Calvin recognized for evangelical scholarship
In 1994 an evangelical historian at Wheaton College named Mark Noll caused a considerable stir when he published a book called The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.
The book's blunt premise was that evangelicals had squandered their God-given intellectual capital and turned a cold shoulder to the world of ideas, referring instead to bunker in a fort of fundamentalist distrust.
In the fall of 2000, however, a 15-page Atlantic Monthly cover story spoke of "The Opening of the Evangelical Mind." Referenced in both the book and the cover story was Calvin College. And in both instances Calvin was cited in a positive light. Noll, even in lamenting evangelical mistrust of modern scholarship, paid Calvin kudos for its role in advancing the cause of respected Christian scholarship.
Alan Wolfe, author of the Atlantic Monthly piece, picked up on that theme. Wolfe noted that there is "a determined effort by evangelical-Christian institutions to create a life of the mind." He praised Calvin, Fuller seminary, Pepperdine, Baylor, Valparaiso, Notre Dame and Wheaton as places where "evangelical scholars are writing the books, publishing the journals, teaching the students, and sustaining the networks necessary to establish a presence in American academic life."
Wolfe also had high praise for the Christian Reformed Church, calling it "the other source of strength in conservative-Protestant circles." He complimented Abraham Kuyper who, he said, "believed that one of God's greatest creations was the human mind" and he called Calvin one of Kuyper's American legacies.
Calvin provost Joel Carpenter, who was liberally quoted in Wolfe's story, believes Wolfe was right to note Calvin's impact on the North American evangelical academic scene.
"Calvin College represents a religious tradition that has a passion for education," he said. "Calvinists' theological emphasis on God's acts of creating and sustaining the universe lead quite naturally to a mandate to value the natural world and study it carefully. The Reformed also see the world as the arena for God's plan of salvation, which involves society, nature and indeed the entire cosmos. This world matters, then, and learning about it honors its creator and redeemer. People whom God has redeemed are called to be agents of the divine plan of redemption. Such work in the world takes much knowledge, much learning. So the Calvinist theological tradition gives a very strong mandate for education."
Carpenter disagrees, vigorously, with one of Wolfe's tenets: that Calvin was stronger a generation ago when it boasted a faculty dotted with names such as Plantinga, Wolterstorff, Mouw and Marsden. Wolfe took a not-so-backhanded swipe at the current Calvin faculty when he said that the departure of such "stars" left behind "a disproportionate number of mediocre faculty members."
Said Carpenter: "Allan Wolfe admitted to me when we talked last fall that this was a supposition of histhat a small college could not lose four of its most distinguished faculty leaders in a few years' time and not be damaged. Several people told himincluding Mouw and Marsdenthat Calvin remains very strong intellectually, probably never stronger, that a rising generation of faculty members here is doing great things and that Calvin continues to recruit outstanding new faculty members."
In fact, Carpenter believes that Calvin will continue to contribute to discussions about the evangelical mind in years to come.
"Calvin," he said, "has emerged as an intellectual leader among Christian colleges and universities."