us back to the whole motivation of fear. Earlier, we noted that fundamentalism was motivated by fear of the modernists. But were Graham and Henry—and those who followed in their footsteps—ever able to get beyond that fundamentalist fear? From all of my exposure to evangelicalism, I simply can’t think of a more powerful motivating emotion in its history.

So I wonder if that fear, which at best went underground in evangelicalism but was really running the show all along, has now become so acute that, in place of the expansion into the world at large, evangelical colleges are slowly creeping back toward their fundamentalist strongholds. It seems that they are not just holding on to the fundamentals of the faith, as it were, but are seeking a new sort of double separation from anything that is other than their own interpretation of those fundamentals (and the entailments of that interpretation). That fear of the other might be understood as directed toward “liberal” Christians (with whom they cannot associate for fear of being made “unclean”), or perhaps it can be seen in all-too-thinly-veiled attacks on Muslims, or even completely unveiled attacks on gays and transgendered people. Or, and perhaps this is the most troubling for both the church and the academy, maybe it is most often manifest in the difficulty of evangelical colleges (and, for that matter, evangelical churches) coping with faculty and students who simply ask too many questions.

Is what Graham and Henry tried in effect a grand experiment that is at risk of ultimately failing? Or is it slowly in the process of being revealed as the sham it always was such that evangelicals simply are fundamentalists—whether angry or not? Perhaps it is too soon to tell.



15 thoughts on “The Future of Evangelical Colleges: From Neo-Evangelicalism to Neo-Fundamentalism?

  1. Jacob

    Thanks for this great post. As an alum of an evangelical (and I now use that word synonymously with “fundamentalist,” for better or for worse) college, I think everything that you’ve observed is right on. My question is this: how do you envision Christian thought to maintain both its particularity and its existential traction simultaneously in a pluralistic (and rapidly changing) milieu? In other words, can Christianity hold values that differentiate it from culture(s) at large and yet still have purchase on our lives? How should one navigate the tension between a Christian identity and a more broadly neo-liberal Western identity. Can or should Christianity become cosmopolitan? It seems that cosmopolitanism is the antithetical movement to fundamentalism, but it also seems like Christianity becomes largely irrelevant, that it lacks passion when it gives up its particularity. If not cosmopolitan Christianity (if there could be such a thing), then what sort of conception would you propose? Is there a middle road between B. Graham and Vattimo? Again, thanks for the post.


    1. Bruce Ellis Benson

      Thanks, Jacob, for such well-formulated questions! Let me try to provide some answers, knowing full well that answers are always provisional and open to refinement.

      As far as I can see, your principal question is really about how Christians can maintain a simultaneous “particularity” and “existential traction.” I think we can safely say that this question has been a part of Christianity from the start. After all, what began as an obscure Jewish sect eventually became the religion of the Roman Empire. How did that happen? For one thing, we can thank Paul for insisting that following Jesus was an option equally open to Greeks as to Jews, meaning in effect that it was open to everyone (already a certain kind of cosmopolitanism). You may remember that Paul got more than a little resistance from Peter (and others) on this matter because it was a truly radical idea for that time and context. We might say (in one sense) that Paul thought of Christianity as being less “particular” than did Peter. Then, as Christianity morphed (note that it always has been morphing), it came to be seen as a competing philosophy (alongside Stoicism, Epicureanism, etc.). That jump made Christianity viable in a very pluralistic world. So the problem of pluralism has been there from very early on; it’s not something new. Christianity survived by appropriating all sorts of things from paganism. And it thrived by continually adapting to changing conditions. So, in an important sense, Christianity has always been about having “a purchase on our lives.” Yet how has Christianity maintained (and how will it continue to maintain) its particularity?

      Perhaps the most important complication in answering that question is: what particularity are we talking about? For the fundamentalists, an important part of that answer was about not smoking, drinking, dancing, and playing cards (or the old “I don’t smoke, and I don’t chew, and I don’t go with the girls that do”). As I mentioned in my post, those sorts of distinctives have been largely cast aside by evangelicals. Yet, since groups tend to define themselves by what they’re against (another point from Foucault), that’s meant that evangelicals have needed to come up with a new set of things to be “against.” For instance, it wasn’t all that long ago that most evangelicals thought abortion was quite acceptable. That usually comes as a shock to evangelicals born after 1990, who simply assume that being against abortion has always been the standard evangelical view. In my post, I also mentioned different ways in which evangelicals now distinguish themselves, mainly by being against what they perceive as “other.”

      Yet we need to broaden the context to address this question more adequately. I note that you move from speaking of the institution where you studied (which you now label as “fundamentalist”) to the very broad term “Christianity.” Here’s where I think things get much more complicated. It’s rather common for folks of various Christian groups to assume that their position is that of “Christianity.” But Christianity comes in quite a few different varieties. I’m an Episcopalian, but I have no illusions that my church is the exclusive form of Christianity (one good thing about being in a church that started because Henry the Eighth wanted to divorce his wife is that it’s really hard to think that one is part of “the one true church”). Even if we speak of something like “historic Christian orthodoxy,” that still includes quite a lot of different denominations, theological positions, and everyday practices. So we have to specify exactly what we mean by “particularity.” In his comment, David Vanderveen claims that the fundamentalists thought being set apart meant one needed to be “weird.” Assuming that’s true, then I think we can safely say they achieved that. But the question is: just how weird do Christians really need to be? In Works of Love, Kierkegaard argues that, if a Christian were to practice genuine altruistic love, it would be unacceptable (both to other Christians and to everybody else), since it would be utterly disruptive. Now, that sounds like a really good way of being weird. Similarly, if Christians were to give away all of their money to the poor (something that Jesus mentions more than once), that too would be considered “weird.” So we have to ask exactly what “particularity” Christians should be known for. One can answer this by way of the Nicene Creed, but many Christians think that there is much more than distinguishes them from “the world” than that.

