Category : Evangelicals

(CSM) Amid Evangelical decline, growing split between young Christians and church elders

For Andrew Walker, the current “post-Christian” state of American culture has posed a serious challenge to the faithful.

For a variety of reasons, fewer and fewer Americans now have a grasp of the fundamentals of orthodox, biblical teachings, says Mr. Walker, director of policy studies for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Like many who keep attuned to the country’s religious landscape, he notes, too, the dramatic rise of the so-called “nones,” especially among the young, who may believe in God, but have begun to refuse to identify with a particular religious group.

“They grew up in a nominal Christian culture, where it’s no longer of a cultural or social benefit to identify as a Christian,” he says. “To add to that is, there’s often not only no social prestige to gain, there’s also social prestige to lose, if you say you are a Christian in our society.”

It’s one piece of a cultural shift that has begun to affect even the nation’s most vibrant religious groups. The Southern Baptist Convention, one of the more conservative evangelical Protestant denominations, has lost more than a million members over the past decade. Still the largest single Protestant group in the nation with more than 15 million members, its network of churches nevertheless haven’t baptized so few a number of people in 70 years, the denomination’s research shows.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Evangelicals, History, Religion & Culture

(NYT Op-ed) Ross Douthat on Michael Cromartie–The Apostle to the Media

Like many evangelicals, he ended up working in the peculiar outsider-insider world of conservative Washington, influencing the Republican Party’s counsels even as the wider establishment continued to regard his faith and movement as exotic, disreputable, possibly dangerous.

But more than most Cromartie did not accept this suspicion and mistrust as permanent or necessary. His great work, which occupied much of the last two decades of his life, was a distinctive exercise in dialogue and encounter: Twice a year, he invited prominent journalists, members of one of America’s most secular professions, into extended conversation with religious leaders, theologians and historians, the best and brightest students and practitioners of varied faiths. These conferences, held in Maine and Miami and Key West, Fla., were purpose-driven junkets, intended to prove that religious believers and professional media elites did not have to be locked in a cycle of misunderstanding and mistrust.

And in the discussion sessions that Cromartie ran they weren’t. There were tense moments and hostile interactions here and there, but for the most part when you were inside his conferences (or helping to choose the speakers, as I did for a while), you could imagine that pluralism could actually work, that religious views could advance by persuasion without encouraging intolerance, that the religious and nonreligious could argue and listen in good faith, that conservative believers could be taken seriously by the media and extend greater trust and understanding in their turn.

This little Arcadia was an extension of its presiding genius’s personality. I was not Cromartie’s closest friend, and for a deeper appreciation of the man’s distinctive qualities I recommend the many tributes in the last week from journalists who were closer — particularly Carl Cannon’s eulogy in RealClearPolitics, which captures Cromartie in full.

But he was a personal inspiration to me from very early in my career. Nobody in Washington was kinder to me as a novice journalist, nobody gave me more hope that my own peculiar vocation was worthwhile rather than quixotic, and few men I met in my D.C. years modeled the Christian virtues of faith and hope and charity so ebulliently, without the air of defensive irony that many of us weave around our unfashionable morality and metaphysics.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, Evangelicals, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Theology, Theology: Scripture

Billy Graham’s Address at the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance in 2001

President and Mrs. Bush, I want to say a personal word on behalf of many people. Thank you, Mr. President, for calling this day of prayer and remembrance. We needed it at this time.

We come together today to affirm our conviction that God cares for us, whatever our ethnic, religious, or political background may be. The Bible says that He’s the God of all comfort, who comforts us in our troubles. No matter how hard we try, words simply cannot express the horror, the shock, and the revulsion we all feel over what took place in this nation on Tuesday morning. September eleven will go down in our history as a day to remember.

Today we say to those who masterminded this cruel plot, and to those who carried it out, that the spirit of this nation will not be defeated by their twisted and diabolical schemes. Someday, those responsible will be brought to justice, as President Bush and our Congress have so forcefully stated. But today we especially come together in this service to confess our need of God.
Today we say to those who masterminded this cruel plot, and to those who carried it out, that the spirit of this nation will not be defeated by their twisted and diabolical schemes. Someday, those responsible will be brought to justice, as President Bush and our Congress have so forcefully stated. But today we especially come together in this service to confess our need of God.

We’ve always needed God from the very beginning of this nation, but today we need Him especially. We’re facing a new kind of enemy. We’re involved in a new kind of warfare. And we need the help of the Spirit of God. The Bible words are our hope: God is our refuge and strength; an ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way, and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.

But how do we understand something like this? Why does God allow evil like this to take place? Perhaps that is what you are asking now. You may even be angry at God. I want to assure you that God understands these feelings that you may have. We’ve seen so much on our television, on our ”” heard on our radio, stories that bring tears to our eyes and make us all feel a sense of anger. But God can be trusted, even when life seems at its darkest.

But what are some of the lessons we can learn? First, we are reminded of the mystery and reality of evil. I’ve been asked hundreds of times in my life why God allows tragedy and suffering. I have to confess that I really do not know the answer totally, even to my own satisfaction. I have to accept by faith that God is sovereign, and He’s a God of love and mercy and compassion in the midst of suffering. The Bible says that God is not the author of evil. It speaks of evil as a mystery. In 1st Thessalonians 2:7 it talks about the mystery of iniquity. The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah said “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” Who can understand it?” He asked that question, ”˜Who can understand it?’ And that’s one reason we each need God in our lives.

The lesson of this event is not only about the mystery of iniquity and evil, but secondly it’s a lesson about our need for each other. What an example New York and Washington have been to the world these past few days. None of us will ever forget the pictures of our courageous firefighters and police, many of whom have lost friends and colleagues; or the hundreds of people attending or standing patiently in line to donate blood. A tragedy like this could have torn our country apart. But instead it has united us, and we’ve become a family. So those perpetrators who took this on to tear us apart, it has worked the other way ”” it’s back lashed. It’s backfired. We are more united than ever before. I think this was exemplified in a very moving way when the members of our Congress stood shoulder to shoulder the other day and sang “God Bless America.”

Finally, difficult as it may be for us to see right now, this event can give a message of hope ”” hope for the present, and hope for the future. Yes, there is hope. There’s hope for the present, because I believe the stage has already been set for a new spirit in our nation. One of the things we desperately need is a spiritual renewal in this country. We need a spiritual revival in America. And God has told us in His word, time after time, that we are to repent of our sins and return to Him, and He will bless us in a new way. But there’s also hope for the future because of God’s promises. As a Christian, I hope not for just this life, but for heaven and the life to come. And many of those people who died this past week are in heaven right now. And they wouldn’t want to come back. It’s so glorious and so wonderful. And that’s the hope for all of us who put our faith in God. I pray that you will have this hope in your heart.

This event reminds us of the brevity and the uncertainty of life. We never know when we too will be called into eternity. I doubt if even one those people who got on those planes, or walked into the World Trade Center or the Pentagon last Tuesday morning thought it would be the last day of their lives. It didn’t occur to them. And that’s why each of us needs to face our own spiritual need and commit ourselves to God and His will now.

Here in this majestic National Cathedral we see all around us symbols of the cross. For the Christian ”” I’m speaking for the Christian now ”” the cross tells us that God understands our sin and our suffering. For He took upon himself, in the person of Jesus Christ, our sins and our suffering. And from the cross, God declares “I love you. I know the heart aches, and the sorrows, and the pains that you feel, but I love you.” The story does not end with the cross, for Easter points us beyond the tragedy of the cross to the empty tomb. It tells us that there is hope for eternal life, for Christ has conquered evil, and death, and hell. Yes, there’s hope.

