Why I Do Feel Like an Evangelical: Ten Themes of Evangelical Cultural History (Part II)
Allow me to be candid. As a regular critic of American evangelicalism myself, it has been my overwhelming experience that the vast majority of my fellow critics, in-house and elsewhere, are simply ignorant.11.This two-part series isn’t ontological in nature. I’m not exploring whether or not I am an evangelical Christian. As I’ve explored in many past blog entries, the answer to that is yes. What I’m exploring here is psychological in nature; I’m looking at my simultaneous feelings of alterity and affinity toward American evangelicalism’s culture. Theirs is usually a well-intentioned albeit ideologically laden, factually ignorant, and blatantly myopic perspective that exhibits a near absolute dearth of historical understanding. It’s often said that evangelicals haven’t and don’t care about social justice, for example. I couldn’t reasonably begin to disprove this accusation altogether, but it’s simplistic well beyond the point of being misleading. Such a criticism fails to take into account the critical role evangelicals played in such things as combating childhood illiteracy2.Much of their contemporary social activism is discredited because many disagree with its objectives, e.g. ending and/or limiting abortion. during the Industrial Revolution or ending the Transatlantic Slave Trade.2 In fact, I would suggest that many of the movement’s past and present virtues–at least virtues from a christian perspective–are forgotten, ignored, or minimized. Below are 10 such historical themes with coinciding figures who exemplified, or exemplify, them:33.I’m not taking the time to introduce each man and explain why I put them under each category, though. If you’re interested, I’d encourage you to do a little research.
- Social activism: William Wilberforce, Shane Claiborne
- Theological precision: Jonathan Edwards, N.T. Wright
- Ecumenical spirit: John Mott, J.I. Packer
- Missionary impulse: Hudson Taylor, Jim Elliot
- Evangelistic passion: D.L. Moody, Billy Graham
- Entrepreneurial vitality: Francis Asbury, Harold Ockenga
- Intellectual rigor: B.B. Warfield, Mark Noll
- Transnational humility: George Whitefield, John Stott
- Convicted civility: John Wesley, Richard Mouw
- Spiritual wrestling: Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Philip Yancey44.By the way, don’t let anyone tell you it’s impossible to be evangelical and Anglican at the same time. Quite accidentally this list contains no less than six evangelical Anglicans.
Like all people, evangelical Christians possess the paradoxical human nature of being made in God’s image yet being totally marred by the fall. Not unexpectedly, then, the institutions and culture they comprise reflects that tension. Trust me. I as much as anyone else have cause to be a fierce critic of its glaring imperfections.55.Blind spots, excesses, flaws, deficiencies, hypocrisies, etc. And quite often I am. Yet I’d be remiss to emphasize one side of that paradox to the exclusion of the other. I love evangelicalism. Each of the historical themes listed above66.And many others, for that matter. have seeped deep into the soil of my life; they’ve been and continue to be an instrumental part of my psychological, intellectual, relational, and spiritual formation. As often as I hate evangelical culture, and as much as its characteristics are foreign to not only who I am but also who I aspire to be, I cannot deny feeling this deep resonance with many of the movement’s ideals. Is it any wonder, then, that I often do feel like an evangelical?