Monthly Archives: July 2011

Tupperware, the Burp Heard Around the World

On a shelf in our kitchen cupboard are several tall plastic “glasses.” There is one each in green, yellow, orange, and brown. On another shelf is an assortment of round plastic storage bowels in yellow and orange. If you are middle aged or older, you will remember those horrible colors of the seventies. But these are not just any plastic kitchenware; they are Tupperware, and antique Tupperware at that. You can still find these particular styles and colors on Ebey.com, but I have no intention of selling them, at least not until I see them featured on Antiques Roadshow.

Memories of purchasing them at a yard sale in Mundelein, Illinois twenty years ago popped into my mind, when I noticed that today was the birthday of Earl Silas Tupper, the inventor of Tupperware. Not only did he invent what is as much a symbol of the inventive and entrepreneurial spirit that made America great, but he was also instrumental in popularizing what is referred to as “party-plan” marketing.

Mr. Tupper’s first business venture, Tupper Tree Doctors, went belly-up in 1936, a victim of the Great Depression. To keep afloat, he took a job with DuPont Chemical Company in 1937. While at DuPont, Tupper began experimenting with pieces of inflexible, black polyethylene slag, a byproduct of oil refining. He left DuPont after only one year to found Earl S. Tupper Company.

Tupper developed a way to turn a waste product into a clear, tough, flexible plastic that could be used to produce an unlimited variety of useful products. Tupper’s new company designed and produced plastic products for the military during World War II. After the war, he began designing and marketing plastic products for the rapidly expanding consumer market.

Perhaps what was to establish Tupperware’s place in twentieth-century Americana was Earl Tupper’s invention of the “Tupper Seal,” modeled after the lid on paint cans. It provided a liquid proof, air tight, flexible lid.

At first, Mr. Tupper tried selling his Tupperware products in department stores. That idea failed. Most people simply could not understand how to use the Tupper Seal lid without a demonstration. What do you mean; you have to “burp” the lid? The solution was suggested by Ms. Brownie Wise.

Ms. Wise began selling Tupperware through parties in her home. It wasn’t long before she was selling more Tupperware in her living room than Mr. Tupper was selling in department stores. In 1948, Earl S. Tupper and Brownie Wise joined forces. Tupperware was withdrawn from the department stores to be sold solely through home parties, a marketing plan pioneered by Stanley Home Products. Ms. Wise had previously worked as a sales representative for Stanley Home Products.

Both Tupper and Wise became legends in their time. Ms. Wise was the first woman to appear on the cover of Business Week in April, 1954. She was a pioneer in the struggle for equality for women in the male-dominated world of business. Many feel that it was Wise who made Tupperware the success it became.

Wise left Tupperware in 1958. Some have argued that she was forced out by Earl Tupper, who would not allow women to advance beyond party hosts. As Ms. Wise’s influence in the corporation grew, Tupper became more frustrated with, and perhaps felt threatened by, a woman in a position of leadership.

After Brownie Wise’s departure, Tupper sold Tupperware to Rexall Drug Company for $16 million (approximately $120 million today), divorced his wife, bought an island in Costa Rica, and gave up his U.S. citizenship to avoid taxes. He died on October 5, 1983.

After leaving Tupperware in 1958, Wise co-founded three direct sales companies and dabbled in real estate, but success eluded her. She passed away in December, 1992.

Earl Silas Tupper’s and Brownie Wise’s legacies live on. Tupperware is still sold primarily through home parties in 100 countries. The “party-plan” marketing method developed by Ms. Wise is still used by such well-known companies as Avon and Mary Kay Cosmetics.

Until next time, be good to all God’s creation, and always live under the mercy.

For more information on the little-known Brownie Wise, see Tupperware Unsealed: The Story of Brownie Wise by Bob Kealing (2008). You can watch a ten minute video of Bob Kealing discussing Ms. Wise and his book on YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfqkUGNVHlw

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Keeping the Lost Cause Alive

I picked the Sunday paper up from the drive and took it into the house. I stood over the trash can, as I always do, and began sorting. First, I threw all of the inserts, except the manufacturers’ coupons, in the can. Then, I threw in the want ads and real estate sections, and finally the sports section. That’s right; I have zero interest in sports. In fact, the last game I attended was a football game in 1957.

