Posted by: chuckbumgardner | October 10, 2012

John D’Elia, A Place at the Table: George Eldon Ladd and the Rehabilitation of Evangelical Scholarship in America

A Place at the Table: George Eldon Ladd and the Rehabilitation of Evangelical Scholarship in America by D'Elia, John A. published by Oxford University Press, USA HardcoverThis  book is an absolutely fascinating look at the life and academic career of George Eldon Ladd.  D’Elia has unprecedented access to primary source material and does an excellent job weaving together an account of his life.  Ladd was driven throughout his career to make a name for himself, as well as a “place at the table” for evangelical scholarship during the emergence of the new evangelicalism.  The book emphasizes Ladd’s labor to maintain a relatively conservative position in the broader theological world while engaging with the broader theological world in an irenic and constructive manner, providing a model for the new evangelical enterprise which is still followed in evangelicalism today.

This volume helped me in several ways.  First, it gave me clarity into the relationship between Ladd and dispensationalism / pretribulationism.  More than just research topics, these “-isms” were influential in the conservative milieu in which Ladd existed, and which he was actively seeking to reform.  On the one hand, he disagreed with both, and sought to persuade others that they were wrongheaded.  On the other hand, he was seeking to promote an atmosphere where one was free to dissent on these non-fundamentals without ostracization from one’s conservative circles.  Particularly enlightening was the portrayal of John Walvoord as a sort of dispensationalist nemesis to Ladd, with accounts of their interaction.

A second way D’Elia helped me was in detailing the failures of Ladd’s personal life in his pursuit of scholarship.  His academic achievements (which are unarguably significant) came at quite a cost; the book portrays him as a workaholic who estranged his wife and his two children in favor of his ministry duties (to some extent) and his studies (constantly).  As well, alcoholism was an ongoing problem for a good part of Ladd’s life.

Third, the book several times highlights Ladd’s careful work in accurately and fairly portraying the opinions of those with whom he disagreed — and of those with whom he agreed (134).  This has been drilled into me since my M.Div., especially by my former professors Bob Milliman and Kevin Bauder.

Fourth, D’Elia makes the point at the outset of the book that Ladd was not out merely to “rehabilitate evangelical scholarship” but to gain respectability for himself personally (xvii-xviii).  In fact, as I read the work, it seems as if the new evangelical enterprise of finding “a place at the table” was (and I no doubt broad-brush here to some extent) a desire not just to recognize and correct one’s own academic shortcomings, and the improvement of the life of one’s own mind for the glory of God, but also (and perhaps more) a rather self-focused quest for recognition by the larger scholarly world.  I’m sure that for many, there was a sincere desire to speak truth to a broader academic community that has let go of truth, but for others (and certainly for Ladd), there was also/instead a search for personal acceptability by the larger scholarly community.  This latter factor is seen very graphically in the devastation wrought to Ladd by Norman Perrin’s critical review of Ladd’s magnum opus; his entire life went into a tailspin when he did not find the acceptance he craved from the larger scholarly guild.  This is a warning call to me; one’s ideas and writings are in a way a part of oneself, and I am ever tempted by the siren call of personal respectability and acceptance — the “approval of men” (Gal 1:10) — rather than seeking the truth of God for the glory of God.

Advertisements

Responses

  1. Stumbled upon your blog today looking for an free electronic version of Grudem’s ST. Insightful write up on Ladd. I will add this volume to by reading list.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: