Why Expect Mid-Westerns to Transcend Time and Place?

If other folks are products of their environment, why should the faculty and administration at Wheaton College be any different? Alan Jacobs, though, thinks that Wheaton College is provincial (and implicitly that non-white evangelicals coming through graduate school and advanced degrees hold on to their inherited culture):

I believe — I have good reason to believe — that Wheaton really, truly, seriously wants to have a faculty and student body that is more reflective of the ethnic and cultural range of worldwide evangelical Christianity. But I also saw, during my twenty-nine years on the Wheaton faculty and several years as director of the Faculty Faith and Learning program, far too many situations in which non-white faculty members were treated, if not with outright suspicion, then at least with bemusement and puzzlement, because they did not express themselves in ways that matched the cultural practices of white midwestern evangelicalism.

Heck, if the Vatican curia can’t escape the cultural blinders that come with Rome, why would we expect little old Wheaton to do so much better? I mean, with all the efforts to make Christianity of late into a cultural project, all of a sudden we’re going to expect Christians through regeneration and sanctification to act like this world is not their home, but they’re just a passin’ through? As if that pietist outlook was not the product of time and place?

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41 thoughts on “Why Expect Mid-Westerns to Transcend Time and Place?

  1. Handled poorly….

    Yes, since from a distance it is quite obvious she never should have been granted tenure.Unless Wheaton is shifting gears in the most major of ways, which maybe it is given the fact of John Walton. If we have to explain this we are on different planets. And we might point to Catholicism, which smilingly tried to affirm Vatican II and has been bleeding from its eyes ever since.

    The faith is not social justice, and it is not inclusivism and it is not “love on another,” unless we trash two thirds of the NT. Nor is it a hijab, or solidarity with the abused. It is Jesus or judgement.

    The Wheaton faculty who are preeningly protesting need to try working at Walmart. As for the students, they are kids who have never paid substantial bills or taxes, maybe Ryken should cut a lacrosse team or two. Life is not a country club, even an evangelical one.

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  2. I don’t see Jacobs as saying that there is anything wrong with provincialism, if a school is choosing to be intentionally provincial. But Wheaton, by all accounts, wants to reflect a breadth that is more in line with the scope of American evangelicalism. If it wants to do that, then it has to figure out how to become a place that takes seriously evangelical voices that don’t sound like members of the Gospel Coalition.

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  3. Bobby, does that include Wheaton taking seriously voices like Old School Presbyterianism? Or are Old Schoolers too white and male (they didn’t do well in the mid-West)?

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  4. DG: folks are products of their environment… as if that pietist outlook was not the product of time and place?

    providence or grace?

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  5. Perhaps we should recognize that our cultural blinders cause us to form syncretisms between our faith and our cultural values. And what syncretism can be compared to is the pounding of a square peg into a round hole. Yes, with enough pounding you can the peg into the hole. But you can’t do so without dioing violence to both. So what syncretism does is to enable us to carrying our cultural values into our faith to the extent that the faith is compromised.

    Yes, we need to be empathetic to all Christians who live out their faith carrying their cultural handicaps. At the same time, we need to realize that our cultural handicaps do cause us to compromise our Christian living if not our faith.

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  6. “… what syncretism does is to enable us to carrying our cultural values into our faith to the extent that the faith is compromised … we need to be empathetic to all Christians who live out their faith carrying their cultural handicaps. At the same time, we need to realize that our cultural handicaps do cause us to compromise our Christian living if not our faith…”

    Can someone on this blog translate this for me, please.

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  7. Dear George, even though Curt is probably outside your in-group- accepted-OL culture, you could honor and respect him by asking HIM for any clarification you may need, not acting as if he is ridiculous and imferior. It’s a test for you and also a potential temptation -your choice.

    I think that is possibly what he means.

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  8. George:

    Translation…

    some like the strawberry strip and some the chocolate and some the vanilla strip in Neapolitan ice cream

    liking one doesn’t make one more righteous

    and i guess some people are too handicapped to work the ice cream scoop, but they are loved anyways

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  9. DGH – that’s what I’m trying to figure out.

    Curt – I understand what syncretism is all about, though I would add to your definition, “… in order to support yet another idea with which all of those involved are supposedly in syncretic agreement”. A great example of this was the post-9/11 ecumenical prayer gathering at Yankee Stadium. The confessional side of denominations such as the LCMS disdained their pastor Benke for getting involved with that event.

    What I’m having trouble grasping is this business of our “cultural handicaps causing us to compromise our Christian living if not our faith.” If someone was raised in a culture that supported same-sex relationships because his church supported them (think ELCA, e.g.) and grew up with that same thinking, does that mean he had the correct faith in the proper exegesis and preaching of scripture in the fist place. I think not – that error is what has gotten us where we are now. I have relatives who grew up in that environment, have since learned to think otherwise, and are now looking strangely at their parents for bringing them up in that church and for still supporting it.