Having saved the main news section, metro/state news section, and the opinion section, I began reading the headlines while sipping a cup of coffee. There really isn’t much worth reading in the newspapers these days. Whatever news a person wants comes quicker over the internet. The only valid reason for reading a newspaper, especially in public, is to appear literate. Back in “ye olden days” a person who wanted to appear intelligent and informed would carry around a copy of The New Yorker, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, or New York Times. Today anyone seen reading a book, magazine, or newspaper is assumed to be an elitist.

Enough of that, what I want to talk about are two short articles in the Sunday paper that caught my attention. The first bore the headline, “Citizens’ Council’s tax status revoked.” For those of you who are over fifty or living outside of the Deep South, it was better known as the “White Citizens’ Council.” It was founded in Indianola, Mississippi in 1954, to fight desegregation and “help maintain our Southern way of life.”

The founder of the White Citizens’ Council was a former Mississippi State University football star and prominent Delta planter, Robert “Tut” Patterson. The organization grew rapidly. Soon there were member councils throughout the southern states with as many as 60,000 members. Many of its members were prominent citizens—judges, lawyers, bankers, politicians, and even preachers.

Well, back to the issue of the infamous IRS revoking the White Citizens’ Council’s tax exempt status. According to the article in the Sunday paper, a Mississippi accountant and graduate of the University of Mississippi—a.k.a. “Ole Miss”—found the Council’s name on a list of 275,000 organizations across the nation whose tax exempt status was being revoked. Not being familiar with the history of his state, Mr. Norris sent a form letter to the Citizens’ Council in Jackson offering his services to the organization, if they wished to recover their tax exempt status.

Mississippians are not noted for their attention to history, unless it has to do with the Civil War—a.k.a. War Between the States. Mississippi was the only one of the former so-called Confederate States of America that did not abolish slavery in 1865. The planters feared that they would not be reimbursed for the monetary value of their former slaves. It was not until March 1995 that the state legislature finally got around to formally abolishing slavery in the state of Mississippi.

Another article that caught my attention was titled “Ala. Still collecting Civil War tax.” Could it be true? Is the state of Alabama, the state that calls itself the “Heart of Dixie,” still collecting a Civil War tax from its citizens, almost 146 years after the war ended? Yes Sir, they are!

It seems that Alabama imposed a property tax to support a home for Confederate veterans who returned to Alabama after the war ended in 1865. The last surviving Confederate veteran living at the home died in 1934, but the state never stopped collecting the property tax.
The property tax in question is 6.5 mills, or about $39 on a home valued at $100,000. Three mills are used for education, 2.5 mills are applied to the state’s operating budget, and 1 mill, originally for support of the veterans’ home, is now used to fund the Confederate Memorial Park. It costs money to keep the memory of the “Lost Cause” alive. In fact, it costs almost half as much as is given to education from collecting the tax.

Shortly after I first moved to Mississippi some 18 years ago this month, I purchased a book of Mississippi jokes put together by a couple of Alabamians. In the introduction, the authors said that the people of Alabama are grateful to God for Mississippi. Why? Because that means that Alabama does not have to be the last in the nation on everything positive, and the first in the nation on everything negative. I’m not sure that the competition is always limited to those two states. I suspect that Louisiana and Arkansas are in the running.

Well, that’s the news from the Deep South. For those who do not subscribe to the Sunday edition of Jackson, Mississippi’s Clarion Ledger, you can find the articles mentioned on the internet at http://www.clarionledger.com/section/NEWS01/Metro-State.

Until next time, be good to all God’s creation, and always live under the mercy.

How the Bible Shaped Western Civilization

Vishal Mangalwadi’s The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011) is a thought provoking, sweeping survey of the history of Western Civilization from a particular perspective. Mangalwadi’s argument is very easy to summarize. It is the Judeo-Christian worldview that makes Western Civilization unique. That worldview is derived from the Bible, the Old Testament that comes from the ancient Hebrews, and the New Testament that is largely a product of the early Christians. Behind this is the presupposition that it is worldview that determines the uniqueness of a civilization, that is, its moral values, its cultural expression, etc.

Those familiar with the Christian writer, Francis A. Schaeffer, will find Mangalwadi’s book a more scholarly version of Schaeffer’s popular book, How Should We Then Live? (1976). The connection between the two is made clear in the brief bio at the end of the book and on the book jacket. It is also clear from a quick internet search of Vishal Mangalwadi. Christianity Today, we are told, referred to Mangalwadi as “India’s foremost Christian intellectual.” The numerous endorsements from a list of prominent Christian writers revels that many of them see Mangalwadi as Schaeffer’s successor. Making this connection will guarantee that the book receives attention from Christian readers who want to understand the relationship between Christianity and Western Civilization.

Mangalwadi, like Schaeffer, defends his thesis by numerous examples from the history of Western Civilization. The result is a list of examples of the Bible’s influence in the history of the West, without necessarily demonstrating that that influence was the sole influence, or the most significant influence. At times, his sweeping conclusions demand evidence, but none is given. An example is Mangalwadi’s assertion that the Great Awakening provided the moral force, “which launched the American Revolution” (p. 205). It is not that the statement is in error so much as that it does not acknowledge the complexity of influences—moral, economic, etc.—behind the American Revolution.

Readers with some background in history as a discipline are “turned off” by books that try to “prove,” for example, that the United States was founded as a Christian nation. Such books are often written by individuals who lack any credentials as historians. They do not so much want to relate and interpret history they wish to promote a particular ideology. They are propagandists, and their books are propaganda, not history (See, e. g., Jill Lapore’s The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle Over American History [201]).

I am not saying That The Book that Made Your World lacks scholarship, or should not be taken seriously by those interested in the roots of Western Civilization. Western Civilization is the product of a synthesis of three traditions—Classical Humanism, Judeo-Christianity, and Germanic. Mangalwadi’s goal is to demonstrate that the Judeo-Christian influence was the determining cultural influence. Unfortunately, his presentation too often denigrates the other two traditions.

I would agree in general with the argument that the Judeo-Christian religious tradition is what makes Western Civilization distinct, just as the uniqueness of every other civilization is determined by its worldview, rooted in its dominant religion. In order to understand the history of any civilization, one must try to understand its religious roots. My fear is that Vishal Mangalwadi’s very interesting and thought provoking book will be ignored by most everyone except those who already agree with him, especially those familiar with Francis A. Schaeffer’s books. Mangalwadi is preaching to the choir, as they say.

Apart from any weaknesses, The Book That Made Your World is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in understanding how religious worldviews influence the character of a civilization. It should also raise questions about the future direction of world history. Western Civilization is clearly in decline. Is it because the West has cut itself free from its tap root? What will the death of Western Civilization mean for the future? These are questions that other writers with an audience beyond Evangelical Christians are wrestling with (See, e. g., Benedict VI’s Europe Today and Tomorrow [2007] and George Weigel’s The Cube and the Cathedral [2006]).

New Atheism: A Fading Fad

Alister McGrath’s Why God Won’t Go Away (2010) is a brief and very readable introduction to what is commonly referred to as the “New Atheism.” As a former atheist himself, and one who has debated the leading proponents of the New Atheism, McGrath is certainly qualified to discuss the subject.

The book is divided into three parts. In the first, McGrath defines the New Atheism and introduces the reader to its leading proponents—Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens. The second part discusses the three main themes of the New Atheism. One chapter is devoted to each theme–violence, reason, and science. In the third and final part, McGrath concludes that the New Atheism has reached its “sell by date” and is losing its appeal. The public is showing signs of boredom, and traditional atheists are increasingly embarrassed by the antics of the “Four Horsemen” introduced in Part One.

