Many hands have wrung over Evangelical Christianity gone sour – mine among them. I once almost dropped the label and hunted for another. How about “Orthodox Protestant”? Or “Friendly Bapticostal?” Or nice-but-not-too-theologically-progessive-guy? Or something.
But I’m always slapped awake: Someone launches a tirade in which “all evangelicals” are mean-spirited theological and sociological Neanderthals, the backbone American evil, the portrait of everything that’s wrong with colonial Western humanity. Suddenly, I feel snubbed. I think of the folks back home, the ones who hugged me and prayed with me and gave me all that unconditional love. And then there are those godly professors at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, my alma-mater, who often lunched with me and showed honest-to-goodness compassion – and they displayed much more courtesy and open-mindedness than many snarky theological liberals. And then a lapsed fundamentalist (the worst kind) spews venom against all evangelicals (perhaps he never knew his kin belonged to a distinct category) and I’ll swear I see a neon light blinking over his head: “Big bad issues here.” Or maybe a so-called “scholar” writes yet another book claiming to discover the “real” Jesus. I’ll finish the book and think, “If this is scholarship, then Mad Magazine deserves a Pulitzer.”
I almost want to send Reza Aslan a thank-you note. His book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, made me laud my professors once more.
Aslan looked like the good guy during a Fox New interview with Lauren Green, who leveled false accusations and attempted to find scandal in a Muslim writing about Jesus. It was embarrassing. But the book itself – albeit well-written — is even worse. It’s loaded with factual errors and superficial research. Now the professional journalist in me felt embarrassed (a good journalist is a scholar with a daily deadline, a historian in a rush).
I reminisced over my seminary days. I remembered the writing of most evangelical scholars: almost always thorough, backed up by ca-zillion footnotes. It was a little dry, so I got bored. I longed to read the theological liberals and explore the world beyond the creeds. I did so. I discovered snarky cynicism and unsupported speculation, of theories with no evidence, of Jesus-would-never-say-that-so-I’ll-snip-this-verse-out-of-the-Bible doctrines. I crawled back into my evangelical home.
It dawned on me as I finished Aslan’s book: Zealot is not unusual. It’s better written than most scholarly literature, but it shows what often takes place in a quirky academic corner, far from the maddening crowd. Welcome to our little world.
I wrote it up on the Huffpost. I hope to write more for this blog, but this link will suffice for now: