I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Another busy week: Here are some ILYBYGTH-themed stories that came across our desk recently:

Can a creationist parent successfully sue a school district for teaching evolution? Not in PA, at NCSE.


Words, words, words…

Are international students a higher-ed security threat? FBI director says yes, at IHE.

Conservative college professor to conservative UCLA students: Don’t invite Milo, at WS.

“Any reasonable person will agree…” At HXA, Musa Al-Gharbi points out that reasonable people are actually better at disagreeing, with three suggestions for better cross-culture-war communication.

How Protestantism shaped the modern world: An interview with Alec Ryrie at R&P.

Was this the most gruesome battle in human history?

RIP Billy Graham, at CNN.

What’s wrong with Black History Month? At The Progressive.

School shootings:

Ted Cruz: The Democrats are the party of Lisa Simpson. GOP is for Homer, Marge, Bart, and Maggie. At USA Today, HT: BM.

What’s wrong with standardizing student assessment at colleges? Molly Worthen tees off at NYT.Bart reading bible

West Virginia teachers go on strike, at CNN.

How Liberalism Failed: Albert Mohler interviews Patrick Deneen.

Conservatives need to confront campus radicalism, by Noah Rothman at Commentary.

Required Reading: Assemblies of God on Faith/Science

Can Pentecostals embrace science?  Can they find a way to love both God and Gould?

For those of us trying to understand the conservative vision of education from the outside, the newest edition of the Assemblies of God’s Enrichment Journal is a treasure trove.  This edition offers a series of articles for the denomination’s readers about the proper relationship between faith and science.  As General Superintendent George O. Wood explains, the dangers for young people in the church are stark.  He quotes “Mike,” who declared, “I knew from church that I couldn’t believe in both science and God, so that was it.  I didn’t believe in God anymore.”  Wood hopes that this volume will help Assemblies of God members negotiate a more profound and religious relationship between science and faith.

For those unaware of the distinctions among conservative Bible-based Protestant groups, the Assemblies of God, very briefly, is the largest denomination of Pentecostal believers, claiming 65 million members worldwide.  Pentecostalism, also very briefly, is a form of conservative evangelical Protestant belief that came into existence in the early 20th century.  It combines conservative Bible-based theology with an emphasis on baptism by the Holy Spirit.  Pentecostal services are typically vibrant, dramatic events that can include speaking in tongues and divine healing.  As historian Grant Wacker argued in Heaven Below (2001), the attraction of early Pentecostal churches derived from their combination of a powerful “primitivist” theology with a comfortable cultural “pragmatism.”

In an opening piece, Amos Yong of Regent University encourages Pentecostal readers to “work to overcome the history and culture of anti-intellectualism that persists in some segments of the Pentecostal church.”

Perhaps the most interesting section of this issue for those of us outside the conservative tradition is its forum on the variety of evangelical positions for the age of the earth.  Kurt P. Wise makes the case for a young earth, Hugh Ross for six long ages, and Davis A. Young for an old earth.

With each article, we see the very different intellectual playing field for evangelical intellectuals.  Among mainstream scientists, the first question is usually whether any new approach offers better insight into the natural world.  Among evangelical thinkers, the first question is whether any scientific approach offers better insight into the natural world while allowing Christians to maintain an authentic faith.

As Kurt Wise argues in his pitch for a young earth, “believers” enjoy a more promising guide to the natural world.  Wise insists, “We should look at the eyewitness account from God before we begin inferring the meaning of circumstantial evidence.”

Everyone interested in the creation/evolution debate will be well served by reading through these articles.  Some of the most fervent young-earth creationists such as Answers in Genesis’ Ken Ham have condemned such forums.  Any consideration of an old earth, Ham blasted in a blog post, results in a “dogmatic, intolerant stand against those who take the position we do at AiG.”

But for those of us outside of evangelical circles, an understanding of both the different evangelical views of science and the ways evangelicals construct their scientific arguments will go a long way to decoding the stubborn controversy over evolution and creationism.


Berger on the Pentecostal Elephant in the Room

Peter Berger at American Interest has offered this week a helpful reminder about the importance of understanding Pentecostalism.  Berger’s article reminds us of a few looming intellectual traps that anyone hoping to understand Fundamentalist America must avoid.  The first is that conservative religion in America is some sort of monolith.  Far from it.  The first generation of Protestant fundamentalists that I’ve studied vehemently disputed the legitimacy of the Pentecostal style.  One typical fundamentalist writer in the early 1920s dismissed Pentecostalism as a kind of “hysterical fanaticism,” arguing that “Disorderly confusion in the assembly is not of God.”   Another agreed: “Usually people carried away by this movement are of a nervous, mystical, hysterical temperament, such as are considered a bit queer.”

Historian Grant Wacker has called this division the “Travail of a Broken Family.”  As Berger notes, even among the Pentecostal tradition there are a variety of sub-traditions.  As a generalization, though, Pentecostals emphasize an immediate connection with, and a baptism by, the Holy Spirit.  Pentecostal worship can be characterized by distinctive physical manifestations among worshippers, including “jerking,” laughing, or glossolalia (“speaking in tongues”).  The faith has also long been known for its emphasis on divine healing.  But beyond those headline-grabbing outward signs, Pentecostal faiths are also focused on a very “fundamentalist” reading of the Bible.  And although Pentecostals can be less noticably political than their evangelical cousins, they often have equally conservative political and cultural beliefs.

Berger’s article also reminds us of the danger of dismissing any intellectual tradition much different from our own.  As Berger notes,

I think that even today the notion of Pentecostal scholarship, especially if undertaken by scholars who are themselves Pentecostals, must strike many people as an oxymoron. Evangelicals in general are still widely regarded as backwoods provincials, like those described with contempt by H.L. Mencken in his reports on the 1925 “monkey trial” in Dayton, Tennessee—or, in the profoundly revealing 2008 comment by Barack Obama about folk in small towns (revealing, that is, about him, not about the people he was talking about): “They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them.” These stereotypes were never empirically correct, and now are grossly incorrect. What has been happening in recent decades is the emergence of an increasingly sophisticated Evangelical intelligentsia, some of it based in a network of Evangelical academic institutions, publishing houses and journals, some (more interesting) infiltrating secular elite academia. Pentecostals are still lagging behind other Evangelicals in this development, but they have started to move in the same direction in America and elsewhere.

I would add that another disturbing part of this tendency to ignore the intellectual aspect of Pentecostalism is its heavy load of racial and class prejudice.  In the United States, Pentecostal churches have long been popular among low-income folks from ethnic minorities, especially Latinos and African Americans.  If those of us outside of conservative religion dismiss all emotive, traditional worship as mere snake-handling, we risk misunderstanding the cultural experiences of huge numbers of people who don’t have a lot of money or a lot of cultural clout.  This is the sort of misunderstanding that fuels the bitterness of America’s culture wars.  When activists on each side wholly misunderstand one another, the amount of wiggle room for compromise and mutual respect vanishes.  Berger’s article reminds us of the importance of approaching different cultural traditions with a healthy dose of humility and open-mindedness.