Science in Christian Perspective
Cultural Evangelicalism: The Background for Personal Despair*
JAMES R. DOLBY
Mental Health-Mental Retardation Center
Waco, Texas 76701
Responses by: Gary R. Collins, Richard H. Cox, Vernon J. Ehlers, Walter R. Hearn, Russell Heddendorf, David O. Moberg, and Bernard Ramm
From: JASA 24 (September 1972): 91-101.
Dr. James E. Dolby received his undergraduate and graduate training at Baylor
University, completing his Ph.D. there in clinical psychology in
1964. He taught
at Wheaton College from 1960-1967. He is currently Associate
Professor of Psychology
Copyright 1969 under the title, "Help for the Disillusioned Evangelical," by Christian Herald and reprinted by permission.
Evangelical Culture and Theology
One spring afternoon a young mars sat quietly in my office staring blankly out the window' at a beautiful world of budding trees and fresh green grass. He could not see the beauty of creation going on before his eyes because he was morbidly focused on his great personal need. He expressed it like this: "I wish I could believe as I did when I was in high school; then I knew what was right and wrong and I was ready to evangelize anyone to my view of Christianity."
The fact was that he could not regress and could no longer stop the questions which filled his inquiring, searching mind, nor could he reject the evidence which bad confronted him on all sides that those ;who claimed to hold the key' to Christian truth were also human beings with gross frailties, lie had tried all of the formulas for "spiritual growth," gone through all of the "deeper life" prescriptions, but he found that in his honest moments they were not very helpful to him and only added frustrations to his more mature
This man's frustrations had precipitated a personal crisis which was characterized by alternating periods of anxiety and depression. He was in need of help, not necessarily professional, which could mean the difference between regressing to earlier forms of behavior or progressing-accepting himself with his human limitations and ultimately living in a world where there are few black and whites and developing a Christian belief system that is as much filled with doubt and question as it is with faith.
I know of many such Christians who have been brought up in an evangelical Christian culture who find it most difficult to separate the evangelical culture from the essence of Christianity. They want to breathe fresh air, think new thoughts and he Christian in the real world of sweating, thinking, loving and hating people. The challenge to find a personal commitment to Christ tree of the many cultural overlays which the evangelical community puts on Christianity can be, and often is, a major struggle; only the hearty and very secure persons make it. At best the struggle of separation is filled with anxiety and despair to parallel the joy and release that accompany the metamorphosis process.
It is my belief that what is traditionally called evangelicalism is an almost inseparable combination of a cultural style and a theological belief system. For many they are so interwoven that to deny any part of this combined whole is emotionally to deny the whole package. For those who try to separate the two, the task is difficult if not impossible. Some of these people in their questioning will suffer such intense anxiety and depression that they cannot proceed and will bold on tenaciously to both the evangelical culture and the evangelical theology because the inner conflict is too much. For others it means that to be freed from a part they must reject the whole. One can recall many cases where this entire package was emotionally thrown out because the ability or the inclination to disentangle the two required too much. There are others, however, who want to find and keep the kernel of the Christian world-life view but discard the husk and all the remaining roughage. This last group often are in a state of conflict and vacillate between progress and regression.
I recall the comments of a college professor, who would be classified as an orthodox Christian, as he expressed his feelings of uncomfortableness when ques tioning either evangelical culture or evangelical theology. It was his opinion that anxiety and depression will always' accompany the evangelical Christian who keeps questioning and challenging his culture and beliefs. One person literally thanked God that he had not been raised in this background because he was not haunted by the impress of this overwhelmingly closed system. I agree with him that a person can never completely separate himself from those beliefs and value systems of his childhood.
What is traditionally called evangelicalism is an almost inseparable combination of a cultural style and a theological belief system.
Perhaps I should clarify before proceeding what I mean by evangelical culture and evangelical theology. Evangelical culture in my opinion is a subculture, a 'way of life, which is basically similar to that of most white, middle-class Americans, it stands for restrained criticism of authority, a deep belief in competitive enterprises, it places a premium on authority and encourages punishment as a way of child and social control. It also has a high regard for politeness, restraint of angry feelings and finds expression of affection difficult. The evangelical subculture also has a variety of taboos which are remnants from the cultural fundamentalism of the 1920's and '30's. These taboos vary from group to group and geographic area to geographic area, but generally they are expressed in opposition to such practices as drinking alcoholic beverages, smoking, card playing, gambling, body exposure, most of contemporary popular music, dancing, etc. This is my thumbnail sketch of the culture which surrounds and is fused with evangelical theology.
When one considers the nucleus of evangelical theology one has a difficult time determining which came first, the Puritan, middle-class culture or the evangelical theology. It is likely that they grew up in need of each other. The theological system which I am describing as evangelical has at least the following components: (1) a belief in the verbal inspiration of Scripture, (2) a premillenial view of "last things" (this is optional with some), (3) traditionally orthodox views about God, Christ and the Church, (4) a special creation of man (often eliminating the theory of evolution as the descriptive process 1w which God created man), and (5) a minimizing of church history and historical theology as an important guide with emphasis on the individual Christian's personal encounter with God through the Scriptures and prayer-often called the "deeper life." One cannot, and pe'rhaps should not, try, to encapsulate a theological viewpoint in a paragraph, but this gives an idea of what I mean when I use the term cultural evangelicalism.
Causes of Anxiety
Why the inevitable anxiety and depression in those struggling to find truth through the layers of training and cultural overlay? I think the answer rests in at least four areas: (1) fear of separation from parents, friends, and God, (2) guilt feelings for doubting and testing reality in taboo areas, (3) the anxiety which is produced when one has to live with a host of unanswered questions-a pattern that is foreign to the cultural evangelical system which is precise', definitive, and full of already determined answers, and (4) the despair which comes when one's reasons for living have eroded.
