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Dr. Auten Reviews Worthen’s Apostles of Reason

TCI contributor Brian Auten has posted a review of Molly Worthen’s book, Apostles of Reason. The book is quite critical of what it calls “neo-fundamentalism” and “neo-evangelicalism,” and as such, it is quite controversial. Dr. Auten is evenhanded in his review, noting the areas of strength and weakness. Still, he rightly picks up on the fact that Dr. Worthen makes an important point regarding philosophy and authority, noting that it intersects directly with our own interests at TCI. Dr. Auten is even so kind as to mention us in one of his paragraphs:

Worthen is particularly skeptical of the intellectual legitimacy of “Christian worldview thinking,” which she calls more of an anti-moderate “rhetorical strategy” aimed at shutting down dissent, preventing compromise, and “fold[ing] competing sources of authority [Worthen’s “crisis of authority”] into one.” (261) Albert Mohler took Worthen to task for this very thing in his Gospel Coalition review of Apostles—asserting that she doesn’t understand the concept if she’s claiming that it’s purely “an instrument of intellectual control.” I wonder, however, if the two aren’t talking a bit past one another. Worthen is insistent from the beginning ofApostles that evangelicalism’s problem isn’t an essential authoritarianism (2), so perhaps her point is more akin to the late philosopher W.W. Bartley III’s concerns about the “retreat to commitment”—the situation in which a thought system perceived to be under siege is shifted into the realm of ideology (in this case, “Christian worldview”) so as to protect it from public reason, critique and falsification—or, as Bartley himself puts it, the “use [of] ideas to protect ideas from competition.” If Worthen is indeed channeling Bartley, she may be pleasantly surprised to find allies among conservatives and progressives in the evangelical camp. To take just one example, if Worthen turns to David Fitch’s recently-published End of Evangelicalism, she’ll hear a very familiar tune as Fitch decries the ways inerrancy, “decisions for Christ,” and the idea of a “Christian nation”—what he calls key evangelical tenets—devolved by the end of the twentieth century into little more than a “form of religious ideology.” And if Fitch is a tad too far left along the evangelical continuum for one’s tastes, one also hears echoes of Worthen’s doubts about worldview’s intellectual integrity among a less-decidedly Anabaptist, Bartley-influenced, Reformed coterie at the Calvinist International.

Dr. Auten’s entire review is worthy our your careful attention.

By Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the associate pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a Director for the Davenant Institute.