July 08, 2005
In her effort to show the First and Second Great Awakenings as a triumph of poulist religion of scholasticism, Pearcey ignores the scholarly traditions of the Baptist and Methodist denominations. Pearcey even ignores her own statistics at one point in asserting that the Baptists experienced "striking growth" along with the Methodists. 17% of Americans were baptists in 1776, compared to 20.5% in 1850 -- not what I would call "striking growth." Pearcey ignores the scholarly tradition of Baptist theologians like John Gill, Andrew Fuller, John L. Dagg, and Charles Spurgeon, as well as the Princeton trained James P. Boyce, who helped found the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and served as its first president until 1888. She focuses on the populist elements in the Baptist movement, choosing to only focus on the scholarly Presbyterians in a subsequent chapter. Scholarly Baptists get no mention at all -- it would have contradicted part of the thesis concerning the Great Awakenings.
This neglect is unfortunate, because Pearcey has some excellent points to make. The church in general prior to the Great Awakenings was cold and impersonal, caring little for evangelism. Pearcey recognizes the importance of the populists in awakening American spirituality even as she laments their rejection of the academy. She does not explore closely enough the failings of the academy that made them reject it, just that in rejecting it they effectively threw the baby out with the bathwater.
Pearcey's chapter on the role of women in the culture war is fascinating, and I'm sure it disappointed many of her critics to read her appraisal (and approval) of the expansive role women had prior to the Industrial Revolution. She uses this to illustrate how matters of virtue and morality became the domain of women (the temperence movement, for example) while matters of fact (science, business, etc.) became the domain of men. Virtue and spirituality became seen as effeminate, which Pearcey sees as leading to the "feminization of the Church." This is shown as yet another example of the split that Pearcey sees in modern philosophy -- the separation of "fact" and "faith" that she feels is a false dichotomy.
This book is not designed for non-Christians. I think this has been the biggest cause of poor reviews; the reviewers cannot relate to the target audience. It is not an anti-evolution book, though that theme is touched on. It is a book exhorting Christians to live a consistent life, and to realize that their faith is rational and a viable alternative to the dominant naturalistic worldview. It makes Christians aware of the presuppositions that many people have regarding faith and science, and encourages us to be aware of our own prejudices. And, finally, it is a rallying call for Chrisitans to reclaim our intellectual heritage.
It is a book whose time has come.
Posted by: Warren Kelly at
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