Does W-w Lack Nuance?

While paranoid observers are still trying to sort out whether “bless you” is permitted in certain classes at the College of Coastal Georgia, evangelicals are upset about Vanderbilt’s decision to prohibit campus organizations from establishing their own standards for student leadership. Matthew Lee Anderson has come to the following realization in the light of increasing hostility to evangelical Protestantism at U.S. colleges and universities:

Many of the most hopeful and best parts of evangelicalism the past fifteen years have been encompassed by an incipient desire for respectability. The resurgent apologetics-evangelicals have sought to demonstrate the faith’s intellectual credibility, while the artistic evangelicals have made it quite clear you can still love Jesus and watch House of Cards, thank you very much. The politically-reformist evangelicals have put a hole in the “not like those Republicans” drum, while the social justice evangelicals have made everyone forget about the Four Spiritual Laws. And some of us—ahem—have pounded on about how we can read the old stuff, too, which can be its own form of “not like them folks there” attitude. . . . the vast majority of us will, I suspect, continue to fight and plead for a kind of respectability out of the earnest, good-hearted desire to see our neighbors convinced of our ideas—or if not of our ideas, at the very least of our sanity. Arguments for ‘civility’ and ‘tolerance’ and ‘pluralism’ and ‘respect’ are coming fast and furious these days, after all, even though they are fifteen years (at least) too late.

Anderson is echoing a piece at Christianity Today in which Tish Harrison Warren commented on Vanderbilt’s decision:

I began to realize that inside the church, the territory between Augustine of Hippo and Jerry Falwell seems vast, and miles lie between Ron Sider and Pat Robertson. But in the eyes of the university (and much of the press), subscribers to broad Christian orthodoxy occupy the same square foot of cultural space. The line between good and evil was drawn by two issues: creedal belief and sexual expression. If religious groups required set truths or limited sexual autonomy, they were bad—not just wrong but evil, narrow-minded, and too dangerous to be tolerated on campus. It didn’t matter to them if we were politically or racially diverse, if we cared about the environment or built Habitat homes. It didn’t matter if our students were top in their fields and some of the kindest, most thoughtful, most compassionate leaders on campus. There was a line in the sand, and we fell on the wrong side of it.

I empathize with Anderson and Warren, and I can’t deny that a form of anti-Christianism exists in many sectors of the academy that resembles the sorts of prejudices that Protestants used to harbor against Roman Catholics (leaving room, of course, for good sorts of prejudices). But I do wonder why folks like Anderson or Warren are surprised by this outcome. After all, my theory is that gay marriage is simply the push back that evangelicals may be justly receiving for touting family values the way they have for the last three decades. “You want family values? Well, let’s add homosexuality to family values. How do you like them now?”

And now, Vanderbilt’s decision may be simply the consequence of promoting w-w for as long as Tim Lahaye’s wife has been writing about sex. What I mean is that evangelicals, following their neo-Calvinist superiors, have adopted the mantra that faith goes all the way down and separates believers from non-believers. This means that we cannot treat religion as a private matter since it must affect everything a religionist does. It means that the divide between the secular and sacred, between the public square and the church assembly is artificial and arbitrary. It means as well that a Christian scholar will study the arts or sciences differently from the secular scholar, and that the Christian college will be different because faith-soaked institutions will bring religion to bear on every nook and cranny of the curriculum.

In other words, for all the effort to employ “common grace,” the w-w craze has turned Christians into a group set apart on the other side of the antithesis. Even common grace winds up being divisive because it condescendingly grants to non-believers some truth but always reminds them that they really have no good reasons for accessing it. Instead of emphasizing in common spheres like the public square (however naked she may be) or the university what believers share with non-believers, w-w has fed the politics of identity and removed believers into a distinct tribe.

For that reason, can we really blame officials at Vanderbilt for not being able to tell the difference between Joel Osteen and Tim Keller? The way the religious right, with the help of their neo-Calvinist enablers, has carved up intellectual and political life, Vanderbilt is simply following what w-w Christians prescribed. It is further evidence of the old Gypsy curse’s power — “may you get what you want.”

22 thoughts on “Does W-w Lack Nuance?