The attention given the New Atheism is a product of the news media’s thirst for sensationalism. Its proponents simply attack religious belief—all religious belief, not just Christianity—with very emotionally charged vocabulary and unfounded arguments. With the help of journalists eager for copy, their books have sold well. Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion (2006) has sold nearly a million copies. The statistics are impressive, but not too impressive when placed in perspective. Sales of Christian author Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life (2002) are closing in on the 30 million figure.

The New Atheists argue that religious faith is irrational, an unintended wrong turn in the evolutionary history of human beings. Dawkins refers to religious belief as a “virus of the mind.” The terminology is important, because such terminology was used by Social Darwinists of the late nineteenth century and first half of the twentieth century to justify the destruction of “inferior” people groups. Houston Stewart Chamberlain referred to Jews as germs. Whether labeled a virus or a germ, those infected must be cured of their malady. In his critic of religious belief in The End of Faith (2004), Sam Harris argues that “some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them” (quoted on p. 10).

The New Atheists claim that their charges against religious belief are grounded in reason and science. Alister McGrath demonstrates that they are wrong on both counts. Finite human reason has its limitations. The belief that ultimate truth can be found through reason alone is a legacy of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. McGrath puts it well, when he writes: “Human logic may be rationally adequate, but it’s also existentially deficient. Faith declares that there’s more to life than this. It doesn’t contradict reason but transcends it. It elicits and invites rational consent but does not compel it” (p. 89).

Rationalism is elitist in that it divides people into those who know the truth and those who are yet ignorant of the truth. Whether we are talking about religious or secular ideologies, unquestioned faith in the reliability of human reason leads to fundamentalism, a dogmatic certainty that refuses to recognize the limitations of human reason. There is a growing realization, says McGrath, “that reason cannot [emphasis in original] be used to establish its own authority and competence” (p. 100). Reason is useful for articulating and defending the criteria by which we justify our beliefs, but we must “also realize that those beliefs may lie beyond proof” (p. 101).

Here I think McGrath is making a point important for Christians to grasp. Christians have traditionally held that humans are totally fallen, including their capacity to reason. At some point the truth must be revealed, or affirmed, supernaturally. Authoritative answers to those questions of ultimate meaning and purpose are beyond the limits of finite reason. There is a chasm between what can be acknowledged as reasonable, or logical, and therefore true, and knowing that what we believe to be true is in fact true.

Alister McGrath exposes the fallacy in the New Atheists’ claim that science proves that religious belief is irrational and can be explained as an “unintended outcome of human evolution” (16). Science is often “hijacked” by fundamentalists of every variety, those who Eric Hoffer described in his classic, The True Believer (1951).

Legitimate science seeks to understand things. It can give us reasons for believing certain things to be true—e. g., how the universe works. It is about finding the best understanding of things, but recognizes that new discoveries will necessitate new explanations. Questions of value and meaning are beyond science. When science ventures into the realm of metaphysics, it ceases to be science. As McGrath points out, science cannot generate values.

In the end, the New Atheism is a fad, whose attraction grows increasingly dimmer, day by day. Reason and science cannot explain why human beings appear to be “programmed” for religious faith. Is not atheism, itself, a faith? McGrath concludes, “There’s something about human nature that makes us want to reach out beyond rational and empirical limits, questing for meaning and significance” (146). I seem to remember hearing something similar in numerous sermons. Didn’t it have to do with something about an empty spot in everyone’s heart that only Jesus Christ can fill?

Sheldon Vanauken: Memories of a Favorite Professor

I transferred to Lynchburg College in 1966, the beginning of my junior year as a Business Administration major. I wanted to make money after graduation, and a business major seemed the way to go. By the end of the fall semester I quit going to my business classes and changed my major to history.

I loved history, but let’s face it; there is no future in history. The future for liberal arts majors was not as gloomy then as it is now, but it was not bright either. I figured I could make money by day and read history books in the evening. What disrupted my plans and put me on the path to a different future was a history professor, Sheldon Vanauken.

