Saturday, December 29, 2007

Is it Possible? Evangelicals gather to Brainstorm

This Boston Globe article ( caught my attention since it uses the term "evangelical intelligentsia." From my experience with evangelicals and certainly when the anti-science position of the creationist Christianists is reviewed, the term "evangelical" and "intelligentsia" seems mutually exclusive. How much influence the group described in this article will come to possess remains to be seen. It would certainly be nice to have some level of intelligence come into sway since so far the trend seems to be in the opposite direction. By most standards, evangelicals seem to be seeking to dumb down education and science through their demands that "intelligent design" or some other form of creationism be taught in the public schools and their refusals to accept advances in medical and mental health research that indicate that sexual orientation is not a choice. Here are some story highlights:
Peter Berger concedes that the term "evangelical intelligentsia" will sound oxymoronic to many. And since the esteemed Boston University sociologist is a self-described "theologically very liberal Lutheran," you would be within your rights to expect that he dismisses all evangelicals as yahoos. You would also be wrong.
Spurred by scattered contacts with evangelical scholars, he has launched a two-year research project on the "Emerging Evangelical Intelligentsia," recruiting Timothy Shah, a Washington foreign policy maven and evangelical, as principal researcher. The second weekend in December, evangelicals from across the country and various academic disciplines - law, history, philosophy - flocked to BU's law school for a conference kicking off the project.
While fundamentalist theology was first constructed by Princeton Theological Seminary professors - "They were not ditch-diggers," noted Berger - today, biblical literalism is disdained by evangelical intellectuals, he said, because "no person with any degree of education can believe that." The rise of fundamentalism as a rejection of evolution and other modern ideas at the turn of the 20th century sent evangelicals careering away from intellectualism, according to Shah. The exemplar in his view was the wildly popular preacher Billy Sunday, "notorious for his hostility to learning and scholarship."
If fundamentalism is not part of the new intellectuals' theology, what is? The BU researchers spot several essential beliefs: the Bible as God's word and the sole authority for Christian belief; Jesus' redemptive death on the cross and the need for a personal relationship with him; public witnessing to one's faith; and a generally conservative moral code. In other areas, Shah sees a diversity in the intellectuals' thinking similar to other Americans. They differ, for example, over whether non-Christians can make it to heaven. "What unifies the class is their intellectual seriousness, not the content of their theology," he said by phone.

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