Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Is there an Evangelical in the House?

I've mentioned before that the shortcoming of studying at a predominantly Roman Catholic Institution (there are many benefits mind you) is that I am not as exposed to Evangelical Theology as I would like. In fact I really resonate with Stackhouse's chapter in Evangelical Landscapes - "Why Johnny can't produce Christian Scholarship". Case in point, I recently ordered three promising (from the descriptions) evangelical texts on political engagement only to be most disappointed by two - the rare thing was that I was not disappointed by the third as well. Actually I'm sure these would be fine texts for folks in the pews who do not want to think too hard about their faith, but I'm less inclined to think that what we need is more light fluffy books. Seriously - look at the world around us. God loves that world. So you would think we would too. But enough about that.

My director has given me the delightful task of finding an evangelical dialogue partner. I made a short list and have handed the task over to my director with my suggestions. I have a certain trepidation about such a relationship though - in my current setting I am the authority on evangelicalism, pentecostalism and things charismatic. I am quick to identify both the strengths and weaknesses I see in the groups I identify most strongly with. But how many of those insights are based simply on my own assumptions - I guess it is time to find out. If I can complain about evangelicals wanting it light and fluffy then I better be willing to ditch the fluffy assumptions I have as well.

Should be a very interesting thesis project.


Paul said...


Be specific. What were the three texts on political engagement? Which did you not feel disappointed with?

I could use some direction as a public policy analyst! I felt the same way about three Evangelically oriented texts on economics. At least you found one ...

One of Freedom said...

Hey Paul,

I looked at a number of texts that spoke about ecological issues from an evangelical viewpoint - but most of them do not do any sort of depth analysis of either the situation or (more importantly) the evangelical responses. The book that I have which promises to be very good is Alexander Venter's Doing Reconciliation. It is a South African text and the issue it approaches is racism.

As for great texts that you might find helpful - have you looked into Miroslav Volf? Exclusion and Embrace is excellent. He is from the Hope Theology tradition - via Jurgen Moltmann. Moltmann is really the whole reason I do political theology and not Biblical studies.

There is also the whole Ron Sider (ESA) and Jim Wallis (Sojourners) perspective. I really only know it peripherally thought. I was at an early Evangelicals for Social Action conference - but at the time I was a bit too fundamentalist to appreciate it. Looking back I regret a lost opportunity. Evangelicals are great at writing manifesto's but not so good at doing any sort of self-critique, and it is the self-critique that is really needed today. Carl Henry's "The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism is an early example of self-criticism from within a movement - but I'm not sure who remembers that work (outside of academics with the same concern).

I haven't found anything specifically on economics, but that is a really good area of concern. I find that evangelicals are crippled because of their narrow views of economics, in fact I think it even colours the way they practice their religion which makes it even harder to make any sort of critique of economics without also making a critique of evangelical practices as well. You know that there are some Catholic theologians doing work in this area. I just heard Jan Jans speak on the topic of greed, and his insights are excellent. He'd be worth checking out.

BTW I used to be an IT policy analyst, did a lot of work with the Federal government of Canada (DFAIT, HC, PWGSC, GOL) as well as the Bank of Canada. I really enjoyed it at times. Glad to have you drop by my blog.

Paul said...

Thanks for the long reply Frank.

byron smith said...

Hey, I've only just come across this post. It may be way too late to suggest someone, but my own supervisor (Oliver O'Donovan) is often considered to be one of the evangelical heavyweights on political theology.

One of Freedom said...


I have read most of Desire of the Nations, but I must admit I don't really get O'Donovan. I think I'm getting it a bit more as I read about the differences between his project and that of the Communitarians. But still I didn't find I could find the PIN code to understand what he was doing. Part of the problem was that I read him in the midst of a burnt out season, I'm sure I'll revisit him when I get past my comps.

byron smith said...

Yes, I totally understand. 'Accessible' isn't one of the first words that springs to mind regarding O'D, though he's worth persevering with (well, from my perspective, he's worth switching hemispheres for...). Make sure you get to the final couple of chapters of DotN (including his discussion of Christendom), and then Ways of Judgement fills out more of the detail of what it actually means for contemporary politics.