At first, Sheldon Vanauken was just a name to me, someone offering an interesting course that would count as an elective. I soon discovered that he was different. He was not your usual professor who stood before a podium and lectured from an outline. Also, I began hearing all sorts of rumors about this mysterious person. It was said that he lived in a little one-room cottage behind the library, and that after his wife died some years before, he carried her ashes around in the glove compartment of his Triumph sports car.

Vanauken was rather “odd” in a number of ways. He was always dressed the same—grey slacks, blue blazer, and one of two shirts. During the winter, he would add a scarf, an “Oxford scarf,” I was told. He would enter the classroom, sit at the desk in front of the room, open the text, light a cigarette, and begin talking. He talked, told stories, read poetry, and occasionally got up to illustrate the formation of a Roman legion or the Battle of Salamis on the chalkboard. A time or two during a class, he would get up, open a window, flick a cigarette butt out the window, close the window, and then return to his seat to light up another cigarette.

In addition to the text, we were required to read between 10 and 12 additional books of our choice. One semester I took two history courses from Vanauken (2 texts plus 20-24 additional books) and a political science course from another professor whose reading list included 8 titles. Those were, I might add, the days when college students were still literate and usually motivated. I must confess that I did not actually read the required number.

Midway through the semester of one of the classes, he announced that he had to post mid-semester grades. Since he had not given any exams, or assigned any papers at that point, he asked who wanted what grade? He reminded us that the mid-semester grade had no relationship to the final grade. Thus, it was wise not to pick a grade that might be dramatically different than one’s final grade.

What really counted was the final exam, an oral examination given in his one-room cottage. It consisted of Vanauken asking the student questions, general and specific, over the subject of the class—Greek history, Roman history, English history, etc. It was not restricted to the text, his lectures, and the list of 10 to 12 books the student handed him before the interrogation started. His goal was to see how much the student knew about the subject, not how much the student remembered from the lectures, or memorized from the text.

I still remember my examination for ancient Greek history. Vanauken held up a picture of the Supreme Court building in Washington, DC and asked: “What can you tell me about this picture”? Of course he wanted me to discuss the architecture. He held up silhouettes of vases and pictures of statues and asked me to identify the style and period. One question I remember was, “If you are wandering around in the Middle East and come upon an amphitheater, how do you know if it is Greek or Roman?” There were questions about philosophy, art, drama, wars, geography, and much more. A history class from Sheldon Vanauken was more than just history; it was a humanities course.

When I finished answering all of his questions, he said: “Normally I would give you an ‘A’, but I told you that you had to be able to pronounce the Greek terms, and damn it, you can’t. So, how about a ‘C’?” I knew better than to refuse his generosity. If one did, it was rumored that he would ask one additional question, the answer to which would result in the “C” being changed to an “A” or a “D”. The choice was simple. I thanked him for the “C” and went away determined to take every class I could from Vanauken during my remaining semesters.

In between classes Vanauken would stand around outside smoking and talking to students. The better I got to know him, the more I admired him and wanted to be like him. “Why,” I asked myself, “would I want to spend my life doing something I hated, when I could be a history professor at a small liberal arts college with lovely old buildings?” Sitting on a bench in front of the library one afternoon, I made the decision that changed the course of my life. I got up, went over to the Registrar’s office, and changed my major to history. I wish I could say that everything turned out as I hoped it would. It didn’t, but that is another story for another time.

As with any popular professor, Vanauken had a following. Those students who were close to him were like “Miss Brodie’s girls” in the movie, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. I was never one of them. I was very conservative in those days, I am sorry to admit. I perceived Vanauken as a liberal, which he was. It was Vanauken the professor that I admired, not Vanauken the anti-war activist. It was only later, when my political views moved to the left of center, that I admired that side of Vanauken. The Vanauken I knew during my two years at Lynchburg College was the Vanauken revealed in his second book, Under the Mercy, not the man found in A Severe Mercy. I never suspected him of being a Christian.

