“The scandal of the evangelical mind is there is no evangelical mind.” That was Mark Noll’s frank assessment of evangelicalism in 1994. We’ve since been making progress, evident in new works such as the Society of Christian Scholars.
In 1994, Mark Noll’s “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” was published. Dr. Stan Wallace took it seriously. I’ve known Stan for many years. We believe center institutions are critical for changing the world. But these institutions must share a common vision and collaborate to make the world a better place. That is why the Society of Christian Scholars is being established. I asked Stan to tell us about it:
We all want to be faithful to our Lord’s command to see the gospel redeem all that is broken. How can we best see this happen, from the local to the global?
Few seem to know. Our ideas on culture change are often based on anecdotes, assumptions, and conjectures. We mostly assume that cultures change “one life at a time.” As more and more come to believe in Christ, eventually there is a critical mass, and the entire culture is transformed.
But is this the correct story? The data indicates it is not. For instance, the vast majority of the United States population rejects secularism. Therefore, if the traditional view is correct, the United States should already be changed for the better. Yet we are getting more secular, not less.
Not long ago a research project was completed to answer this question. Dr. James Hunter is a sociologist at the University of Virginia, so studying cultures and how they change is in his area of professional expertise. Oxford University Press published his findings in To Change The World.
Hunter concluded cultures change “top-down” not “bottom-up.” He found that those who are influencing cultures hold positions in important cultural institutions (including education, media, government, and the arts). Furthermore, they create social networks to leverage their individual influence for widespread change.
For example, the Jewish community comprises less than 3.5% of the American population. Yet their influence is far-reaching, even in the face of rampant anti-Semitism. This is because they have worked to obtain positions of prominence and leverage their influence through social networks.
A second example Hunter offers is the LGBT community, which is approximately 3% of the population. This tiny minority is having unparalleled influence in all levels and aspects of culture, for the same reasons.
If Hunter is correct (I believe he is), we must move beyond a primarily “bottom-up” approach to seeing our cultures and world redeemed. To this end, a new endeavor is being established to support those in one important sphere of cultural influence—higher education.
I have visited universities in 42 countries and interacted with professors from at least two-dozen other nations. Worldwide, I find Christian professors whom God has raised up to serve in their universities “for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14). They are men and women who Love God and seek to make him known among their students, colleagues, and countries, from their positions of influence.
Yet most are not having the widespread cultural influence they desire. Why not? Few are in a social network to leverage their influence. They’re isolated, as church historian George Marsden put it,
Contemporary Christian scholarship will not realize its potential unless it can establish a strong institutional base. Isolated individuals in university culture can make impressive efforts here and there, but unless their voices are united, they will be lost in the general cacophony of the contemporary academy. (George Marsden, The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship, p. 101)
To meet this need, the Society of Christian Scholars is being established. Our aim is to connect Christian professors worldwide to better leverage the gospel’s influence in key institutions of higher education. We seek to help cultural influencers “come together with their varied resources and act in common purpose” as Hunter writes, with the hope that in so doing, cultures “[will] change and change profoundly.” (To Change The World, p. 43)
The Society of Christian Scholars has been nine years in the making. Since 2009, 42 Christian professors from 25 nations have helped give it shape. After much planning and prayer, we anticipate launching on March 1, 2019. Our website is now online and pre-registration is open (https://societyofchristianscholars.org).
If you know of Christian scholars who might be drawn to the vision of the Society of Christian Scholars, please let them know. The Society is one way to make progress in correcting the effects of the scandal that Mark Noll cited in 1994. For a longer discussion of today’s column, as well as support for the claims Hunter makes, see my recent blog post here. Grace and Peace, Dr. Stan W. Wallace, President and CEO, Global Scholars