  1. While the trends occurring within academia may simply be a reaction to the current ground swell of tolerance and inclusiveness in the culture, one has to admit that no small part of it may be negative reaction to the pharisaical self-righteousness that has taken place for years under the guise of the “religious right.”

    I recall a certain director of information systems in our company back in the 80’s who used to waste company time playing around with CompuServe all day, juggling his investments, and who would immediately cry for more people any time a new system was being launched while he had existing staff supporting legacy COBOL stuff playing cards in the break room, waiting for the one or two-a-week service change request (and he was well aware of the fact). Yet, he was an elder in the local baptist church and was considered a pillar of the community by everyone there. Come to think of it, I guess they must’ve believed in a 2K theology, whether or not they admitted it, based on how this guy behaved one way on Sundays and a completely different way during the rest of the week.


  2. The pushback may be against more than just touting family values. The pushback is the return of the pendulum and how far it goes reflects how far it went because of how Conservative Christians persecuted Gays. Homosexuality use to be a criminal offense. Then many Conservative Christians wanted prohibit gays from having certain jobs. Then some conservative Christians wanted to prevent same-sex marriage lest the general public would think it was normal. The other side of that coin was that some conservative Christians wanted to stigmatize gays. Then some conservative Christians wanted Jim Crow type laws passed in some states.

    Let’s not be the pharisee who pointed to the sinner and thank God that we were righteous unlike the sinner we are pointing to.


  3. Regarding this:

    “After all, my theory is that gay marriage is simply the push back that evangelicals may be justly receiving for touting family values the way they have for the last three decades.”

    An Anglican minister, and friend of James White, is being featured on an Australian reality show where you live with your “enemies”. He lives with 2 homosexual men that are getting married. He asks them why they want to get married and one of the answers is “because you all make such a big deal about it”.


  4. You’re right Curt. Let’s get rid of all the Christians. They’re problem. That’ll end all this racial and gender/sexual orientation discrimination…

    Let’s not be the pharisee who pointed to the sinner and thank God that we were righteous unlike the sinner we are pointing to.



  5. Jack,
    You are wrong. I never said,”let’s get rid of Christians.” Never even hinted it. But I did say that we should not think of ourselves as the pharisee in relation to those who are pushing back. And that is the point.


  6. DJ C, and there’s another side to the gypsy curse. Those of us who are married know that it is not the paradise we thought it was going to be. Doesn’t mean it’s awful. Just means it’s a lot like many good things in life — hard. So if gays want to marry, may they get what they want, good and hard.

    Which leads to my other theory — in 10 years gay marriage will be as popular as Obama is today.


  7. Curt,
    Of course I didn’t mean you literally wanted to get rid of all the Christians. Some? Kidding. Just thinking you are painting with way too broad a brush.


  8. Thank you Jack. Of course, when I said I don’t want to get rid of Christians, I didn’t mean every Christian. But with reference to the pendulum, I am referring to Christians in general because it was Christians who have been a driving force in the persecution of gays. This effects of this persecution has reached a point where some gays struggle distinguishing the mere saying that homosexuality is sin with persecution. This is change from what I have seen.


  9. D.G.,
    You mean marriage eventually has those non-blissful moments? When does that happen?

    Plus I think gays want the opportunity to find out what for themselves what marriage is.


  10. “my theory is that gay marriage is simply the push back that evangelicals may be justly receiving for touting family values the way they have for the last three decades.”

    On the contrary, you’ve got the order reversed: the push for gay rights began in earnest with Stonewall, and Falwell and the Moral Majority were the reaction AGAINST such, and social liberalism in general, which they perceived – rightly – way back in the early 80s as a threat.

    They were right, as was Pat Buchanan in 1992 at the GOP convention; ‘gay marriage’ is simply the ultimate outworking of the principles of ‘gay liberation’ that began far before the reaction against it came about.


  11. Will S., gays back in the 1980s had enough sense to see that marriage is squaresville, man. They were transgressive. Now they want to be suburban. It’s a way in part to show the hollowness of family values.


  12. @ DGH: I sincerely doubt that their desire to live mainstream is to show the hollowness of a particular so-con rallying cry, rather than simply for their own sake…

    @: CW: 🙂


  13. DG:
    First, I actually agree with your theory about gay marriage faltering in a matter of years. Having formerly lived as a homosexual, I can tell you that allowing sin to become public and expressed in the light might appeal to some at first, but eventually the shame will be too much to bear for most. Sin thrives in the secret and dark places.