      Finally, speaking of “the world,” the idea of being a “cosmopolitan” (literally, from the Greek, “a citizen of the world”) has many variations. There’s certainly no obvious tension between thinking that Christians can share certain values with non-Christians and still hold to distinctive Christian values. Indeed, many distinctly Christian values have been taken over by “the world.” On the whole, this is a good thing. But you’re right that there’s a tension here, and it takes some doing to negotiate it. A couple decades ago, the sociologist Alan Wolfe wrote an article on evangelicals for The Atlantic. He commented on the fact that evangelicals were out to change the world by saying that the world would more likely change them. From what I can tell, that’s pretty much what’s happened in the meantime. So the question, then, is: what exactly makes evangelicals distinctive at this point? Or perhaps we might ask: what do evangelicals want to be known for—the kind of “weird” separation of the fundamentalists or something else?

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  2. Seth Cain

    Thanks for the post, Bruce. A good question, indeed.

    I have Wheaton College in mind since I studied at the Graduate School there (’02-’04), a currently popular evangelical whipping boy, especially since the Laurycia Hawkins debacle (much of which blew open from an already tenuous professional relationship, among other lost details).

    I can’t speak to any general trend, per se, except that it’s hard to imagine Wheaton is on such a trajectory. My experience there felt anything but fundamentalist, at least at the classroom level. The theological diversity was so surprising to me (and at times quite liberal / neoorthodox) that virtually all of my preconceived notions of Wheaton had to be jettisoned before I could make sense of the normative space given for inquiry and argument. It proved to be far less “safe” than I thought it would be when I enrolled seeking a broadly evangelical education as a relatively new convert, having only known those circles. I am the better for it. Anyone who has studied theology there knows the faculty aren’t evangelical wonks, as many detractors would like to believe. Sit down with the likes of Gary Burge, John Walton or Vincent Bacote and any caricatures are likely to be challenged. And this is why the faculty responded as they did to the Hawkins situation – they know Wheaton is functionally quite broad.

    I think what does have to be reckoned with by detractors, in terms of the particular subset of evangelicalism of which I find myself a part, is our concern to honor the historic vitality of orthodox, trinitarian belief and a high view of Scripture as revelation – values advanced prior to the 1940’s (or 1776, or 1517, for that matter). This is historic evangelicalism as opposed to the distinctly American stripe, and, at least in my circles, our narrative has nothing to do with fear. Quite the opposite, because we’re not trying to “fix” the gap between what is, culturally speaking, and what we anticipate will be, eschatologically speaking, by resorting to tactics within an “immanent frame,” to quote Charles Taylor. Our telos requires no hand-wringing, not only because the present cultural milieu that might otherwise threaten orthodoxy has scarcely a few decades of adherence to commend it (so the jury is out), but also because we perceive it to be selectively ahistorical, theologically reductionist and, ironically, ideologically narrow. Whether or not the culture war is lost, it may well prove that this particular new emperor has no clothes. I believe a perspective similar to mine is well represented at Wheaton.

    Lastly, the swath of American evangelicals who tend to reinforce the stereotype are the ones who get the media coverage in the political sphere. These might be found fearful and are largely free church / baptistic evangelicals (Billy Graham and Carl Henry are examples) whose theological imagination arguably remains captive to American religious retrenchment or theonomy lite. They have already ceded the game by allowing for the same Enlightenment framework / narrative to govern their identities, tactics and apologetics. Much of historic evangelicalism is distinct from just such an identity and is rooted in a Church that existed long before America. And to the degree evangelical colleges and universities have a larger view, they are unlikely to evidence latent fundamentalism.


    1. Bruce Ellis Benson

      Thanks, Seth, for your thoughtful comment. It strikes me that we agree in some very important ways about what evangelicalism was historically aiming to do, while challenging some of the excesses that seem to me to be more and more what evangelicalism is now becoming. So please take my comments and the questions I raise in reply to your account as continuing the conversation rather than shutting it down. With that in mind, let me respond to what I see as five different, though connected, points.

      First, a significant portion of your comment relates to your own experience in graduate school at a particular institution. That’s understandable, given that we always speak from the contexts in which we find ourselves. However, my goal was to speak about a much larger context and thus a much larger phenomenon, namely that of evangelical colleges in general. I’m less interested in what’s happening at school X or Y than what’s happening across the board. In contrast, your response is more narrow in nature. You say “I can’t speak to any general trend,” but that’s exactly what my post was about. Thus, your comment can be read along the lines of “this is my own experience at one particular school.” Again, in contrast, my comments were based on a very broad and extended knowledge of the evangelical world in general and my goal was to comment on that broader world.