Fear of Separation
The best example of an extremely depressed person is the individual in deep sorrow because of the death of a loved one. To go into the psychology of sorrow is beyond the scope of this article, but it is obvious that the main reason for sorrow is a very deep and personal loss of an individual with whom mutual love has existed. This is a prototype for depression and we can see the obvious implications for those brought up in cultural evangelicalism. The rejection by parents, peer groups and churches of those who deviate in part or totally from their system can be documented over and over. I think cultural evangelists show more compassion to the "nonbeliever," the outsider, than to one who challenges the system from within. The stories told by college students after a vacation of rejection at home or in church fill the dormitories at evangelical colleges. The parents or churchmen were aghast at the new ideas and they encouraged their hometown young people to avoid such "hearers of heresy."
In an extreme, but none the less real, ease, I recall the young woman and man who "had to get married" because of pregnancy. The woman's parents refused to talk to her, except to exhort her to repent, and did not establish communication with this young woman until about six months after the child was burn. To this day the child's birthday is held on a different date so that members of the local church will not know that her mother had violated the most sacred of all taboos-premarital sexual intercourse.
This official rejection was painful, powerful' and devastating to the young woman. She had to either follow the road of repentance and conformity or leave the system. She chose the latter course. But rejection is usually much more subtle than this, taking such forms as hints via prayers or conversation. I can remember the person who humorously, with an underlay
The very heart of cultural evangelicalism is often fear, rather than the good news of forgiveness and love.
of sadness, told how his parents would put hymns on the record player when he was home to indirectly influence his "wayward" ideas.
Rejection by parents or friends can he most immobilizing and can bring on depression because there is the real element of loss of love. Unless the person is very strong or can find camaraderie with persons of kindred spirits, the temptation to capitulate and regain love will win out, and he will most likely return to the evangelical fold even with some latent questions unanswered.
To be rejected by parents or friends can be overwhelming, but to be afraid that God will also reject
the already struggling person, can be completely disabling. To believe that God will punish those who deviate can produce a level of anxiety (another word for fear) which can propel one into serious emotional disturbance. In cultural evangelicalism one is encouraged to believe the entire system is true and to challenge any particular is to challenge the whole and to potentially incur God's wrath, either by eternal separation in "hell" or by here-and-now punishment.
I once heard an evangelist tell a story of a man who resisted God's Spirit convicting him to return to the way (cultural evangelicalism). This was followed by a gory story about the death of his children which was interpreted as God's payment for nonconformity. Think what a permanent impact this story would have on the impressionable young person who is not able to see what is really being said. The essence of the story is that God punishes severely (at times by killing loved ones) if one does not conform to the "gospel" as presented by the evangelist.
It is my opinion that the very heart of cultural evangelicalism is often fear, rather than the good news
of forgiveness and love. Much of the cultural conformity and lack of inquisitiveness is a byproduct of fear rather than reasoned conviction. This conclusion will undoubtedly he challenged by many who read it, but a little introspection should he done before the observation is rejected, Many of the stories people recall through the years of training in this subculture are not the stories of grace but of punishment, damnation and of a vindictive God.
Guilt feelings are basically the by-product of a child's interaction with his parents. If the parents think something is wrong they will tell the child and usually hack it tip with a threat and actual punishment for disobedience. As the child grows, he too accepts these parental values as truth and no longer needs the
Cultural evangelicalism is about a generation behind in most areas where change is involved and this includes the great social issues which face us.
parents around to enforce a violation of these taboos. What happens in reality
is that the person has built into his mental processes away of
if he violates his conscience.
I can recall the young adolescent who felt very guilty about masturbating, which in the evangelical subculture is one of the strongest taboos. He would punish himself through guilt feelings. He would become depressed, and in his depressed state tell himself how bad and unlovable lie was, and would walk around despondent. During thus siege of guilt feelings and self-incrimination, he also tended to say things to others which would precipitate argument. Now he actually had someone angry at him. He had punished himself by telling himself how had lie was and by having someone angry with him-just as his parents had been. After lie had punished himself enough lie would feel better and the depression would subside. It is not a pleasant picture but a common pattern which occurs when one's conscience is violated and guilt feelings develop.
Cultural evangelicalism with its Puritan tradition, stress on authority and belief that punishment is the best way of social control has produced a group of people with sensitive strong consciences. As a person moves away from this culture or challenges its taboos, guilt feelings are likely to flood over him. To smoke a pipe or swear without guilt feelings is almost impossible for such sensitive persons and it is likely that the' can never completely free themselves from the guilt attached to these and other taboos. I recall the story of the man who refused a drink at a cocktail party not because lie thought it was strong but because it would violate his conscience which his parents and culture had built into him. He would prefer not to drink to avoid the unavoidable strong guilt feelings.
It is highly likely that a person brought up within cultural evangelicalism when trying to break out of the system will violate many taboos producing guilt feelings and, therefore, depression will follow. This will fluctuate from person to person and taboo to taboo, and it is part of the picture of despair.
The Need for Answers
One of the main components of cultural evangelicalism is its tightness or its definitiveness. It has answers to just about everything from how to get out of bed in the morning to a commentary on international relationships, from reasons for nonparticipation in dancing to beliefs about why man tends to be destructive. If one has been brought up in a world where answers are simplistic and where there is a well defined blueprint for living, and a belief that hat we are not sure of probably can he answered by an extrapolation from a biblical text, one is likely to become anxious when answers are not clear or when questions arise.
