There are legitimate reasons to question evangelical identity just now. Two books attempt to do this. One in the first person as a memoir and the other in a collection of essays.
In what is becoming something of a bromide for evangelicalism’s cultured despisers David Gushee–newly installed president of the American Academy of Religion–proclaimed last week that support for Donald Trump, “…has shattered whatever survives of the witness of white evangelicals in American culture” (Publisher’s Weekly, November 22, 2017). Whether our witness is shattered or simply impaired I’ll let you decide.
This from the author of the recently-released Still Christian: Following Jesus Out of American Evangelicalism (Westminster/John Knox) which chronicles his principled departure from evangelicalism and which appears (I could be wrong about this) to have been released as a print-on-demand book suggesting that the publisher might not think its prospects are especially grand.
These moves are the latest iterations of Gushee’s war on evangelicalism, which has some of the characteristics of the white hot anger of a spurned lover about it. Heresies left are hated most.
Add to this the forthcoming title from InterVarsity Press Still Evangelical? and it becomes clear that a segment of evangelicals are wrestling with the question identity.
In Still Evangelical? twelve voices interact about the current state of evangelical identity and its prospects for the future. This isn’t a review of either book so I won’t look too deeply at their content.
I will note, however, that Still Evangelical? features few to none (Karen Swallow Prior excepted) of the writers and intellectuals to whom I look for evangelical leadership. It represents part–not the whole–of the evangelical topography and if therefore limited (as all books are).
Suffice it to say that as a historian I find neither book particularly helpful in understanding how evangelicalism got to the place where it finds itself today. This isn’t to say that either is a “bad” book, just that they ask and answer questions I’m not particularly concerned about just now.
Evangelicalism is not a monolithic organization. It’s a web of inter-related people, institutions, and relationships. As a result speaking about it in broad terms is self-defeating, at least in intellectual terms. Where it is helpful, however, is as a weaponized term used to oppose ideals one has come to disdain.
It is in this latter sense that Gushee has embraced it. This is sad since we might expect more from an ethicist.