by William Trollinger
This semester here at the University of Dayton I am teaching my Ph.D. seminar on American Evangelicalism, with a particular focus on the late 19th and 20th/21st centuries. The greatest challenge I have faced in this seminar is not the students – this is a smart group, with some of them planning to write dissertations on some aspect of fundamentalism – but, instead, choosing which books to assign. The past decade, in particular, has seen a surfeit of good monographs on evangelicalism and fundamentalism . . . and more keep appearing, to the point that it is hard to keep up. Here is the course reading list; please know that there are another fifty (or more) books I could have assigned (some of which I have required in earlier iterations of this course).
One of the books I assigned this year was the 2014 edition of Randall Balmer’s wonderful Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture in America. One of the nineteen stops in Balmer’s evangelical travelogue was a October 1990 visit to the Multnomah School of the Bible (keeping up with the university-craze in higher education, it is now Multnomah University) in Portland, Oregon.
Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory is a gentle and generous book, but notwithstanding Balmer’s graciousness, his description of Multnomah suggests an extraordinarily dreary place. (Maybe things have livened up now that it is a university!) He ends his “Bible School” chapter by narrating the story of wandering the campus on a Saturday night, the goal being to see what Multnomah students do for fun, given the “strict injunctions against drinking, gambling, R-rated movies, dancing, and kissing.” (143)
While the Solid Rock Café in the Student Commons was empty, Balmer managed to find two individuals in a nearby meeting room who were busy carving pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns. When he asked, “What do Multnomah students do for fun on Saturday night?,” he was told that
“We play Rook in the café,” he said. I started to protest that I had just come from the empty café, but not wanting to be contrary, I pulled up short. The man read my mind, however. “That usually doesn’t get started until ten o’clock,” he said. . . A lot of students go to malls or to parks, he added, or to the local nickel arcade to play video games. On Friday nights one of the professors opens his home to students, who “drop by to discuss life and how it relates to the Bible.” The woman nodded vigorously in agreement. “I don’t know if you’d call this fun,” the man said, “but a lot of students go and witness downtown on Friday and Saturday nights – talk to drunkards and stuff. . . . [And we] play board games!” the man said suddenly, looking hopefully in my direction. . . . I elected to pass on the Rook game. I couldn’t bear the thought of more excitement and levity that evening. I jumped into my rental car and headed back to an empty hotel room. (144-145)
All of this came back to me as I read that Ray Comfort – yes, that Ray Comfort, of the infamous banana video — and his Living Waters organization have designated October 31 as National Evangelism Day. Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis (AiG) have jumped on board, offering to sell eager fundamentalists “the resources you need to share the gospel message with trick-or-treaters and their families.”
Here are some of the Halloween resources available at the Answers in Genesis online store:
- The “Halloween Learn & Share Kit,” which includes 1 “Halloween, Paganism, and the Bible” DVD, 5 “Biblical & Historical Look at Halloween” booklets, 100 “Dino-Bucks Gospel Tracts,” and 100 “Noah’s Ark Gospel Tracts.”
- The “Halloween Outreach Pack,” which includes 1 “Halloween, Paganism, and the Bible” DVD, 50
Biblical & Historical Look at Halloween” booklets, the “Fall of Satan” book, and the “Satan & the Serpent Pocket Guide.”
- The “Ten Commandments Scroll Pen”
- The “Noah’s Ark Gospel” tract
- The “Atheist Test” tract
- The “7 Reasons WHY we should NOT accept MILLIONS of years” booklet
- and much, much, much more!
I am trying to wrap my head around your average nine-year-old trick-or-treater getting back home and pulling out of her bag candies of various sorts – we are going for glow-in-the-dark KitKats this year – along with, say, the “Biblical & Historical Look at Halloween” booklet and the “Atheist Test” tract. Really? She is not immediately throwing them into the trash? This is an evangelism plan?
The fun in fundamentalism just never ends.