To leave a position of surety to go into a land where questions rather than answers reign is dangerous and frightening. Cultural evangelicalism does not prepare a person for either cultural or theological change. Change is always a threat because truth is not supposed to change. Cultural evangelicalism has been caught recently in several boxes like this. Not to mention the fight over the theory of evolution, it has had to adjust to such problems as television in the home when the theater and movies were taboo. Its views have changed but it took about a generation, and many still will not face the reality- of change. It appears that cultural evangelicalism is about a generation behind in most areas where change is involved and this includes the great social issues which face us. For those who realize that among the things we can be sure of are death, taxes, and change, the evangelical is an anomaly. The evangelical is ill prepared for change, and when the 'truths" of the culture are challenged, fear and despair will normally follow. It is much easier to be sure as we were in high school than to look at a problem more maturely and see that almost all issues are complex and that most answers to life questions may at best he only educated guesses.
The Loss of Meaning
When one lives for a cause, life takes on meaning, zest and verve. To live and die for a principle or for a person make life full and challenging. If, however, the reason for living is dashed to meet's, then one is left without purpose, and until new goals and meaning are found, despair will be abundant. This is what often happens to those who try- to leave the evangelistic zealousness which accompanies cultural evangelicalism.
This group knows what truth is and has the personal task of communicating it throughout the world. The mission is clear and so is the message. But for the man who is not sure that either the message, as it has been taught, is clear nor the purpose of the mission obvious, despair often sets in.
Some persons fill this area of meaning with other reasons for living. Some take the Christian ethic and apply it to the racial issue or other social concerns. Others become involved in professional pursuits such as medicine, social work, psychology, etc., where they can live to help others-a sublimated form of Christian concern. Still others live for their families, their country, or for the next paycheck and run from a meaningless existence into all forms of escapist activities such as TV, sports, clubs, etc.
The person leaving cultural evangelicalism needs to find the heart of
and renew his commitment to this; but when the core is unclear,
purpose and meaning
are also unclear. what is needed is a new glimpse of Christ
without the trappings
of our culture to see again his message and his way. The problem is that there
are few who are able to see this need clearly and, therefore, little
to those in the process of emancipation. The battle takes place all alone, and
the loneliness of this search may he more than one can hear. Because of this,
many reluctantly return to the "womb" and others break out and find
their friendships exclusively with those who care little
about Christ or his message to mankind.
The solution? If there is to he help for these searching people, it must come from the friendship and love of those who understand and care. Usually this friendship is found among those friends who have broken away from this subculture hot still have faith in Christ and among those presently in the struggle themselves. To he accepted, questions and all, is the first remedy for despair. Small groups where honesty, openness and genuine searching is standard are prob ably the only real source of help. These mini-churches within the church may he the next major Christian movement.
I see glimpses of this in a variety of movements in and out of the church and delight in each new venture. This article however, is an attempt to point out the problem and to sensitize many to the dilemma of despair which these people face. Despair like this can he as painful as any migraine headache and as devastating as any cancer. These people need help - an understanding, honest Christian friend.
A Straw Man
Gary R. Collins
Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
Deerfield, Illinois 60015
To respond to an article like that of Dr. Dolby is to invite certain criticism.
To agree is to invoke the wrath of those who disagree; to criticize
points is to risk being classified as is disillusioned evangelical-and none of
us 'would want a fate like that! The paper is thought provoking
that I'm willing-indeed anxious-to stick out my neck and make a few
To begin, we must recognize that there is much ill the article that is true to life. The author must be congratulated for his boldness ill tackling issues which a lot of Christians would prefer to sweep under the rug arid ignore. Many evangelicals do tend to tie extra-biblical cultural norms with biblical theology' and to assume that the two must stand together. Often we too get suspicious of the theology of those who would criticize the evangelical subculture. We are guilty at times of rejecting those who fall into sin, or over-emphasizing the wrath of God, or stimulating unhealthy guilt in our children, or of having too many pat answers. Certainly evangelicals are not perfect and there is value in looking at our faults since thus is a first step towards improving behavior.
There are, however, a number of points in this article with which I take issue. In the first place, I believe that Dolby has constructed a highly distorted and biased picture of evangelicals. He has constructed a straw man which can then be destroyed with relative ease. To create this image, the author makes two basic errors. First, lie is guilty' of generalizing from the particular. Based, apparently', on observations of his own patients, be describes what most evangelicals are hike, He forgets his own good warning that evangelical taboos vary from person to person, and he assumes instead that we are still hike the "cultural fundamentalism of the l920's and 30's." Is it a characteristic of evangelicals that they usually reject those who criticize, refuse to talk to their children when they have an illegitimate pregnancy, teach that God's wrath will descend on those who challenge the system, preach "gory" stories, consider masturbation as "one of the strongest taboos," and propagate "answers to just about everything from how to get out of bed in the morning to a commentary on international relationships?" Perhaps Dolby and I circulate in different circles but this is not lily stereotype of evangelicals-except perhaps for a small minority on the fringe of the movement. Then to say that contemporary evangelicals are a generation behind in terms of social issues is just not true as anyone who reads contemporary evangelical periodicals will realize.
In addition to generalizing from the particular, Dolby classifies as exclusively evangelical a number of faults which characterize great numbers of people in the society at large. A lot of people are critical of pregnancies out of wedlock, train their children by threats and punishment, react slowly to change, have no purpose in life, or become involved in social pursuits for essentially selfish reasons, Why hint that these are unique traits of evangelicals, when they may very well be traits of the whole society?
Having erected a straw man, Dolby then proceeds to knock it down. In so doing he is guilty, I believe, of rejecting both what is good and what is bad about evangelicals-of throwing out the proverbial baby with the bath water. For example, lie is critical of those who raise their children by "threat and actual punishment for disobedience." Undoubtedly such methods can be harmful if used exclusively or excessively, but to eliminate threat arid punishment is not only unbiblical, it is bad psychology. Children need standards and controls and we know that punishment is all effective technique if followed by an opportunity for learning more acceptable and socially approved behavior. Then, Dolby seems to think that asking questions is more to be desired than having answers. True, evangelicals-hike everybody else-are guilty at times of having answers that are a little too simplistic, but this does not hide the fact that the Scriptures which we believe do give some answers, many of which are simple and to some people just plain foolish. It is an overgeneralization to imply that answers are generally "an extrapolation from a biblical text." In an age when people have a "need for answers" should we always respond with another question? Arid what about the taboos-the "opposition to such practices as drinking alcoholic beverages, smoking, card playing, gambling, body' exposure, most of contemporary popular music, dancing, etc.?" Certainly many evangelicals may have overemphasized the dangers involved in these practices, but the fact remains that many of these are harmful and should be condemned. Numerous non-evangelicals and non-Christians recognize this! Undoubtedly, extremists have been overly concerned about some aspects of the evangelical culture, but this does not mean that the culture is completely wrong and needs to he thrown out. There is a lot about the evangelical sub-culture which is logically sound, consistent with biblical teaching, and worth keeping.
Having erected a stereotyped picture of the evangelical subculture and then having thrown it out, Dolby finds himself in a corner from which he fails to remove himself, in spite of a gallant attempt at the article's end. In his paper the author clearly states that the evangelical cultural style and theological beliefs are "almost inseparable." To separate the two is "difficult if not impossible," be writes. They "grew up in need of each other." If the culture and theology are so closely woven together, then to throw out the cultures is, ipso facto, to eliminate the theology. We are left only with small discussion groups. The authority of the Scriptures, the influence of the Holy Spirit, and the certainty which we have in Christ is all replaced by "small groups where honesty, openness and genuine searching is standard ... (and) probably the only real source of help." We get guidance, not from the Word of God (which ASA members, in their constitution, describe as inspired and the only unerring guide to faith and conduct) but from the friendship and concern of others who have "broken away" from the sub-culture and are, by Dolby's definition, likely to be characterized by anxiety and depression.
At this point I may sound like one of the rigid people described in Dolby's article, but it seems to me that the author has condemned himself. lie has linked together his culture and theology and then tries to throw out one while he hangs on to the other. I do not know Jim Dolby very well, but from our several conversations together I do not think that this represents his real position. For one thing he writes that be wants a "Christ without the trappings" and I believe him. Nevertheless, Dolby has made an error which seems to be typical of many Christians, including quite a few of us in the ASA. He has assumed that we can have a theology which is isolated; which has no bearing on our behavior, standards, values, interpersonal relations, or scientific endeavors. This idea came out several times during the recent ASA symposium on science and the Bible (Journal ASA, December, 1969.)
A Christ without trappings is sterile and meaningless. It is true that evangelicals may have emphasized some minor issues and have been un-Christian in some of our behavior. But we won't solve these very real problems 1w throwing out the evangelical sub-culture and those parts of the Word of God which give rise to many of our cultural beliefs. We must seek to find how the Scriptures apply to our daily behavior-including our scientific work. We must find where Nve are wrong in our beliefs-cultural and otherwise-and we must be honest enough to change, Some of this change will come as we worship and discuss with other Christians, but we must keep our evangelical culture and the unerring authority of the scriptures in proper perspective. Failing this, I question bow much we can really give help to disillusioned evangelicals.
A PROFESSIONAL TREATMENT
Richard H. Cox
San Diego Medical Center
San Diego, California 92123
Dr. Dolby has carefully thought through some of the intense conflicts
of the "evangelical
has enumerated in a spendidlv professional fashion the fears and concerns which herder on, and often represent, serious pathology of a psychological nature. He is correct in pointing out the etiology of these dynamics a often being in the mis-informed nature of the persons' religious belief and rearing. It is of course clear, (and I'm certain Dr. Dolby did not intend otherwise) that evangelicals are not the only persons to suffer from such symptoms. The same symptoms are found in the general run of the population regard less of their religious views. He is correct in stating that "the heart of cultural evangelicalism is often fear" and the tact that the heart of other cultural or religious systems is also fear does not excuse any system. It. is my personal belief that the most injurious portion of evangelicalism is Dr. Dolby's second component; namely: "a premillenial view of 'last things'." The future is utilized in a most schizophrenic fashion; that is, a combination of fear of hellfire and the bright hope of streets paved with gold, etc. The evangelical (regardless of his views regarding "eternal security") always precipitously hangs between hell and heaven. The very fact of requiring such a doctrine as "eternal security" by such a name' reveals the true precarious position which the evangelical must both enjoy" and "fear". Dr. Dolby's article is particularly helpful to persons in transition themselves. Those who read "about" persons in transition will be more critical. More on this subject is needed. Often, however, periodicals are reluctant to print such material due to the fact (or fear) that their constituency will drop their support. Such groups suffer the same kind of evangelical insecurity as the individual about whom Dr. Dolby writes.
