Trueman On The Failure Of The Evangelical Elite To Understand The Cultured Despisers Of Religion Are Despisers Of Religion

There are times in history when Christianity feels its place in society coming under threat. As it finds itself pushed to the margins, two temptations emerge. The first is an angry sense of entitlement, an impulse to denounce the entire world and withdraw into cultural isolation. In the early twentieth century, American Fundamentalism offered a good example of this tendency, renouncing public engagement and defining itself against alcohol, evolution, the ­movies—characteristic productions of the society by which it felt attacked. Arguably, we see something of the same thing today in evangelical support for Donald Trump, though in this case populist Protestantism is contending for ­America’s future rather than retreating from its present. I dare say readers of The Christian Century wish that truculent evangelicals would take the Benedict ­Option.

The second tendency is more subtle and more seductive. While appearing to be valiant for truth, it conforms Christianity to the spirit of the age. If fundamentalist fist-shaking is the temptation of the ragamuffin masses, accommodation appeals to those who seek a seat at the table among society’s elite. And these elite aspirants often blame the masses when their invitation to high table fails to materialize.

Over the last few years, America has witnessed plenty of both tendencies. We’ve seen the anger of the evangelicals who think the country is being stolen from them, and we’ve detected the condescension of those who blame their less urbane coreligionists for the woes of the Church and the nation. Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is nothing new under the sun. As often as Christianity has had its cultured despisers, it has had adherents who respond by warring against the age or by making entreaties to the despisers—often reinterpreting the anti-Christian sentiments of the moment as fulfillments of the true faith.

…My students have an accurate view of reality. Today’s cultured despisers of Christianity do not find its teachings to be intellectually implausible; they regard them as morally reprehensible. And that was always at least partially the case. This was the point missed by Noll and Marsden—though it may not have been as obvious at Wheaton College or the University of Notre Dame in the nineties as it is almost everywhere in higher education today. Our postmodern world sees all claims to truth as bids for power, all stable categories as manipulative—and the task of the academy is to catechize students into this orthodoxy. By definition, such a world rejects any notion that scholarly canons, assumptions, and methods can be separated from moral convictions and outcomes. Failure to conform to new orthodoxies on race, morality, sexual orientation, and gender identity is the main reason orthodox Christianity is despised today. These postmodern tenets rest upon cultural theories that cannot accommodate Christianity, precisely because they underwrite today’s academic refusal to discuss and weigh alternative claims. To oppose critical race theory or gender theory is to adopt a moral position that the culture’s panjandrums regard from the outset as immoral. The slightest hint of opposition disqualifies one from admission to polite society. Read more»

Carl R. Trueman | “The Failure of Evangelical Elites” | First Things | November 2021


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  1. Thanks for this post and link. It helps explain what Godrey’s lecture is likely to be about tomorrow.

  2. Thank you. The linked article helped me understand from where our times flow and what has occurred in recent years. Better yet, it points to what Christians can expect in coming years. I am once again reminded that seeking to influence the culture by compromising our doctrine is foolish, and hurtful to the church.

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