    As for the original post, as DGH has pointed out, the pietism in this area is still alive and well and the entire escapade on the campus seems to be connected with a wish to return to “better times.” OTOH, (and it’s a big other hand) do not forget that the professor herself was involved with BLM and in the company of that great community activist who seems to pop everywhere. So, if the entire matter was not involved in as least some respect with race issues, I’d be curious to know how.

    As a side note, I grew up in a small town (~40K) in East Central Indiana that was home to a small liberal arts college that was originally connected with Quakers. It, like Wheaton, was one of the most expensive private schools in the nation. I, myself, attended humble state universities, but worked there on their maintenance crew during the Summer months. Quakers may look very conservative, fundamentalist, whatever, in both their dress and mannerisms, but are very liberal when it comes to education – literally anything goes. Nothing of the sort that happened at Wheaton would have ever had even the most remote chance of happening at that Quaker campus.

    The point being that a lot of wealthy folks, mainly from the East, from what I was able to gather (though there were smatterings of kids from the surrounding area, as well), who sent their kids there because it was small, exclusive (high profile faculty), and supposedly free from the trappings normally associated with big state universities. In recent years Wheaton seems to have fallen into that same trap, attracting kids from rich families who aren’t as concerned about campus religious life as they are securing them a prestigious education in a secluded environment. So, the college looked the other way long enough some of the fall out from that thinking is now coming home to roost. There have been other less publicized incidents on campus recently that reflect these changes.

    What else could they have expected. As someone on this blog likes to say now and then, “it’s all about the Benjamins.”

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  10. @DGH

    When I last checked, you guys didn’t claim to be evangelicals. But now you want to be represented on Wheaton’s faculty? That being said, there are only a few thousand of you in a nation with 75-100 million evangelicals. By my calculation, that entitles you to about 0.01 faculty positions at Wheaton. On the other hand, about 20% of evangelicals in the US are African-Americans. So, it seems suspicious to me that only a small number of Wheaton’s students and faculty are African-American (especially when one considers that Wheaton highly touts its connection to abolitionism).

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  11. @George

    You seem to be describing Earlham College. I attended an intensive writing camp at Earlham when I was in high school.

    I live only a few miles from Wheaton. I think you’re basically correct in your assessment of the school. The student parking lot is packed full of recent-model German sedans and high-end SUVs. I’ve also been a guest lecturer in a couple of friends’ classes. I generally like the students I met, but they didn’t strike me as being too different from most other suburban, white, upper-middle-class kids. Then again, I was raised in a largely white, upscale, midwestern suburb. I’d say that most of them are more culturally evangelical than theologically evangelical. By that, I mean that their theological views are probably more consistent with those of Protestant mainliners, even while they identify sociologically with the evangelical subculture.

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  12. Bobby, get this. I was on the faculty at Wheaton. I guess it was my whiteness and maleness (I don’t moisturize).

    By your proportional logic, should Church of God in Christ have more white pastors than black ones, or should Spellman College have more white faculty because blacks are only a minority group?

    If not, why can’t Wheaton be to the white world what Spellman is to the black world? Why do whites have to be inclusive but not blacks?

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  13. George,
    With regard to syncretism, one of the driving forces I see in it is tribalism. Now tribalism revolves having a high degree of loyalty to one’s group to the extent loyal to one’s group trumps commitment to principles and morals. The end result is that what is right and wrong depends on who does what to whom.

    In America, much of our tribalism comes from patriotism/nationalism/national identity, political ideology, economic ideology, theological or religious ideology, economic class, and race, If we take the first tribalistic suorce mentioned, we should note that each Presidential candidate, including Bernie Sanders, defines the job of American foreign policy exclusively in tribalistic terms. The job is to protect Ameircan interests and American citizens. So when even Sanders criticizes our past regime change policies or the war in Iraq, he doesn’t bring in any moral judgment. Our policies are then judged as being either wise, neutral, or a mistake. I am using Sanders as an example because he is the most “progressive” of all of the Republican and Democratic candidates. The absence of any moral judgment or use of the concept of justice or injustice when describing those policies shows tribalism. To go beyond that and say that such policies are Biblical within the public square sphere is an example of syncretism.

    Certainly there are other driving factors to syncretism such as the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life are driving factorcs to syncretism where we try to combine believing in Christ with being a friend of the world (see I John 2). The results of Christians mildly submitting to those driving forces results in Christian consumerism. The less mild the submission, the more the driving forces result in outright contraditions with the Christian faith.