I graduated in the spring of 1968, bummed around Germany for the summer, and taught 6th grade in Saginaw, Michigan for a year to avoid being drafted. After winning the first draft lottery in the fall of 1969, I was off to graduate school to earn a doctorate in history. I was back on course, so to speak, after fending off General Hershey’s draft board.

I did not have any contact with Sheldon Vanauken after leaving Lynchburg College, that is, until I returned to Lynchburg in 1989 to teach history at Liberty University (a.k.a., the Falwell Plantation). During the intervening years, I occasionally saw a reference to him in the LC alumni magazine. The exception was the appearance of A Severe Mercy in 1978. I obtained a copy, read it, and wrote a review of it for His magazine, the monthly periodical published by Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship (October, 1978, p.22).

By 1978, I was a Christian reading the usual authors popular among Christian students during that time—e.g., C. S. Lewis, Francis A. Schaeffer, John White, John Stott, and James Montgomery Boice. Years later, I came across a pamphlet by Vanauken titled Encounter with Light. It was written and originally printed during my time at Lynchburg College. As I read it, I felt as though I had read those very words somewhere before. Sure enough, I found them in A Severe Mercy. This led me to believe that Vanauken must have been writing A Severe Mercy (at least parts of it) during the late sixties.

I felt that one reason he wrote the book was an attempt to understand and affirm in his own mind his faith in Christ. A Severe Mercy is more than a true love story. I tried to make that clear in these two paragraphs from my review:

“As a love story, the book is deeply moving without calling forth pity from the reader. Perhaps the book is most remarkable when read, after the manner of St. Augustine’s Confessions, as the author’s attempt to understand himself and his faith in Christ.

“At some points the reader is left wondering if Van’s conversion was only intellectual, a sincere desire to share the joy Davy found in her relationship with Christ, yet an inability to comprehend and experience her simple, childlike faith. Like the man in the Gospels who brought his son to Christ for healing, he seems to cry out from between the lines, ‘Lord I believe; help my unbelief!’”

I ended my review with the comment, “I will be surprised if it does not become a Christian classic.” It has become a classic, and I am not surprised.

My review of A Severe Mercy did not result in any contact with Vanauken. It wasn’t until the fall of 1989, when I moved back to Lynchburg, that I spoke with him for the first time since 1968. I called him on the phone, and he invited me over for a visit.

We talked about writing, the South, Virginia, C. S. Lewis and various other little things that I have long since forgotten. I asked him a question that my wife wanted me to put to him. She was wondering whether he ever regretted not having a child with Davey. He did not give me a direct answer. Instead, he gave me a copy of an essay he had written about finding, or being found by, Davey’s daughter. I knew nothing about that part of his story until then. That story can be found in his last book, The Little Lost Marion and Other Mercies (1996).

I do remember one thing that he did say with regard to his Christian faith. I do not remember the context, but since I was teaching at Liberty University, therefore obviously an Evangelical Protestant, we touched on the subject of one’s salvation. He said, and I am not sure if these were his exact words, “We Roman Catholics are never quite sure of our salvation.” I am sure that he was not saying that he doubted his salvation, but rather that he was more Arminian than Calvinist on that question. I “think” what led to that part of our conversation was my mentioning the fact that, not only he, but other Christians who I admired—e.g., Malcolm Muggeridge—were “going back to Rome.” I sometimes think that Roman Catholics find in the church (especially the Eucharist) the security that some Protestants find in a creed.

I met with him only one time after my visit. That was one evening at the Old Courthouse in Lynchburg. He agreed to speak to a group of my history students about the subject of his book, The Glittering Illusion (1985, 1990), which I reviewed in the June 30, 1990 issue of World (p.14). It was a delightful evening. Several of my students paid visits to Vanauken during my remaining years at Liberty U. (I left Liberty University and moved away from Lynchburg in 1993.)