I’ve become an old man now. And I’ve preached all over the world. And the older I get, the more I cling to that hope that I started with many years ago, and proclaimed it in many languages to many parts of the world. Several years ago at the National Prayer Breakfast here in Washington, Ambassador Andrew Young, who had just gone through the tragic death of his wife, closed his talk with a quote from the old hymn, “How Firm A Foundation.” We all watched in horror as planes crashed into the steel and glass of the World Trade Center. Those majestic towers, built on solid foundations, were examples of the prosperity and creativity of America. When damaged, those buildings eventually plummeted to the ground, imploding in upon themselves. Yet underneath the debris is a foundation that was not destroyed. Therein lies the truth of that old hymn that Andrew Young quoted: “How firm a foundation.”

Yes, our nation has been attacked. Buildings destroyed. Lives lost. But now we have a choice: Whether to implode and disintegrate emotionally and spiritually as a people, and a nation, or, whether we choose to become stronger through all of the struggle to rebuild on a solid foundation. And I believe that we’re in the process of starting to rebuild on that foundation. That foundation is our trust in God. That’s what this service is all about. And in that faith we have the strength to endure something as difficult and horrendous as what we’ve experienced this week.

This has been a terrible week with many tears. But also it’s been a week of great faith. Churches all across the country have called prayer meetings. And today is a day that they’re celebrating not only in this country, but in many parts of the world. And the words of that familiar hymn that Andrew Young quoted, it says, “Fear not, I am with thee. Oh be not dismayed for I am thy God and will give thee aid. I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand upon” my righteous ”” on “thy righteous, omnipotent hand.”

My prayer today is that we will feel the loving arms of God wrapped around us and will know in our hearts that He will never forsake us as we trust in Him. We also know that God is going to give wisdom, and courage, and strength to the President, and those around him. And this is going to be a day that we will remember as a day of victory. May God bless you all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Church History, Evangelicals, History, Preaching / Homiletics, Religion & Culture, Terrorism

(PD) Ann Snyder–The Magnanimous Man: In Remembrance of Michael Cromartie

Mike was a walking library of political hope. In my early years of working in conservative policy circles, most of them peppered by some religious spice, I often found myself confused by theo-political unions that seemed more cynical than fruitful. I’d come to Christian faith in the context of an aggressively secular New England prep school, followed by a Wheaton education that began from theology, not ideology. To me, notions of the religious right and religious left seemed cheap at best, damaging at worst. Mike would see my consternation before the awkwardness of melding the City of God with the City of Man, hand me a stack of books to read, and every day afterward check up on my progress. We discussed Mark Noll and Nathan Hatch’s The Search for Christian America, Peter Berger’s The Sacred Canopy, Michael Novak’s The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, essays by Walter Russell Mead, Josef Joffe, Os Guinness, Francis Fukuyama, and Jacques Ellul. “You’re basically getting paid to get a graduate school education,” Mike would say. “Take advantage of it.”

His reading lists granted oxygen to a soul starved to understand her place as a Christian in political waters. But Mike also introduced me to the living map of Washington. His facility with DC’s social and institutional architecture continues to guide my own approach to understanding and interacting with new cities. He introduced me, too, to the craft of journalism and research, and to the art of connecting people to ideas and to one another. Mike’s tastes were unusual, in that they combined broad curiosity with confident judgment. He had a special radar for people of integrated excellence—mind and soul—and his speed dial included scholars of sociology, religion, physics, and history, statisticians employed by Gallup and Pew, an array of college presidents, and newspaper columnists from across the ideological spectrum….

Mike leveraged this impressive social and intellectual capital to create something that became the iconic culmination of who he was: the Faith Angle Forum. Founded in 1999, the Forum is a twice-annual, two-day breather for journalists to go deep with select scholars on the undercurrents of the day: terrorism and religious extremism, scientific empiricism and spiritual mystery, race and religion, technology, same-sex marriage, voting patterns among the faithful, social inequality. The goal is to grant a reprieve from the tyranny of the 24/7 news cycle and, in a coastal Florida setting, subvert stereotypes and fortify the reporting and commentary on religious believers, religious convictions, and the ways in which religiously grounded moral arguments affect American politics and public life.