THE EVANGELICAL COLLEGE AS "FRIEND"
Vernon J. Ehlers
Department of Physics
Grand Rapids, Michigan 49506
I am impressed with Dr. Dolby's analysis of an important problem. He
a great deal of insight in his dissection of evangelicalism into its cultural
and theological parts. I believe it would be very interesting to extend this
analysis to the Christian religion in general. particularly in
America. I am continually
intrigued by the manner in which most Amencans have unknowingly
adopted a culture
religion (the American Way of Life') under the mistaken impression that it is
a theological belief system. This culture religion is complete with its creeds
Declaration of Independence, Gettysburg Address,
etc.), its theological periodicals (Time, Reader's Digest) , and its heretics (leftists and radicals). It is perfectly acceptable to hold divergent theological views
in much of America, for
indeed, is not religious tolerance one of the articles of faith of the American
niltune religion? However, a person deviating from the tenets of the American
culture religion will find very little tolerance displayed. This fact alone is
a strong indication of the relative values Americans place on their
as opposed to their theological beliefs.
However, interesting as further discussion of this topic might he, I would prefer to restrict my discussion to the role of a college (or university) as it relates to the disillusioned evangelicals mentioned by Dr. Dolby. I believe' this to he of extreme importance, H for no other reason that the preponderance of disillusioned evangelicals of college' age'. Furthermore, the college experience naturally tends to raise the questions and issues discussed by Dr. Dolby. The contact with individuals from other cultures, the study of cultural patterns in different eras, the contact with students and faculty members who can clearly distinguish between cultural evangelicalism and evangelical theology; all these' factors lead college students to a direct encounter with the issues raised by Dr. Dolby. Although not every individual facing these problems regards it as a major crisis there is a sufficient number of them so that one must pay attention to their problem. As Dr. Dolby concludes in his article "These people need help-an understanding, honest Christian friend". I submit that a college and its faculty can fulfill a valuable function as "friend".
Let me' begin by discussing the role' of the faculty as a collective body. If a college is to be a "friend" in Dr. Dolby's sense. It seems imperative' to me that every faculty member, and a college as a whole, must reflect a clear philosophy of learning firmly founded upon evangelical theology. Furthermore, the faculty must recognize and display its recognition of the distinction between evangelical culture and evangelical theology, and must possess a commitment to the evangelical faith. This implies a strong need for an evangelical faculty to serve the evangelical student community. To some this smacks of "protectionism".
Some institutions in fact keep a "house atheist" on the staff to dispel this protectionistic image. However, my point here is not that the student should be protected from non-evangelical influences, but rather that only a person who has undergone and understands the crises described by Dr. Dolby can effectively provide understanding help and encouragement for an individual undergoing the same crises.
Clearly the role of faculty members as individuals is even more important. Every professor has had those moments when a student, in the quiet of the faculty member's office, confesses his doubts about his Christiais faith. I recall one colleague telling me about the student who marched into his office and defiantly announced that he did not believe in God, and then stood there as if expecting either lightning or the professor to strike him. What must the faculty member do in such a situation? Clearly' it is one of the most important moments of a student's life, and represents a golden opportunity for the faculty member to help the student resolve his doubts and draw closer to his Lord. It takes a kind, understanding, concerned Christian to handle this situation properly.
It is apparent from my remarks that I believe an evangelical student should attend an evangelical college. I cannot subscribe to the thesis that the Christian should attend a secular campus so that he may witness to the secular student community. This may be true for certain perceptive, secure Christians 'who have already undergone the crisis described by Dr. Dolby. However, during my years of teaching on a secular campus I saw too many students undergo this same crisis, find themselves unable to resolve it, and not having a knowledgeable confidant to whom they could turn, end up discarding their evangelical theology among with their evangelical culture.
It is apparent then that the college can play a vital role as a "friend" of the disillusioned evangelical student. Clearly, this implies that the college serves as a buffer between the evangelical community and its students. This places the evangelical college in a particularly difficult rule. Its financial support in general depends upon a community of believers who support their evangelical cultural beliefs as strongly as they support their evangelical theological beliefs. At the same time, the college cannot in good conscience turn its hack upon the spiritual needs of the student, and demand that the,,, adopt and adhere to the evangelical cultural system. As one example, the college which imposes hair-length standards upon its male students either does not understand what Dr. Dolby is saying, or else is "selling out" to its constituency. In either ease it is doing a disservice to its students. This problem, which has always existed, is increasingly severe at present because of the increasing militancy of the students. Thus evangelical college presidents, who had hoped to remain free of the difficulties plaguing secular campuses, find themselves embroiled in even more difficult situations. The end of these difficulties is not in sight, and no easy resolution of this problem can he expected.
Finally, just a word about the role of the "dissenter". By this term I mean an individual who has come to grips with the problem, resolved it, and has rejected those parts of the evangelical culture which he believes not 'worth keeping. It appears to me this person has a peculiar responsibility in the evangelical community. Because he has a better understanding of the evangelical faith than most individuals, I believe it incumbent upon him not to flaunt his newfound freedom in the faces of those who are unable to make the distinctions our dissenter has made. As an example, I believe a dissenting college student returning home should not seek to "educate" his friends and relatives regarding the individuality of their cultural taboos, but rather should try to adapt to the cultural patterns of his community. This is not hypocrisy; this is merely concern for the weaker brother. As in all eases, the increased freedom associated with a deeper faith brings with it increased responsibility. I have sought to discuss this situation only in the light of Dr. Dolby's article. Thus I have neglected completely all problems arising from the great differences between the youth culture and the adult culture of today. Yet, in all situations I am convinced the evangelical college can he, is, and should be a strong "friend" to those disillusioned evangelical students seeking help.