      Second, I think your own experience needs to be contextualized. You mentioned that you attended this institution “as a relatively new convert, having only known those circles.” I’m not quite sure what “those circles” were, but I’m assuming that they were ones that were (at least from your perspective) more conservative than the institution you attended. But therein lies the rub. For, if you come from a theological place than is more conservative than the institution you attend, you will likely be struck by the comparative open-mindedness of the new institution. Of course, this works the other way around. If you come from a more diverse theological milieu, then a less diverse institution is going to strike you as more narrow. In any case, your point only shows that, given your previous experiences as a new convert, this new context struck you as more open and “less ‘safe’” (to quote you). But this raises the question: less safe than what? Further, you mention three faculty members and, in context, it would seem that you intend these folks as examples of diversity or open-mindedness or something like that (call it whatever you like; the term isn’t important). But this is anecdotal evidence. There are multiple difficulties here. Do you intend these three as paradigmatic of the institution or are they outliers? If it’s the latter, then this point could be seen as undermining your general claim, since outliers (by definition) are not “typical” of an institution. If it’s the former, then you need to make that clear. Further, one of the difficulties that I mentioned in my original post is that institutions are composed of different parts, which means it’s not possible to point to one of them and conclude that it’s representative of the whole. For instance, it’s often the case in evangelical colleges that the faculty and the administration aren’t completely of the same mind. Typically, the administration is concerned most with preserving the integrity of the institution (which we might put in terms of “we don’t want to slide down the theological slippery slope that leads to Harvard”). Faculty, on the other hand, want to see their students become acquainted with the “real world,” which means exposing them to thinking that isn’t necessarily in line with official doctrine. No doubt, it’s a balancing act, and sometimes faculty veer too far off course for the institution’s sense of mission. So the sense one might get of the faculty may not be indicative of the administration, and the other way around. The same could be said of boards of trustees. Of course, what would helpful here would be to have more people from that same institution weigh in here (that they haven’t certainly is no fault of yours!). Given the comments of David Vanderveen, who attended the same institution, I suspect that his reading of the faculty would be somewhat different from yours. Of course, he attended school there a while back. And so did you. So this again raises my question of what is happening at evangelical colleges at this moment in time. Although I didn’t state this explicitly in my post, my own take is that what’s happening now is significantly different from what was happening a decade or two decades ago. My question is whether there is a new circling of the wagons and doubling down. Whatever we conclude, I think this is going to be best seen by people who have, in one way or the other, been connected to evangelical institutions for a long period of time.

      Third, you mention your “particular subset of evangelicalism” as being concerned with honoring “the historic vitality of orthodox, trinitarian belief and a high view of Scripture as revelation.” A fine goal, one that you label as “historic evangelicalism” (which, by the way, is a somewhat anachronistic term). Yet isn’t the problem here that most Christians have this goal—not just evangelicals? This goes back to the point I made in response to Jacob, namely that various groups in Christianity have the tendency to think that they speak for true Christianity—as opposed to everyone else. But isn’t this rather presumptuous for any of us when we do that? I remember being part of a faculty seminar in which we read texts written by Christians in the global south. The general ethos of the group was that of passing judgment as to which of these texts were “truly” orthodox. But the problem was: exactly who appointed us as the keepers of orthodoxy other than ourselves?

      Fourth, after reading your last two paragraphs multiple times, I find myself rather confused by some of the claims you make. You talk about “the cultural milieu that might otherwise threaten orthodoxy.” Then you go on to describe this as “selectively ahistorical, theologically reductionist and, ironically, ideologically narrow.” What cultural milieu are you referencing? One would think that the cultural milieu must be something like “contemporary American society.” But, when you describe it as “theologically reductionist,” then I’m not sure what you’re talking about. As far as I can see, secular society isn’t “theologically” anything (reductionist or otherwise). To be sure, the American cultural milieu contains traces of theological beliefs. But to say that it’s theologically reductionistic seems odd. So I wonder if you are instead speaking about some sort of “religious milieu.” But then I’m not sure what exactly that milieu might be. I’m also not sure what you mean by “selectively ahistorical,” which could be defined in multiple ways. In the final paragraph, you talk about evangelicals from a free church/baptistic tradition and cite Graham and Henry as examples. It would seem that you are distancing yourself from them, but aren’t these two folks among the primary architects of the evangelical tradition? Certainly they were for the institution that you cite, as well as Christianity Today and other evangelical institutions. And that leads me to wonder, again, what you mean by “the particular subset of evangelicalism of which I find myself a part.” Given what you say, this must be some other sort of evangelicalism, but I wonder exactly what that might be. I entirely agree that fundamentalism was a product of the Enlightenment and that evangelicalism takes this over whole cloth. But then you go on to say that “much of historic evangelicalism is distinct from just such an identity.” So I’m confused again. What exactly is this evangelicalism that somehow “escapes” from the Enlightenment and thus from “latent fundamentalism?” It certainly can’t be the evangelicalism represented at most (if not all) evangelical colleges, for their heritage is highly wrapped up in fundamentalism. Or are you saying that at least some evangelical colleges have simply “transcended” their fundamentalist pasts in such a way that the fear that went with it has simply disappeared? If so, I’d like to hear how you think this occurred.

      Finally, I’m delighted to hear that your “particular subset of evangelicalism” isn’t motivated by fear. Of course, since I don’t know what that subset is, I can’t comment one way or the other. However, all of the evangelical colleges with which I’m familiar have fear at their heart—as their very modus operandi. My post questioned the direction evangelical colleges are going. But I have absolutely no question about them operating out of fear.


