Three years ago this month First Things launched this blog to provide a space for a broad range of evangelical viewpoints. We’ve had dozens of contributors, more than 1,500 posts, and nearly 20,000 comments. But today it’s time for us to say goodbye.
Group blogs that have numerous contributors tend to have a short lifespan. Within a few years they either morph into full-blown web magazines, downsize until only a few dedicated bloggers remain, or fade away due to inattention. Evangel has been losing readers and contributors over the last year—in October 2009 we had 152 posts; in October 2012 we had 8—so it appears to be time to move on. While the archives will remain open indefinitely, this will be the last post.
Almost all of our contributors continue to write for other blogs (a few have even agreed to join FT’s main blog, First Thoughts), so I hope you’ll seek out and follow your favorites. I believe I speak for all of our contributors when I say that we’ve appreciated those who have read and commented over the past few years.
Matt Morin has a good article on masculinity, misogyny, homoeroticism, embodiment, and mixed martial arts:
Before enrolling in divinity school, I was a cage fighter—not a full-time cage fighter, not a world-famous cage fighter, not even a person for whom cage fighting paid the bills, but a cage fighter nonetheless. Now, before I go any further, I need to be more careful with my vocabulary or else I’ll risk losing credibility. You see, real cage fighters don’t like to be referred to as such; we prefer the term mixed martial artist. And we prefer that our sport go by the name mixed martial arts or MMA instead of “cage fighting.” There is a long, sordid history behind the sport’s various name changes, and it has everything to do with public perception, influential politicians, and corporate cash (Amy Silverman, Phoenix New Times, February 12, 1998). (But then again, what doesn’t?) Given my history of participation in and love for the sport, my ears perked up last year when MMA arose as a topic of conversation in my theological ethics class.
During the course of our class discussion, one of my divinity school colleagues referred to a recent New York Times article that describes the way a number of churches throughout the United States are turning to mixed martial arts as a way to draw men into their buildings (R. M. Schneiderman, February 1, 2010). Some churches train fighters to compete, while an even greater number of churches host gatherings for men at live fights. On top of this, clothing companies such as Jesus Didn’t Tap and websites like AnointedFighter.com market themselves to a crowd of Christian fight fans—a crowd that might be called a niche if it weren’t already so big.
To some Christians, this new MMA movement represents an expression of real, natural, God-given masculinity. One captain for this team is Seattle megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll, who in the film Fighting Politics says, “I don’t think there is anything purer than two guys in a cage. [. . .] As a pastor and as a Bible teacher, I think that God made men masculine. [. . .] Men are made for combat, men are made for conflict, men are made for dominion. [. . .] That’s just the way men are made.”
Dissatisfied with your current small-group? You might want to check out this one. “We hate bad theology as much as the next guy. And we know the surest way to prevent bad theology is to avoid theology altogether.”
Did Jesus not realize that Noah was a mythical person?
That peculiar question arose last week in the comment thread on David B. Hart’s OTS article where I defended the historicity of Noah. Several readers expressed shock that any purportedly educated Christian could believe that the ark-builder had actually existed. They were truly incredulous that anyone could truly believe such Sunday School nonsense.
One reader that took issue with my “silly childish fundamentalist column” and expressed shock that a “fundamentalist” like me would be allowed to work at First Things. Another commenter joined in the mockery and was certain that the Church Fathers would have disagreed we me about the literal existence of the Antediluvian patriarch. (When I asked them to provide support for that contention, my critics fell silent.)
Foolishly, I thought I could settle the issue with an appeal to authority. I pointed out that Jesus himself had referred to Noah as an actual person who existed in history:
James Poulos (founding editor of First Things’ Postmodern Conservative blog) recently interviewed our own Matthew Anderson about his new book Earthen Vessels. They discuss how evangelical Christians relate to their bodies and whether the Evangelical tradition is failing to give young people a sense of purpose.
:10 — The Gist: Outlines the changes in preconceptions, worldviews, and paradigms that have affected the ways in which people have thought about religion in general and Christianity in particular in the Western world.