I regret that I did not take advantage of my years in Lynchburg to get to know Sheldon Vanauken better, to have developed a friendship with him. However, those were difficult years for me. The Falwell empire was under great stress during those years—another story for another time. Many of us worried that we might be unemployed at a moment’s notice. I had two infant daughters and a wife to provide for, and so I was much too distracted. I should have found the time, but I didn’t, and that is one thing I will always regret.

Apart from memories and copies of Under the Mercy and The Glittering Illusion which he autographed for me, the only mementos I have are the two postcards below. I am including them for those who are interested in whatever letters, etc., of Vanauken’s remain.

Vanauken post 1I

Vanuken post 2

Until next time, be good to all God’s creation, and always live under the mercy.

Evolving in Monkey Town

Dayton, Tennessee, may be a small town of less than seven thousand souls, but I doubt there are many people worldwide who have not heard of it. Many of them may not be able to locate it on a map, but they have heard of the little town known affectionately as “Monkeyville.” It was in Dayton during the hot month of July 1925 that two giants of twentieth-century America faced off against each other in a trial over the teaching of evolution in the public schools.

William Jennings Bryan, three-time candidate for president and one of the greatest orators in American history, helped to prosecute John T. Scopes for violating a state law prohibiting the teaching of evolution. Bryan was matched against Clarence Darrow for the defense, an agnostic and one of the greatest attorneys of the century.

Many trees have been felled and much ink spilt discussing the famous Monkey Trial and the whole question of evolution. Arguments, both scientific and hysterical, continue to attract spectators without any real hope of resolution. Evolving in Monkey Town (Grand Rapids, 2010) is not another book about the Scopes Trial or evolution. The subtitle, How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions, is actually a better clue to the book’s subject. Normally, one thinks of starting with the questions and finding the answers, but in this case the author, Rachel Held Evans, starts with all of the answers and finds the questions.

Evans is the daughter of a minister-theologian-professor who graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary, one of the premier seminaries for evangelical Christians. He also served as a member of the faculty and administration of Bryan College, named in honor of William Jennings Bryan. Rachel Evans grew up in an evangelical home, attended an evangelical church, graduated from an evangelical college (Bryan), and participated in all of the activities—missions, witnessing, etc.—that make one a bona fide, certified, genuine, sure-enough, card-carrying evangelical Christian. But, like so many members of the Millennial Generation (people born since the mid-1970s) Ms. Held reached a point in her life when she began to question the bullet-proof certainties of contemporary evangelicalism.

The crisis in Ms. Evans’ faith came in 2001, after viewing the documentary, Behind the Veil, about the Taliban’s violation of women’s human rights in Afghanistan. Among the horrifying images portrayed in the documentary was the execution of a woman for allegedly murdering her abusive husband. The woman, whose name was Zarmina, was tortured before being executed on a soccer field before a crowd of some thirty thousand spectators.

The vivid images on the screen raised some troubling questions in Rachel Evan’s mind regarding the unquestioned evangelical faith with which she grew up. Was Zarmina condemned to eternal Hell because she was a Muslim? Was Zarmina a Muslim just because she grew up a believer, just as Rachel Evans grew up an evangelical Christian? Is God running some sort of “game of chance,” a kind of “cosmic lottery” for people’s souls? Worse yet, does God, who sent Jesus Christ to die on a cross to save sinners, condemn some individuals to eternal bliss and some to eternal punishment, apart from anything they do or do not do?

When Ms. Evans began to raise these and other questions, she began to question her own faith. Christians are not supposed to ask questions, she thought; they are supposed to accept creeds and theological axioms on faith alone. She began to wonder if a Christian worldview, or any other worldview, is simply something with which one grows up. If you grow up in an evangelical Christian family in Dayton, Tennessee, you will likely be an evangelical Christian. If you grow up in a Muslim family in Afghanistan, you will, no doubt, be a Muslim. “We don’t choose our worldviews; they are chosen for us,” reason and common sense seemed to testify (p. 98).

