It would seem we’re well on our way to starting a series here. The topic: Things We Already Know that Continue to Surprise Non-Evangelicals.

Two weeks ago I wrote about the notion that evangelicals don’t read books written by non-evangelicals, and last week I looked at yet another mega-church story put forth as representation of something new happening in evangelicalism. Yes. If by new they mean old.

This week I’m happy to announce a rather exciting event for New York City area evangelicals, a panel discussion put on by the literary magazine N+1 entitled “Evangelicalism and the Contemporary Intellectual.”

If I may leave the sarcasm behind for a moment, allow me to say that I am truly excited about this discussion. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking in recent months about the need for a unified front of evangelical intellectuals to appear on the scene and seriously and permanently alter the way that we are perceived by the outside world. I have a lot of theories as to what needs to happen to get us there, the least of which is not shaking the annoying habit of mistaking God’s revelation in Genesis for a biology lesson. We will emerge, I believe, though I tend to think the initial impact will be measured in the humanities, rather than the sciences.

So, that being said, we should all be very excited that N+1 has given attention to this important demographic and I bet you, like me, can’t wait to hear who among us they’ve chosen to represent the evangelical intellectual.

Go ahead, take a second and think of who you think is most worthy of this responsibility and who would best speak for you in the midst of secular scholars.

Got it? Good. Now dash it from your mind because he or she won’t be there. Rather, those of us who plan to be in attendance will be treated to the rare pleasure of hearing about ourselves from people who are not us.

The panel will be composed of Malcolm Gladwell, James Wood and Christine Smallwood.

Let me make this perfectly clear: I’m very much excited to hear these three people in conversation. Gladwell you may know as the author of The Tipping Point and Blink, and also from his work at The New Yorker.

James Wood, I have to say, is who I am most excited about. In recent years he has become a kind of intellectual hero to me. He is a literary scholar whose writing is brilliant and dense, but still accessible to the average reader. The topics he chooses are not always lofty-literary, but they are consistently interesting and his analytic ability and facility for prose are skills I aspire too. Also, by way of religo-cred, he’s the son of a minister.

Smallwood is the writer I know least about. She has been a literary editor for The Nation, written for several magazines and lives in New York. Really that’s all my preliminary googling turned up.

So, it's a great panel is it not? The conversation is guaranteed to be lively and you can believe I will be sitting in the first row, notebook in hand and genuinely excited. But I’ll also be disappointed. I’ll be unrepresented. I’ll be so full of comments and questions that if I make it out of the Tishman Auditorium without bursting I’ll be quite proud.

I don’t know the circumstance surrounding this event and its lack of evangelical input. Maybe they asked every one of those scholars you imagined should be there and each turned it down. What I’m most wary of though, why I may have come out swinging a little here, is that I fear that they put “evangelicalism” on the opposite side of the “and” from “contemporary intellectual” and intend to leave it there. That is, I’m afraid that the point of this conversation is that there’s no such thing as the evangelical intellectual, or even worse, that the evangelical is more like some kind of odd species that the contemporary intellectual should study with great interest.

But again, this is all speculation until the event on December 8. Expect some in-depth reaction on December 9 and in the weeks that follow. Though no evangelical intellectual was invited to participate, this may yet be our opportunity to prove that we are, indeed, here.

 
About The Author

Jonathan D. Fitzgerald

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0 Responses to N+1 Evangelical Panel Features No Evangelicals

  1. Chad says:

    Dear Jonathan,

    You’re right, of course, that there’s a sense in which none of the panelists are “evangelical intellectuals.” On the other hand, all three were raised in evangelical families, and so should bring a fair amount of nuance and understanding to the conversation. See you there!

  2. Mac says:

    Good points all..and a nice laugh in the middle where beer came out my nose. Could it be as simple a metaphor as music? Evangelical music ha some craft to it, but the dogma comes first and the idea of exploration is somewhat anathema. Then a band comes along that says “fuck that…we are musicians…it’s what we do. Our relationship with Jesus, as it is, informs and changes us as do all our relationships (I just had a fight with my girlfriend and I really wanna do an update of the Smith’s “Girlfriend in a Coma”.)
    Another more personal example. I am a writer, poet and novelist. I can et away with poetry that is somehow oddly evangelical (I mean my own hope is firmly placed there..so…) bu the novel I wrote thre eyears back no one will touch because peeopel swear and fuck and do all the stuff that realpeople do (ironically, the couple that has the best sex are married).
    But Thomas Nelson is not gonna pick that up…because people are note drawing within the lines (like life).
    I am an intellectual first, and artist second (my theology is better than my art). The only reason I am evangelical is the world is mean, death-dealing, tragic, harmful, racists, greedy and lost and as Merton says in a poem “lost in their own bad news”. Gospel is good news. A five year old can explain that.