Talk to any journalist who’s attended the Faith Angle Forum, and you’ll hear words like “irreplaceable,” “provoking,” “enlightening” and “a game-changer.” It’s served as the gateway for countless reporters from the likes of PBS, NPR, Time MagazineNewsweekThe AtlanticThe New York TimesThe Washington PostThe Economist, and RealClearPolitics to encounter the deeper currents underlying the news, peeling them apart in an intellectually rigorous, dialogue-driven circle….

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Church History, Death / Burial / Funerals, Ethics / Moral Theology, Evangelicals, Pastoral Theology, Politics in General, Theology, Theology: Scripture

(CT) 1 in 3 American Evangelicals Is a Person of Color per the PRRI Survey

A massive compilation of surveyed Americans across all 50 states offers a rare look at minority Christians.

While Protestants in the United States remain mostly white, the share of Protestants of color has grown steadily from 17 percent in 1991 to 33 percent in 2016, according to a report released today by Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI).

“The American religious landscape has undergone dramatic changes in the last decade, and is more diverse today than at any time since modern sociological measurements began,” reported PRRI on its 2016 American Values Atlas, based on more than 101,000 bilingual surveys between January 2016 and January 2017.

In fact, the number of nonwhite Protestants has grown so large that the group has surpassed white mainline Protestants, and has nearly caught up with white evangelical Protestants.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Evangelicals, Race/Race Relations, Religion & Culture, Sociology

More on Michael Cromartie RIP

EPPC scholars and staff mourn the death on August 28 of our longtime friend and colleague Michael Cromartie. We pray for the repose of Mike’s soul and for the consolation of his wife Jenny and their children.

“Mike was at the heart and soul of the Ethics and Public Policy Center for more than three decades,” said EPPC President Ed Whelan. “The beautiful tributes that he has received are an eloquent testament to his special qualities. We will miss him dearly.”

EPPC Distinguished Senior Fellow George Weigel said of Mr. Cromartie:

Mike Cromartie was a pioneer of ecumenical evangelical dialogue and a wonderful colleague and friend. Among his many gifts, Mike had an extraordinary ability to engage all sorts of folks in serious conversation. He made an exceptional contribution to the work of EPPC, and to American public life, for over three decades. That he now lives with the Lord he loved and served is a consolation amidst a profound sense of loss.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, America/U.S.A., Death / Burial / Funerals, Evangelicals, History, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

(CT) Michael Cromartie,the Church’s Ambassador to Washington, RIP

Journalists and Christian leaders alike shared their tributes.

“Michael Cromartie was different from what most people think of when they think ‘evangelicals and politics.’ Thanks be to God,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, who admired his humble character and effective engagement with journalists.

“After his cancer diagnosis, every time I saw Mike he would say, ‘Pray like a Pentecostal.’ We did,” Moore shared with CT. “Mike now is in the presence of the Lord of Pentecost. We will miss him here, and must pray for more like him.”

Michael Wear, a former White House faith adviser under Barack Obama, described Cromartie as “one of Christianity’s principal ambassadors in Washington, [representing] Jesus with joyful confidence.”

“I’ve seen the effects of his life and work up close, and both the church and the nation are better off because of him,” said Wear. “Michael was a friend whose encouragement I did not deserve, and whose insight has shaped my work, my life, and my faith. In the days ahead, we should look to Michael’s example to stoke our imagination for what a faithful public witness can look like in this moment.”

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, Evangelicals, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

(CEN) Prominent C of E evangelical group warns of possible split over same-sex Relations

A division of the Church of England would be required’ if the Church declares that ‘permanent, faithful same-sex relationships are a legitimate form of Christian discipleship’, warns the ‘realistic’ Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC).

A letter from CEEC President, the Rt Rev Julian Henderson, its Chair, the Rev Hugh Palmer, Treasurer, the Rev George Curry and Secretary, Stephen Hofmeyr, warns that there are three options available for the Church of England, but that only one of them will ensure that evangelicals represented by the CEEC won’t leave.

They say that while they were encouraged that the House of Bishops sexuality report contained no proposal to change the Church of England’s doctrinal position on marriage, there have been ‘disappointing developments’. They pointed to the fact that ‘a small majority of the House of Clergy refused to “take note” of the report and so, although the majority of General Synod members wished to do so, it was not taken note of by Synod’.

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Posted in Anthropology, Church of England (CoE), Ecclesiology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Evangelicals, Pastoral Theology, Same-sex blessings, Sexuality Debate (in Anglican Communion), Theology, Theology: Scripture

(AM) Andrew Symes–Have C of E evangelical leaders suggested that a Rubicon has been crossed?

All this indicates that a growing number of senior evangelicals are prepared to publicly draw a line in the sand over sexual ethics. Having said this, there are a number of areas which perhaps will require further work over the next few months.

Firstly, as was noted at the time, by Bishop Michael Nazir-AliGafcon UK and myself,  among many evangelicals there was relief that the Bishops’ report on sexuality GS2055 did not suggest any change in teaching or practice, but an overlooking of the report’s underlying theology which appeared to have lost confidence in authoritative Scripture providing a clear guide. CEEC will need to make sure that, for example, in seeking to provide resources teaching biblical orthodoxy on marriage, gender, sexuality etc, it grounds this in a robust re-statement for a new generation of the trustworthiness and authority of the bible by which we know the will of God. As many expressions of Christian faith become more grounded in experience, and the clear witness of Scripture is rejected, other key tenets of orthodox Christianity will also be under the spotlight, for example the sinfulness of humanity and the uniqueness of Christ.

Secondly, CEEC will need to set out clearly and in much more detail some of the options for ‘visible differentiation’, including cost and benefit. Writing a private letter to the Bishop, not taking communion with a liberal colleague who carries out same sex blessings or multi faith services, or even not turning up to Diocesan events, might be a start which costs little, but what might it achieve in the way of halting revisionism or strengthening orthodoxy? Some acts of protest such as withholding of parish share or asking for orthodox Bishops to conduct confirmations are easier for some large churches than smaller ones, and there needs to be clarity on what the goal of such actions might be. Those advocating a differentiated structure within the C of E, such as a Society or a Third Province, need to begin to make clear the pros and cons. Likewise leaving the C of E altogether, for example for Free Church of England, AMiE or some new Gafcon-aligned movement, would be much more costly for full time clergy than for laity or SSM’s: what advantages would result?

Lastly, as the CEEC letter ends with an admission of the difficulty of reading ‘the signs of the times’, it would have been good for the letter to have included some recognition that the assault on apostolic Christian orthodoxy in the Church of England is not just an in-house matter, but is a direct result of changes in Western culture, notably the carefully-orchestrated promotion and acceptance of anti-Christian philosophies on what it means to be human. Evangelical churches should not think that by maintaining biblical teaching and separating themselves from liberal Anglicans, they will be protected from paying any price in the face of these ideologies, which need to be named, understood and resisted with the weapons of spiritual warfare as well as preaching, writing and the establishment of new ecclesial models.

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Posted in Church of England (CoE), Evangelicals

(TGC) Tim Keller–Race, the Gospel, and the Moment

Twentieth-century fascist movements that made absolute values out of “Blut und Boden” (“Blood and Soil”)­—putting one race and one nation’s good above the good of all—also claimed to champion traditional family values and moral virtues over against the decadence of relativistic modern culture. Even though they were no friends of orthodox Christianity (see Adolf Hitler’s heretical “Positive Christianity” movement), they could and can still appeal to people within our own circles. Internet outreach from white nationalist organizations can radicalize people who are disaffected by moral decline in society. So it is absolutely crucial to speak up out about the biblical teaching on racism—not just now, but routinely. We need to make those in our circles impervious to this toxic teaching.

