Dr. David Hempton gave two excellent lectures the beginning of this week here at SMU. Both of his lectures offered glimpses into his forthcoming book, Evangelical Disenchantment: Nine Portraits of Faith and Doubt. Intereestingly, his lecture series was titled: Evangelical Enchantment and Disenchantment, so I was somewhat surprised to notice that the title of the book so clearly draws your attention to one side of what he focused on in his lectures.
Dr. Hempton’s first lecture was titled “Culture Wars: George Eliot and Fundamentalism.” In this lecture Hempton look at the author Mary Ann Evans, whose pen name was George Eliot, and her relationship with evangelicalism. Hempton discussed three aspects of evangelical enchantment that initially appealed to Eliot: the offer of a fresh start (the new birth), disciplined spirituality, and mobilization and transformation by lay agency and an emphasis on hymn singing. Hempton’s discussion of Methodist hymnody, in particular, caught my attention. He argued that the 1737 Hymnbook that Wesley published in Georgia was probably the first hymnbook published in America. He also discussed at length the importance of the 1780 edition.
The symbol of Eliot’s disenchantment was Rev. Cumming who Hempton compared to a modern day Hal Lindsey or Tim LaHaye. Eliot despised the lack of love that she saw in Cummings ministry and his rather gleeful proclamation that others were going to hell.
One of the primary themes I gleaned from this lecture was that the closer evangelicalism came to dogmatism and exclusivism, the more disenchanting it was to the folks in Hempton’s study.
Hempton’s Second lecture was titled “Artists in Revolt: Vincent Van Gogh and James Baldwin.” I will try to post a brief summary of that lecture and some further thoughts in the next few days.