Recently I posted a review of the book Promise Unfulfilled by Dr. Rolland McCune. I suppose one would call it a mixed review since although I applauded the book’s intentions and appreciated some of the chapters, I recounted a few misgivings as well. You may read what I wrote here.
In one of my criticisms of the book I made this remark:
“…the most glaring fact about this chapter is McCune’s reliance upon the very people whom he criticizes in his book! The names of Nash, Marsden, Brown, McGrath, Demarest, Davis, and Schaeffer (who is identified as neo-evangelical later on) are appealed to for the substantiation of the writer’s data and critique. And while a writer may legitimately quote an author with which he disagrees, it should be recognized that no fundamentalist is called upon in this chapter – an indication at least that the charge of anti-intellectualism against American fundamentalism does contain enough adhesive power to call any critic of neo-evangelicalism to a little self-examination once in a while.”
When I wrote this section I knew that if I used the term “anti-intellectualism” I might upset one or two people. That was not my intention. But I decided that the word belonged in my paragraph because it was an apt description of what I was concerned about in that part of my critique.
A Christian brother, Frank Sansone, who writes the blog A Thinking Man’s Thoughts kindly contacted me to let me know that he had taken issue with this part of my review. Frank raises two questions in his article that I would like to address in this post. My reasons for doing this are; a). Frank puts his finger on an important issue, and b). because I think that notwithstanding he has unwittingly misconstrued what I was trying to say in my review.
Frank’s first disagreement with me is summarized nicely thus:
“What is so glaring about quoting from people within a movement to help make a case against the movement?”
Well, nothing! But that is not what Dr McCune was doing in the first chapter of his book. What he was doing was succinctly placing a philosophical backdrop for the rest of his book; a book aimed at chronicling the “failed strategy of new evangelicalism.” But in painting his canvass McCune was relying on the scholarship of those whom he was going to criticize in the rest of his book. This struck me as ironic. Perhaps it struck him so too. For, at least in terms of the content of his opening chapter, what came out was that new evangelicals had filled a crucial lacuna in conservative thinking! But I will return to this point later.
On the same point Frank continues, ” It seems to me that this is actually a good strategy, rather than a glaring weakness. Calling a proponent of an idea or position or institution as a testimony against that very same idea or position or institution seems even more condemning that merely quoting from opponents or stating your own case.”
But my brother has misconstrued my point. I was not alluding to any “strategy” on Dr. McCune’s part, but, rather, a necessity, which is quite a different thing. Why was it necessary for a Fundamentalist to go to New Evangelicals for support for his thesis in this chapter? My answer is that fundamentalists have not done the necessary work in the realm of Ideas that the first chapter required, and, might I add, that the Christian worldview deserves!
Dr McCune was not citing these new evangelicals to point out their declension from Biblical orthodoxy, but – and this is important – because of the good work they had done in this vital area.
Now, straight away I realize that there will be some reading this who have pegged me as a new evangelical, but they would be wrong. Allow me to digress a little. I am an Englishman who has been living in the states for the past 11 years. I have always felt uncomfortable with the label “Fundamentalist” because it does not characterize those who I would align myself with spiritually (viz. John Owen, Andrew Fuller, CH Spurgeon, JC Ryle, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones). These men were “evangelicals” but not “new evangelicals.” There is nothing wrong with fundamentalism per se, but I believe it has some inevitable cultural traits which I do not share by virtue of the fact that I am not American-born. However, I do not mind being called a fundamentalist and, in fact, have been an assistant pastor at a BBF church. You can peruse my Statement of Faith here.
Now to the second question.
Frank’s second question asks, “Why does a lack of writing or a lack of being published equal “anti-intellectualism”?”
I reply, “As it relates to an individual (e.g. Prof. Brokenshire) it doesn’t!” But that is not what I am saying. What I was referring to was a movement, viz. Fundamentalism. Let me illustrate:
It is common knowledge that in evangelical/fundamentalist circles many young men and women are going off to colleges and universities ill-equipped to engage the flurry of worldly thinking they will come across. As a result of the pressure of fending off the powerful ideas of secularism and pluralism with the “feather-duster” teaching found in most churches (fundamentalist churches included), many of these young people “loose” their faith. While it is true that many good ministries have sprung up to counter this trend, these ministries are usually “new” evangelical. Where are the fundamentalist ministries? (and books and articles?). Forgive me, but it is simply a cop out to say that every fundamentalist scholar chooses to “put their lives into people, not pages.” Have we learned nothing from the Reformation about the importance of “pages”? Should worldview issues, cultural and philosophical apologetics, or, indeed, theological engagement with anti-Christian philosophies be done? If it ought to be done then it ought to be done by fundamentalists. You see, brainpower is not the issue. Engagement is the issue. And if the fundamentalist movement has made this such a low priority throughout its history, I say, that is a symptom of what may justly be termed “anti-intellectualism.” Maturing saints and winning souls is great, but it cannot be done at the cost of misology in the publishing arms of the movement. Both are important. In point of fact, both are but parts of the whole Christian worldview! So, as our Lord said, in another context, “these you ought to have done, and not left the other undone.”
On a side note, I do not agree with Frank that the money isn’t there. It is there, but is is being spent (or not spent) on things that are given higher priority (I’ll move on before I get cynical).
In Frank’s last paragraph he sums up his second issue concisely:
“I just think that we need to re-think this idea that “scholarship” = “published” and its reciprocal, “unpublished” = “anti-intellectual” (or at least, “unscholarly”).”
Well, I fully agree, but here is what I was aiming at:
Low priority on issue X = Dearth of engagement with issue X = No voice on issue X = Anti-intellectual attitude as regards said issue.
Years ago, when I read Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind I remember feeling annoyed with his salvos against dispensationalism and young-earth creationism. I was guilty on both counts and still am. It is not anti-intellectual to hold to either view. It is anti-intellectual if I am either one and I do not seek to explore God’s fathomless truth from both perspectives. That is to say, if a segment of Christianity simply settles for dogma and neglects its own exploration of the truth, that segment or movement will stall and will look back one day to find that it failed to have a voice in its generation. We are to stand on the shoulders of giants, not stand by and simply ape them. I am saying that in some areas fundamentalism is infected with this kind of self-referential torpor.
How easy it is for us to want to be “intellectuals” and to parade ourselves in our borrowed finery before adoring novices. All the while He who searches the hearts is looking on in disgust! God forbid such a thing! For sure that sort of thinking caught hold with some new evangelicals (and I have seen it in some fundamentalists!). But when we have heeded the warnings, there is work to be done.
To return to my disputed paragraph then. What I was doing in pointing to the irony of a critic of new evangelicalism having to use those same brethren to bolster his positions because no one within his own movement has produced comparable work in that area, is this: Surely it behooves him (and us) to acknowledge the beam that is in our own collective eye in these vital areas before we become mote-removers (or plank-removers) to those who are so clearly in need of our correction.
I think that read in this light I can plead not guilty to both of Frank’s observations.
My thanks to Frank Sansone for his brotherly integrity in telling me about his article. May God bless him and his ministry.