I have always been amazed at the infatuation of so many orthodox academics with their reputation in the secular universities and liberal departments. A few years back, I edited a book with Paul Helm on the doctrine of scripture. At the time I was on faculty at the University of Aberdeen. One colleague -- a friend but one of distinctly liberal leanings -- referred matter-of-factly in a public lecture to the upcoming book as representing the tradition of Warfield, of which he himself did not approve; but the comment was not a sneer; rather it was a simple statement of his impression of the book. Within a couple of days I received an email from one of the contributors, asking if this was the case and saying that, if so, he wanted to withdraw from participation. Now, it was not actually the case: the book addressed the issue of scripture from a different direction to the concerns of Warfield; but what puzzled me -- no, what disappointed me, for I understood exactly what was going on -- was that this person was so terrified of being associated with Warfield. I wonder to this day if he would have been so concerned if he had been invited to contribute to a collection of essays that someone said pointed in a Barthian or Bultmannian direction. Probably not -- because those options would not be so embarrassing to mention to friends at cocktail parties in the Senior Common Room or at the next meeting of the Society for Biblical Literature.Read the whole thing--which is not actually only about evangelicals and the academy, but centered around a disastrous church service and the implications this has for us all.
Now I worked in secular universities long enough to know that liberal colleagues are bright enough to spot a conservative at five hundred feet. Just because you avoid contributing to certain volumes or using certain words, or because you choose to laugh when certain people to the right of you are mocked, does not win you respect from the secular academy. It is a sad fact but, as far as biblical studies and theology go, only giving up all that is distinctive about the Christian faith will ultimately do that for you. The individual to whom I referred above no doubt liked to think he was taken seriously by mainstream colleagues, but I sat as a junior faculty in enough coffee room discussions to know the real thoughts of liberal colleagues about conservatives who try to fly under the radar. They despise them for their theology; and they despise them for the fact they try to hide or minimize it. A double whammy. Given the choice - and there is always a choice -- I'd rather just be despised for being a brazen conservative with looney theology, than a duplicitous conservative with looney theology. That way one can still be of use to the church and still look in the mirror with some degree of self-respect.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Desperately Seeking Respectability: Evangelicals and the Academy
From Carl Trueman's latest essay: