In Praise of Simplicity

A few days ago, John Hobbins had a post entitled “The Scandal of the Christian Mind,” in which he discussed a 2004 essay by evangelical scholar Mark Noll. Noll says the following about American evangelicalism:

“We remain inordinately susceptible to enervating apocalyptic speculation, and we produce and consume oceans of pathetic End Times literature while sponsoring only a trickle of serious geopolitical analysis. We are consistently drawn to so-called ‘American Christianities’—occasionally of the left, more often of the right—that subordinate principled reasoning rooted in the gospel to partisanship in which opponents are demonized and deficiencies in our friends are excused[.]”

I can only guess what Noll has in mind here. He’s probably thinking of Tim Lahaye, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, D. James Kennedy, and their ilk. They’re just not sophisticated enough for his (and most evangelical intellectuals’) taste.

But my response is “So what?” That doesn’t mean they’re wrong, does it? Personally, I think that their geopolitical analysis has had some merit. All of them supported a strong national defense and an anti-Communist foreign policy during the Cold War. What was wrong with that? It worked, didn’t it? Recently, they have encouraged America to maintain a tough stance in the War on Terror. Why isn’t that a legitimate policy position?  Did the conservative journal First Things agree with this essay when it published it?

Maybe he thinks that such leaders have supported an “us vs. them” foreign policy rather than trying to understand our enemies’ perspectives. But maybe our enemies are just evil. I mean, there are people who are interested in increasing their own wealth and power at the expense of anyone who gets in their way. Liberals believe this to be true of George W. Bush. Why can’t they acknowledge that it may describe the Soviet Union and radical Islam?

Moreover, I think that Lahaye’s Left Behind series brings some important foreign policy issues to the table. In the series, the nations of the world surrender their weapons to the United Nations in the interest of world peace. As a result, the Antichrist attains dictatorial power over the world. This is not an absurd proposal, since world government has been the desire of numerious elites in politics, government, academia, the news media, and other arenas. I’m not saying there’s a conspiracy, only that there are influential people who believe that world government is better than having independent and sovereign nations, since one world implies world peace (or so they tell us). And, lest you think that American sovereignty will never be infringed, look around you. It’s already being infringed. The World Trade Organization once deleted a section of our Clean Air Act because it constituted an “unfair trade practice.” President Bush is using a treaty to stop the execution of a man in Texas. Lahaye is right to ask if such developments can lead to a global dictatorship. He also does well to question liberals’ faith in the UN and universal disarmament. Could such faith lead to a situation that runs counter to America’s (and others’) interests?

I question Noll’s assumption that sophisticated means better. Reagan’s foreign policy was not that complex. It was that the United States win, while the Soviet Union loses. Yet, Reagan’s foreign policy accomplished more in eight years than the decades of sophistication by such luminaries as Dean Acheson, Robert MacNamara, and Henry Kissinger. And don’t tell me that Reagan had nothing to do with the end of the Cold War. The Soviet empire was expanding before Reagan came into office. It only began to shrink during his Presidency.

I’ll close with an anecdote about Mark Noll. When I was at Harvard, Mark Noll was speaking about evangelicals in politics, and we evangelical students went to support him. He mentioned in his lecture that European evangelicals have historically been more socialistic than those in America (I think that was his argument–it was a long time ago!). During the Q and A, one of the professors said, “I think it’s obvious to everyone here which is better,” meaning the socialistic evangelicalism. The thought that went through my mind was, “Well, I don’t see you living in Europe, my friend.” Sophistication is not always what works practically.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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