CHRIST SET US FREE
Walter R. Hearn
762 Arlington Ave,
Berkeley, California 94707
It is ironic that Christians should find it more difficult than others to be "free souls." Yet Dolby describes the cultural trap we fall into and need help to escape from-or rather, the immaturity we need to grow out of. Freedom always frightens us at first because we have to cope with the unexpected. As a character in the film "Easy' Rider" observed, even those who rave about freedom may panic when confronted by someone really free.
Since it is almost equally frightening to confront freedom in ourselves, it is wise to move slowly and cautiously in that direction. But "Christ set us free, to be free men" (Galatians 5:1, N.E.B.). If Christ lives in us, it is cowardly not to move with Him from cultural constraint toward personal control of our lives. Having gained some measure of spiritual freedom ourselves, it would he unloving not to support others struggling to be free.
The American Scientific Affiliation could play a significant role in helping the rest of the evangelical community learn to accept and enjoy a less rigid outlook. Consider how our experience as students and practitioners of science has lightened the load of anxiety accompanying our own maturation as Christians:
(1) The fear of separation Dolby describes has been mitigated at least partially for us by our participation in another "spiritual community," the realm of science, ill which innovation and experimentation are valued. The ASA itself has been for me, at least, the kind of "life support system" needed to provide "the friendship and love of those who understand and care."
(2) The guilt associated with violating some of the traditional taboos has probably not been so oppressive to us. Professional life has broadened our contacts and often exposed us to a wider range of cultural practices than we might have known otherwise, producing a healthy tendency to question the absoluteness of our own patterns.
(3) Science, more than any other occupation, is surely "a land where questions rather than answers reign, giving us much experience-even training-in living comfortably with ambiguity and tentativity. We have learned that to attack an idea need not mean rejection of the person who holds that mica, so we are perhaps less fearful than other Christians of a critical approach to truth.
(4) Most of us have hammered out a definition of Christian service that is broader than tentmaking evangelism so we are less inclined to despair when simplistic solutions fail to fit the problems of the world. The complexity of the creation with which we wrestle has forced us to appreciate that God's purposes can seldom be simply defined.
As ASA members we are probably more deeply concerned about freedom from intellectual authoritarianism than about matters of personal conduct and "life style." In both areas a Christian must exercise his freedom responsibly, "demonstrating the truth in love" to those whose ideas seem ridiculous or whose behavior is insensitive to the feelings of others. This is often terribly hard to do. In spite of the wording of the beatitude in Matthew 5:9, most of us at heart are really "peace-lovers" rather than "peace-makers." To reconcile opposing ideas or people intolerant of each other is a drain on our spiritual energy and not all of us are up to it, at least not all the time. We can conserve energy by recognizing two kinds of issues: those involving change itself, and those in which the possibility of change is at stake. The first are seldom worth a hassle: when change is necessary for our personal integrity, we simply change our ideas or our life style-disturbing other Christians as little as possible. Issues worth taking a public position on or engaging in controversy over are almost always those in which the freedom to change is in jeopardy.
Thus, while helping individual Christians achieve maturity, we should also give some thought to helping the collective body of Christ, the church, grow up. The institutional perpetuation of evangelical culture, not stressed by Dolby, is leading many to conclude that the established church has not merely stopped growing-it has almost stopped living. If it is any comfort, stagnation of the institutional church extends beyond the evangelical slough of despond. We recently heard an intelligent couple who dropped out of a Unitarian-Universalist church give reasons that sounded exactly like what we hear about evangelical churches:
too little honesty or depth in personal relationships, too much hollow ceremony, too little serious grappling with real problems of our country and the world, too much trivial hustling around.
Dolby sees glimpses of hope in a variety of movements in and out of the church which he calls "mini-churches." It will take many many mini-churches to make a dent in the problem, if our observations are correct. My wife and I know very few intelligent, sensitive, evangelical Christians still in the organized church who are not disturbed by failure of their own church to exert net positive effect on their spiritual life or that of their children. Many tell us they would leave if they could see a viable alternative. In 1967, after years of service within the established church, Ginny and I decided to drop our official church connection and try' to develop an alternative to the institutional pattern of Christian life. Recognizing that we had few guidelines to follow, we wrote up an account of our decision and sent copies to close friends for their suggestions and criticisms. We have since sent several reports to the same people, to share our experiences and problems.
Our own experimental model centers around two areas, family and professional life, with ad hoc cooperation for activity in larger arenas (such as working with IVCF in some specific effort or with a political party to help a peace candidate). Free of incessant talk of Christian service in a secular world, we find ourselves with more time and energy to "get on with it." We call contribute part of our tithe to ASA without having to win approval of a committee or congregation. With no church activities crowding our schedule, we are better able to explore the spiritual dimensions of family and university responsibilities. And without the "synthetic fellowship" of chords life, we find more time to cultivate lasting friendships among both Christians and nun-Christians.
Some who read our original document feared we were withdrawing into an isolationism that would cut us off from other Christians, but after several years experience we believe their fears were unfounded. Could it be that Christians who roll against each other in casual contact every Sunday actually attenuate their
capacity for deep personal relationships? At any rate, we think of our family as an "open" or "extended" one,
as will the clan concept of the hippie movement (and the early Christian movement). We care about the acceptance, mutual respect, and hospitality our home life reveals to strangers-and to our children. Many people seem to remain in an organized church not for themselves, but "for the children." Eventually we came to doubt the wisdom of exposing a child to what at worst was Christian Mickey' Mouse and at best was sermonizing in an artificial atmosphere. We now value immensely our Sunday morning "family time" of leisurely breakfast, good talk about life at lab and at school, and some Bible reading and conversational prayer. Our ten-year-old has missed out ms some things, but we see many "churchy" kids missing the basics of the Christian way.
