10 September 2017

More on Not Being an Evangelical (Updated)

I wrote what's posted below the fold in 2017. You can go here to read a piece by Michael Gryboski reporting on a conference of historians that clearly elaborates on the irremediable confusion surrounding the meaning of the term "Evangelical". While I may not fully comprehend what historian Kristin Kobes Du Mez means by "imagined communities," describing Evangelicalisms with that turn of phrase makes sense. In any event, I remain satisfied with my decision to opt out of describing myself as an Evangelical.

I've previously opined that the term "Evangelical" serves no useful purpose. As I wrote earlier this year here"Evangelicalism in America is little more than a watered-down version of Protestant Christianity adapted to and subsisting in the market economy." (I take no position on the use of Evangelical in other cultures; it’s “Evangelical” in the good, old U.S. of A. that I’m writing about.)

One might think me merely a crank but Thomas Kidd, a serious historian and committed Baptist seems to have come around to my way of thinking. (For my review of his co-authored “Baptists in America” go here.) You can read his entire post (and watch the embedded interview) here but I'll quote some of what I take as his most salient points.

Whatever its historic value, the word “evangelical” in America has become inextricably tied to Republican politics. This is because the dominant media is far more interested in the political expressions of religion than in religion itself.

But it is also because strong majorities of white evangelicals support Republican candidates, including Donald Trump. Because it has become inextricably politicized, “evangelical” has become an essentially divisive term among Bible-believing Christians, as many African Americans, Hispanics, and others cannot identify with the political ramifications of being an “evangelical,” especially after the election of President Trump.

Kidd’s specific concerns about "Evangelical" are primarily political. Or perhaps "anti-political." Mine, as I posted here, had to do with its collapse into the American culture of business success and therapeutic pragmatism:

Also characterizing the "nice" God of American Evangelicals--and perhaps an effect of it--felt the need to "market" Christianity in the most inoffensive, undemanding way possible. Churches become little more than places where some nice people hang out to experience their nice God. And when pure niceness fails, modern business marketing is called on to increase attendance.

Kidd goes on to ask a follow-on question: If not Evangelical, what?

What else will we call ourselves? That may be the biggest problem with not using “evangelical.” … Just identify with your denomination. (For me, that means Baptist.) Or you can tell people you are a follower of Jesus Christ, or a gospel Christian.

Or, as I prefer, confessional Protestant. In any event, retaining “Evangelical” seems unwise from whatever direction we approach the question. Sometimes a tent becomes so big it serves no purpose and collapses of its own weight and that time has come for Evangelical.

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