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"This magazine began in October 1956 amid a time, like today, of significant global transition. The same week the first issue of Christianity Today came off the press, Hungarians took to the streets in an effort to reform—or even throw off—Russian domination. Before CT's third issue was out, Soviet tanks had rolled into Budapest. Thousands of Hungarians died.Mark Noll, whose books include The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, The Rise of Evangelicism, and The Civil War as a Theological Crisis, authored this article in Christianity Today on the occasion of the 50th year of publication of this respected magazine.
Despite heightened alarm about Soviet aggression, however, Western allies decided not to intervene because of their ongoing preoccupation with another crisis. In late July, Egypt, under the charismatic Gamal Abdul Nasser, moved to seize the Suez Canal from Britain. When the crisis finally ended, the shift in world power was complete, with the United States emerging as the most powerful nation on earth. European empires were history, the Israeli-Arab conflict had intensified, and more and more oil money was flowing to strongly Muslim Middle Eastern states.
In September, Elvis Presley appeared for the first time on The Ed Sullivan Show, to the consternation of many evangelicals. In October, the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, was in its 11th month. Planning was under way throughout the nation to launch the interstate highway system that President Eisenhower, soon to be re-elected, had signed into law a few months earlier, and with it a new suburban America was born. Also in 1956, Searle, a giant drug company, submitted to the Food and Drug Administration its formula for the first birth-control pills.
Whether American evangelicals were up to the challenges of this rapidly changing world was an open question. The nation seemed to have moved beyond evangelical influence, and evangelical Christianity itself was in a parlous state. ..."
He starts by pointing out that popular culture, radio, and the relatively new medium of television were mostly devoid of Protestant influence, and in some cases demonstrably hostile to Christianity and its values.
But neither was Christianity particularly engaged in the world. Christian influence in colleges and universities was as low as it has ever been, and evangelical Christians, in particular, were not at the table when issues of public policy were discussed. Noll ascribes much of this to the battles over evolution and higher ctiticism of Scripture that fundamentalists lost in the twentieth century, causing them to withdraw from academic pursuits and debates. While "evangelical" is a far wider term than "fundamentalist", it appears that they, too, were passive during the period of time in question.
Noll suggests, in a theme he also explored from Civil War times, that evangelicals lost a great deal of credibility by not involving themselves in such moral issues as slavery, war, or civil rights.
This has changed in the last few decades, but there is still much to be done, and Noll has done a good job of calling his fellow evangelicals to reclaim their intellectual history and to become part of the academic debates and development of sound public policy.
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