Friday, May 18, 2007

Evangelicals and Eschatology, Act Four

This is the final Act of my reflections on the recent 'Evangelicals and Eschatology' Conference at St Andrews University on 30 April 2007. In introducing the conference, Professor Stephen Holmes explained that it was the visit of Professor George Marsden to St Andrews that was the impetus behind the conference being arranged. Prof Marsden is the Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame, an independent, national Catholic university based in Notre Dame, Indiana. He teaches American Religious and Intellectual History along with other related subject matters and is the author of a 'Jonathan Edwards: A Life' and of 'Fundamentalism and American Culture: the Shaping of 20th Century Evangelicalism'. Apparently, he is a graduate of Westminister. His paper was entitled 'Does Eschatology Make a Difference? American Political Fundamentalism.'

Now, whether Professor Marsden had an off-day (there's only so much you can blame on a pizza) I don't know, but his paper just didn't grab me. He spoke laconically on the connections between the American religious right, politics and eschatological views. He used his definition of a fundamentalist: 'a fundamentalist is an evangelical who's angry about something'. He also related the revivalist Billy Sunday's statement during World War I: 'If you turn hell over, you'll find it has 'Made in Germany' stamped underneath.' At the time I remember thinking that some uncharitable and opinionated theologians might see that as a good way to sum up German theology! But not me, I might hasten to add: Vorsprung durch deutsche Theologie. Anyway, Prof Marsden gave a summary of the formation of the Fundamentalist movement; he pointed out that there has always been an inconsistency in dispensationalist prophecies of doom and decline and the energetic attempts of the Right to keep American society Christian. He explained that the old consensus was showing signs of weakness, that the traditional lines of eschatological views and political views were being blurred. If American Evangelicalism is becoming more prone to independent thought away from the Right (this is me talking), that can only be a good thing. The astonishing (for me) number of US students there would probably have found this a whole lot more relavant that I did. But, it was a good listen.