Sunday, January 19, 2020

The Evangelical Kaleidoscope: Part Two - Quadrilateral"isms"


Four “isms” have deeply impacted evangelicalism as we experience it today.  I will try do draw them together in Part Three. For now, I offer them as separate pieces in the evangelical kaleidoscope. 

Stick around for the final visual; I think it will help you make sense of all this.

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RACISM

The failure to address racial issues well has been a long-standing and pervasive problem in American history, and evangelicalism has not been exempt. In spite of the belief in communal justice as an expression of personal salvation, the struggle over race and inequality plagued evangelicalism from the beginning.

  • Jonathan Edwards owned household slaves. Though he was critical of the abuses in the slave trade, he never came to believe that slavery was wrong. 
  • George Whitefield actually bought a South Carolina Plantation and became a slave owner before seeking to legalize slavery in Georgia. In fact, he became a leading pro-slavery voice instrumental in getting slavery legalized in Georgia in 1751.[1]

Southern white evangelicals sat in churches and revival tents with their black slaves. They believed God offered salvation of all souls, but too often they believed this woud simply make slaves better slaves.[2] Not all evangelicals felt this way - the further North one moved, the more evangelicals defended the rights and freedom of slaves. But prior to the Civil War, the vast majority of white Southern evangelicals were pro-slavery, or at least saw slavery as a political issue rather than a church issue. 

Saturday, January 18, 2020

The Evangelical Kaleidoscope: Part One - Evangelical History In A Quadrilateral Nutshell

I've always been an evangelical - maybe even a fundamentalist? - but I've recently realized I need to spend some time gaining a better understanding of the terminology in which I was immersed and by which I identify my Christian faith. I credit at least four developments for this new interest:
  • fielding dozens of queries like this from my non-religious friends: "Help me understand why 81% of evangelicals voted for Donald Trump." On the other hand, I also heard from a lot of evangelicals, "Why would you not?"  Those two comments are worlds apart, and yet somehow they both resonate.
  • reading Colin Woodard’s American Nations: A History Of The Eleven Rival Regional Cultures Of North America, a fascinating book on the regional cultures that shaped North America, and the influence that has had on politics, religion, and the intersection of the two. [1]
  • listening to The Holy Post’s podcast about evangelicalism vs. fundamentalism after Christianity Today’s editorial about Trump’s impeachment blew up the Christian internet.
  •  a brewing sense that Inigo Montoya’s insight is relevant in connection to the use of the word ‘evangelical’ by myself and others: “I do not think that word means what you think it means.”
So, I picked up Thomas Kidd’s Who Is An Evangelical?[2]and Evangelicals: Who They Have Been, Are Now, And Could Be (edited and partially written by three of the big historical hitters in the discussion - Mark Noll, David Begggington, and George Marsden), and started digging through evangelical/fundamentalist articles, websites and organizations online. What follows is not a definitive overview by any means, but hopefully it will serve to provoke your thoughts as it has mine. 

I’ll give away my conclusion: “evangelical” is, I’m afraid, no longer a helpful word.[3] It is simply too imprecise to describe the current forms of Christianity fragmented together in what Timothy Smith has called an evangelical kaleidoscope.  

 George Marsden offers a partial list of what that evangelical kaleidoscope looks like today:
  • Black and White evangelicals (read "Democrats and Republicans." More on this in a later post)
  • Calvinists and Arminians
  • Pentecostals/Holiness and Separatist Fundamentalists (who don't care for Pentecostals)
  • Pacifist Churches (such as Mennonites) and Baptists (who are not pacifists)
  • Southern Baptists (are they really, evangelical, though?)
  • Missouri Synod Lutherans and Reformed church (confessional heritage) and Methodists (Pietist heritage)
Saying “I am an evangelical” is like saying, “I like fast food.” That’s interesting, but not terribly informative. What kind of fast food? What counts as “fast food” anyway? You mean Paneras, Boston Market and Culvers are the same kind of restaurant as Dairy Queen and McDonalds?[4] Pizza Hut is considered fast good but has a salad bar. Does "liking fast food" mean you eat out twice a week or just a few times a year?  

Those are the kind of follow-up questions one must ask concerning evangelicalism: What kind of evangelical? Are you sure you know what it means? Should all those who claim to be evangelical be on the same list? Do they actually attend an evangelical church and do evangelical things on a regular basis?

So...let's look at this kaleidoscope. 

Thursday, December 26, 2019

My 2020 Cultural Wish List

1. We value life - all life. It starts in the womb, and it continues until death. The question of personhood and humanity looms ever larger as science reveals more and more about the life of the unborn. We must figure out how to exercise justice and mercy at our southern border to those who are born. Speaking of doing better, we can also do this by looking more carefully about the context in which poverty and crime flourish, and by having legitimately serious discussions about the cost and availability of health care. We value life when we value all of life.

2. We address the causes of the #metoo movement at the core. Specifically, how do we create a culture that trains us from the time we are children on how to honor others sexually? We appear to be doing a terrible job. I suspect the two biggest culprits are families in which honor is not modeled and entertainment that is remarkably crude, shallow and selfish when portraying relationships, sex, and sexuality. Morality, character, integrity. They matter. Oh, and pornography is a monster.

3. We reject materialism as the standard for the good life. "But the economy is good!" has become my least favorite phrase, as if having money in my pocket is more important than anything else. I want leaders and policies that model and promote truth, generosity, justice and mercy for all people, even if the achievement of these goals literally costs us something. The United States has plenty of money. We have room, as a nation and as individuals, to exercise what Timothy Keller calls a 'generous justice.' 

4. We give up caustic, abrasive, confrontational public discourse. Obnoxious people and/or mean posts get headlines. It's ruining our ability to have meaningful conversation about just about everything. I would love to see this modeled from the top down, beginning with our president and all other elected leaders in Washington. If politicians never used Twitter again to make an argument, vent, or explain something, I would consider 2020 a win.

