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Friday, March 16, 2018

Whatever Happened to Evangelicalism?

Whatever Happened to Evangelicalism?

This has been the theme of recent important pieces that analyze the movement. Probably the most significant comes from Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson, writing in The Atlantic, with the subtitle, “How evangelicals, once culturally confident, became an anxious minority seeking political protection from the least traditionally religious president in living memory.” He makes a historical case, looking to times, in his view, evangelicals were more culturally confident, more morally consistent, and more socially engaged.
I think his argument is more or less accurate, but the piece is more of a jeremiad—meaning his history serves his homiletic purpose. In fact, evangelicalism has always been a complex phenomenon—we’ve always had a sector that is culturally nervous and morally compromised. There are no good old days, only certain times and people who have exemplified the best in evangelical behavior. But all in all, Gerson is reminding us about such times and people and encourages us to follow their example. Amen to that. (Scot McKnight here notes aspects of evangelical history and theology that fare better than what Gerson concedes.)
From the same journal comes a review by Emma Green of Still Evangelical? Ten Insiders Reconsider Political, Social, and Theological Meaning (IVP Books) (full disclosure: I am one of the contributors). Green’s review is titled: “How Trump Is Remaking Evangelicalism: A new book shows the fracture lines the 45th U.S. president has created within American Christianity.” It’s a fine review, but I think Green is mistaken in assuming Trump has created these divisions. As many have observed in the larger culture, our divisions have been festering for some time, and Trump merely brought them to the surface. The same is true of evangelicalism in my view. Take Trump out of the picture, and you still have some serious divisions we need to wrestle with.
(About the book itself: It is an interesting collection of authors, not the least because the lead name emblazoned on the cover is that of Shane Claiborne, who converted to Catholicism a few years ago. One assumes he left it precisely because he no longer identifies with the movement; not sure why he is considered an insider. But other than that, the book includes voices from many streams of evangelical life.)

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