    As for your example, whether the Benke’s participation was the result of a syncretism shows that syncretism are not individual acts, but the result of the combining of ideas. And I couldn’t comment anymore because I don’t know what the overall purpose of the ecumencial service.

    As for having a culture that supports same-sex marriage. We really need more detail than that to see if we are being forced in to making compromises. For example, our culture supports religious diversity in society as well. Does that mean that society is forcing Christians to believe that those from other faiths are saved or is it forcing Christians to respect the rights of others to believe differently? Similarly, is our society forcing us to accept same-sex marriage as being Biblically acceptable or does it play a role in telling us that we need to regard and treat those from the LGBT community as equal?

    Finally, as for Wheaton, my guess is that much of Midwest Americana has caused some in the institution to see image of America as part of their Christianity. And thus those who push the envelope of the Midwest Americana, like Hawkins did, are subject to discipline.

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  14. Curt: And thus those who push the envelope of the Midwest Americana, like Hawkins did, are subject to discipline.

    ‘push the Midwest envelop’? ; do you mean blaze the redefining trail of who GOD says He is /what God says, Curt? wasn’t that the bottom-line… and if I remember correctly, it included confidence about it because ‘the pope said’.

    1 John 2 26 These things I have written to you concerning those who are trying to deceive you. …
    1 John 5: 1 Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him…9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for the testimony of God is this, that He has testified concerning His Son. 10 The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son. 11 And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life….. 20 And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.21 Little children, guard yourselves from idols.

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  15. Bobby – yeah, that was Earlham. Your characterization of Wheaton College is pretty accurate, as well, from what I’ve been able to assess as an outsider. We only live a few miles from there, too, and have lunch in their excellent cafeteria with friends every now and then. That gives us a chance to catch a glimpse of some of the student population. They all seem more polite than most kids in the general population these days. That more or less fits with the particular demographic and religious image you describe.

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  16. DGH: Yes, I did overlook the tenure factor! Which makes you wonder how they can be so loose with that if they want to maintain doctrinal clarity.
    Bobby: “The student parking lot is packed full of recent-model German sedans and high-end SUVs.” Name me one school where that is not the case. Colleges are full of adults being financially gifted by parents.

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  17. “20% of evangelicals in the US are African-Americans.”

    The number of African-American evangelicals with PhDs who want to teach … that would be the relevant statistic, and it is quite low. At the black college where I teach, probably a third of the faculty are non African-American for a similar reason. Nothing suspicious at all, despite the hyped narratives floating around. Just the reality.

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  18. Name me one school where that is not the case [student parking lot is packed full of recent-model German sedans and high-end SUVs]. Colleges are full of adults being financially gifted by parents.

    Grace Bible College (Grand Rapids). What’s your point?

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  19. Joe M, I thought the state schools were still filled with kids on the six, eight and ten year plans? Or has that changed as well?

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  20. @DGH

    Sure, Wheaton can be whatever it wants to be, as long as it is truthful about doing that. Wheaton holds itself out as representing the breadth of evangelical Christianity. Therefore, I would expect the faculty to represent that breadth. That’s all I’m saying. If it just wants to be white and provincial, then hold itself out as being white and provincial.

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  21. >Grace Bible has no high end SUVs… well, when “Bible” is in the title, you know they are not trying to fit into the zeitgeist, I guess. My point is that most colleges of any stature are filled with white middle and upper class kids. Wheaton is not whitbread exception. Except for it may not have as many Asians as a lot of state schools.

    >”six year plans”… er, well, yes…

    “…representing the breadth of evangelical Christianity.” Not really. Its history is squarely in the Moody Bible Institute-sort-of galaxy, no matter how much more sophisticated evangelicals wish otherwise. C.S. Lewis couldn’t teach there, Tom Howard couldn’t tech there, TD Jakes can’t teach there. “The breadth of evangelical Christianity” is a construct defined by the person using the phrase, I’d argue, one that assumes diversity is a virtue, when I’d say it is simply a trait.

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  22. Truth be told, most kids from that demographic–whether Christian or not–are fairly nice and polite, at least around adults. About 10 years ago, I shared an apartment with a Wheaton student during a summer internship in DC. He was the younger brother of one of my law school classmates. I saw nothing to suggest that he or his Wheaton friends were any different from other kids in the 97th percentile crowd. That is, they were polite, smart, cheerful, etc.

    That’s not a knock. I mention that simply to point out that the students Wheaton recruits today are far better equipped to deal with ambiguity and complexity than the off-campus constituency that animates many of the administration’s actions.

