JEFFREY MALLINSON: Oxford Grad, Professor, Rocker
Written by Kevin L. Howard   
(1). You and I have mutual friends who work for Campus Crusade for Christ International, where you and I once worked.  I worked at the same California office you did shortly after you left there.  You had a reputation for being masterful at languages.  What languages do you speak, write, or read?

 

Graduate work requires a strange kind of language proficiency: reading knowledge.  This makes it possible to understand what someone is saying about religious epistemology--and possible to understand someone's report about missionary activity--but not so easy to ask where the best sushi restaurant is or where one can procure a cab.  That said, I read regularly in French, Latin, Greek, German and limited Italian.  I can speak French and Spanish enough to enjoy travel.  However, occasions when I had to talk to Francophones in Africa via phone left me tense and frustrated, though I usually made it through.  The accents were rather hard for me.

 

(2). Are you working on any books or articles that you're hoping to publish?

 

I am pretty proud of my essay on the epistemology of the cross in a collection with Wipf & Stock called Theologia et Apologia.  I am also working collaboratively with a colleague, Dr. Bill Mesa, called The Saint-Sinner Paradox.  It is about the unique difficulties of working for Christian organizations.  Some people think life will be more comfortable when they sign up for Christian-based jobs because they expect the homogeneity to be pleasant.  However, many find that the perceived importance of what they do makes their employment a more intense experience.  Let's suppose I work for a paint distribution company; what the company does is important but not of eternal significance in my mind so I can tolerate disagreement about distribution cities.  But if I work for a parachurch organization, some of their decisions become theological for me--even apocalyptic at times.  This leads to a strange paradox where Christian employees are more patient with supervisors who are members of other faiths than they are with Christians.  Many evangelical Christians work for people in secular corporations who are not Christians.  However, if they transfer to a church headquarters they become flustered when a new director is hired who disagrees with their interpretation of church polity or the age of the earth. 

 

Our approach in the book will be to emphasize Augustine's belief that the church is a "mixed body" where God will ultimately sort out our disagreements.  This leaves us with a peace about disputes about non-essential issues.  We also draw from Luther's idea that Christians are simultaneously saints and sinners. Thus, we shouldn't expect a utopian community in a parachurch organization, despite our desire for employees that are disciples.  Dr. Mesa focuses on organizational behavior, while I draw from church history to help address contemporary concerns.  This is a project in the early stages of research.

 

(3). You studied under Alister McGrath.  Tell me what it was like working with him?  What's he like as a professor?  Do you stay in touch with him?

 

Dr. McGrath has provided the intellectual community with some of the most important methodological insights of our time.  He is able to operate, in the British context, within a truly scholarly atmosphere, while maintaining his religious convictions.  I highly recommend his recent scientific theology trilogy for academics, as well as his shorter work Science of God for educated non-specialists.  He is a superb scholar, and helped me immensely in my study of early modern religious epistemology.  I am biased, but I think his application of his critical realism to the contemporary issues of philosophy and theology is invaluable for the postmodern era.  His evaluation of atheism is especially helpful given the popular reception of atheist writers like Dawkins and Hitchens.

 

(4). I'm currently reading through Dawkins' The God Delusion.  Have you read McGrath's The Dawkins Delusion?  If so, does it give an adequate response to Dawkins?

 

I haven't read the Dawkins Delusion yet, but I heard him summarize the outline of the book at a breakfast for Lutheran professors.  I think his approach is good.  Of course, I never reject the atheist criticisms of religion too quickly.  Indeed, I find reading recent atheist writers rather helpful.  They hone in on some of the admitted dangers of sociological fundamentalism and anti-intellectualism.  To this extent, religious people must take such writing seriously.  I am currently reading Hitchens, God is Not Great.  He is a lively writer, and I enjoy many of his insights.  But as for Dawkins, I find his approach eerily similar to sociological fundamentalism.  McGrath is dead on when he describes Dawkins as an "Atheist fundamentalist."  I am concerned with the voice of the critic of my faith.  If that happens to be an anti-intellectual, I still ought to read them with a sympathetic concern to hear their perspective.  Dawkins does not extend Christians this courtesy and thus commits the same errors I find in Christians who fail to listen to the legitimate concerns of non-Christians. 

 

(5). You did your doctoral work on Theodore Beza at Oxford.  What's the one thing you think the modern American church could learn from Beza?

 

Beza understood the balance between objectivity and subjectivity.  He would likely agree with contemporary postmodern thinkers who note the importance of perspective and social context in the formation of belief; yet he also believed in the importance of empirical evidence.  Thus, his approach may help us navigate between the modern and postmodern approaches to knowledge.  Moreover, he neither rejects the importance of reason, nor advocates anti-supernatural rationalism.  Christians today can learn to avoid anti-intellectualism on the one hand, and triumphalistic trust in rationalistic apologetics on the other.  He saw faith as involving knowledge, assent, and trust.  These three aspects move from the objective to the subjective elements of belief.  Understanding these three aspects of faith, Christians can recognize that apologetics may be useful to a point, but cannot compel a person to believe, since belief involves the subjective element of trust. Augustinian Christianity (in which Beza was situated) insists that trust comes about only through the power of the Holy Spirit.  In other words, Beza provides an alternative to both Christian fideism and rationalism.

