While we were hosting the #2 women’s volleyball team in the nation (NCAA Division III), I heard another Twitter battle erupted over the definition of “evangelical.” The debate is summarized by religious historian Jesse Curtis at his blog Colorblind Christians. Here is a taste:
In recent days an evangelical twitter tempest has reemerged, this time over the question of whether Jerry Falwell, Jr. is an evangelical leader. This is a more specific variation on the perennial question of who is an evangelical, and the Trump-era twist on it: what has happened to evangelicalism?
On one side are some evangelical elites and evangelical scholars who continue to insist on a theologically-defined evangelicalism rooted in David Bebbington’s work. The upshot of this definition is that you can make a distinction between “real” evangelicals and evangelicals in name only.
But other scholars, including sizable numbers of evangelicals, have come to see this theological definition as analytically unhelpful. To some critics, it smacks of contemporary movement boundary policing more than serious historical inquiry.
Among the more notable examples of this critique in recent years is Timothy Gloege’s 2018 Religion Dispatches piece, “Being Evangelical Means Never Having To Say You’re Sorry.” Basically, if a so-called evangelical is behaving badly, you can just write them out of the movement and rebrand it. Sorry, not sorry.
Read the entire piece here.
So is Jerry Falwell Jr. an “evangelical leader?” Of course he is.
So is Franklin Graham, Beth Moore, Robert Jeffress, Al Mohler, Mark Galli, John Perkins, David Barton, Kim Phipps, Paula White, Jo Anne Lyon, Russell Moore, D.A. Carson, Samuel Rodriguez, Jim Wallis, Shirley Hoogstra, Andy Crouch, Tim Keller, Tony Campolo, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Justin Giboney, Max Lucado, David French, Philip Ryken, Richard Cizik, Ron Sider, Richard Mouw, Jimmy Carter, Leith Anderson, Eugene Habecker, Johnnie Moore, Gary Bauer, Shirley Mullen, John Piper, Eric Metaxas, Samuel Escobar, James Robison, Philip Yancey, Lisa Sharon Harper, Tony Evans, Michael Gerson, Joel Hunter, Bono, Joyce Meyer, Luis Palau, Tim Tebow, John Hagee, Joni Eareckson Tada, Benny Hinn, Marilyn Hickey, Wayne Grudem, Louis Giglio, Os Guinness, T.D. Jakes, John MacArthur, Jen Hatmaker, Rick Warren, Mike Pence, Francis Chan, J.I. Packer, Ken Ham, Josh McDowell, Creflo Dollar, Ralph Reed, Andy Stanley, George Marsden, Charles Stanley, James Dobson, Joel Osteen, Mike Huckabee, Lynne Hybels, Mark Noll, Ravi Zacharias, Randall Balmer, Cal Thomas, Kenneth Copeland, Gary Haugen, Bill and Gloria Gaither, Kay Arthur, Shane Claiborne, Jim Bakker, Michael Lindsay, Jim Daley, and Pat Robertson. I am sure there are many I left out here, but I hope you get the picture.
If we thought about this historically, I would say that following individuals (not a comprehensive list, of course) were evangelical leaders in the United States: Nancy Hardesty, Doug Coe, Charles Colson, Virginia Mollenkott, Leighton Ford, Angelina Grimke, Pat Boone, William Bentley, Dallas Willard, Paul Rader, Sarah Grimke, Bob Jones, Bob Jones Jr., Phoebe Palmer, Bill Gothard, Jarena Lee, Charles Finney, Kathryn Kuhlman, Arthur Tappan, Harriett Beecher Stowe, A.B. Simpson, Harriett Livermore, David Payne, Roberta Hestenes, Oliver Buswell, Francis Scott Key, John Jay, Robert Dabney, Carl F.H. Henry, Fanny Crosby, Isaac Backus, David Wilkerson, W.A. Criswell, Tammy Faye Bakker, Alexander Campbell, Lott Cary, James Montgomery Boice, Nat Turner, Nathan Bangs, Jack Van Impe, Kenneth Kantzer, Carl McIntire, George Eldon Ladd, Jonathan Blanchard, Frank Gaebelein, Harold Lindsell, Francis Wayland, Arthur Holmes, Jimmy Swaggart, Sarah Lide Fountain, Olaudah Equiano, John Walvoord, Denmark Vesey, John Fee, Sam Jones, Abraham Vereide, Anita Bryant, James D. Kennedy, Lemuel Haynes, Charles Parham, Richard Allen, Larry Norman, John Wimber, Thomas Coke, Beverly LaHaye, Thomas Dew, Robert E. Lee, A.C. Dixon, Elias Boudinot, Paul Jewett, Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen, Ida B. Robinson, J. Vernon McGee, Richard Fuller, Anne Beale Davis, Johnny Cash, Francis Willard, John Jea, David Zeisberger, David Walker, John R. Rice, Samuel Stanhope Smith, Paige Patterson, Sharon Gallagher, David Rice ,Chuck Smith, John Stott, James Earl Massey, Oral Roberts, Samuel Adams, Billy James Hargis, Jack Hayford, Lyman Beecher, Roger Sherman, John Todd, Lorenzo Dow, Michael Cromartie, John Jasper, John Leland, James McGready, Lewis Sperry Chafer, Donald Grey Barnhouse, William Lloyd Garrison, C. Everett Koop, Elisabeth Elliott, Jerry Falwell Sr., Bill Bright, Billy Graham, R.A. Torrey, William Bell Riley, Charles Colcock Jones, William Seymour, Mark Hatfield, Aimee Semple McPherson, William and Catherine Booth, A.T. Pierson, Tom Skinner, Billy Sunday, Stonewall Jackson, James Henry Thornwell, Cameron Townsend, Mary Craddock, John Witherspoon, Francis Asbury, William Jennings Byran, Charles Fuller, J. Frank Norris, Harold John Ockenga, Henrietta Mears, Timothy Dwight, Wilbur Smith, Philis Wheatley, J. Howard Pew, William Pannell, Rex Humbard, Barton Stone, D.L. Moody, C.I. Scofield, Tim LaHaye, Francis Schaeffer, and Nelson L. Bell.
Read about these figures. They have/had different views on a host of “hot button” issues– the role of women in the church, race, slavery, foreign policy, social justice, politics, etc. They disagree on a lot. But they are also united in a shared approach to Protestant faith. They all believe(d) that human beings were sinners in need of redemption through a born-again experience and made such an experience the hallmark of religious identity. They all believe(d) in the authority of a divinely/inspired Bible as a rule of faith and practice and turned to it to justify their views on a host of issues. They all believe(d) in the necessity of sharing their faith with others through personal evangelism, mass crusades, and local revivalism.
They are/were all evangelicals.