      1. Seth Cain

        Thanks for the reply, Bruce. I don’t have the bandwidth right now to offer a thorough response, but I would point you to the work of Mark Noll (The Rise of Evangelicalism) and even Ashley Null’s extensive work on Cranmer to get a heading on the evangelical tradition to which I’m referring (“historic evangelicalism”) and its English roots and influences.

        As for my background, I came from the Pentecostal tradition (certainly not more conservative, but not liberal either) to Wheaton. In fact, it was at Wheaton that I developed a lens to critique fundamentalism – namely through Steve Kang (who introduced me to Rodney Clapp et al). And for what it’s worth, I’m working from the perspective that the student experience at an evangelical institution like Wheaton (Vanderveen in the 90’s, notwithstanding) is a great litmus for the trajectory it is on, regardless of how it can feel behind the lectern. The latest batch of “Wheaties” I’ve met, some of whom are in my parish, are decidedly not fundamentalists, yet they speak highly of their education and exposure there. My current worship director was your student and he fits this bill.


  3. David Vanderveen

    Bravo, Bruce! As a former Wheaton student who was effectively expelled for poetry in 1991, and has seen the school go deeper into a literal fundamentalism since that time, you appear to be correct.

    I think the difficulty stems from the lack of self-awareness. Fundamentalist Christians seem to believe that one ought to be weird, aka “set apart” to be legit. The theory, as proposed above, is that there is value to being weird, that it is attractive or useful, as opposed to integrating and working through society.

    The problem with being removed from culture is that I think one loses the ability to connect with the morality of culture and understand how non-religious activity that was fine in previous generations might be considered highly offensive in current culture. If one is removed from the progression of cultural morality, one loses their cultural moral compass.

    The loss of a cultural moral compass raises questions of relevance of movements “set apart” and more importantly of ignorantly doing harm in society. Last December, I raised the question in Sojourners and Huffington Post, about whether or not Wheaton was being deliberately racist in how it handled Dr. Larycia Hawkins’ hijab and then statements about said hijab. I was hopeful that former-Provost Stan Jones and President Ryken were unintentionally racist and sexist in their pursuit of Dr. Hawkins…until Jones’ emails surfaced in TIME Magazine. Shameful business at how directly intentional it appeared to be.

    Wheaton faculty filled out all the correct paperwork, but no one really made heavy wagers to protect Dr. Hawkins. No one stood in front of tanks in Tiennenmen Square or stood on the lawn at Lexington Common. They filed complaints as they watched Larycia get abused and thrown out.

    When we do not comprehend the framework and filters that we use to understand the world, we become immune to really perceiving the phenomena around us except after it has been processed. Like characters in the asylum in One Flew Over the Cookoos Nest, we believe that we are responding rationally to inputs but don’t realize that the framework has made us appear to be crazy (at best) to the world around us. Being intentionally unaware of our own craziness, our own self-inflected weirdness, does great harm to the legitimacy of Christ’s love and our ability to work effectively in the world.


  4. Paul Thompson

    Wow Bruce, what a fascincating topic and great discourse. Here’s some more to keep you going!

    What you describe sounds to me excessively influenced by the Southern Baptist world, which of course, is also primarily a regional, not national situation.

    Second, what is not clear to me Bruce, from your post, is to what extent you are in a position to comment on most evangelical colleges as you claim in one response, and not any particular one at any particular time. You never established your authority so broadly.
    I was raised Pentecostal, was a product of both strict Calvinist high school education, and charismatic/pentecostal collegiate education (grades 7 – my B.A.) and now teach at a Southern Baptist university. So I have some experience with evangelical education writ large. One thing my diverse experiences have taught me is how diverse “evangelical” education is. I’m not sure what can be said about “most” evangelical colleges, or more so, how one person can be sure that they know about most?

    Third, I am a descendant of West Indian immigrants who grew up and lived in the New York City area. It’s my experience that non-white evangelicals (who are non-existent according to polling data) who are more in line with Wesleyanism than Calvinism, and who walk out their faith in truly diverse cosmopolitan areas don’t struggle quite as much as you imply, white ones do, with remaining relevant and true to what I will call “historic doctrines of the faith,” at least through the first four ecumenical church conferences and the Apostolic and Nicene creeds. Of course there are no non-white evangelical colleges in the U.S., but there are certainly evangelical colleges that are more welcoming to these groups than others, such as Nyack College, Oral Roberts University, and Regent University. Also, probably Azusa Pacific and Biola.

    Fourth, I see the problems you describe with evangelicalism in general, as largely the “challenges” faced by white evangelicals whose Christianity has been terribly handicapped and distorted by being in the racial majority and having the resources to make their version of evangelicalism sound normative.

    Fifth, I know of evangelical schools which hire “conservatives” for their theology departments and hire whoever for their other departments. Where do such schools fit in your schema?

    Sixth,, why does your post not consider the possibility that many evangelical colleges will cease to be evangelical OR fundamental at all (as you define them) by your own definition? THAT is what some of the most conservative people professors in evangelical schools are ACTUALLY worried about. I’ve heard them express that concern with my own ears.

    Just some thoughts to ponder.


