The Term “Evangelical”: More Thoughts

The Term “Evangelical”: More Thoughts June 12, 2018

photo-1453285305038-9626c7cc2d82_optNot long ago I posted this:

It’s time to bury the word “evangelical.” It’s both past time to bury it but it’s also time yet again to bury it.

I stand by that more today than even when I posted it. The term is now useless. Roy Moore lost but the vote in Alabama proved that evangelicalism as a movement has lost its moorings.

The Political Turn of Evangelicalism is undeniable, and I spoke about and against this in both The King Jesus Gospel and Kingdom Conspiracy.

George Marsden wants to hang on to the term and so concludes in his essay on the diversity of evangelicalism, including the usefulness of the term outside North America, and he notes well the intellectual resources now available among evangelicals. But he wants to hang on to the term:

It may well be prudent for the time being for non-Trump American Christians, including most Christian scholars, to distance themselves from any identification as “evangelical” in public. The term has never been that widely used as a primary self-identification. Yet the term may still be useful intra nos, as in “the Evangelical Theological Society or for Americans who are relating to their British “evangelical” counterparts or in connecting with those involved with the Lausanne Conferences on World Evangelization.

Certainly the word “evangelical” is still useful historically to help describe a huge set of historical phenomena and the remarkable fact that they can be so diverse yet hold certain features in common. At least it seems safe to predict that long after Trump is gone, if the human species survives, many varieties of what are now called “evangelical” Christians will still be flourishing. And some of these will be flourishing even more–especially I would hope by being kept closer to the mainstreams of the Christian heritage and all that implies in practice–if the faithful scholars among them do not lose heart.

And Ken Stewart’s attempt to contend that evangelicalism’s history has been one that has embraced both Bible and the deep traditions of church history. That’s not the problem.

Screen Shot 2017-12-14 at 2.49.56 PMThe problem is now. [The image is from Tom Oord and it illustrates The Political Turn.]

The problem is that in the 1980s evangelicalism’s leaders — James Kennedy, James Dobson, Jerry Falwell — aligned evangelicals with the Republican Party and we have people today like Franklin Graham uttering asinine and inane defenses of President Donald Trump, we have pastors standing behind the President in the posture of blessing, and far too many evangelical leaders who are afraid to speak against the political posturing of evangelicalism.

Don’t blame the meaning of the term “evangelical” simply on the media’s use of the term. 24-7 news — TV or social media — has simply turned the Political Turn of Evangelicalism in the 80s into a harder firmer turn.

The problem is that America’s evangelicalism doesn’t know the difference between America and Jesus.

Progressive evangelicals are no different. All they want to talk about is Trump.

We live today in the wake of politicization of evangelicalism and that’s how the term is understood today.

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