I Prefer Metrosexual Evangelicalism

But such a category is not available, apparently.

Instead, the one that “thought leaders” are adopting is “cosmopolitan” evangelical as opposed to its “populist” evangelical sibling (or cousin, or in-law, or neighbor — the relationship is unclear). Dan Hummel tries to explain cosmopolitan evangelicalism:

“Cosmopolitan” does not necessarily mean “liberal” or “progressive.” What cosmopolitan denotes are the priorities and practices of a subculture. Following Lindsay’s schematic, cosmopolitan evangelicals are sociologically distinct (they “travel frequently, are involved in the arts, and live affluent lifestyles”); they possess cultural power (often affiliated with universities, “have greater access to powerful institutions, and the social networks they inhabit are populated by leaders in government, business, and entertainment”); and they eschew large-scale action and mass politics in favor of invited or “exclusive gatherings” or at least ones that bring together “social and professional peers” that have as their aim not immediate conversions but cultural legitimacy and cultivating long term influence (Faith in the Halls of Power, 218-222).

Hummel goes on to locate cosmo eevees in a set of knowledge producing (or repackaging) institutions:

Perhaps drawing the circle beyond the “faculty lounge” to include study centers, independent artists, and a bunch of InterVarsity, Zondervan, Baker Academic, and Eerdmans authors doesn’t change the calculation much. But perhaps it is notable how much of the institutional infrastructure of evangelicalism is run by cosmopolitan types, from those Christian presses, to many of the Christian colleges, universities, and seminaries, to Christianity Today. Organizations like World Vision, the National Association of Evangelicals, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, and Made to Flourish fall into this category. And plenty of local churches craft identities that, to varying degrees, embrace some form of the above cosmopolitans.

Another marker is the knowledge cosmo eevee’s consume:

Tisby’s The Color of Compromise is fifth, and judged by numbers of reviews easily outperforms the book by Huckabee or books by Eric Metaxas. The new study by Robert P. Jones, White Too Long, is in the top ten, as is du Mez’s Jesus and John Wayne. Du Mez’s book outperforms Al Mohler’s The Gathering Storm, a perhaps more useful comparison because they both were released in June 2020 (and Mohler is a subject in du Mez’s book). Others in the top echelon include Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah’s Unsettling Truths, Giboney, Wear, and Chris Butler’s Compassion & Conviction, and Eric Mason’s Woke Church. Tisby’s forthcoming How to Fight Racism is already in the top fifty and does not release until 2021.

Decidedly missing is any recognition of the church or a Christian communion. These are places where cosmo’s might reasonably interact with populists (though it can go very badly) and where the two sides might recognize truths and practices each group has in common. Such unity could help to diminish the partisanship among evangelicals that often stems from differences in socio-economic status.

A recent read through Kenneth Woodward’s essay about growing up Roman Catholic in the Cleveland suburbs suggests that church and ecclesiastical life is pretty good at breaking down barriers that emerge from education, degrees, credentials, and salaries:

every religious group formed its own subculture, some more closed to the outside world than others. Lutherans, Adventists, and some (mostly Orthodox) Jews also operated their own religious schools, and in Utah, as in much of the South, Mormon and Southern Baptist majorities effectively determined the religious ethos of public classrooms. But at mid-century only Catholics inhabited a parallel culture that, by virtue of their numbers, ethnic diversity, wide geographical distribution, and complex of institutions mirrored the outside “public” culture yet was manifestly different. We were surrounded by a membrane, not a wall, one that absorbed as much as it left out. It was, in other words, the means by which we became American as well as Catholic.

Catholic education was the key. Through its networks of schools and athletic leagues, the church provided age-related levels of religious formation, learning, and belonging that extended through high school and, for some of us, on into college. Church, therefore, always connoted more than just the local parish: kids experienced it anywhere, including schools, where the Mass was said. In this way, Catholicism engendered a powerful sense of community—not because it sheltered Catholic kids from the outside world, as sectarian subcultures try to do, but because it embraced our dating and mating and football playing within an ambient world of shared symbolism, faith, and worship. In my adolescent years, for example, St. Christopher’s transformed its basement on Saturday nights into the “R Canteen” where teenagers from all over Cleveland’s West Side danced to juke-box music; a muscular young priest from the parish roamed the premises to prevent fights and keep the drunks at bay. Yes, Catholics felt like hyphenated Americans, but nothing in human experience, we also came to feel, was foreign to the church.

Perhaps this Roman Catholic culture was too thick for the good of finding a common enterprise in the wider society, though it is striking that when denominational consciousness was at it highest, national purpose was also clearest (at least during the twentieth-century). Forming religious ghettos could conceivably add to the fragmentation of national life that has only multiplied during the Trump presidency.

But, whatever thick religious identity that centers around the church means for the nation, worshiping together and belonging to the same communion is one important source for a common Christian identity. Of course, evangelicals do not have much of an ecclesiology so it may be asking too much of cosmo eevee’s to start now.

At the same time, the knowledge class of evangelicals might have acquaintance with scholarship on religious identity and awareness of other groups to prevent the creation of yet another stripe of evangelical.

2 thoughts on “I Prefer Metrosexual Evangelicalism

  1. Every time you link to Professor Fea, I sense an alternative universe–or at least alternative church.. How is it that he knows so clearly which evil is better and which is worse, while the rest of us make our choices in uncertainty, knowing that both options are bad? Is that what “cosmopolitan” means?

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  2. Hummel writes,
    “ What cosmopolitan denotes are the priorities and practices of a subculture. Following Lindsay’s schematic, cosmopolitan evangelicals are sociologically distinct… they possess cultural power… and they eschew large-scale action and mass politics in favor of invited or “exclusive gatherings” or at least ones that bring together “social and professional peers” that have as their aim not immediate conversions but cultural legitimacy and cultivating long term influence.”
    In other words, a bunch of b-list scholars desperate for approval from their betters and embarrassed by the hoi polloi. Just what the church needs.

    Is the appeal of Christian historians, scientists, and political scientists really all that different from Christian Rock fans getting excited about King’s X and POD being Christian bands getting secular play. It seems like the same pathetic attempts to make Christianity alright with the cool kids while punching down at the nerds in the fold (though with more moralistic tut-tutting). Perhaps instead of focusing being relevant (they aren’t), they could try being faithful to their communion (even the embarrassing members)?

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