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The State of Evangelical Scholarship

Good, but not good enough.

Joel Carpenter’s excellent summary of the history and state of evangelical scholarship is both encouraging and sad (“Reawakening Evangelical Intellectual Life,” Christian Scholar’s Review, LI.2, Winter 2022). His own career threads through this period, which began in the late 1940s and 1950s as an effort to repudiate fundamentalism and recover a truly Christian world-and-life-view.

Carpenter recounts the efforts of leading evangelical thinkers to revitalize intellectual life through publishing, reforming Christian higher education, founding institutes and scholarly programs, and branching out into the larger secular intellectual world. In many ways, the effort has achieved surprising results. At the same time, it suffers from being too much affected by the temper of the times, especially in its catering more to practical and professional knowledge than to the liberal arts. Still, the list of thinkers, institutes, universities, and publications Christian created by Christian intellectuals is impressive and encouraging.

The effort, moreover, has not trickled down to the mass of evangelicals in the churches, who are drifting into various corrupt forms of faith such as a revived fundamentalism, religious nationalism, and merely personalized faith. The vast majority of evangelical believers have not benefited from the work of Christian intellectuals. Doubtless, the fault lies on both sides. Intellectuals have not made reaching into the pews a priority, and pew-sitters have not made careful and expansive thinking an important discipline for following Jesus.

This is another example of the way believers in the evangelical world, because of our failure to pursue true unity and to preach and practice making disciples, are failing in our calling as salt, light, and leaven to the world. While there is much to impress and be encouraged by – as there is among the churches and evangelical rank and file – none of it seems to be making much of a Kingdom impact in our world.

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