  5. Deborah Twigg

    BEB, consider speaking with someone who has been with the Consortium of Christian Colleges for all/most of their 40-year existence. Such a person would, I would think, have some useful perspective on this. As a layperson, I relate to these questions best by thinking of the people who embodied them for me, in my life. My grandparents on both sides were fundamentalists. On the maternal side, members of “the temple” in Zion, IL, founded by Dwight L. Moody, then later moved to California and seemed to me to be pretty normal people. My maternal grandmother worked as a food service worker at Fuller Seminary, after it opened. My paternal grandparents attended Paul Raider revival tent meetings and met at a Bible study/prayer group made up of people who “got saved” in a Paul Raider revival, married and became members of the Moody Bible Church in Chicago. It was very quiet (and un-fun) in their Chicago apartment: no TV, alcohol, dancing, stereo, card-playing. Even radio was banned (“Satan is the prince of the air” it was explained to me–that was in the Bible) but then they got one and tuned it only to a Christian radio station that played lots of old-timey hymns and was dull as death. It was an unhappy marriage which they stayed in because divorce was not an option according to their beliefs. So the quiet in their apartment was compounded by the fact that they barely spoke to each other. But they still faithfully went to church together, prayed over meals and ate together, etc. My paternal grandfather justified his racism to me with the biblical story of Ham. My father went to Wheaton College (where he met my mother) just after Billy Graham graduated. He was a member of the first graduating class of Fuller Seminary and occasionally makes references to Carl F. Henry, a name familiar to me growing up. I believe he studied under CFH. Dad (now 89) defines himself as an evangelical in the original meaning of the term. (What that original meaning is, I couldn’t tell you–I just know he can’t relate to the present understanding most people have of evangelical, which is possibly media driven? But not undeserved either.) After a brief stint as a Conservative Baptist minister, he left that “fold” for PCUSA (more stable salary/pension set up and he and mom discovered/embraced the Westminster Confession and “found home”). My evangelical upbringing was so different from the fundamentalist upbringings of my parents. My parents, it seemed to me, were more “evolved” than the fundamentalism they came out of. They were VERY open to science, eventually became wine enthusiasts and took dancing lessons and never felt any of this threatened their evangelical Christianity. Mom was very fond of saying something I believe she picked up at Wheaton: “All truth is God’s truth.” They were very open to whatever was true, whether it fit preconceived notions or not. Everything had to be considered in light of scripture but they seemed to have a more intelligent approach to scripture that included asking what the original text said, what was the historical context, etc. To be fair, their parents did not have the benefit of a seminary education to take their own Bible-reading as deep/far. Dad was very upset when I told him his father had told me the Ham story that justified racism. Racism was NOT ok. The Bible did NOT justify racism, etc. I think I had a pretty normal, happy upbringing. Full of Jesus and conservative/Republican, but not terribly fundamentalist, as best I can tell because it was nothing like my Dad’s parents’ home in which everything was rigid and miserable and you couldn’t question anything. When I told my parents I wanted to go to Wheaton, they tried to talk me out of it. “We haven’t raised you that way,” they said. They were concerned I’d be a fish out of water. For example, I had attended dances in high school–now that would be forbidden. I went anyway. And I was something of a fish out of water–I just didn’t think lots of things were such a big deal–but I did find friends there–among the minority of people who tended to be freer thinkers in various ways. I also began, there, to wonder if I was gay. Post-Wheaton, I finally accepted that I was/am. My brother turned out to be gay too. He has since died from AIDS-related complications. To this day, my parents, esp my father, feel that gayness is incompatible with Scripture. But they love me and they loved my deceased brother and they have real problems with the way many in today’s “evangelical” community (as presently defined–and I don’t know what that definition is either) advocate for policies they feel are “unloving,” unnecessary if not downright cruel. They have become political independents and are horrified by what has become of the GOP and horrified by the “evangelical” support of much GOP positioning on all kinds of things. As for my own part on the generational trajectory, I became an Episcopalian who finds Benjamin Hooker’s 3-legged stool refreshing after so much emphasis on “what does scripture say.” (My parents still attend a PCUSA church with a giant Bible front and center like a kind of altar.) I’m active in OneWheaton so I’m a Wheaton watcher and I’m not sure whether Wheaton is growing more fundamentalist or not. In some ways, it feels like it is. In some ways, it feels like it’s progressing. I do feel it is gripped by a fundamentalism it can’t quite shake though. I get very offended when they call “Christian” some position on something that is, in fact, merely their point on a continuum of Christian positions/interpretations. To me that is very arrogant. Their truth is THE truth. (And if you have a problem with that, you’re a relativist which = bad so again, they get to be right and you are outside the circle of right if you disagree.) Sexism and racism and xenophobia remain issues at Wheaton (e.g. the Larycia Hawkins debacle) that remain informed, I believe, by deep undercurrents of old-time fundamentalism, conscious or not. As you may know, the “single story” debate at Wheaton shows it’s unwillingness to open up and allow differing views to be aired. The recent Christianity Today piece (What It’s Like To Be Gay at Wheaton College) is a single story made to seem typical and predictably, features a white male who is even blonde. Most OneWheaton people would say this is not representative at all–but note the title of the article: “what it’s like”–their story, period, as told through a “poster boy” for their narrative. OK, I’ve said enough. I do think there is a difference between fundamentalism and evangelicalism because I’ve lived it. Further, I think what is meant by “evangelical” has evolved over time though I couldn’t adequately express from what to what. You may be onto something–this notion that “evangelical” is sliding “back” into fundamentalism. And that would not be limited to the realm of Christian colleges. It’s everywhere in general culture. I often wonder if Christian colleges aren’t more influenced by Fox/GOP memes than vice versa. Certainly their donors are. Unfortunately, I can only speak in the language of feelings and experience and not in the more academic language that might be more helpful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Seth Cain

      Deborah –
      I appreciated your family story and the insights to be gained there. But I would be remiss if I didn’t respond to the bit in your comment about Tyler Streckert’s Christianity Today article and Wheaton’s “single story” debate. OneWheaton is telling a shared story, and those voices need to be heard. But One Wheaton is self-selecting and not every SSA person at Wheaton shares or shared that story. Many other stories can be told and any dismissal of them could be interpreted as just as expedient and self-serving as Wheaton is often made out to be.