We are continuing to experiment and shift our emphasis from time to time; flexibility is obviously one of the great assets of a small group. When we began facing opportunities for Christian witness and service near at hand, the artificiality of much of evangelical culture became more apparent to us. We are beginning to sense how "radical" Christianity is-both ill the modern sense of being at odds with the establishment and in the original meaning of the word ("having deep roots"). Of current concern to us is the American cultural pattern of sacrificing high-quality family life in order to do intense professional work. Is there a way of having both, or must we choose between them? Is western culture as a whole, not merely evangelical culture, at war against man?
One final observation about arty radical movement toward mini-churches: when large numbers of Christian laymen begin to assume the kind of pastoral role advocated by Dolby, some of the Christians most in need of sympathetic help will he our professional pastors. Obviously many of them will feel threatened by any move away from established churches, or even by any spiritual movement within the church that largely bypasses them. Some will try desperately to maintain the status quo, some will make changes-ton often, superficial ones-to stay in positions of leadership, others will recognize that they are caught in a personal tragedy unprepared to make sweeping changes in their own outlook and way of life. Perhaps to these people especially, members of the American Scientific Affiliation are in a unique position to contribute love and
understanding. Many of us who have had a satisfying career in basic research but see the handwriting on' the fiscal wall should be able to sympathize with anxious ministers buffeted by changes they cannot control. Like its they are professionals whose life-work may be on the verge of being "phased out" to make way for something else.
Who knows? Rather than being "disillusioned" by changing circumstances, evangelical ministers and scientists may both be shedding false illusions about the permanence of our roles. This is equivalent to having new freedom thrust upon us-and freedom may yet turn out to be contagious within the living body of Christ.
ONE FORM OF A GENERAL PROBLEM
Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania
The problem referred to by Dr. Dolby can be placed in the larger context of the
problem of the disenchantment of the world. It was Max Weber who stressed the
fact that systems of meaning in the world lose their meaning for the individual
when he no longer sees the original "enchantment" in them. Weber considered
this to be an inevitable process which all persons experience in a
The disillusioned evangelical appears to he a type of this person.
Faced with this problem, the individual seeks some resolution by moving to another meaning system. He attempts to find in a new subculture the original meaning which has been lost. The likelihood, however, is that lie will continue to be dissatisfied and will move again. What we find is a pattern of "alternation" in which the person repeatedly moves from one system of meaning to another seeking for an enchanted world. This pattern is not unique but is characteristic of disenchanted society in which life is bureaucratized.
I am quite sympathetic with Dolby's description of "evangelical culture". It might very well be that it is
molded by secular influences and lagging mural principles. Nevertheless, I think be errs in his description of the "disillusioned evangelical". Are the symptoms lie describes significantly different from those which are found in persons who are disenchanted with secular meaning systems? Cannot the divorced person feel similar feelings of guilt and depression as lie seeks happiness in a new marriage? Doesn't the person who alternates to another lob experience anxiety and feelings of separation?
Distinguishing between conversion and alternation, Peter Berger suggests a difference between them. Conversion places the person in a meaning system which is permanent. The satisfaction which is experienced makes it unnecessary to seek alternation. It is quite possible, then, that the person who desires to move out of the evangelical culture never experienced conversion. If he had, shouldn't his motivation to remain in the subculture be higher than it apparently is?
I suspect that Dolby recognizes the validity of this type of
approach to the problem. lie refers to the loss of meaning and notes
is always a threat because truth is not supposed to change".
Such an idealism
is not necessarily limited to the evangelical. Surely lie is correct when lie
states that "what is needed is a new glimpse of Christ without
of our culture". His apparent problem, however, is that he
directs his criticism
only at evangelical culture. He does not perceive the general nature
of this problem
in society nor does he acknowledge the responsibility which the
has been truly converted, has to continue to seek for meaning in the
One may overlook these weaknesses arid recognize them as subsidiary to his main problem. But what is this problem? It is the need to come to grips with the "core" of the subculture. Apparently, this is a cultural, as well as a personal, problem. The solution which is offered, however, is psychological. It is suggested that the disillusioned evangelical needs the support of understanding friends. Can he, however, gain a new understanding of Christ by being accepted by others?
The conclusion may be drawn that Dolby has a greater sympathy for the disillusioned evangelical than for the plight of the evangelical culture. Yet if the cause of the problem is cultural, as he suggests, why deal only with the symptoms? Of course it is important to he concerned with the person, but is the necessary help to he found in the suggestions offered? One suspects that the ax to be ground is being honed by the wrong stone.
ALWAYS GOSPEL PLUS
David 0. Moberg
interpretation of the disillusionment and despair among
brought up in evangelic-al Christian culture seems generally valid,
at least for
those who are from the branch of evangelicalism that is best labeled
Since that is the predominant perspective within the National
Association of Evangelicals, and since Dolby has qualifying words and phrases ("many such Christians," "Some of these
people," "these searching people," etc.), it may be appropriate
to view it as a general problem for evangelicals. Personally, however, I prefer
to distinguish between fundamentalists, who are narrow in their perspectives
of what is and is not acceptably "Christian", authoritarian
and vituperative in
their references to outsiders, and evangelicals, who are
more tolerant of and open toward persons and perspectives within the Christian
faith that deviate from
their own system of doctrinal interpretations and behavioral codes.