Read it all.

Posted in Church History, Evangelicals, History, Race/Race Relations, Religion & Culture

(National Affairs) Alan Jacobs–When Character No Longer Counts

These leaders have replaced a rhetoric of persuasion with a rhetoric of pure authority — very like the authority that Trump claims for himself. (“Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.”) Consequently, their whole house of cards may well collapse if the Trump presidency is anything other than a glorious success, and will leave those who have accepted that rhetoric bereft of explanations as well as arguments. Presumably the most fervent supporters of Trump will argue (as Trump himself will argue) that his failures have occurred because others have betrayed him, have rejected the man that God raised up to rescue America, but this will require the replacement of the Cyrus analogy with another one yet to be determined. We can only hope that no one compares a failed Trump to an American Jesus betrayed by American Judases.

If all this sounds like a strange fantasyland of narrative, an imaginative world of what members of the Trump administration have taken to calling “alternative facts,” that’s because it is just that. The larger, and longer-term, effect of accounts like this is to encourage Christians to abandon the world of shared evidence, shared convictions, and shared possibilities, and such abandonment is very bad news for Christians and for America.

What is required of serious religious believers in a pluralistic society is the ability to code-switch: never to forget or neglect their own native religious tongue, but also never to forget that they live in a society of people for whom that language is gibberish. To speak only in the language of pragmatism is to bring nothing distinctive to the table; to speak only a private language of revelation and self-proclaimed authority is to leave the table altogether. For their own good, but also for the common good, religious believers need to be always bilingually present.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, Ethics / Moral Theology, Evangelicals, Office of the President, Politics in General, President Donald Trump, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic

(CT) Haddon Robinson RIP, Champion of Biblical Preaching

In his books, classes, and radio instruction, Robinson taught that sermons should be guided by the biblical text and focus on one idea or theme.

Christianity Today featured Robinson—formerly the senior editor of a fellow CT site, PreachingToday.com—in a 2002 article on the neglected craft of expository preaching:

Robinson has been teaching students about expository preaching for decades. His classic (and recently updated) tome Biblical Preaching, which is used in more than 150 seminaries and Bible colleges, has become the go-to text for aspiring expositors.

“The number of preachers who really begin with the text and let it govern the sermon is relatively small,” laments Robinson. “Today, the danger is that some preachers will read the latest psychology book into the text. They’re not driven by a great theology but, instead, by the social sciences.”

In addition to Biblical Preaching, Robinson wrote more than a dozen books on the topic and regularly taught through radio ministries Discover the Word and Our Daily Bread. He warned preachers about veering into heresy with biblical application; distracting the congregation with sermon illustrations; or ostracizing parts of the audience with tone.

Read it all.

Posted in Church History, Death / Burial / Funerals, Evangelicals, Ministry of the Ordained, Preaching / Homiletics

(America) Drew Christiansen: Catholic-evangelical relations are richer than the conspiracies Civilta Cattolica described

In a recent editorial, “Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism: A Surprising Ecumenism,” Civilta Cattolica identified cooperation between Protestant fundamentalists and conservative American Catholics as “a problematic fusion between religion and state, faith and politics, religious values and economy.” Civilta particularly attacked the Prosperity Gospel as a stream of popular theology opposed to Catholic social teaching as advanced by Pope Francis.

Catholic-evangelical relations in the United States, however, are richer and more nuanced than the fearsome conspiracies Civilta described. Take, for example, the Evangelical Environmental Network.

EEN is a nimble coalition of some 700 congregations. Whatever the issue, it has been quick out of the blocks with arresting public relations campaigns. Were gas-guzzling autos a threat to clean air? EEN offered America “WWJD,” the “What Would Jesus Drive?” campaign. Were animal species threatened with extinction? Then an EEN spokesman would appear on late-night TV a wildcat draped across his shoulders.

