Monday, October 08, 2007

A Provocative Perspective on Evangelicalism

Hardy certainly had an ability to summon up human identity in a pithy paragraph. One of the things I have learned from my time in Pittsburgh is the diversity of Evangelical identity. Even so, there are times and occasions when I find myself instinctively reacting against certain pronouncements by prominent Evangelicals, even when I fundamentally agree with the criticism they're making. I don't know many people who are exactly like old Mr. Clare, but this mindset, I suspect, is not extinct. All of which in no way is meant to imply that the rest of us don't have deficiencies for which we should atone.

"Old Mr. Clare was a clergyman of a type which, within the last twenty years, has well-nigh dropped out of contemporary life. A spiritual descendant in the direct line from Wycliff, Huss, Luther, Calvin, an Evangelical of the Evangelicals, a Conversionist, a man of Apostolic simplicity in life and thought, he had in his raw youth made up his mind once for all on the deeper questions of existence, and admitted no further reasoning on them thenceforward. He was regarded even by those of his own date and school of thinking as extreme; while, on the other hand, those totally opposed to him were unwillingly won to admiration for his thoroughness, and for the remarkable power he showed in dismissing all question as to principles in his energy for applying them. He loved Paul of Tarsus, liked St. John, hated St. James as much as he dared, and regarded with mixed feelings Timothy, Titus and Philemon. The New Testament was less a Christiad than a Pauliad to his intelligence - less an argument than an intoxication. His creed of determinism was such that it almost amounted, on its negative side, to a renunciative philosophy which had cousinship with that of Schopenhauer and Leopardi. He despised the Canons and Rubric, swore by the Articles, and deemed himself consistent through the whole category - which in a way he might have been. One thing he certainly was - sincere."

Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D'Urbervilles (New York: Washington Square Press, 1966; orig. 1891), 168.

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