 

(6). What theological background do you come from and currently embrace?

 

This is a story too complex to recount here.  My parents could be described as hippies.  They were interested in the myriad of spiritual movements of the sixties.  Nonetheless, they settled in Southern California, with its unique combination of New Age syncretism and conservatism.  For a variety of reasons, I was enrolled in a Christian elementary school, where I found the ethos of evangelicalism oppressive, but its doctrine compelling.  It was there that I decided to oppose religious legalism, while simultaneously defending the transformational power of Christ's teachings.  So, in the sixth grade I decided to become a theologian, while most of my friends were within the doctor/lawyer/firefighter paradigm.  I suppose this means I got into theology with a chip on my shoulder.  As I explored Protestant options, I found the Reformation era theologies to be most helpful in addressing my frustrations with elements of generic pop evangelicalism.  I have especially found the tradition of Martin Luther to be a good home, to the extent that it serves to proclaim and preserve the gospel.

 

(7). How did you end up at Colorado Christian University?

 

I was born in Boulder, Colorado, and always have wanted to live in the Rocky Mountains.   CCU is the only liberal arts academy in the region.  My family and I love our home in Evergreen, where elk, deer, and bear can be seen from my balcony throughout the summer.  The institution itself attracted me because it is interdenominational rather than nondenominational.  The difference can be compared to the dissimilarity between a kaleidoscope and a grey ball of Play-Do.  

 

(8). What are some of your responsibilities at CCU?

 

I oversee the School of Theology, which includes theology, biblical studies, and youth ministry majors, as well as philosophy and Young Life Leadership minors.  I teach a variety of courses since, in a small department, one needs to be a utility player.  I also enjoy interacting with local clergy.  My favorite task is mentoring students on their way to grad school.  Each spring, I meet for a special readings class at a local coffee shop.  Those are about the best conversations one can have.

 

(9). Are you following the Grudem-Piper discussions on baptism and church membership?  If so, what do you think about it?

 

"Following" wouldn't be a good word choice.  I am aware that bloggers have taken notice of Grudem's change in approach.  Here's where I come down: I am ecumenical in terms of dialog.  I appreciate joint efforts of Christians to work together in the academy, in relief work, and even in youth events.  Nonetheless, the trend toward a generic evangelical practice that is weak on ecclesiology can't be the answer.  Here's why: a church's take on baptism is woven into the fabric of their theology.  Infant baptism makes sense within the framework of covenant-focused Reformed theology, sacramental Catholicism, or the Lutheran emphasis on the "alien righteousness" of Christ.  Decisional or "conversionist" theologies fit well with believers' baptism.  So, treating baptism as a minor issue obscures greater theological concerns.  If we get together on soteriology, the sacraments will be an easier debate to resolve.

 

(10). On your CCU webpage you mention the intelligence of your students and their passion for truth.  How important a role do you think this up-and-coming generation is going to have on global missions?  While none of us know what God will do, I've recently begun to think that God's greatest work will probably be through Christians outside the U.S. due to our apathy and carnality.  But you see reasons for hope in this generation you're currently teaching?

 

The students I teach will have an important role to play in global missions because many of them are beginning to listen to global Christian voices.  You are right to recognize the importance of orthodox Christianity outside the U.S. and Western Europe.  But many of my students come in as first year students who are already interested in reexamining missiology.  An example of this might be the number of my students who are interested in the 10/10 Project http://the1010project.org/dem/ which avoids "boondoggle" mission by developing long-term relationships between young people and an overseas location.  Through these relationships, they are able to listen to global Christian voices and develop creative and effective strategies for making real changes in a region.

 

(11). You used to be in a band?  Tell me a bit about that.  Do you still sing in a band?

 

I started writing music with my good friend Scott Copeland when we were both in middle school.  We continued making music, with various others joining and leaving us, until college.  Some of the most interesting music came early on because we could play all right but we weren't formulaic because we didn't yet know what the formula was.  We started out singing about love and loss, went through a heavily religious phase, and in the last incarnations, dabbled in jazzy stuff and what might be described as psychedelic bluegrass.  I don't play regularly anymore.  I must confess, however, that though I am high-church in my tastes (I love chanting the liturgy), I have occasionally jumped behind the drums at church when I sleep in and go to second service.  They are such great drums.  I can't resist.

 

(12). What are two or three of your favorite serious websites?  What about those you go to just for fun, if any?  Which other website would you like to promote here?

 

I could spend all day on the Internet History Sourcebooks, edited by Paul Halsall: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/  You can't beat public domain great texts.  For distinctly theological sources, I like Shane Rosenthal's Reformation Ink: http://homepage.mac.com/shanerosenthal/reformationink/  A great resource on new religious movements is sponsored by the University of Virginia: http://religiousmovements.lib.virginia.edu/  I find this the best resource on the subject around.

 

Then, for fun, I check out the Boar's Head Tavern on occasion: http://www.boarsheadtavern.com/.  Finally, let me shamelessly plug my friend Ted Rosenbladt's online store: http://www.newreformationpress.com/  I like it because there is a reproduction of a cool print I bought in England.  And it hocks a book to which I contributed a chapter.

 

(Oct 2007)

Also see NNF articles:

Open Letter to My Daughter on Modesty

In Honor of Pastors: Learning How to Follow Your Leader