5. The entertainment industry listens to itself and watches itself, and makes the connection: what they celebrate, their audience will do. If you want better people, make better entertainment. Write songs and tell stories that bring out nobility in people. You reap what you sow.

6. Christians remember that our kingdom is not of this world. Our citizenship is in heaven. Our allegiance is to Jesus. We do not owe allegiance to Trump, Obama, Clinton or Sanders. The Republican, Democratic, and Libertarian parties are not to be revered. In 2020, may we feel increasingly uneasy in a world that is not our home. May that unease inspire us to holy engagement with everyone and everything around us, and that includes holding said politicians and parties accountable when they contribute to the brokenness of the world.

7. All of us recommit to the pursuit of truth. Fake news is a problem from the Right and the Left; calling real news 'fake news' just because we don't like it is just as problematic. We need to do our own research: go to primary sources; absorb perspectives from multiple viewpoints; read, watch and listen widely; filter opinion from fact. The truth is there. It's just harder than ever to find it. Do work.

8. The evangelical church - which I love - regain its footing as a compelling community of salvation, truth, love, generosity, justice, mercy and hope that reflects the character and nature of Jesus.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

What Can Be Done? (Free To Believe: The Battle Over Religious Liberty In America - Part 3/3)

Luke Goodrich works for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. He's won multiple Supreme Court victories for religious freedom. He has appeared on Fox, CNN, ABC, NPR, and been in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Time Magazine. He's also an adjunct professor at the University of Utah law school where he teaches constitutional law.

I am summarizing his important and timely book in three installments that match the three sections of his book:

1) What Is Religious Freedom (read it here)
2) What Are The Most Serious Threats (read it here)
3) What Can Be Done? (the subject of this post)

What I blog is a mix of direct quotes and paraphrases from his writing. I will try to note where I am stepping out of the book and offering my own commentary.

Monday, November 25, 2019

What Are The Most Serious Threats? (Free To Believe: The Battle Over Religious Liberty In America - Part 2/3)

Luke Goodrich works for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. He's won multiple Supreme Court victories for religious freedom. He has appeared on Fox, CNN, ABC, NPR, and been in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Time Magazine. He's also an adjunct professor at the University of Utah law school where he teaches constitutional law.

I suspect he will also surprise - and challenge - both liberals and conservatives on the issue of religious freedom. While it's written broadly for people of faith and specifically for Christians, I think it also offers great food for thought for those who are not religious.

I have already begun to blog a review/overview of his book in three installments that will match the three sections of his book:

1) What Is Religious Freedom (read it here)
2) What Are The Most Serious Threats (the subject of this post)
3) What Can Be Done?

What I blog will be a mix of direct quotes and paraphrases from his writing. I will try to note where I am stepping out of the book and offering my own commentary.

* * * * *

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Free To Believe: The Battle Over Religious Liberty In America (Part 1/3)

Luke Goodrich works for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. He's won multiple Supreme Court victories for religious freedom. He has appeared on Fox, CNN, ABC, NPR, and been in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Time Magazine. He's also an adjunct professor at the University of Utah law school where he teaches constitutional law.  In other words he's qualified to speak on this issue.

I suspect he will also surprise - and challenge - both liberals and conservatives on this issue. While it's written broadly for people of faith and specifically for Christians, I think it also offers great food for thought for those who are not religious.

Don't assume I automatically agree with everything - I have some questions that remain (and perhaps even some points of dissent) that will emerge over the course of this three part series. Meanwhile, I would love to see a thoughtful conversation emerge from this book (and these posts).

I am going to blog a review/overview of his book in three installments that will match the three sections of his book:

1) What Is Religious Freedom
2) What Are The Most Serious Threats?
3) What Can Be Done?

What I blog will be a mix of direct quotes and paraphrases from his writing. I will try to note where I am stepping out of the book and offering my own commentary.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Sliding Into Irrelevancy


The church has been sliding into cultural irrelevance for a few years now. You see this not only in the rise of the 'nones' and the declining number of regular church attenders, but also in how seriously the culture  takes the perspective of the church on moral issues.

I've seen a huge shift in the 15 years I've been a pastor. When I started in church ministry, "I'm a pastor," granted me a degree of deference from almost everyone. Not any more. If anything, it's usually cause for dismissing me. [1]

I think I know one reason this is changing. [2] There has been a seismic shift in how our culture views the church, and it's not merely because we have clashing worldview. It's because Jesus' figurative warning has come true: our 'salt' has lost its saltiness, and it's being trampled (Matthew 5).

The recent revelations of John Crist’s moral failure, addiction, and abuse of power while building a public platform under the banner of “Christian entertainer” is going to function as a placeholder for a lot of other stories of scandal in church leadership that have taken the news cycle by storm in the past few years.

My goal is not to malign Mr. Crist (who has himself confessed to egregious moral failure) or aggrandize anyone else. My goal is to take an honest look at the state of the church in the United States right now, at least in how it is responding to public sin or failure.

This is going to take some time, so settle in.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

When And How Should Christians Publicly Fight For Their Faith?

How should the church’s voice and presence in 21st century culture mirror how God’s messages to the world were revealed by the prophetic voices in the Bible?

I have been wrestling with this for a while. The Bible clearly calls Christians to be “salt” that adds spiritual savor, to be “light,” that casts the light of truth and hope into a sin-darkened world (Matthew 5:13-16).  How do we do this well? What does the proverbial “word fitly spoken” look like? What is within our power to do to make sure we do not lose the savoriness of our salty message? How do we use our freedoms in a democratic system to best represent Christ and spread the life of the Kingdom of God?