    But with regard to the article, I don’t entirely agree with the criticism of worldview.

    So, one the one hand, yes, the religious right’s history trumpeting of family values in the public sphere has needlessly caused a great deal of backlash. The scripture seems to be clear in that regard and how such an issue ought to have been handled:
    1 Cor. 5:9 “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.
    12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”

    Yet, on the other side of the issue, universities and academies in this country were initially established as primarily Christian institutions, with Theology as queen among the sciences, in reference to systematic theology. I think it is a fair assumption to recon the dearth of intellectualism (as well as the vacuity of morality) coming from the academic elite with the total absence of even the most basic theology. In fact, so-called Christian colleges and universities that have adapted the secular worldview systems are churning out skeptics and practical atheists in alarming numbers (just read a few movie reviews over at CT).

    All of that to say, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Worldview in certain permutations clearly is not fruitful, but in others it is becoming more and more essential every day.


  14. Jay, and so while you’re insisting on how your w-w is distinct from your lesbian colleague, what is the basis for agreeing on what you have in common as professors at a public or private institution?


  15. DGH – I think we can glean a great deal of those answers from the Classical Education model. Teaching rhetoric and critical thinking skills can help a great deal. Take for example Rosario Butterfield who was a tenured lesbian professor at an ivy league university and in part was led by the Holy Spirit e to believe the Word of God was true because of her training in rhetoric and hermeneutics. There are foundational academic disciplines that both secular and Christian universities are tossing aside, which are essential to the quality of education, but historically have been seen as common ground. Even in the era when universities subscribed to the notion of theology as as the queen of the sciences, atheists profited alongside believers to a much greater extent than they have in nearly a century.


  16. But Jay,if you want every American to have a college education, then you’re going to open yourself up to a lot of education that isn’t classical. Back in the day when Greek and Latin dominated higher education, no more than 10 percent of the population was college educated (and that’s pretty high — more like 1900 figures than single digits a century earlier). So if the common ground has to encompass the common ground of the U.S., don’t be surprised if colleges and universities implement similar programs as the federal government.


  17. DGH, not sure what medieval literacy rates have to do with classical education as it is administered in today’s society (here’s one example: Plus, I never said that every American should have a college education. There are plenty of viable vocational options that shouldn’t require a stitch of college. In fact, many fields have gone overboard in the catagory of requiring a college degree. That is another discussion though.

    Our classical schools locally have more than quadrupled over the past 5 years, despite lowering tuition rates significantly and offering many ‘scholarship’ options for lower income so that anyone who wants to attend will not be held back from doing so. in addition, as the government schools struggle to survive not only financially, but also in academic performance, the classical schools model is producing students from all backgrounds who score in the 90+ percentile and with acceptance rates that dwarf even the best charter schools.

    In fact, our headmaster just got commissioned to go to several different countries in Africa, where they want to transition over to the classical education model for their school systems.


  18. Jay, what interests me about this is that I blithely assumed for a long time that when people talked about “Christian worldview”, it was simply a synonym for “doctrine.” That was certainly how I was using the former term.

    Then I observed that it isn’t really used in that way in some circles. Can you comment on the identity, similarity, or difference between Christian worldview and doctrine as you understand the terms?


  19. (oops, my formatting above when haywire.)

    HI Jeff,
    I think that worldview steps back from doctrine, since doctrine is often more specific.
    These are basic themes of Christian worldview in the Classical Christian model are:

    An absolute God exists
    God created the universe
    Man is created in God’s image
    Also, if man is created in God’s image, then all people are worthy of respect and honor.
    Man was given dominion over creation by God.
    Mankind is fallen
    Mankind’s greatest need is reconciliation and redemption
    The only hope for redemption is found in Jesus Christ
    The Bible is the Word of God
    God Provides for his creation

    Granted, in terms of classical education, worldview tends to be more of a general theism and probably more inclusive than the above themes. Yet, even the more distilled forms of classical education stand in stark contrast with and are diametrically opposed to this age of education – which reeks of atheism, materialism and relativism.

    Tiny nutshell, I know. And I don’t exactly consider myself “the” expert on this. I hope it helps nonetheless. Thanks,


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