Evangelical Disenchantment

Started a new book I just picked up: Evangelical Disenchantment: A Portrait of Faith and Doubt by David Hempton. A series of short biographical studies of late 19th/early 20th century un-converts to various types of evangelicalism, the book seeks to increase understanding of the movement by looking at those who first embraced and then turned away from evangelicalism. Those examined include George Eliot, Frances Newman (brother of John Henry), Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Vincent Van Gogh and James Baldwin. The subjects were chosen for their clear discussion of the factors contributing to their development in this area and for light they might shed on other related issues (e.g., gender, race). The introduction provides a good description of several different ways to define/explain evangelicalism (a perennial problem), including Bebbington, Marsden and Ward.

Perhaps of most interest is the discussion of these figures as representative of a larger “leakage” from the movement. Though evangelicalism has recruited converts faster than t has lost through deconversion (at least so the statistics say!), many high profile figures (and in other cases, their children) have abandoned the faith, which ought to raise concern. Hempton interestingly does not include scientists, because scientists have been more successful at integrating their faith with their vocation:

For all the well-known and oft debated problems associated with reconciling faith and science, the ability to reconcile artistic creativity with Christian orthodoxy has proved to b e a much bigger stumbling block for the evangelical tradition. Part fo the reason for that lies in the long-standing evangelical distrusts of the evils of fiction, theatrer, and the visual arts, or indeed anything to do with those strictly imaginative pursuits that emphasize passion over piety.

A persistent issue that has repeatedly shown up in my reading over the past year. One more issue is highlighted, the anti-intellectual:

Its instinct was from the first against intelligence. No text found more favor with it than ‘Not may wise, not may learned.’ A tradition built on the absolute authority of the Bible and, as time went on , on propositional statements of faith has apparently left little creative space for intellectual pursuits or the unfettered imagination.


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