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.

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Jonathan D. Fitzgerald

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