Essay / Education

Picking a Christian College

What I’m ReadingBefore spending hard earned money to send their kids to a Christian college a parent should ask themselves what they anticipate from the college. If you are one of the eighty percent of evangelicals who voted for Bush, then you might not realize that many Christian college professors views you as either an idiot or wicked. They have a “radical orthodoxy” for your student. This stew of ill digested post-modern assumptions about the world (adopted just when everyone else is rejecting them) says it wants Christian scholarship to advance. But wait! It turns out that having been set free by post-modernism from modernism there is no critique of Darwin (God forbid!) only of fundamentalists who do so. There is criticism of the left in the USA, but mostly for not being radical enough. Socialism is given a big boost. Patriotism is the greatest evil. Pacifism, which has never managed to create a sustainable society of any size that did not parasitically depend on a non-pacifist nation to survive, is normal Christian living.Here is a fascinating blog post from a Calvin college professor:Overall, I found Sider’s book underwhelming. It certainly doesn’t compare to Noll’s account concerning the evangelical “mind” (admittedly, Sider’s isn’t an “academic” book). Whereas Noll very patiently tries to discern the causes of the scandal, Sider seems content to recite statistics and never really gets to thinking about the root cause for evangelicalism’s assimilation to a consumer culture. I suspect this is because in the end, even Sider’s version of Christianity still adheres to the same root cause, viz., majoritarian democracy coupled with the valorization of free-market economies. In short, I think this book confirms what I’ve always thought about Sider: at the end of the day, he isn’t really prophetic. He is a reformer, at best. While he tries admirably to get evangelicals to appreciate the structural character of sin, he stops short of recognizing that capitalism and the version of “democracy” pushed by the current administration are at the heart of the problem. Sider wants to create charitable, compassionate, property-owning agents of a chastened free market; he’s not willing to call into question that entire system. (He even makes a point of trying to say that the early church retained notions of private property. Acts 2:44 seems to clearly indicate they held “all things in common.”) But rabid capitalism is quite happy to encourage charity, tithing, and the like: none of it really challenges the dominant model for distributing goods and wealth.Smith has written a book so bad (“Introducing Radical Orthodoxy”) that it defies critical comment. To pick my own area of interest, the book manages to mangle Plato so badly that one questions if Smith has ever read Plato at all. His secondary sources for Plato are eccentric (to be charitable). They apparently consist of a group of (mostly) theologians using Plato and some neo-Platonism in ways having little or nothing to do with the texts themselves, but as jumping off points for their own ideas.Smith never argues for anything in his book. He simply asserts that thinker or activist X has fallen into Constantianism (never defined like most of his terms of abuse) and moves on. Smith does have a message for us: we are not free in the USA and the free market has so oppressed us that only revolutionary thinking can save. (It is interesting to note that the same system he despises delivered his book to me through the internet quickly at a price I could afford. At the start of my grad career such texts were much less available. Here is hoping the Dutch Reformed businessmen paying Smith’s bills wake up soon.) Like all blog posts on anything this is only a quick take. . . Essentially unfair to a long argument found in a book. . . If there were arguments or sustained discourse to critique in the book. The book itself reads like a long blog post so maybe this is sufficient.It is rather enjoyable to be a Christian Platonist who is a Republican who believes in free markets that happily voted for George Bush. It is even more enjoyable to support our War on Terror, to think the Patriot Act on the whole prudent and beneficial, and to be glad we liberated Iraq. It is so politically incorrect in our modern Christian colleges that it makes me the true radical. Believe me it is much easier to say things like those written by Smith at Christian college faculty meetings (at most schools) than to have my views. However, it is not nearly so fun. But then, I don’t think the Roman who stopped killing Christians was all bad either.

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