Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Molly Worthen on Why American Evangelicals love the British

HT Reformed Anglicanism


Nice to know I'm not the only person who noticed a curious habit among American Calvinist sorts who, nevertheless, love reading Chesterton and quoting him approvingly despite his Catholicism and his bluntly stated  view that Calvinism was a nasty heresy.  Stott has, to be sure, written some stuff I've found interesting and useful so I get the appeal but Christopher Hitchens would have continued to say, were he alive, that the appeal of a Chesterton to American evangelical Calvinists would be his arch-reactionary politics and doctrinaire disdain for things progressive and modern.  I suppose so.

There are, Worthen notes, a couple of ways American evangelicals can like the Brits and she quotes from a former assistant to John R. W. Stott about how some people in American evangelicalism like British theologians because it may confer a halo of broad-mindedness that can mask what is ultimately a provincial approach to the life of the mind and thought about theology.

In the year after John Stott's death he can be appreciated for being a theological conservative American evangelicals left and right can look to who didn't anchor his ideas or life's work to specific political campaigns, which seems all but inevitable in American Christianity.  As Mark Noll put it about twenty years ago in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, American evangelicals tend to want to bottom line into practical causes and crusades and not think too much about first principles and concepts so much.

For those who might only have come across the name Molly Worthen for her article "Who Would Jesus Smack Down?" this is a fun article you should read.  Worthen was for a time considered to not be that fair or informed about Calvinism.  I probably had that impression myself and if so I retract that if I bought into that.  I've read enough of her other work that I get the usefulness of a pointed polemic.  After all, if a preacher like Driscoll gets to be defended for making sharp and historically simplified observations a lecturer and published author should get the same lattitude, eh?

It's an interesting read and Worthen makes quite a few interesting observations about Anglophile American evangelicals and about John R. W. Stott.

1 comment:

Chris Krycho said...

To be fair to the Calvinists who love Chesterton: he didn't convert to Catholicism until after many of the books we all enjoy were written; he wrote Orthodoxy, for example, almost a decade and a half earlier.

Then, too: this generation of Calvinists has never had any qualms about appropriating materials from the best of the Anglican and Catholic traditions. Perhaps because of Piper's mediating influence for most of the YRRs, non-Reformed writers like Lewis and Pascal are de rigeur; the YRRs may disagree with a number of their conclusions, but, following Piper, they're happy to take the good along the way. Toss in a general evangelical appreciation for Stott and Packer, and away you go...

Part of it may be, too, that along with the relatively lower partisanship Worthen notes, the British evangelicals seem to have been much less enamored of the pragmatism that has come to characterize (especially megachurch) evangelicalism in the US. Wherever they stand on the theological spectrum, all the British authors Americans like to read clearly see doctrine as important, and their writings we've received into our "canon" all fit that mold rather than the more typical (and frankly schlocky) un-doctrinal self-help manuals dressed up in Christian verbiage that have characterized much of the American evangelical press for the last few decades. With that as background, doctrinally serious and intellectually engaged (and engaging) writers suddenly look much more appealing than they would if the American market were filled with the same quality of actual thought.