This long and characteristically thoughtful post by Alastair Roberts — you should read it all, it covers so many important issues, some of which I hope to return to later — says of my Harper’s essay on Christian intellectuals, “Reading Jacobs’s … essay, I was struck by a curious absence at the heart of his analysis: the barely explored role of mainline churches in the developments he discusses.”
That “absence” was intentional — perhaps unwise, but intentional. Early in the essay I write,
If we wish to know why this species became extinct, the short answer is that the Christian intellectual was the product of World War II, and when that war was over, the epiphenomena it had generated simply faded away. But there is also a longer and more complex answer.
This answer will necessarily connect itself to the broader issue of the declining place of Christianity in American life — a subject of evergreen interest, it would seem, especially among Christians. In recent years we have seen Ross Douthat’s Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, Joseph Bottum’s An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America, and George Marsden’s The Twilight of the American Enlightenment: The 1950s and the Crisis of Liberal Belief.
All of those books consider in great detail the question Roberts raises. And it is because they deal with the question so thoroughly that I felt feee to explore the narrower matter of the American Christian intellectual, who may have been associated with several different traditions but did not feel obliged to speak specifically for any of them. As I’ve said several times before, Harper’s gave me 6000 words. I had to exclude many, many issues that were relevant to my topic.