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  23. Joe, true, but GBC is now accredited, which some might say is a step in the direction of wanting to join the zeitgeist as opposed to providing a post-secondary religious environment disguised as an actual higher education (with a broadly evangelical tinge).

    But “most colleges of any stature.” Oh, well, that’s different from “colleges.”

    Its history is squarely in the Moody Bible Institute-sort-of galaxy… Then what gives with all the “Harvard of evangelicalism”? I’m assuming MBI isn’t within the orbit of the Ivy League, you know, with the word “Bible” in it and all.

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  24. Bobby, are you kidding? Doc H’s student supporters show no capacity for ambiguity and complexity. If they did they might concede that she didn’t exactly execute her concerns well. As it was, the emoted like the rest of the students across America who can’t tell the difference between the KKK and Princeton University faculty.

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  25. @DGH

    The emoting was directed at the administration’s heavy-handed response. My point is that Hawkins isn’t so dangerous that the Wheaton administration needs to protect its students from her. From what I’ve seen, Wheaton students are generally smart enough to sort through ideas that may push at the boundaries of the evangelical identity without losing their way. They’re not so dumb that they need overweening administrators like Ryken and Jones to shield them from such things. Sure, they were emotional in response to the administration’s actions. The actions were a direct assault on the students’ ability to evaluate competing ideas and make reasonable judgments.

    Again, Phil Ryken seems like he may make a good elementary school principal. But his poor handling of this issue smacks of someone who’s a bit too defensive to preside over the “Harvard of evangelicalism.” Or maybe Joe is right: Wheaton is just a slightly dressed-up version of an ultra-fundamentalist school like Moody Bible Institute. In that case, Ryken is a good fit. But, if that’s the case, I see no reason why someone with SAT scores in the 99th percentile would bother with Wheaton. If you can do that well on the SAT, you probably don’t need Phil Ryken policing what you can and can’t be exposed to in the classroom.

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  26. Throwing Moody into the mix is weird. Growing up in the UMC, my youth pastor graduated from there (still not sure how a 5-point dispy made it in the UMC) and a couple of my friends just graduated in May. From what they tell me, mostly just the donor base and parents of students are fundies. They just lifted the alchohol ban for professors within the past year or two. Then there are some very Torrence friendly faculty. And my friends are Anglicans now. Not sure what the point of all that is, just to say Christian higher education is funky.

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  27. Bobby, “Wheaton students are generally smart enough to sort through ideas that may push at the boundaries of the evangelical identity without losing their way”

    Does that involve questioning Hawkins’ assertions? Heck, lots of the faculty don’t seem capable of seeing a problem on both sides.

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  28. FWIW,

    I know some Wheaton grads, and Prof. H. was known on campus for, shall we say, pushing the boundaries and saying crazy things. So apparently Wheaton was willing to put up with that until the craziness got so public.

    If anyone thinks that’s unique to Wheaton or is Ryken’s fault or something like that, they’ve never worked for a non-profit, religious or otherwise.

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  29. Ali,
    All Hawkins did was introduce the concept of context to the meaning of what we say. She certainly didn’t redefine God. She did say that the validity of certain statements depends on the context in which they are spoken. Paul shows this to be true in Romans 11 when he makes apparently contradictory statements about the Jews.

    The problem that some conservative Christians have had with Hawkins is that, because they don’t recognize the different contexts in which some statements can occur, they don’t realize that she actually agrees with their orthodoxy.

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  30. ” Wheaton is just a slightly dressed-up version of an ultra-fundamentalist school like Moody Bible Institute.”

    No wonder the Wheaton thing got to be a mess if the conflations here are any indication.

    What I tried to say is that Wheaton is mostly from the same doctrinal time zone as Moody versus being some evangelical United Nations school, not that either were “ultra-fundamentalist.” They’re not. Unless you are a reporter for the Washington Post. As for the “Harvard of Evangelicalism” mantra, that’s not a laurel Wheaton presumed to give itself–it too comes from the secular press. And all it means is Wheaton is biblical and yet, wow, amazing!, also academically top notch. Sort of like the Princeton from another century.

    And the school’s actions were not “a direct assault on the students’ ability to evaluate competing ideas and make reasonable judgments.” Except in some progressive fantasyland. They were an effort to maintain doctrinal integrity as an institution. They asked Hawkins to continue dialog and she said no. “Poor handling…”? The moment about Ryken is junk, especially given no one here has the inside track, or most likely his command of theology or scripture.

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  31. Curt, “The problem that some conservative Christians have had with Hawkins is that, because they don’t recognize the different contexts in which some statements can occur, they don’t realize that she actually agrees with their orthodoxy.”

    So they say the same thing but use different words, words that don’t say the same thing.

    Protestant modernists could not say it better.

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