“Evangelicals” Despising Evangelicals

In an Op-Ed for today’s New York Times, Karl Giberson and Randall Stephens complain about anti-intellectualism among evangelicals. They cite as a case in point the GOP primary field, some of whom reject evolution and that climate change is real and caused by humans. For Giberson and Stephens, these two items constitute prima facie evidence that evangelicals have checked their brains at the door. They go on to criticize Jim Dobson, Ken Hamm, and David Barton as if these three were the keepers of the entire evangelical intellectual tradition. I mean no disrespect to these three men. But if Giberson and Stephens think that these three represent the “evangelical mind,” they are sadly mistaken.

Giberson and Stephens write as evangelicals to evangelicals—only this is not your father’s evangelicalism. The conclusion of the article tells you almost everything you need to know about the authors’ vision of evangelical faith when they claim that “the Bible does not condemn evolution and says next to nothing about gay marriage.” They say this without the slightest bit of irony at all. They seem genuinely unaware of the enormous revision of Christianity embodied in that single statement. Nevertheless, they are putting themselves forward as spokesmen for evangelicalism. Affirming gay marriage and evolution may sound like evangelicalism to the editors of The New York Times, but I doubt that very many evangelicals would agree.

But that is not the only irony of this piece. While accusing evangelicals of an anti-intellectual disengagement from the world of ideas, Giberson and Stephens fail to engage a single evangelical argument in favor of the Christian worldview. They simply assume a priori that Christian revelation has to bend and accommodate every wind of secularism blowing against it from the academy. This may be a good way to ingratiate oneself to the cultured despisers of religion (though I doubt it), but it is a horrible way to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). But contending for the faith doesn’t really seem to be a priority for Giberson and Stephens.

This is a bad article and is devoid of any serious engagement with those it wishes to critique. It has more name-calling and straw-manning than reason and argument. I am sure Giberson and Stephens think that they are helping the “evangelical” cause by writing an article like this one. I would argue, however, that the intellectual trajectory they have set will eventually undermine the evangel altogether.


  • Stan McCullars

    Nice response to the article.

    What I got out of their article was if you disagree with the authors’ take (or assault) on Scripture you must be against reason.

    I suppose we should be grateful that they were kind enough to confess, by way of denying the clear teaching of the Bible, their way out of evangelicalism.

  • Dan Phillips

    Mohler will be interesting, but I don’t know he can do better than: “This is a bad article and is devoid of any serious engagement with those it wishes to critique. It has more name-calling and straw-manning than reason and argument.” Because that’s pretty much it. It’s like a pastiche of juvenile cut-n-paste snipes.

    What I’d say is it shows what happens when you think you’re a Christian even though the Gospel has never “tilted your world.” As I argue and show at length, real conversion must be the result of a decisive clash of warring worldviews. I don’t see any sign of that having happened in this sad tirade.

  • Christiane

    Denny, perhaps those authors fear that the public will assume that all evangelical Christian people are lock-step on the issues of climate-control and scientific theories of evolution.

    I am glad that the candidates have not hid their viewpoints . . . it is important that the public understand their beliefs and how those beliefs will affect their governance before voting takes place.

    But there are many evangelicals who are not strictly fundamentalists in the tradition of some of these candidates. I think the authors want to ‘distance’ themselves and those evangelicals who are not fundamentalists from the candidates’ form of evangelical belief.

  • Paula

    I thought these postmodern types were the ones complaining that evangelicalism had become too political and Christians should just focus on Jesus and love…or something.

    Or is that only when they disagree with the political views being espoused?

  • yankeegospelgirl

    “Americans have always trusted in God, and even today atheism is little more than a quiet voice on the margins.”

    AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHEHEHEHEHEHA, HO, AH, OHHHH. Ohhhh… And I thought MY jokes were bad.

  • Henry

    it is a horrible way to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).

    Yes, but it makes for an excellent enactment of many parts of Jude 4-16.

    “Leave them alone, they are blind guides”. Matt 15:14

  • Ben Klar

    Thanks so much for your prompt response. I read the NYTimes Op-Ed almost as soon as it appeared online and I was frustrated beyond words at the assumptions and assertions of the authors. I can’t imagine what they think constitutes an evangelical; the term seems to be a sort of blob that flexes and grows to fit whatever they stuff inside it. I was shocked to see someone so proud of the name evangelical that they would “defend” it by denying the authority of Scripture.

    I was also saddened by the ease with which these authors used the “fundamentalism” swearword as a brushstroke to paint all who might believe conservatively. In this day and age whenever I hear a so-called “evangelical” contrast himself with a fundamentalist I immediately suspect that that person is evangelical in name only. In spite of its (oft-publicized) weaknesses, Fundamentalism’s stand against liberalism is to be commended rather than maligned. These “evangelicals” have much to learn from their theological forefathers, namely the fundamentals.

    • yankeegospelgirl

      I take it as a compliment whenever somebody calls me a “fundamentalist.” Why just the other day somebody told me that I “took right-winger to a whole new level.” It was a wonderful boost.

  • Barry Applewhite

    Perhaps you might have overlooked their statement about their brand of evangelicalism: “Like other evangelicals, we accept the centrality of faith in Jesus Christ and look to the Bible as our sacred book, though we find it hard to recognize our religious tradition in the mainstream evangelical conversation.” Seems like objectivity would have led you to include that, but it apparently did not fit your purpose.

    Are you miffed because they didn’t name Albert Mohler as a kingpin of contemporary evangelicalism? The authors seem to have focused on men who have lots of grassroots followers, rather than people in academia.

    I didn’t find their analysis persuasive, and your analysis of it is on about the same level.


    • Stan McCullars

      Their statement is meaningless. They want to consider themsevles “evangelical” but disregard the Bible’s authority.

      There are a lot of labels, other than “evangelical”, that would apply to them.

      To be considered an “evangelical” one must have a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority (per the NAE website). The authors clearly do not hold to the Bible as the ultimate authority as they clearly prefer a “scientific” imprimatur.

      Fortunately, we can’t all redefine terms as we see fit.

    • Paula

      we accept the centrality of faith in Jesus Christ and look to the Bible as our sacred book,

      So they could be Mormons for all we know, right? That statement is about as trite and devoid of any real meaning as, “ask Jesus into your heart.” For people claiming to embrace and celebrate intellectualism, they certainly have a propensity for saying nothing with many words.

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