      One Wheaton’s single story of mistreatment doesn’t account for what I experienced as a GRA supervising 6 floors of a large dorm at Wheaton where there were at least 2 openly same-sex attracted students on those floors. Like every student who agreed to a certain community code of conduct while at Wheaton, whose stance is clear, they were supervised graciously by our staff and peer leaders without concern to segregate or treat them differently. We asked of them no more and no less than anyone else who agreed to live in community as community (celibate until marriage), but we certainly had to work with them re: the temptations they may have sharing bathing facilities, etc. It was handled through conversation and accountability.

      Furthermore, in a small accountability group for men of which I was a part, there was an openly same-sex attracted undergrad who shared not only his attraction, but also confessed his occasional sexual misdeeds. He was always met with the grace and restoration we all received, despite not living up to his own desires to remain celibate in solidarity with Christ, Paul and the other hetero students who had failures of their own. We always made it a point to affirm his celibacy, esteeming singleness as highly as marriage – as in Scripture and Christian tradition. This is what Tyler Streckert and others have found as their unique vocation, difficult as it may be for them to live out and for much of the LGBT community to tolerate. I suppose, given your comment about his race, I should mention this young man in our group was black. And that was 12 years ago.

      One more: My close friend at Wheaton who oversaw the campus Small Group ministry walked closely and graciously alongside two other students who were reckoning with their homosexuality, creating a safe space to question. I can attest they were both loved well by a staff member who worked in Student Life without unfair alarmist measures on anyone’s part.

      I wonder if you are dismissing the actual substance and nuance of Streckert’s CT article. The headline notwithstanding, the substance of the article goes to lengths to present it as his own story, not a cookie-cutter experience. Even if it undermines the One Wheaton narrative, it is still a story among the oft-published disparaging stories that needs to be heard.


  6. Bruce – good to see/read this conversation – though it appears I’m a couple days late to join. (I’m currently in Italy teaching alongside Matt Milliner in Orvieto and a little out of touch with things back home in the States.) If you still have any patience for reading more commentary, I’ve penned a few lines below.
    I confess I am a little frustrated by the sweeping brushstrokes you use in your posting, Bruce. How is it, for instance, that you “know” that Evangelicals are primarily motivated by a kind of cultural “fear of the other” and not simply by rejection of certain practices, values, and philosophical/religious/political beliefs — in other words by conviction not fear. Knowing the motives of others seems to be to be an impossibility–but it appears you are confident of knowing this. On the other hand we do indeed routinely judge others’ motives. (And that, because we seldom want to reckon with the real complexity of what actually motivates people. It’s just easier to write people off with whom we disagree and simplify their motives in our minds.) Moreover, I find problematic the scrutiny with which you analyze Seth Cain’s comments but the relative lack of the same scrutiny applied to your own. You appear to assume that the Fundamentalists were motivated by fear of the other — but depending upon which histories you read, it can be argued that they were motivated by love — love of God, love of truth, and even love of “the other”. (The Fundamentalists were among the first to launch the soup kitchen movement in NYC and they were prominent among the champions of child labor laws and even earlier, in the 19th c. the abolition movement.) So sweeping all that aside with the broad stroke of “fear” seems historically reductionist. Moreover, the assumption that Evangelicals and Fundamentalists are trying to “separate themselves from the world” is equally simplistic to my way of thinking. There are undoubtedly some who are fearful and in retreat. In any given community you find those who act out of anxiety and a refusal to participate. But many prominent Evangelicals are still moving into leadership roles in every sector of the society at large — and publishing compelling work in philosophical, historical, art-historical, literary, and just about every other discipline. Hardly a retreat. They are also moving into leadership in business, politics, the arts, etc etc. — and show no lessening of that motivation to serve and to lead the broader culture. The fact that Evangelicals are the new whipping boy of the media is not surprising — and the trafficking in stereotypes there is notorious. The media employ over-simplification because it offers sound-bytes and easily digested stories.

    And anti-Evangelicalism might be easily becoming the new anti-Semitism in the media. Acceptable bigotry in the current atmosphere. It is just too complicated sorting out the Evangelicals who vote for Donald Trump and the ones who write complex theological and philosophical tracts about phenomenology. Ask a media rep what they think of Husserl or Merleau-Ponty or Maritain or your mentor Marion. They stare at you like you are speaking Swahili. Tell them that your theological perspective is post-colonial and broadly Barthian and they’ll change the subject. They want digestible bits that reinforce the cartoonish versions of Evangelical that pass for true. It’s the Simpsons minus any nuance.

