My copy of The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind is scuffed, highlighted, dog-eared, and underlined; it was my young adult equivalent of a well-loved teddy bear. Its 1994 release coincided with my beginning a doctoral program in cultural anthropology at American University. With lifelong roots in conservative evangelicalism, part of me worried that evangelicals were right: I'd contribute more to God's kingdom as a wife and mother, or maybe a missionary, than as a professor. Arriving at just the right time, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind strengthened my inner conviction that a scholarly vocation was valid for an evangelical, even a female one.
I hesitated, however, at the very notion of "the life of the mind" (I still do today). Evangelicalism had taught me that faith ought to matter in the world, and that Christians ought to address urgent needs through evangelism and interpersonal care. Does any believer have the right to live the life of the mind, I wondered, in a world where people are suffering? Additionally, I wanted a family someday, and I didn't see a way to be the mother I wanted to be—or even a mother at all—if I spent my 20s and 30s working my way up the academic prestige ladder. In elite research universities today, the life of the mind often seems like no life at all. Competition for tenure is cutthroat and may last well over a decade. People work around the clock and around the week to produce peer-reviewed or university press publications that are read by few, understood by fewer, and applied by fewer still. The highest demands of academic careers often coincide with women's reproductive window, so choices about parenting become extremely difficult for women, and for men who wish to be engaged fathers. Not many can succeed on these terms and preserve spiritual and personal well-being.