Real Christian faith, Ms. Evans eventually decided, comes not from simply agreeing to a creed or particular theology or memorizing some catechism. Rather, faith “evolves” as one asks questions, seeks understanding of who Jesus Christ was and is, and chooses to follow the example of Christ. Through doubt faith can evolve into a relationship with Jesus Christ, she concluded, a relationship that has the power to change one’s life and impact the world for good. “There is one thing I know for sure,” Evans writes, “it’s that serious doubt—the kind that leads to despair—begins not when we start asking God questions but when, out of fear, we stop” (p. 226).

I found Ms. Evans’ account of her personal struggle interesting. Indeed, it would be nice to sit down with her over a cup of good coffee and compare notes. Every one, Rachel Held Evans and me included, must go through this same struggle, attempting to find answers to those troublesome questions about life’s meaning and purpose. However, I found Evolving in Monkey Town a valuable read for another reason, also.

Many Millennials who, like Rachel Held Evans, grew up in Christian families and a Christian cultural environment, who walked down the church aisle to accept Jesus Christ as personal Savior, attended confirmation classes, or took communion for the first time as public testimony of their accepting Jesus Christ, are abandoning the churches they were raised in. Pastors and denominational leaders are expressing increasing concern over the fact that as soon as the Millennials graduate from high school or college they leave the church and often the Christian faith as well. Why? I believe that Rachel Held Evans’ personal story helps one understand this troubling phenomenon.

First of all, Millennials grew up in a very different reality than we who grew up in past generations. A presentation of the Gospel based on the logical assumptions that were assumed to be valid at the time of the Scopes Trial simply does not mean anything to them. In fact, it drives them away before they can even hear the message clearly. They have grown up in a world that prizes diversity. They have been taught to embrace all forms of diversity and multiculturalism. Not surprisingly, they extend this unquestioning acceptance to all areas of life, even worldviews. The old debate over absolute truth is simply not an important issue for Millennials. “That is simply not the issue,” they say. To reduce God’s revelation to some creed or systematic theology to which everyone is required give assent in order to be a Christian, is to “underestimate the scope and power of God’s activity in the world” (p. 132S). They give priority to relationships and community.

Ms. Held quotes C. S. Lewis to disqualify the teaching that one must affirm some particular interpretation of the Bible. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “We do know that no person can be saved except through Christ. We do not know that only those who know him can be saved by him.” After discussing the liberation she experienced by recognizing the “diversity of my own religious tradition,” she concludes: “While the Bible teaches that people are justified by faith, it does not stipulate how much a person needs to know about God to be saved. It simply qualifies that the fruit of saving faith is good works. . . . We are saved by [a] restored relationship with God, which might look a little different from person to person, culture to culture, time to time” (pp. 131-132).

Second, Millennials insist that relationship is fundamental to following Christ, relationship with Christ and with one another. Being a follower of Jesus Christ is not about defending some statement from a church creed or theology; it is about testifying to our relationship with Christ through a life of sacrificial love for all people, not just those members of our tribe.

Thirdly, Millennials reject the hypocrisy of many evangelicals who seem bent upon making Jesus Christ some sort of war god and defender of free enterprise economics and the Constitutional (not biblical) right to bear arms,–a false god who rejoices in the death of our enemies and approves of our unchecked materialism. We drown in a gluttony of materialism and demand that all accept our prosperity as evidence of God’s favor, while a multitude suffers in poverty.

I found myself identifying with much of what Rachel Evans relates about her struggle to understand her Christian faith. It is easy to say that we evangelical Christians ground our faith in absolute truths found in the Bible. It is an altogether different matter to find agreement among professing Christians on just what those absolute truths are. The current debate over how to interpret the creation story in Genesis, fueled in part by the human genome project, is a good example.

There is much more in this little book that is a personal account of one individual’s journey of faith than I am able to summarize here. My hope is that this brief introduction, admittedly my own understanding of Ms. Held’s story, will both inform and challenge those of us who are concerned about the flight of Millennials from our churches.

Until next time, be good to all God’s creation, and always live under the mercy.
See: http://rachelheldevans.com