Articles you need to know about, summarized in 60 seconds (or less).
The Source: Religion & Politics
The Author: Molly Worthen
The Gist: Worthen, a professor of religious history at the University of Toronto, considers why American Evangelicals have such an affinity for Christian thinkers, writers, and theologians who hail from Britain.
American Evangelicals’ fondness for Stott is part of a larger pattern, a special affection for Christian gurus of British extraction. Droves of American evangelicals stock their shelves with books by British Christian scholars such as N.T. Wright, a professor of New Testament and the former bishop of Durham, and J.I. Packer, a British-born theologian at Regent College in Vancouver. Despite ancient hostility toward Roman Catholicism, American evangelicals lionize the British Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton and raise their children on Catholic J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Since the mid-1960s—when the release of Tolkien’s books in U.S. paperback edition infected America with Frodo fever—evangelicals have enthusiastically joined in Middle Earth-inspired role-playing festivals and Tolkien appreciation societies, publishing books with titles like Finding God in the Lord of the Rings and Walking With Frodo: A Devotional Journey Through Lord of the Rings. I once attended an evangelical conference panel devoted to parsing Tolkien’s veiled Christian allegories. One speaker expounded at length on the Christology of Tom Bombadil—uncovering hidden religious symbols that might have surprised Tolkien himself.
The Bottom Line: Worthen raises an intriguing question—why do we American Evangelicals have such a fondness for the British?—but provides an unsatisfactory answer. Her claim that American Evangelicals have an “intellectual inferiority complex” isn’t completely unwarranted, but it’s a dated and clichéd critique. (Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind was published 17 years ago. A lot has changed since then.)
I suspect a more likely explanation for why American Evangelicals love the Brits is related to the reason we love the Jews: We believe that we share with these groups a historical and theological imagination. Modern Jews might sneer at the presumptuous nature of the connection, but it is a truism that we Evangelicals consider ourselves to be the other “People of the Book.” Because our theological history is traced back to the Old Testament, we view ourselves as the intellectual descendants of the Hebrew people. Similarly, to a lesser extent, our shared English language leads us to make a connection with the British that they might view as peculiar.
Few British Evangelicals would consider themselves to be Americans, but many English-speaking American Evangelicals think that we are, in an intellectual sense, from the U.K. This is likely not limited to the British, of course. I suspect that Evangelicals of Dutch ancestry have a simliar affinity for thinkers like Abraham Kuyper, German-American Evangelicals for Martin Luther, etc., because of the Old World connection. Because our country—and our brand of evangelicalism—is relatively young, we American Evangelicals must look to our cousins across the sea to help us find deeper soil for our religious roots.
YSK Rating: Despite offering an unsatisfactory response to the titular question, Worthen’s article is worth reading and pondering.