Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Dean E. Arnold on Christian Anthropologists

Dean E. Arnold

In 1994, historian Mark Noll published a provocative book called the Scandal of the Evangelical Mind [1] lamenting the lack of intellectual impact of evangelical scholars upon the academy. Some of these themes were revisited and enlarged by Michael Hamilton in “The Elusive Idea of Christian Scholarship” [2] and by the responses of Joel Carpenter, [3] Dorothy Chappell, [4] and Don King. [5] These scholars argue that evangelical history, combined with American pragmatism and utility, have degraded the value of exercising the mind for its own sake. Further, the American values of achievement, individualism, and humanitarianism have focused attention on evangelism and helping others. While these tasks are important, evangelicals have often failed to love God with their minds. They have failed to grasp the importance of contributing to the secular academy, to recognize the latent significance of that contribution to the future of the church, and to cultivate the mind for its own sake as good stewardship of God’s image.

Evangelicals have failed to “tend the garden” of the knowledge of God’s creation and to work toward redeeming it through that cultivation. Further, evangelicals have failed to recognize the importance of bringing
glory to God by learning about him through the study of his created world. [6]

While all of these reasons are compelling, challenging, and relate to all disciplines, the problems between the Christian mind and anthropology go much deeper. In this paper, I want to explore some reasons why there are so few Christian anthropologists and why those that do exist have had little impact on the academy. [7]

In anthropology, the “Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” exists because there has been relatively little scholarship by Christian anthropologists directed to the academy. We have not “paid our dues” enough to establish credibility. Related to this problem is the hostility between anthropologists and missionaries, in particular, and between anthropologists and Christians in general. This hostility is not only borne out by my own personal experience and that of other Christian anthropologists and Christian students of anthropology, but is also reflected in a Carnegie survey of the religious and political views of departments in American colleges and universities. [8] In that survey, 65% of respondents in anthropology departments answered “none” to the question: “What is your religion?” This percentage was the highest among all the disciplines, and was ten percent higher than the next highest department (philosophy). It was more than twice the average frequency (30%) of the “none” response among faculty in all disciplines.

Read the full article here.

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