Reading Apostles of Reason was kind of like reading a family history written by someone outside the family (although I am unaware of Molly Worthen’s faith commitments). I consider “evangelicalism” to be the family with which I most closely identify, much as I would take issue with some of the expressions of some of my family members.
On the whole, I thought Worthen gave a balanced and illuminating account of American evangelicalism, spanning the period from after World War II to the present. She charted the tension between the efforts of those like Carl F H Henry to articulate an intellectually rigorous Christianity and evangelicalism’s continued commitment to biblical inerrancy. She also elaborates the varieties of expression that develop through the charismatic movement, growing tensions to confront questions of the role of women, questions of justice, and the beginnings of the political engagement of evangelicals in the 80s and 90s. She also does a good job of representing the intellectual renaissance of evangelical scholarship within public universities, one of the most promising trends of evangelical engagement. She concludes by suggesting that the tensions and diverse expressions within the evangelical movement (whatever that means in our present time) may actually be an asset enabling the movement to reach into various segments of society and balance disparate parts of this movement.
Through all this, she helps us both understand what figures and movements are trying to accomplish in their own terms while also showing the tensions, both internal and with the culture these create. The one thing I found myself wrestling with at times was a feeling that the evangelical community was being scrutinized critically while the larger cultural context it was seeking to engage was more or less “given a pass” and at times the larger culture was implied to be intellectually the superior. That may be true in some of the ivy-ed halls of academia at times but what about the banal, consumeristic, violent, and hyper-sexualized mass culture of early 21st century America? Still, to do what I propose may have meant a much longer work and I must say that I found Worthen’s portrayal of “my family” fair and well-supported.