Losing Control

This is great but at the same time has a specific flaw that skews it slightly. Those three denominational categories of Evangelical, Mainline, and Fundamentalist are real enough. But at no point did they actually settle in such neatly defined camps with solid lines separating them.

The overlapping both across and within denominations, congregations, and American Protestantism as a whole has been constant and is still in flux.

It’s more like a polar triangle with each of the three poles representing the Evan, Main, and Fund. The leadership, theologians, and public figures being closest to the poles and congregants gravitating towards the poles, with many closer to the center than to the actual poles. My analysis of what Phil is getting at here is that there needs to be more acceptable space between the poles. I would even say that it’s easy to identify the historical moment that has slowly erased the acceptability of occupying space between the poles: the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

I would argue that it makes the issue of what people mean when they call themselves Evangelical in a modern context pretty simple. People who call themselves Evangelicals believe or have beliefs derived from the Chicago statement and to some degree its 2 subsequent summits.

The thing that makes it messy is that it is increasingly clear that affirming the statement’s content is forging an identity. This identity is trans-denominational, cultural, and political. You’ll find people affirming the core tenets of the statement from Catholic and Orthodox traditions. Regardless of how they developed this belief in the context of their own tradition the influence of and convergence with the statement is pervasive. I would also argue that religion is inherently political and that much more so in regard to the statement which has stark implications on how individuals engage with the society around them.

There is no way to separate politics from American religion whether it’s segregation or teaching evolution or selling alcohol on a Sunday. Those issues are all a woven fabric of social, political, and religious beliefs. It is in no way a shock that American Evangelicalism has emerged from its incubation as a theological movement within American Protestantism in general and transformed into a socio-cultural political identity. That transformation is not something that the intellectual and theological leaders can control at this point and I would say they lost control of it long before they realized they did.

I really like Phil and I do love his take here. As helpful as it is though, don’t be blinded by the simplicity.

Life is never as simple as we want it to be

To get some context on my claims go here to read about Billy Graham’s personal relationship with LBJ (hard to deny the inherent politics of friendship with a sitting POTUS)

Go here for some context about Graham’s intentionally moderate position on segregation & civil rights. It’s true that he was adamant about integrating his events but did not engage in direct protests regarding integration, which again shows a concern for the political implications of personal positions vs personal actions.

Definitely significant issues when it comes to the most influential Evangelical who would go on to be a spiritual advisor to every POTUS including Barack Obama. This longstanding relationship with political figures shows that Evangelicalism was imbedded in American politics well before the shift in the 70s that Phil discusses.

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