Looking over the blogosphere as it relates to evangelicals has been an entertaining, yet frightening exercise. It is entertaining, so far as blogs go, to produce and weigh in upon controversy. It is frightening in that participating in the controversy has been an ugly affair. Take the dispute between Marvin Olasky and Jim Wallis or the one between Karl Giberson and Al Mohler. These are ugly because of their appeals to character assassination (Wallis accusing Olasky of “lying for a living” and Mohler not caring about truth [!]).Then, of course, there is the ongoing controversy over BioLogos and its aggressive campaign to reconcile science and Christianity. Our very own Evangel blog had to be “rebooted” in the wake of the divisive nature of the creation debates that attend to the subject. While these things are alarming up close, taking a step back no one should be surprised considering the cultural context we find ourselves in.
Many think that postmodern thought originates and finds its legs in left-wing thought. Everyone can point to Rorty or Derrida or Foucault and cry foul about their promulgation of relativism, incoherence, and reductionism and teach young people to avoid the decay of truth running rampant in our universities and elite centers of cultural life. In fact, I think that is very godly and it is necessary for the good life. But there is what might be called a right-wing postmodernism, or better yet, a conservative acknowledgment of pluralism that inexorably frustrates public discourse.
Alasdair MacIntyre pointed out that such a frustration is the result of the multiplicity of systems that persist in our cultural milieu, In Whose Justice? Which Rationality? MacIntyre demonstrates that “tradition” gives shape to our presuppositions about justice and rationality and makes it almost impossible to resolve political disputes in our public discourse. Tradition according to MacIntyre is “an argument extended through time in which certain fundamental agreements are defined and redefined.” Schools of thought, we might call them, govern our argument and it is very difficult to get behind them, because our rationality is shaped from within them. One can easily see how MacIntyre’s insights apply to theological discourse between competing traditions. After sharing this thought with a seminary colleague he incisively remarked, “It all part of the Tower of Babel if you ask me.”
Evangelicalism is a cacophony of voices. The fragmentation is easily seen in Patheos’ Future of Evangelicalism series. Emergent voices say the old coalition is passing, the Reformed movement is making a comeback, apologetic ministries a thriving in light of the renaissance of Christian philosophy, there is a storm brewing over the dialogue between science and religion, evangelicals are the new mainline, film is the new literature, and activists are re-discovering “God’s politics.” The sloganeering is dreadful to read through, but if one makes the effort one will see that there is very little common, unifying ground that makes for a cultural force called evangelical Christianity.
Back to the Babel story, the main problem seems to be that the builders were out to make a name for themselves, and Evangelical ministries have a lot in common with them it seems. It is difficult to imagine God frustrating the purposes of his people, but it may very well be that our purposes are not His purposes. I don’t doubt that there is much wisdom in the prophetic voices and the reality of what direction things are heading. I just wish I could be more optimistic about evangelicalism as a whole.