25 February 2017

Renew Conference 2017: First Installment

Every so often Westminster Reformed Presbyterian Church hosts what it calls a Renew Conference. You can read my concluding posts from the 2010 and 2012 conferences here and here. For 2017 Vincent Bacote of Wheaton College was the keynote speaker on the theme "The Sky Isn't Falling But the Door Is Opening."

Bacote's initial address on Friday evening was a brief history of American Evangelicalism beginning with the publication of "The Fundamentals" (1910-1915) and continuing to the present day. His comments on the pre-1970 era were a riff on George Marsden's "Fundamentalism and American Culture." His remarks on the recent Evangelical past were more interesting: Evangelicals' infatuation with Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, their subsequent "burnout", and their increasing levels of fear during the Obama administration. This pattern of reactive short term-ism demonstrate that Evangelicals are typically American, that is, they don't want to think too hard about really difficult matters of public policy and they want solutions to perceived problems now! In response to my question, however, Bacote isn't ready to ditch the label "Evangelical." You can go here to read why I think "Evangelical" is past its sell-by date.

In his Saturday morning address Bacote spoke to the topic of race in America. He had hinted at this aspect of American life the previous evening in his observation that self-identified Evangelicals are overwhelmingly White. In brief, while the concept of race is an eighteenth-century Enlightenment concept, it nonetheless operated and continues to operate with the force of reality. In other words, the social and economic effects of 200+ years of slavery followed by 70+ years of Jim Crow on Black Americans didn't disappear with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Even on a worldwide basis, Bacote observed, 500 years of political, military, and scientific successes of the northern European and American peoples has lead to the idolization of "Whiteness" exemplified in the use of skin-lightening creams and injections by the dark-skinned peoples of South Asia and even Africa. On the individual level, the response of Evangelicals should not be to opt-out of the hard work of the personal, patient, and uncomfortable process of getting to know people of other races.

Bacote in the third session cast the Evangelical response to the larger problem of race in America in terms of lament and hope. Lament acknowledges the brokenness of our world but, if left untended, leads to cynicism. The Christian eschatological hope means that the sentences of our laments end not with a period but with a comma. On the one hand, the Bible provides hope in a final resolution of the ills of life on the fallen earth. On the other, it doesn't give us a pass to sit on the bench in the meantime. Of course, exactly what we should do in the meantime is the challenging question, one that Evangelicals, with their lack of theological and historical depth of knowledge, find especially hard to answer.

Finally, you will have to wait until tomorrow to learn about Bacote's specific comments on the approaches of James Davison Hunter ("faithful presence") and Rod Dreher ("The Benedict Option") and some other miscellany.

If you can't wait, feel free to join Dr. Bacote in worship tomorrow at WRPC,

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