No evangelical who has taught in an institution of higher learning for a substantial length of time has failed to observe or at least to hear about eases of disillusionment of the kind Dr. Colby describes. Any fundamentalist who attempts to trace the progress of youth who grew tip in his church will undoubtedly become aware of many who have "lost their faith." Yet full analysis of what occurred often will reveal that many base not given dip their faith in Christ; they were strongly indoctrinated with the need to trust Him as their Savior and Lord and with the belief that salvation is a gift of God's grace that cannot he earned by man's efforts. Carrying that evangelical doctrine to its logical extreme, they' have become disillusioned wills the code of conduct and narrow requirements for "fellowship" imposed by their fundamentalist churches as if these were an essential part of the Gospel. (One wonders to what extent Dr. Dolby himself has gone through this struggle.) Unfortunately, many youth also have rejected significant aspects of the faith itself as their awakening to the relativism of norms for conduct has spilled over into a belief in theological relativism or even universalism.
Certainly there is no question but that there are numerous (not just one as Dolby implies) evangelical subcultures in the U.S.A., and still more in other nations. It is normal for one's social group to develop its own unique combination i if characteristics as people interact with each other and develop their respective habitual modes of social relationships. It is impossible for any enduring group to refrain from developing its own subcultural characteristics. Social research describing and analyzing these, including their varying patterns of taboos and changes occurring with the passage of time, can he highly productive and useful. Not the least of the uses of such findings can he the identification of cultural and subcultural trappings which are added In' the respective groups to their membership standard of faith in Jesus Christ.
Every Christian group tends to have "cultural overlays and these intrude even into interpretations of the Bible. Preconceptions handed down from our national, regional, ethnic, denominational, occupational, and other social identifications blind its to certain teachings of the Scriptures, cause us to spiritualize various literal instructions given us in the New Testiment, and confine its to biased systems of interpretation. .As a result statements like "The Bible says really mean "My interpretation of what the Bible says is...," and we sometimes even say. "The Bible states this, but it means that." "The Gospel" which is proclaimed by each Christian subculture-fundamentalist, evangelical, neo-orthodox, neo-liberal, denominational, and every other-is always "The Gospel plus my subcultural overlay' of interpretation." It is most unfortunate that so many Christians are blind to that fact except when they criticize their spiritual competitors for teaching heresies and practicing hypocrisies!
The solution to this problem is possibly more complex than that
suggested by Dolby.
It necessitates, indeed, "a new glimpse of Christ without the trappings of
our culture-to see again his message and his way," if that is possible. It
certainly demands that we strive to identify those trappings. We will
not be freed
of them by' interpretive departures from the Scriptures. We must
them and differentiate between them and the faith. Social research as well as
theological and other studies can play a significant part in this, as in other
aspects of the work of the Christian church.
Christian education must get far beyond the Sunday School level with a program of continuation studies that is related clearly to the contemporary needs and that lasts an entire lifetime. "Mini-churches" may play a significant part in this but they must be supplemented and coordinated also by relevant large-scale programs and projects, including effective Christian literature (like the Journal ASA!) A biblical balance which demonstrates agape love both by evangelism and Christian social concern is a major part of the solution. Its wholesome effects will he apparent in the direct good that it achieves but also in the removal of a major source for justifiable criticisms against those who are "too heavenly minded to be of any earthy good."
Baptist Seminary of the West
I believe Dr. Dolby's article is right on the target. In fact, I know
of no such
other perceptive article although I have read other attempts at such
He sees the issues so clearly from the inside as an evangelical and
from the outside
as a psychologist that I even suspect that there is something of the
in the article which gives it its unusual clarity of analysis.
I do know of the agonies that he describes and the structures he elaborates. I know of them from parents I have talked with whose great concern is their children, They are at a loss to give the child the old guilt treatment-beat 'em down, threaten them, intimidate them, and try subtly to propagandize them as he suggests with phonograph records. Others try to get with their children, be as permissive as possible and put up with their music, long hair, and new mores (hardly yet a morality). But the parents themselves are so tied up in the evangelical culture-evangelical faith complex that they have no freedom in either approach.
It is also my opportunity to he in many Christian colleges each year where I see the same drama enacted. Only here it is the administration versus the students, rather than parents versus the children. But the dynamics are the same. The problems are identical. The approaches vary'. Some schools crack down hard and maintain the evangelical-faith, evangelical-culture synthesis. Others try to get with it with the kids.
The same is true in Bible conferences. The leaders of high school and college conferences have to make the same decisions and are caught up in the same agonies. 1 know of one conference grounds that has settled into concrete: the evangelical culture must go with the evangelical faith and their program and their speakers are all retreats hack to the 1920's.
1 think Dolby has the right theory, although how to pull it off will not be easy. We do need a new freedom, a new release, a new synthesis of evangelical faith and the new patterns of youth culture of the 1960's and the 1970's. lie is psychologically, sociologically and theologically right.
But I find the attempts at transition very difficult. I find parents, pastors,
elders, deacons unbelievably defensive. They do not know what a terrible price
they are paying for such defensiveness. I wish I could narrate the
dozens of times
I have tried to communicate what Dolby is saying to these elders and have run
into intransigence, bigotry, defensiveness; and I have left the
at heart, knowing that these defensive elders are sowing the wind to reap the
However, all is not loss. There are some seminaries awake to this problem. "The times are a' changing" and they know it. There are some pastors and some churches that can make this distinction between evangelical faith and evangelical culture and are leading their young people into the freedom of real evangelical faith. There are some parents who know that defensiveness is self-defeating and are trying to get with it with their own children. Those making the transition are small in number. We hope, however, that they are pioneers for the thousands who shall eventually wake up and find that some have already pioneered the pathway of transition.
*This symposium on Cultural Evangelicalism was organized by
C. Eugene Walker, Department of Psychology, Baylor University, Waco, Texas.