The evangelical underground


This is what “tolerance” looks like:

“Colleges and Evangelicals Collide on Bias Policy” (Michael Paulson, New York Times, June 9, 2014)

Well, when truth claims are reduced to culturally-conditioned “norms,” which are then reduced to power plays and “rituals of truth” (Foucault) — then we really shouldn’t be surprised when postmodern liberalism is consistent. It is not about reason, much less tolerance in any meaningful sense. It’s about reconstituting, as they would say, the cultural conditions from which “truth” arrives in human consciousness and receives its legitimacy. Power is all that really matters.

With the massive 23-campus Cal State pursuing the same course of action, in addition to half a dozen other colleges where evangelical associations have lost their official status, it looks like an “evangelical underground” is emerging in our secular academies. On the upside, a little discomfort and loss of privilege will probably do us some good.


Image: Bowdoin College, Hubbard Hall, Spring 2012



  1. In this instance Nietzsche’s ‘will-to-power’ might be the fabric that the idea of power is made from. That and the correlating “ism’s” tailing in “free” fall, without critique or self-restraint not to far behind. The ‘dreamy’ optimism – (even in the face of empirical evidence) and the agenda driven deconstructionism (or continued militant disempowering) of Christianity in the West is alarming – Given the parallels: begin the rise of a new Confessing Church?

    • If I were to trace the genealogy, Nietzsche is surely a major transitional figure — but I would especially target Hegel’s attempt to collapse metaphysics into history, which logically followed into Feuerbach’s anthropology of religion. Only then could Nietzsche make sense, and then his disciples in the 20th century: Sartre and Foucault.

      The oldline Protestant churches accept this genealogy as both wise and necessary, which is to say that they are basically worthless. The “dreamy optimism” is especially apt, given the cultural nihilism of Europe and unwillingness to confront their own suicide. Yes, a “confessing church” moment is needed, and hopefully it can foster greater unity among the unnecessary divisions in the church. The decision at Bowdoin is a good way to piss off evangelicals and foster unity! Unfortunately, this is exactly the sort of thing that neo-fundamentalists will use to sow seeds of division and sectarianism.

  2. On the upside, a little discomfort and loss of privilege will probably do us some good.

    I agree. As long as the response isn’t whinging (no discourse of persecution, please). Just get on with witness, speaking truth (and sense) to this rather pitiful power.

    Unfortunately, this is exactly the sort of thing that neo-fundamentalists will use to sow seeds of division and sectarianism.

    Which, I’m afraid, is precisely why the idea of a convocation of “evangelicals” forming a “confessing church” and issuing some kind of Barmen Declaration is quite risible. There too, ironically, ecclesially, it would become evident – and theologically embarrassing, even shameful (e.g., an anti-LGBTQ clause) – that Power is all that really matters.

    • Yes, attempting to reconfigure the power relations for one’s own benefit is the easy and tempting thing to do. It is to play the same PoMo game, which is why I have balked at how “worldview” is utilized by many evangelicals today.

  3. Doing and saying nothing diminishes witness and will inevitably create a power vacuum that sees the ‘Commonwealth of Christ’ (Church) unnecessarily submit to an authority over against the Word in Scripture: a surrender of theology to ideology such as the ‘philosophical absolutes’ that seek to ‘master the text instead of allowing the text to master us’, things which Barth, from his own context at the time, warns us of in CD.1.2:732-735. (In our contemporary context these may exist in the push to promote the blurred distinctions that say tolerance = true love; disagreement = hate).

    If God, in Jesus Christ chooses to confront the world in a loving and truthful way, through our broken witness, than it is God’s power that speaks, not our own. Certainly, the temptation to claim that power for ourselves is always real and we need to be on guard against it.

    However, how we handle such power is a matter that can measured well enough through community. In other words through: scripture, exegesis, dialogue, humility, tradition, accountability, responsible care and confession, all under the ‘freedom of the Word of God’.

    As Barth wrote: we must allow the bible to speak, ‘we cannot lay down impatient conditions or ultimata in this respect. We cannot boast about a present-day point of view which the bible must take into account and correspond to under all circumstances'(ibid, 738).

    Patience is part of good and honest dialogue. As Paul wrote that is also part of loving truthfully (1Cor.13 for example). At the same time love speaks truth in that it does not remain silent. For if we ignore patient correction (loving rebuke), do we not delight in wrong, or worse becomes its accomplice – the very definition of an abusive ”loving enabler”? That is why we should listen and wrestle for ”our own right” to be heard in the public (socio-political) forum. We have a summons to proclaim God’s “Yes in the light of God’s No”.

    Authentic Christians, who act in word, deed and attitude, may just be the last great line of defence against a decaying world hell-bent on destruction. Saying “no” is an exercise of empowerment and freedom, not necessarily an abuse of power.

    • Yes, and it seems that the earthly powers provide the conditions for legitimacy that the church desires, not unlike the theologian who frames his or her dogmatics upon an apologetic apparatus.

  4. This whole thing is so ridiculous that I might think it was an Onion story if I didn’t know better. “Bigoted Christian group wants its leaders to be Christians” sounds like a headline they might do.

  5. One other thing was pointed out to me. In the article you reference it is stated:
    “Around the country, a number of colleges and universities are *asking* all student groups to agree they won’t discriminate, on any basis, in the selection of their members or leaders. Evangelical groups are balking, saying they have to be able to *demand* Christian faith of their leaders.” [Emphasis mine.]

    The universities are not *asking*. This is a subtle word manipulation.

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