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November 30, 2004

Evangelical indie cred

David Brooks writes:

Tim Russert is a great journalist, but he made a mistake last weekend. He included Jerry Falwell and Al Sharpton in a discussion on religion and public life.[...]

This is why so many people are so misinformed about evangelical Christians. There is a world of difference between real-life people of faith and the made-for-TV, Elmer Gantry-style blowhards who are selected to represent them. Falwell and Pat Robertson are held up as spokesmen for evangelicals, which is ridiculous. Meanwhile people like John Stott, who are actually important, get ignored.

Yeah. That's what you get for listening to that top-40 evangelism crap. Falwell, Robertson, Graham, all those guys came up listening to Stott. You can really hear the Stott influences in their preaching, too. They're constantly lifting riffs from the master. These days you can't go into a revival tent without hearing some punkass seminarian belting out a Stott homily.

I mean, Falwell's great and everything, but he's not authentic like Stott.

Brooks knew Stott back when he was preaching the college circuit and putting out his Bible study tracts on the "John Stott Ministries" label. Sometimes they talk about the good old days, back before all that overproduced, over-hyped, big-haired corporate crap that you see on TV. They agree that Tim Russert is such a poseur.

This just in: Veteran scenester Tom Tomorrow says Brooks is full of it.


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I think you're being too hard on Brooks here. This piece of his is probably the first one I haven't laughed at for its silliness since he started writing for the Times.

Fact is, John Stott *is* at the intellectual roots of contemporary evangelicalism, as was Francis Schaeffer before him.

For once, Brooks gets it right: if you really want to understand the underlying worldview of everyday evangelical Protestant Christians, you won't learn anything from Falwell, Robertson, Dobson and their ilk. Stott, Schaeffer, and Tozer lie at the real roots.

Just as silly as inviting Falwell to represent "evangelicalism" was Russert's inviting Sharpton to represent ... well, whatever he was supposed to represent. Hell, even Jesse Jackson would be a better representative of "black preacher"-ism, and William Sloan Coffin would be a dynamite representative of progressive social-justice Christian thought.

Brooks is just being insufferably pretentious. It's like pontificating on the musical impact of the Velvet Underground.

Brooks' column is really about how Tim Russert and his producers are hopelessly out of it.

I don't dispute that Stott is an important intellectual influence on American evangelism. But Brooks is laying it on a little thick when he says that American evangelicals would elect him "pope" if they could.

Besides, Falwell is one of the world's leading experts on the impact of (his) religion on American public life. It's his job to impose as much of his world view as possible on the body politic.

He lost me at "Tim Russert is a great journalist..."

OK, I'm convinced.

I guess my problem was that I think Brooks is always obnoxiously pretentious *and* usually wrong. I was so taken aback by his being nearly *right* in this case that I just ignored the pretentiousness part.

Also, agree about Falwell's role in life. Gravy-sucking bastard.

Too funny. He does sound a little like the guy who was a dj on the college radio station but was too cool for commercial radio so he spent the rest of his life working in a record store.

Fact is, John Stott *is* at the intellectual roots of contemporary evangelicalism, as was Francis Schaeffer before him.

This can only be described as "damning with faint praise."

RMJ, "damning with faint praise" is *exactly* what I *wasn't* trying to do.

Reading between the line(s) of your quip, I think I detect the assumption/judgement that modern evangelicalism has no sound intellectual grounding whatsoever. That's just not the case. If you believe that Falwell, Robertson, and Dobson are fully representative of the evangelical spectrum, the assumption would be correct. Brooks's point -- and the starting point for my whole "Oh Heavens! He's *right* for once!" reaction -- is that F/R/D are *not* fully representative. There *is* a history of real, honest-to-goodness thinking behind the flim-flam that F/R/D make of evangelical Protestantism. Stott, Schaeffer, Tozer and a few others were, among other things, thinkers.

Another "thinker" who is dear to the hearts of many evangelicals is C. S. Lewis. Whatever else you might think about him, I really don't believe you can say that he was a thoughtless, vapid oaf. (Oxford and Cambridge have never, to my knowledge, been in the business of taking on the intellectually vapid as Fellows.)

None of this is to say that the evangelicals' philosophical worldview is correct, or fully consistent with observable reality, or even internally consistent. What I took as Brooks's point, though, is that many of us on the "outside" of evangelicalism are flat-out wrong when we assume that Falwell, Robertson, and Dobson, with all their showmanship and grandstanding, are anywhere near fully representative of the broader evangelical community; or, because those three and their ilk are vapid oafs, that there *is* no well-developed philosophical worldview that underlies evangelical thought.

By the way, I can't begin to describe how painful it is to find myself in the position of defending Brooks, or even Stott. But just because Brooks is always insufferable and almost always wrong, doesn't mean that he was wrong in the basic point of this particular column. Just sayin'.

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