Read it all and make sure to read the piece he is responding.

Posted in Ecumenical Relations, Evangelicals, Roman Catholic

(CEN) Foreign Office report ‘could cause threat to evangelicals’

Christian aid agency the Barnabas Fund haslodged a formal complaint against the Foreign Office over concerns that implementation of recommendations in a report may cause a ‘threat’ to evangelical churches.

The report, Opportunities and Challenges: the intersection of faith and human rights of LGBTI+ persons,’ was the result of a meeting convened by Wilton Park, an executive agency of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in September 2016.

Barnabas Fund has claimed that the report ‘describes evangelical Christians in disparaging terms’.

The report, a result of a roundtable discussion between 64 people from 27 countries including faith communities,sought to focus on practical ways to promote greater understanding of, and tolerance for, sexual minorities in the context of faith and the inter-face between LGBTI rights defenders, religious leaders and LGBTI people of faith.

Read it all (may require subscription).

Posted in * Economics, Politics, England / UK, Evangelicals, Foreign Relations, Globalization, Law & Legal Issues, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Sexuality

Neil Young–“Evangelical” Is Not a Political Term-a review of The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America by Frances FitzGerald

As the wide swath of American evangelicalism becomes increasingly flattened into the Christian Right and its opponents, the vibrancy and vitality that marked the first half of The Evangelicals steadily lessens. FitzGerald devotes lengthy sections to events like Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial and the 2008 Republican primaries, but such explorations highlight how much of the lived experience of modern evangelicalism is missing. Aside from Pentecostalism, evangelical worship receives scant attention yet it is significant how much the worship experience has changed for conservative Protestants over the last 50 years. Beginning with the Jesus People in the 1960s and soon spreading through the burgeoning nondenominational churches of the West Coast, contemporary Christian music (CCM) and a relaxed worship style has remade Sunday services for all evangelicals, from Southern Baptists to Anglicans. Mainline Protestants have often tut-tutted the informality of evangelical worship, but the casualization of conservative churches has helped strengthen evangelical identity in part by further underscoring the basic evangelical premise that the Christian faith is not some Sunday morning ritual but an entire way of being.

FitzGerald comments that Joel Hunter grew his Northland Church in Orlando from 200 members to 5,000 in a decade (and more than 10,000 today) “because of its worship services.” (Hunter, it should be noted, is on the national advisory board of the Danforth Center on Religion and Politics, which publishes this journal.) His church’s stunning rate of growth is shared by hundreds of evangelical congregations around the country over the last thirty years, but FitzGerald dwells instead on Hunter’s un-conservative politics and his “challenge [of] the Christian right,” as if that is what has made him one of the most important names in contemporary evangelicalism.

At the close of her introduction to The Evangelicals, FitzGerald writes, “the Christian right no longer dominated evangelical discourse” by 2016. It’s a throwaway line, perhaps, but an entirely revealing one. The Christian Right—nor politics in general—has never dominated evangelical discourse. Imagining so betrays an inability (or unwillingness) to fully understand the complex and varied lives of American evangelicals and, importantly, what matters most to them. Even as an author of a recent history of the Christian Right, I would still stress how low nearly all evangelicals rank politics on their list of priorities. Instead, they pray for their children’s salvation and focus on their own spiritual development. They devote themselves to running their churches and participating in community Bible studies. They volunteer with local ministries and send spare dollars to relief work in Africa. They labor each day with the tension of being in this world but not of it. Evangelicals do all of this out of the desire not only to strengthen their personal faith but also with the hope that they might make some difference in their sphere of influence, however small it might be. For evangelicals, that is the real “struggle to shape America,” and it takes place far beyond the rare moments they find themselves in a voting booth in November.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Books, Evangelicals, Religion & Culture