:20 — The Quote: “The history of science reveals a progress of knowledge which later thought supersedes earlier thought. But theology and philosophy—in common with other liberal arts—is not like science. It is not a case that the discoveries of the present make obsolete the views of the previous generation. The latest play on Broadway or the West End of London does not make the plays of Shakespeare obsolete. Modern verse does not supplant the poetry of Wordsworth or Milton. The music of Bach, Mozart and Brahms is not surpassed by twentieth century compositions. We cannot successfully imitate the past. The present should have its own integrity. But that integrity requires us to listen to what the past has to offer.” (p, 333-334.)
Why you’ve heard of him: Colson was Richard Nixon’s “hatchet man” and spent seven months in prison for Watergate-related charges. Entered Alabama’s Maxwell Prison in 1974 as a new Christian and became a staunch advocate for prisoners. After telling his story in the bestselling book Born Again, Colson used the royalties to found Prison Fellowship, the world’s largest outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners, crime victims, and their families.
Position: Founder and Chairman of the Board for Prison Fellowship and Prison Fellowship International (1976 to present); Commentator for Breakpoint
:10 — The Gist: Many churches—particularly evangelical churches—tend to be extroverted places where introverts are marginalized, causing some Christians to feel they are not being faithful. McHugh shows how introverts can live and minister in ways consistent with their personalities.
:20 — The Quote: “If human perfection, epitomized in the person of Jesus, includes extroversion then a large number of the population will always and irredeemably fall short. This adds a theological component to the already-prevailing cultural prejudice that extroversion is the superior temperament.” (p. 16)
:30 — The Good: Although the book is relatively brief (222 pages) it provides a comprehensive introduction to the role of introverts in the community of believers.
:40 — The Blah: Because the book covers the subject from so many angles and attempts to explain the subject to various groups—from introverted
parishioners to extroverted pastors—not every section will be valuable to all readers.
:50 — The Verdict: As an introvert who has always attended non-liturgical “sociable” churches, I’ve always felt my lack of sociability was a sign of spiritual malaise. McHugh provides a valuable corrective to this self-defeating mentality. Few books published this year will likely have as valuable an impact as this slim volume.
:60 — The Recommendation: While the book is most valuable to discouraged introverts, everyone involved in church ministry needs to hear McHugh’s message and implement his recommendations.
Several years ago I started an blog series that provided brief profiles of influential evangelicals. The purpose was to help those who may see a name mentioned by the media—Albert Mohler, Richard Land, Jim Wallis—but not know about them or why they are significant.
At the instigation of Justin Taylor, I’ve decided to bring that series to Evangel. I’m hoping that my fellow contributors will adopt the format and produce entries of their own.
If you have a recommendation for a profile, please leave it in the comments section.
I was shocked and saddened to see WORLD magazine—where I once served as blog editor—publish a piece of syncretistic drivel by their longtime columnist Andrée Seu:
It was obvious to me that [Glenn Beck] was a new creation in Christ. I know he’s Mormon and all that. I also remember reading a book by Professor Harvey Conn decades ago that said that you have to be very careful when judging a person’s salvation—some people with lousy theology have their hearts right with God, and some people with impeccable theology are cold toward God.
Glenn Beck isn’t cold toward God. He is red hot. He is “a brand plucked from the fire” (Zechariah 3:2). He knows what pit he was in—and he knows exactly who took him out of it. If I were his station manager I would be biting my fingernails every day, because the man just doesn’t hold back about Jesus, and I can say without hesitation that I have not heard the essentials of the gospel more clearly and boldly in any church than on his program.
I have heard all the criticisms, and I can find sympathy for them—about the Mormonism, about the dangers of religious syncretism, etc. But regarding the Mormon thing, I think we should regard Beck as an Apollos and pray for a Priscilla and Aquila in his life, to steer him better (Acts 18). I just don’t see how anyone can listen to the man for a solid week and not be as blessed as I am by his courage, his utter lack of fear of man, and his sharp and personal testimony of Christ’s transforming power.
A recent poll reveals that only two-thirds of white evangelical Protestants recognize that Mormons have religious beliefs somewhat (26%) or very (42%) different from our own. It’s distressing that so many believers can be so confused. But Seu should know better. And I know that the editors of WORLD know better. (Note: See update at the end of this post.)
