by Matt Sutton
Part I: Anointing the Anointed
Randall Stephens and Karl Giberson’s book The Anointed has officially been out for two weeks. As reviews begin to appear, it is clear that this is one of the most important—and controversial—books on religion in modern America to appear in some time.
Booklist summarized, “[Stephens and Giberson] rise triumphantly to the challenge of explaining the leaders and the culture of the religious Right without rancor or condescension.”
The ever present Kevin Schultz wrote a smart review for the Wilson Quarterly concluding, “One of the principal virtues of The Anointed is that it represents an effort to demonstrate that the evangelical community is not a monolith of the unthinking.” He did, however, include a caveat. “Yet if that were as true as the authors hope, they probably would have felt less pressed to write this book.”
The Weekly Standard also wrestled with Stephens and Giberson’s arguments. But rather than praise their work, the review admitted half-heartedly that the authors were “not wrong.” I guess that’s as far as the Standard can go in praising a book that does not line up with the magazine’s politics. Nevertheless, “not wrong” is certainly better than being “not right.”
On the Huffington Post, Mark Pinsky used The Anointed to discuss the relationship between evangelical Zionism and the 2012 campaign.
Finally, my review of the book is in the current Christian Century. I conclude,
“The Anointed is one of the best and most important books on religion published this year. It is a well-written, well-argued study that penetrates to the heart of modern evangelical culture. Stephens and Giberson have done an excellent job of critiquing what Mark Noll previously called the ‘scandal of the evangelical mind’ (the scandal is that there is no evangelical mind) while also empathetically explaining why so many evangelicals are smitten by dubious experts. This book deserves a wide reading, which it is certain to have. Evangelicals who take the intellect seriously as well as outsiders struggling to understand the evangelical subculture will benefit from the hard work and keen insights of Stephens and Giberson.”
Part II: Annoyed by the Anointed
But it is not all butterflies and sunshine for Giberson and Stephens. They have managed to offend a few of the most influential (or at least a couple of the loudest) voices in evangelicalism.
First, as Randall has explained, Ken Ham has been complaining about this book, inferring that the authors might be wolves in sheep’s clothing. In fact, the title of one of his blog post was the none-too-subtle “Beware of Wolves.”
Then Al Mohler jumped in. In a blog with the equally none-too-subtle title “Total Capitulation: The Evangelical Surrender of Truth,” Mohler too questions the faith of the authors—not the argument of the book, but the faith of the authors. He writes, “Giberson and Stephens are far outside of the evangelical mainstream, and they know it.”
Apparently he gets to decide what is and is not the evangelical mainstream (which also means that Eastern Nazarene’s administration and tenure committees are not as capable of determining what counts as an evangelical as is this Southern Baptist).
The response of Mohler and Ham is predictable. They are afraid to let their audiences think for themselves. They simply want to teach them what to think. So when a book comes along that challenges what they teach and believe, they react by questioning the faith of its authors. Rather than trusting that their followers are smart enough to analyze critically a book like The Anointed, they choose instead to scare their disciples into not reading at all. It’s easier that way. If their followers don’t read, they won’t ask questions.
In 1940 fundamentalist leader and Moody Bible Institute president Will Houghton lamented to Wheaton College president J. Oliver Buswell, “it takes very little to start a fight with some fundamentalists.” Because fundamentalism by that time had developed such negative and combative characteristics, men like Houghton and Buswell began calling themselves evangelicals.
Seventy years later, the evangelicalism of Ham and Mohler suffers from the same problem as old time fundamentalism. Rather than celebrate the fact that two Christian professors from a Nazarene school have published a wonderful—although not perfect—book with one of the most prestigious academic presses in the world, they insinuate that the authors’ faith is suspect. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. Houghton certainly would not be. Fundamentalism is still alive and well as Stephens and Giberson so carefully document.