Elaine Pagels, the famous historian of early Christianity, once told a revealing story about the social world behind the scenes of high-powered biblical scholarship. As a young up-and-coming professor at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, she was invited to a closed-door, after-hours smoker. The men there (Pagels was the only woman) were all prominent Bible scholars. Many of them didn’t even believe in God, and those who still called themselves Christian were anything but orthodox.
The liquor flowed freely, and as these men got in their cups, they began to sing old gospel songs. To her astonishment, they knew all the tunes and words by heart. Then it dawned on her—these atheist and liberal Bible scholars must have grown up in evangelical churches.
I wonder what our own left-leaning seminary academics do in their closed-door “smokers.” One thing for sure, though: like Elaine Pagels, as someone who grew up outside of Evangelicalism (both ecclesiastically and socio-economically,) I’m always amazed at the staying power this culture has, even on those who are bailing on its orthodoxy.