But what I find even more appalling than the claim that a devout Mormon (who believes in tritheism) can be a “new creation in Christ” is her slur against the church.
Seu says, “I have not heard the essentials of the gospel more clearly and boldly in any church than on his program.” Really? What church does she attend? If it’s true that a Mormon has proclaimed the gospel of Christ more clearly on a radio show than her Christian pastor has done in her church, then why does she stay? (Assuming, of course, that she regularly attends a church.)
To be honest, I don’t believe she believes that; I think she made that up for effect. Unfortunately, she’s not alone in making such a despicable charge. It’s all too common nowadays for evangelicals to make the scurrilous claim that our churches are not preaching the Gospel. While there are certainly churches where this is the case, it is simply not true of the majority of our congregations. To claim otherwise, without sufficient evidence to the contrary, is a libel against the Bride of Christ.
Note: Justin Taylor has some wise thoughts on the matter and, not surprisingly, he is much more winsome about this outrage that I can be.
Update: My friend Mickey McLean, the web executive editor for WORLD, says the fault lies with him: “WORLD’s position: All of us need editing. Our website editing system failed in regard to Andrée’s post about Glenn Beck. The breadth of response points out confusion concerning Beck and where he stands.” And in a comment to that post he adds, “I take full responsibility for not taking a closer look at Andrée’s column before posting it to the site.”
As a web editor I can certainly empathize. At FT we allow our non-staff blogs to post freely and with few restrictions since we don’t claim to agree with them on all issues. (I sometimes cringe at seeing what makes it onto our website.) WORLD takes a stricter approach, which forces them to take a bit more responsibility. Also, as a columnist Seu is a direct representative of the magazine.
Nevertheless, Mickey’s response goes a long way in restoring my trust in that great publication. I appreciate his taking responsibility, though Seu is the one that should be held accountable.
My cheap jab at Joel Osteen in a previous post has led some commenters wondering why I’m taking shots at the Word of Faith movement and/or the “prosperity gospel.”
I admit that it was a bit naive and foolish to assume that readers of Evangel would even know why I was critical of those movement, much less agree with me. Because I think it’s important for the critiques and defenses to be given a fair hearing, I’ve decided to open a thread for the discussion of the question, “What exactly is wrong (or right) with the Prosperity Gospel?”
The comment section is now open to anyone who wants to argue one side or the other. Please keep it civil and respect the views of others (something, I admit, that I often fail to do).
As a lifelong student of rhetoric, I’ve always had a fascination and fondness for preachers. I’ve spent many years studying their manners and methods in order to learn how they are able to communicate to large groups in a way that feels intimate and familiar.
For instance, one of my favorite pastors spent an entire year preaching about sin. Each week he’d rail against backbiters, slanderers, hypocrites, perverts. And each week I went home feeling the message had been meant just for me. The sermons never failed to stir me, probably because he used the effective rhetorical tool of ending each example of wickedness with “. . . like Joe Carter.”
I even considered becoming a pastor myself since the vocation combines my love of communication with three of my other passions: telling people how they should live, avoiding manual labor, and getting paid a full salary for doing part-time work. But while I may have missed my calling, the experience (i.e., incessant church-hopping) has helped me to develop a keen eye for judging the merits of a minister.
As a way of sharing my my hard-won wisdom I offer eleven surefire ways to know that something isn’t right with your pastor:
A Hungarian Catholic priest who preaches from his skateboard has become a favorite on YouTube. My first reaction while watching the video (okay, my second reaction, after “cool cassock”) was: That’s the best you can do? You guys got nothing on our stunt preachers. To show our Catholic friends how it is done, I thought I’d post clips of the best examples of preacher gimmicks (see below). Post the link to your favorite in the comments section and I’ll add them to this post.
But first, a word from the late British evangelical preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones:
Last October I invited two dozens evangelical pastors, philosophers, theologians, and bloggers to join together for an on-going conversation. The intention was to create a place where we could discuss the issues that are important to our community and to explain ourselves to non-believers, Christians from other traditions, and anyone else who was interested in listening in. The result was more than I could have ever hoped for.