  3. of course says:

    Mac, you are an intellectual first, an artist second, and apparently,,,, not a speller.

  4. It’s not surprising evangelicals weren’t invited. I wouldn’t invite them (unless it were J.I. Packer or N.T. Wright—does he count?). With Patrol feeling “post-evangelical” I really would like to know what that even means; or rather, what is the positive proposition established by Patrol? I think one of the best things Patrol did was to stop talking about CCM. By being anti-CCM, Patrol remained perpetually contingent on the existence of the very thing it sought to transcend. So, what is Patrol Magazine’s positive message?

    Post- is a lot like anti-… it’s a negative definition at best, and definition contingent on the perpetual existence of its enemy at worst. Anti-capitalism, just like post-evangelicalism, keeps alive the very thing it tries to destroy precisely by opposing it in a dialectic manner. Post- and anti- begin empty words. Instead of creating movements as P and ~P, we should respond to movement P with movement Q. The panel you describe seems to be unbalanced or (worse) dishonest. While a dialectical engagement between P and post- P is not optimal, it is possible that the panel above is a panel of movement Q discussing P in its own language rather than reducing itself to anti- P speech. That is the most charitable analysis of the panel described above. In the best possible light, it is part of a movement trying to stand on its own feet without being anti- P or pro- P

    Also, the comment above (“OF COURSE”) is an example of why you should have a zero-tolerance policy at Patrol.

  5. Fitz says:

    Stuart,

    Thanks for your comments. I don’t think I’m going to answer all your questions and concerns here, but I do want to take issue with one thing you said. That is the statement that “Post- is a lot like anti-”

    I disagree with this proposition and I think those who use this term, and who have used it effectively to describe things such as “post-modernism” would disagree.

    Post is not anti-, but, as the prefix suggests, after. And something that is after is not necessarily against what came before it; rather it takes into account its predecessor and builds on it. This is the actual meaning of post-.

    Interestingly, I think this is what you were getting at with your impressive but completely unnecessary logic equation. To be post-something is to be, as you cryptically put it, “Q”.

    We are Q.

  6. Jonathan,

    Yes. This is absolutely what I was getting at. I am (as is everyone born into this generation) postmodern. I just think there has to be something more. As Gianni Vatimo says in Art’s Claim to Truth, postmodernism is essentially a “linguistic revolution.” I think that saying “after” is not enough, just like saying “anti” is not enough. Saying what we are after does not say what we are. I’d agree with everything you said except for the need for a cohesive and directed and positive analysis of what we are rather than what we follow. “Postmodern” is a helpful (even excellent) historical label, but not much of an ideological or religious description. Post- is a rather hollow prefix in anything but a historical sense. I agree with you. We should be and are Q.

  7. Emily Asbenson says:

    But do we even necessarily know yet what Q is? Which period constitutes the modernist origin is a debated subject among historians and philosophers. Such movements are rarely clear-cut and are best described with some distance of years. We are still in the formative stages of whatever this era, this intellectual movement will become. The objective is not to find a category and to collect current ideas with which to fill it, but to explore and define our ideas and mores until they have a life and body of their own that begs a title.

  8. Jonathan says:

    Jonathan,

    Nice name. Sturdy and studly.

    “If I may leave the sarcasm behind for a moment, allow me to say that I am truly excited about this discussion. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking in recent months about the need for a unified front of evangelical intellectuals to appear on the scene and seriously and permanently alter the way that we are perceived by the outside world.”

    This is never going to happen. This is a false hope. If the world hates Jesus, then the world hates his followers. It’s what the good book says. I’d love it if the world would love Christians, but they don’t love Jesus, so they’re not gonna love us. And therefore as the world falls in and out of love with intellectualism Christians will be attacked as gnostics and as yokels as the pendulum swings back and forth. (John 15.18-20)

    But this does not mean Christians can just lay back, relax, and leave their minds on idle. We are to use them because God has given them to us to be used and not to be abused or forgotten.

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