    At most I think one could honestly say that Evangelicals are “out of step” — not in retreat or covering in fear — just at skew angles to the broader American culture and in dissent from many of the practices and values of the surrounding culture(s). Growing up Episcopalian, my own experience of Evangelicalism is that it is a very complicated community of diverse groups loosely affiliated. In fact, I still find it difficult (after more than three decades acquaintance with the movement) to sort out the varieties of Evangelical society. So I instinctively resist the kind of generalizations you make in your post, Bruce. Just sayin.

    With love and respect,
    Bruce Herman


    1. Paul Thompson

      Bruce Herman, I think I second virtually everything you say! My comments were terribly rushed, but I “feel” you through and through as you express your sentiments!


  7. Pingback: That Was The Week That Was – The Pietist Schoolman

  8. Darren Faber

    Hey Bruce,

    Darren here. I enjoyed the piece, and I think there is much value in what you have written here.

    You have repeated more than once in the comments that evangelicalism is motivated by fear. This implies that at the heart of evangelicalism is an orientation toward the world that is closed to exploration of the truth in contexts outside its own.

    This may indeed be a central motivating factor. However, putting this at the center of one’s explanation for the evangelical phenomena may put an undue burden of culpability on the community.

    For my own part, in exploration of new beliefs and philosophies, there is always an element of fear. But I actually think there is a level of fear that is healthy- to be fearless is to be foolhardy. To be paralyzed by fear is to be a coward. Courage lay in some undefinable region in between, and the ideal is relative to the disposition of the person or persons in their context.
    The wise person stays away from the bed of poisonous snakes unless he has the proper means to navigate that space successfully. There are particular people that are snake handlers, and thus the proper level of fear for such persons is different than the proper level of fear for a child.

    But that is sort of a tangent. I do think there is a proper level of fear one should have when approaching the new, since the new will always have an effect on one’s orientation toward the world.

    What if, however, the malady that lies at the center of fundamentalist communities is not fear, but rather trauma? People have been hurt, both as individuals and communities, by the other who has genuinely wronged them. This trauma engenders a fight or flight response in relation to the other that inhibits dialogue.

    If this is the case (and I think it is), then the solution to the problem of fundamentalism is not condemnation, but diagnosis of the trauma, and healing (through what we generally agree to be gospel-forgiveness, reconciliation, grace). This has been the pattern at the micro level in my own life. I had a traumatic experience with a professor at community college which gave me a vitriolic disposition toward buddhism. Healing from that trauma took years of internalizing the mercy of God, and practicing it toward him.

    If the root of evangelical separation is inordinate fear (cowardice), then the proper response is direct address.

    If the root of evangelical separation is a trauma, then the community needs a patient physician, not a judge.


  9. Bruce Ellis Benson

    In this post, I first want to respond to a number of things that have arisen in the replies. But, first, I just want to thank you for taking the time to respond! Paul, you wonder the extent to which I am able “to comment on most evangelical colleges as you claim in one response.” Actually, I didn’t exactly claim that. In response to Seth, I made the point that my original post was an attempt to put forward a general thesis about evangelical colleges. Seth had said he wasn’t in a position to comment that broadly. But I thought my post made it clear that 1) trying to understand and characterize all evangelical colleges is problematic and 2) it is often difficult to get clear even on one particular institution, since any institution is composed of multiple constituencies and these are often (usually? I don’t know) at odds with one another, at least to some extent. So what might be true of the students might not be true of the faculty or the administration or the board of trustees or the broader constituency. But, of course, a college is composed of all of these bodies and so can’t be reduced to any one or even a collection of two or three. Further, Seth mentions someone from his church (the worship director) who was a student of mine and is not a fundamentalist. But I think we can safely say that students at evangelical schools represent a broad spectrum of belief (and non-belief). This recognition of variety and differences, of course, might cause one to conclude that we should simply stop making any generalizations at all. But that doesn’t seem like a very good course of action, since then we would only be left making comments of a very particular nature. This is also why it is hard to cite an example—or two or three—and conclude that we have now summarized things adequately. So I think this leaves us in a position where generalizations must be seen for what they are—inadequate, incomplete, etc.—but still necessary. However, this would be true whether we were commenting on American politics or what Calvinists believe.

    As to my background, Deborah begins with her relatives. So I can start there as well. My grandfather was the superintendent of Sunday School at Moody Church in Chicago for forty years. His son, my father, was a pastor at three different churches that were and continue to be more or less evangelical and taught at three different seminaries (Dallas, Trinity, and Southern). You can characterize those schools as you wish. So talk about the evangelical world was pretty standard dinner conversation. My father’s time at Southern was only at the tail end of his career, so that didn’t affect me much. Paul, you say “what you describe sounds to me excessively influenced by the Southern Baptist world.” I think that’s only because the Southern Baptist world and the evangelical world aren’t all that different in terms of the trajectory that I discuss, though I’m hardly saying they are the same. Frankly, I have friends who were part of the “purge” at two different Southern Baptist seminaries, but my comments on evangelical colleges are very little influenced by their experiences. As for me, I studied at an evangelical college, taught at one for twenty-two years, attended an evangelical seminary, and have been connected to evangelical colleagues and institutions for many years. Many of my students teach at evangelical colleges. So I have first-hand and second-hand information. Besides, I don’t think one has to teach at such an institution to have some inside knowledge of how they operate. Seth makes what is in effect the counterclaim that one’s experience as a student is a better barometer of a school, and I think he’s on to something there. Yet having been both a student and then a professor gives one more than one perspective. And I’ve spent a lot of time talking to people who’ve been at evangelical institutions for a long time, in some cases forty or fifty years (so that’s a reply to Deborah). But I don’t want to stop there. I think one also needs to spend time outside of the evangelical world in order to understand it. Perhaps the most “outside” I’ve been has been a short stint teaching at Union Theological Seminary (NYC), which is rather far away from evangelicalism. But I’ve also been active in the American Academy of Religion, which includes anyone and any view that is religious.

