It's Not Always Sunny

What makes Christians gullible? Is it that gullibility a fruit of the Holy Spirit and I am insufficiently sanctified? Many Christians seem to think that criticism is unbecoming of believers. But what Bible are those Christians reading? Take the prophets, who go on, and on, and on, sometimes in inscrutable Hebrew poetry, about the woes of God’s people. And what about Jesus who could be as critical of his disciples as he was of the Pharisees? And then there are all those epistles that warn the early Christians about all sorts of false teachers. To be biblical, apparently, is to be critical. And yet, many Christians seem to want to think the best of others, as if the doctrine of original sin were not true.

The gullibility of Jason and the Callers has been the object of many posts of late, but the recent piece by Owen Strachan on King’s College’s new president, Greg Thornbury, fits neatly the journalistic genre of puff piece. Truth be told, I am no fan of Dr. Thornbury’s hairdo or his sartorial choices — hipster does not connote seriousness. And when it draws attention to itself — in Thornbury’s many glam shots — it draws even more attention to the idea that the one photographed is trying to cultivate an image. And image creation is not exactly a quality we look for in a serious academic and grounded theologian.

What makes Strachan’s piece sound so much like the ending to a Leave It To Beaver episode is the hopefulness he expresses in the face of what has been a rocky ride for a college that went defunct (the one Percy Crawford founded), only to be resurrected by Campus Crusade for Christ, which then changed its name to something resembling a wine varietal — Cru, which then proceeded to hire Dinesh D’Souza, only to have that appointment blow up and lose to King’s the services of Marvin Olasky. This is not an institution upon which donors would necessarily want to bestow lots of gifts (which need to be big ones if the school is going to make it in Manhattan — not Kansas, the other one). And yet, Strachan (who comes close but does not disclose fully his own ties to Thornbury) tries to string together the good things of New York City’s evangelicalism — Keller and Metaxas — along with the significance of institutions via Michael Lindsay and James Davison Hunter, to argue that Thornbury’s appointment could, may, possibly might, result in harnessing evangelicalism’s intellectual renaissance (an awakening that is not only not Great, but not even Pretty Good).

But it may be that the school will negotiate its challenges. It is possible that the school may not only survive but thrive in New York. Thornbury, after all, stands to benefit from the Manhattan evangelical network, loose as it is. The cultural prospects of evangelicalism and conservatism hang in the balance today, yet perhaps this time of tension will produce just the kind of ambition and restless energy that are needed for great projects like the one in question. To study the history of successful movements like the opposing poles of the Reformation or the Enlightenment, for example, is to see that great works rarely begin in periods of equipoise, but times of great uncertainty.

King’s cannot, in any matter, singlehandedly rehabilitate the evangelical mind. That project has already begun, and it proceeds with fits and starts, not least because to be successful, it must be confessional. Christian scholarship is, after all, at once unfettered, taking dominion of all things, and bounded, normed by divine revelation. There is hope of greater things, though. In one of the world’s truly global cities, a small college is calibrating itself for evangelical thought-leadership and cultural engagement.

It may just be that the hipster president, aided by a greater network of persons than this world can claim, will pull it off.

No one is going to refer back in future years to Strachan’s piece and hold him or The American Spectator to this positive spin. That’s the way that journalistic features work. But I (all about me) am a glass-three-quarter-empty guy. It probably has something to do with breast feeding or potty training. But I’d like to think it stems from observing life in a fallen world where the bad guys prosper, life is a struggle, and neither justice nor peace embrace. This doesn’t mean I wish Thornbury to fail or that I think Strachan should not have written about King’s. It is rather a point about how fluffy pieces like this are, with an evangelical unction mixed in for added uplift. In fact, these stories cover up realities that institutions like King’s face — both internal and external. I’ve seen spins like this before at Christian institutions of higher education. They fool trustees, donors, and those on the outside. But folks on the inside generally know a very different reality. Don’t let the hair or lapels distract you.

31 thoughts on “It's Not Always Sunny

  1. “Christian scholarship is, after all, at once unfettered, taking dominion of all things, and bounded, normed by divine revelation.”

    I can’t be having my dominion of all things fettered.


  2. ” to think grandly and sweepingly about the centrality of Christ in all things”

    Christian killing.
    Christian plumbing.
    Christian “grace” for the non-elect
    Christian voting
    Christian elites

    a “footprint” in the parish/territory
    Christian “statesman”?