However, as this blog matured, we experienced the inevitable growing pains. Personality clashes drove some people away while others were confused about the blog’s purpose. Some critics complained that we were too Reformed, too conservative, too focused on politics. We listened to the criticisms and attempted to make a course correction by bringing in new blood and setting new internal standards. Unfortunately, the changes were insufficient. A few weeks ago I realized it was time for a radical alteration.
Today we’re rebooting Evangel. We removed everyone from the masthead and started from scratch, asking the group to decide who among them would be willing to commit to this project and who would fit in with the new, refined mission. Unfortunately, not everyone will be returning. As anyone who has participated in a group blog can tell you (I’ve been a part of nine different group blogs), it is difficult to be fully engaged when you have your own blog and writing projects that require your time and attention. For some of our contributors it was simply time to move on. It wasn’t fair to impose on their friendship by asking them to continue to write here for free. I’m grateful for all they’ve done and will miss their contributions.
As we go forward we want to reiterate where we stand. Although we hail from various evangelical traditions, we all share certain core agreements, such as the Nicene Creed, the five solas, and the inerrancy of the Bible. Most of all we are committed to the evangel—the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Patheos has an excellent interview with sociologist and historian of religion Rodney Stark. As with anything from Stark, it’s difficult to choose just one section to quote. But here’s the core of his claim:
When I was very young, there was a Protestant mainline and they were the Congregationalists, the Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, American Baptists, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and more recently the media would include the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Once in a while they would even stretch things far enough to include the Unitarians and Quakers. These were the high prestige denominations, and when people became prominent and successful they would shed their old denomination and join one of these.
Now, the belief that these are the mainline denominations simply won’t go away. Everyone keeps pretending that these are the folks that count. But the fact is: that’s ancient history.
. . . Yet one keeps hearing about the “mainline” denominations and this “periphery” called evangelicalism. Well, the periphery is now the mainline, and the mainline is the sideline.
I also decided to write [How Denominations Die: The Continuing Self-Destruction of the Protestant "Mainline] partly because of the misperception that this transformation began in the 1960s. The 1760s may be more accurate, and certainly the 1860s, but it didn’t start in the 1960s. The 1960s is just when it began to be noticed.
Exactly. No offense to my mainline friends, but I’ve never understood why they continue to be considered mainstream by the the mainstream media. The Southern Baptist Convention has as many members as all mainline denominations combined. Yet the dying denominations get all the attention.
I suspect that within my lifetime the only mainline denominations that will continue to exist will be those that, as Stark notes, are led by clergy who are “generally evangelical in their convictions.”
Anyway, back to the interview. With Stark, I can’t ever stick to just one excerpt so here are a few more quotable passages:
In the Fall of 2010, for the first time ever, First Things will release its own college rankings and guide. As many of you will know from experience, picking the right college is a difficult and trying process, especially for parents and students concerned not only with academic quality but with spiritual and religious formation.
Among the many college guides and rankings, none offers students and parents adequate insight into how schools stack up in relation to matters of faith, religious practice, religious and political bias in the classroom, support for religious groups, and the relations of faith to the actual currents in contemporary student life. Most of them touch on religion, but not at the depth religiously committed parents and students need.
In preparing this issue, First Things has been conducting ground-breaking research, and now we’re asking our readers for your insights. The Students of Faith Survey, for current students and recent graduates, will help us polish our research on the religious currents in academia today.
If you’re a member of the classes of 2010 to 2013, please fill out the form. If not, please send the link to to your college age children, acquaintances, recent grads, and children of your friends. If you are a college minister, chaplain, or have any organizational relation to college students and recent graduates, we’d be grateful if you would pass this message on to them and encourage them to participate. If you have a website, we’d be grateful if you’d post the link and encourage your readers to fill out the survey.
The more responses we get, and the wider the diversity of students and schools represented, the more helpful will be the information we can provide. Help us learn about what it is really like in academia for students of faith, so that we can help future classes of college students work through one of the most important decisions in their lives.