    Of course, there is a basic problem even using the word “evangelical,” since it means so many different things to different people. There are many “evangelicals” that think the word doesn’t really mean much of anything or, the opposite problem, that it can be used by anyone to mean whatever they want. I used to give presentations at churches on the differences between “fundamentalism” and “evangelicalism.” But this is a problem that seems only to have gotten worse, especially given that the term is now used frequently (and probably often inaccurately) by journalists. Bruce rightly points out that, once journalists start using a word, it becomes very elastic.

    Paul, you are quite right in saying that evangelical institutions are primarily white in nature (though you mention some that are more welcoming to people of other races). One complication with this is that many people who are not white may well have theology that could rightly be described as “evangelical” in nature, but they don’t see this term as applying to them. I’ve had a conversation with a black theologian who said to me that she had only recently discovered that her theology was evangelical. That just wasn’t a word she used. In terms of global Christianity, it’s safe to say that the majority of evangelicals are not white. Which means, among other things, that the people in the future who will be deciding what the word “evangelical” means are going to be people of color. As to schools which have different standards for hiring in the theology department than for other departments, it probably all depends just how “conservative” the standards for the one versus the other really are. Regarding the “worry” or “concern” about evangelical or fundamentalist schools not remaining so is a worry that has been around as long as there have been evangelical or fundamentalist schools! That’s part of the fear I was describing.

    I’m sorry, Bruce, that you’re frustrated with my “sweeping brushstrokes.” Those kind of go with the character of the piece, which was to be broad. I’ve already said more than enough about the problems of making generalizations, so I won’t say any more here. But I do wonder about your claims regarding motivation. You say “knowing the motives of others seems to be an impossibility” and then you claim that “we seldom want to reckon with the real complexity of what actually motivates people. It’s just easier to write people off with whom we disagree and simplify their motives in our minds.” You question how I can “know” evangelicals are motivated by fear. But then you imply that their motives are based on “conviction not fear.” So which do you want to say—that we cannot judge other peoples’ motives because knowing them is “an impossibility” or that we actually can make such judgments? If it’s the former case, then I guess we can’t really have a discussion here. But, if it’s the latter case, I don’t think one has to choose between conviction and fear. Motives are usually mixed, so conviction and fear could work quite well together. I hardly meant to suggest that fear was the only motivation. I certainly agree that it is difficult to know other people’s motives—and it is also difficult to know our own. But judging motives is, for better or for worse—something that we cannot avoid. You imply that judging other people’s motives is done for reasons of not taking them seriously. That certainly can be true. But are you saying that it must be this way? You claim the fundamentalists were motivated by love. But, since motives are mixed, that could be true too—in addition to conviction and fear.

    The word “fundamentalist” was coined in the early part of the 20th century (the exact date is uncertain, but somewhere between 1910 and 1922). It arises from the publication of a series of twelve pamphlets on certain “fundamentals” of the faith, such as inerrancy, etc. Eventually, those folks who were associated with these pamphlets (and the movement) came to be known as “fundamentalists.” Not everyone who was labeled with that term appreciated it, but it became the term that both non-fundamentalists (who were called “moderns”) and fundamentalists used. Fundamentalists came to think that being associated with the world was, if not sinful, could lead one to sin. Thus, they separated themselves from the world.

    Bruce, my post was about the future of evangelical colleges, not whether evangelicals are involved in the world. There may be some connection between the two, but I don’t see that you’ve established any.

    Darren, you are probably right that trauma is a feature of evangelical institutions. But then we are left with some interesting questions. Does that trauma come from outside (say, with an institution feeling that someone or some group or the “world” is against them)? Does it come from inside in the form that the institution itself traumatizes members of the community in some way(s)? Or does it stem from multiple things at once? Your point that fear can be good or bad is certainly right. When I suggested that evangelical colleges are characterized by fear that wasn’t intended as a purely negative comment. There are many things of which we should be afraid. But, as you also say, fear can be paralyzing. That sort of fear is unhelpful.

    Let me, again, thank all of you who responded and add a word on behalf of people who have not replied to my post. There are people with whom I’ve communicated who would like to comment. But they feel that it would be wiser for them not to do that because of possible retaliation. Yet doesn’t that underscore my point about fear?


  10. Or, a third option? The Benedict Option is another fruitful avenue for understanding the times. There is always a sort of tension between what fallen humanness does, and what God is doing in any given situation. I like to think that amidst the swirl of human emotion, action and reaction, God is quietly and subtly still always at work. In the present tense, I see a movement away from having easy answers towards prayer, and I think in spite of the bumbling efforts and the reactive moments, this is what Christians are doing, whether in Christian homeschooling, at Christian Evangelical institutions of higher learning, or in the church. Building up houses of prayer. Anxiety always leads to sin, but prayer leads to holiness, and holiness leads to God. A more optimistic view 🙂


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