    Hebrews 10:19 since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience

    26 For if we go (back to salvation by works) after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God….

    We don’t need Christians to take dominion over the Big Apple, so that “Christ” becomes less marginal in the cultures there. We need to exclude the federal visionists (and others who go back to their works) from our churches and proclaim the one and only gospel which can give us a clean conscience (and entrance into the holy) by means of the blood of Christ.

    Hebrews 10: and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.


  3. Ah. Free association. I dig these.

    Christian killing. Justice.

    Christian plumbing. Don’t cheat your customer. Don’t stank.

    Christian “grace” for the non-elect. Uh oh. o? The elect don’t exhibit all that much either. Hard to tell them from the non-elect.

    Christian voting That one’s easy. Natural law.

    Christian elites. Elders? Theologians? Church founders? Church historians? Theological blog owners?

    a “footprint” in the parish/territory
    Christian “statesman”? Bonhoeffer? Mormon missionaries? Jehovah’s Witnesses? Warrior children?


  4. Went to King’s, ahem, THE King’s College for a whole year. (That was a line the President used in those days.). That and “walk with the King today and be a blessing.” But that was under Robert Cook in the happy evangelical era. Then it moved to the city with a makeover. But at least someone has my transcript for that year.


  5. Get out of heeere! That’s actually a pic of the guy? Oh wow. Everything is so toolish I didn’t even notice the bowtie, which is THE conservative nose ring. So, evangelicalism went from Stuart Smalley to Harry Potter. How do you grow up in this culture and not just go Hunter S Thompson on it all.


  6. Sean, at some point stuff like this has to factor into conceptions of sanctification, not to mention Christ and culture. Do they (like Jason and the Callers) honestly think we are not paying attention?


  7. Darryl, it functions like a primer for how to make your children outgrow the faith and run away screaming with their hair on fire. I mean what adult looks at Driscoll or this guy and goes; ‘ that’s righteous or relevant’. Except for the tooly, narcissistic emergents and evanjellyfish sub-culture. You got this poser outward appearance built on the foundation of a church growth movement of relevance and seeker sensitive that’s really just the old real estate maxim of; ” show them houses where they can live and be with their own ‘kind”. Are they trying to be skit material for SNL?


  8. Darryl, I saw it and was immediately grateful for growing up with the dysfunction and sometimes criminal behavior of Jr. Seminary. Just embarrassing. What, does nobody get beat up at recess anymore?


  9. That Twitter pic is the worst thing I’ve ever seen. That guy’s sense of style and self need major smiting.


  10. More evidence that bowties coincide with self-promotion. But I’m pretty sure home-schoolers don’t have recess, since recess is statist educational code for proletariat training.


  11. My public-schooled youngest once lamented that homeschoolers never got to experience the joy of sitting in the football stands mid-day because of a bomb threat. Then we thought of one h/s family in our church with enough children that they could actually have homeschool bomb threat and it wouldn’t be immediately obvious who was responsible. My son said “Homeschool Bombthreat” would be a great band name.


  12. And I know a guy who grew up in a PCA church who said he was formerly known as “Corrupter of the Homeschooled”. My youngest gladly picked up that mantle.


  13. Everyone knows the new seeker sensitive heroes are the Randy Savage wannabe macho men of our modern multi-site churches. I think the mini-Alfalfa hairdo and regular glances to the camera cement it for me.


  14. C-Dubs, you should see the Vision Forum kids at this home church down the road. Got the girls in white blouses with bibs and ankle-length khaki skirts and the boys in puffy sleeves and knickers(I shiite you not). A few of the more sane kids are stealing smokes behind the convenience store around the corner, they’ll probably be OK, they’re just trying to cope. It’s the ones toeing the line who I expect to see on America’s Most Wanted someday.


  15. Todd, Driscoll is obviously ripping off Mike Gundy.

    We occasionally have a CREC homeschool family visit our church. They have about a dozen little fish on the back window and a personalized plate on the requisite van: QUIVERFULL


  16. Indeed. “Annie Hall”, “Manhattan”, “Hannah and Her Sisters”. The place seems urbane, Jewish, and unfriendly to evangelicalism to me. Maybe the Mainline.


  17. Nobody rips Greggles harder than me, but he said something this week that’s pretty good:

    “‘Christian’ is the greatest of all nouns and lamest of all adjectives.”

    Whether this is an example of cognitive dissonance or not, we’ll see.


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