A recent study supports an interesting approach to curbing alcohol consumption: regular prayer. In surveys, people who reported praying more often also reported less alcohol consumption and fewer alcohol-related problems, and more prayer was associated with less consumption and fewer problems over the next several months. Of course, people who pray a lot may be less prone to drink anyway, so the researchers randomly assigned people to regular prayer or nonprayer tasks and then asked them to report their alcohol consumption after four weeks. Those who were assigned to pray drank significantly less than those who weren’t.
Several years ago the Washington Post stirred up controversy for describing evangelicals as “poor, undereducated and easily led.” It’s not that they didn’t believe it to be true, they just knew they shouldn’t have got caught saying it in public.
I suspect Nicole Allan, a staff editor at TheAtlantic.com, may soon feel the same about this sentence:
People are sometimes caught off guard by Huckabee’s intellectual competence because of his rural Arkansas habits (he and his wife lived in a trailer while the governor’s mansion was being renovated) and his outspoken evangelical views.
People are sometimes caught off guard by the intellectual incompetence of clueless urban journalists who write about subjects they know nothing about (like Southerners or evangelicals). But it rarely surprises me anymore. I’ve been around enough of them to know that it’s usually not malice, but rather an honest ignorance of the world outside their narrow circles, that leads them to make such dumb remarks.
This is an example of the problem with elitism in America—particularly in the elite media. The issue isn’t with elitism as a concept (like most good conservatives, I’m in favor of elitism) but with the quality of what passes for elite in this country. If you have a degree from Yale (like Allan) you can usually finagle your way into a job with a premier media outlet (like The Atlantic) despite having neither a working knowledge of religion (especially popular religious views) nor the ability to apply basic logic.
For instance, I’m not sure what “rural Arkansas habits” have to do with “intellectual competence”—and I suspect Allan doesn’t have a clue what the connection is either. (Does living in a trailer lower your IQ?) But the fact that she feels comfortable expressing such a bizarre sentiment is symptomatic of a culture that promotes incompetent thinkers because they aquired all the right “elite “credentials.
(Via Frank Lockwood, a journalist who somehow managed to graduate from Harvard despite being an evangelical from Arkansas.)
[Note: Cross-posted from the First Thoughts blog.]
“Why do evangelicals love the Jews?”
For years I’ve seen that question asked—albeit almost always indirectly—in various forms. Sometimes it comes from Christians who are skeptical of Zionism; other times from appreciative but suspicious Jews. The underlying subtext, though, is almost always the same: There must be something suspicious about the peculiar attachment.
I think I know the answer to the question. I’ve spent thirty-five years—since the age of six—as an evangelical. I’ve attended hundreds of churches and engaged thousands of my fellow evangelicals. While I’m not qualified to provide a theological explanation, I do believe my experiences can help shed light on the subject from a sociological perspective.
Too often such question are only asked of the intellectual elites while the “view from the pews” is overlooked. The perspective of the common evangelical may not be as sophisticated as that of a seminary professor, but it is important for Jewish-Evangelical relations that it be properly understood.
A lot of publications brag about having intelligent, engaged readers. But few magazines have anything comparable to ROFTERS—“Readers Of First Things” who convene across the U.S., Canada, Spain, U.K., and New Zealand to discuss the magazine’s features. Our readership truly is unique and has been a key component of the magazine’s illustrious twenty-year history.
But we’ve also been blessed to have readers who continue to support the magazine financially. While other journals are in decline—or have already folded—we are able to continue to grow and improve the quality of the magazine and the website because of your help. This week we’re asking you to continue that support by making a donation to First Things.
And as a way to say thank you for your patronage—both of the the magazine and of this blog—we’re offering our blog readers a special subscription rate. For a (very) limited time you can get a year’s subscription to the print magazine and access to our online archives for only $19.95. This offer is only good for a few days so act now by going to this link and entering the promo code “evangel.”
Like Cowen’s, mine is a “gut list” rather than the “I’ve thought about this for a long time list.” I also chose to leave out the Bible and other classic works that are a bit too obvious in order to save room for less well-known selections.
Because I couldn’t narrow it to ten, I cheated by listing ten pairs of books: