Goooooooooooooooooalllll!!!!!

When John Fea gets it right, he gets it (mainly). He recently reflected on life in a small town:

Messiah is located in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. Mechanicsburg is not a very cosmopolitan place. Many of my neighbors have lived in the town for multiple generations. Some young people get out of town after graduation and never come back, but many never leave. We have all the usual problems associated with small towns. Race-relations could be better. Drug deals go down in the convenience store parking lots. The wealthy members of our town cloister in their gated communities. But this is where we decided to raise our family.

When we arrived in Mechanicsburg our daughters–Allyson and Caroline– were ages four and one. They attended kindergarten through high school in Mechanicsburg Area School District. We chose to live in the Mechanicsburg School District as opposed to the larger regional Cumberland Valley School District (with more opportunities) because we wanted a smaller, more intimate community for our kids. Both of them have thrived in this district and we have never regretted our choice.

Some folks in town who know me may think it is odd that I am writing about the sense of community I feel in Mechanicsburg. As an introvert, I tend to keep to myself. I would rather watch my kids play sports seated alone than join a crowd of cheering fans. I am not very good at small talk. I coached my girls in basketball when they were in elementary school, but I got disgusted with the politics, the ambitious parents, and the way many of those parents treated the selfless staff of our town’s recreation department, so I stopped. I have not participated as much in the local life of my community largely because of the time I spend investing in the life of Messiah College. But I have tried to serve when asked. I could do better.

Then he mixes in Friday Night Lights for fathers without sons (with apologies to Texans):

I thought about my relationship with this community again as I sat in the cold last night and watched the Mechanicsburg Girls Soccer team play their final home game of the season. It was the second round of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association’s District 3 playoffs. The girls won 4-0 over a team from Berks County and advanced to the District semifinals on Monday night at Hershey Park Stadium. They are now 20-0 and ranked 21st in the nation. A great story is developing here in small-town Mechanicsburg. My daughter Caroline plays a minimum number of minutes each game, but she has been an intricate part of a team that is making local history. She has been playing soccer with many of the seniors on this team since she was eight-years-old. Some of these girls are her best friends. Mechanicsburg is Caroline’s community. This place has shaped her life in so many good ways.

Caroline had mixed emotions last night. Her team will play again next week and, if things go well, will try to make a run in the state tournament. Yet the sadness of playing her last game on her home field with her friends was palpable as she walked across the field to meet us. Her tears were a mixture of joy for the blessing of an undefeated season (so far) and sadness that it was all nearing an end. I fought them back as well.

From Hillsdale, Mechanicsburg looks like it’s on the grid. It’s a suburb of Harrisburg (the state capital for the geographically challenged) and only 40 minutes from Lancaster, and 90 from Baltimore. In Hillsdale you are 90 minutes from Ann Arbor, 2 hours from Birmingham (there is one in Michigan and it is spectacular!), and 4 hours from Chicago.

The irony is that I started my college career at Messiah. The college was about half the size that it is now. And the name of our dorm floor, for inter-mural athletics, was The American House. That sounded patriotic but was actually the name of a bar in Mechanicsburg where some of the lads went to drink PBR (on tap!!). At the time, 18-year olds could drink (Kavanaugh-like), though that was not exactly how Messiah’s dean of students understood it. But apparently no one in the administration knew the reference or they simply thought our joke was silly and ignored it. Over time I found the college so far removed from urban life that I transferred to Temple in my sophomore year (after doing one semester at Messiah’s center city campus). Now I teach at a college 2/3 the size of Messiah and am even farther from the East Coast than I was in the remote setting of south central Pennsylvania.

The Lord works in mysterious ways.

I have no regrets about Hillsdale. It is the best job of my career and a wonderful school. But sometimes I wonder what it would be like to teach somewhere like Messiah, where access to the Northeast corridor is much easier.

All of which may explain why Fea and I have different reactions to Americans and evangelicals who voted for Trump. John concedes that he was somewhat sympathetic to anti-elitism in America after hearing graduate students at a recent conference:

There was a sense of confidence in their speech as they talked about their prestigious advisers and the quality of the graduate programs where they earned their Ph.Ds. They did not seem overly worried about landing a job. Rather, their complaints focused more on the fact that so many jobs were located in rural communities in so-called “Red States” where they did not want to live. Their conversation was infused with the kind of cosmopolitan snobbishness that I often hear in academic circles. As I listened to them talk, I thought that maybe all those Trump voters and Fox News watchers are correct about the “coastal elites.”

Yet, that disdain for coastal snobbishness has not stopped Fea from sounding like the Never Trumpers who live and work on the coasts (with the exception of Austin or St. Louis thrown in). If he lived in rural Michigan would he see through Michael Gerson’s coastal elitism?

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What Must I Do to be Left Behind from Evangelicalism?

I have long complained that evangelicalism is one of those associations from which it is impossible to extricate yourself. Ron Wells, one of the editors of The Reformed Journal, used to joke that he would be glad to return his evangelical membership card but didn’t know where to send it. The bigger joke may have been the idea that evangelicals actually issued membership cards. It’s one thing to be on a mailing list. It’s another to belong to a duly constituted body.

John Fea proposes thirteen questions for determining whether you are an evangelical. I paste them below and offer my own answers:

1. Do you attend a church of over 2000 people? I suppose this refers to a congregation, in which case I say no. But I do go to a church — the OPC — that is small but not that small. The lesson may be that evangelicalism has a bias against connectionalism (read presbyterian polity).

2. Have you studied at, or do you work at, a college that identified itself as a “Christian college?” Yes, but only for a year. What happens if I transferred to a secular university? Does evangelicalism still claim me?

3. Have you seen the rapture movie A Thief in the Night? (I could have probably asked if they read the Left Behind series of novels by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye). I have seen the movie. It was part of the cinematic fare of my home congregation’s youth group. But what if I now vote strongly against any proposal before session that calls for our OPC congregation to show the movie?

4. Have you been to any of the following Christian Bible conferences: Word of Life, Camp of the Woods, Harvey Cedars, America’s Keswick, Sandy Cove, or Rumney Bible Conference? (Remember, this is an east coast group) Not only have I been there, but for two summers I worked in the kitchen at Sandy Cove and sang tenor (one summer) and bass (another) with the Sandy Cove Choralaires (we even performed the Ralph Carmichael Christian teen folk musical, “Tell it Like it Is” at the affiliated youth camp, Hilltop Ranch. (I’m still in recovery.)

5. Did you vote for George Bush in 2000 or 2004? Yes, but I still don’t sense corporate guilt.

6. Have you been on a short-term mission trip? Does doing something Christian outside the United States count? How about teaching at a seminary in Brazil?

7. Have you attended a Billy Graham or other evangelistic crusade? Yes and yes. I am pretty sure my parents took me to the 1962 Philadelphia Crusade. And in 2002 we went to the San Diego Crusade under the false pretense that this would be the evangelist’s last. I still worry that I am on some terrorist organization’s list for having attended a Crusade (and for having rooted for the Wheaton College Crusaders before they became the Wheaton College Thunder.)

8. Have you read Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict? Hallelujah! No.

9. Have you read something by C.S. Lewis? Darn! Yes.

10. Do you listen to Christian radio? Yes. But let me explain. I generally have on the radio as background noise. For most of the week it is Sports Talk Radio (from Philadelphia). This drives the missus batty and keeps me near the dog house. In the car I listen to NPR. On Sundays I stream Family Radio in the background. It is all about nostalgia. My parents had on Family Radio during the whole week. It is one way I remember my parents and treat the Lord’s Day as a day set apart. You get occasionally a good hymn.

11. Do you have a Thomas Kinkade painting in your house? Hades, no.

12. Have you read Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life? Yes, but it was for a review in Modern Reformation (when it had an edge).

13. Do you read or subscribe to Christianity Today? Yes, but not for edification and I place my hands over my eyes.

Fea speculates:

I then told them that if they answered yes to more than half of these questions there is a good chance that they might be an evangelical.

It looks to me like I have at least 8 yes answers. That makes me an evangelical. It also tightens my jaws.

I wonder if John should change his questions to something like, “do you still do or recommend X, Y, or Z”? I wonder too if I’ll ever be delivered from being an evangelical? You write three books critical of born-again Protestantism and you find you’re still part of the tribe. Is this how Garry Wills feels about Roman Catholicism?