What Hath Anabaptists To Do With Evangelicals?

PICKWICK_TemplateA few years ago I wrote an essay in a book, edited by Jared Burkholder and David Cramer, titled, The Activist Impulse: Essays on the Intersection of Evangelicalism and Anabaptism.  Since I self-identify as an evangelical, work at a college with Anabaptist roots, and study American evangelical movements, I have had an informal interest in this subject for a long time.

Cramer is a pastor and seminary professor who works at the intersection of these two Christian movements.   I met him for the first time in the Fall when I spoke about Believe Me at the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana.

Cramer writes about that visit in a post at his new Patheos blog “Anabaptist Revisions.”  Here is a taste of “Does ‘Anabaptist Revisions’ Belong on the Evangelical Channel?“:

“Are you sure you belong on the evangelical channel?” the Patheos director of content asked me over the phone. It’s a fair question.

A couple months ago over breakfast a pastor friend from my evangelical denomination expressed his concern with what he called my “Mennonitism.” He seemed to think Anabaptist theology is incompatible with evangelicalism and to equate Anabaptism with liberalism.

The irony is that the denomination in which we both pastor was started by Mennonites who had been kicked out of the Mennonite church for their progressive methods and ideals—like singing four-part harmony, holding tent revivals, and embracing women in leadership.

The suspicion can run both ways. Last fall evangelical historian John Fea spoke at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS, the seminary where I work) and was told in no uncertain terms by one Mennonite theologian in attendance that evangelical theology is itself responsible for the violence and racism prevalent in American society. After the interaction Fea wrote that he “realized that Anabaptism and Evangelicalism are quite different, especially when it comes to the theology of the atonement and the role that doctrine plays in Christian identity.”

Read the rest here.

The Author’s Corner with Robert Caldwell

TheologiesoftheAmericanRevivalistsRobert Caldwell is Associate Professor of Church History at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. This interview is based on his new book, Theologies of the American Revivalists: From Whitefield to Finney (IVP Academic, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Theologies of the American Revivalists?

RC: Ever since my seminary days, I have been fascinated at the interplay between theology and Christian experience or spirituality, most specifically related to Christian conversion. As a scholar working on the First and Second Great Awakenings, I found that many revivalists had a well-developed theology that combined soteriology (doctrine of salvation) with insights related both to how Christian conversion was supposed to be experienced and how the gospel is to be proclaimed. I found that from 1740-1840 there was a rich genre of literature that combined these three elements, which collectively I call “revival theology.” 

Evangelical churches today have given little theological reflection to the nature of Christian conversion and revival. Much of what they do understand is practically oriented and often pre-theological. In this book I examine the numerous schools of theology that evangelicals employed at a time when there was much more theological writing and preaching on the subject. My hope is that Christians today will be both informed and challenged by the various schools of thought presented in the book.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Theologies of the American Revivalists?

RC: Theologies of the American Revivalists argues that American revivalists from the First and Second Great Awakenings (1740-1840) thought, preached, and wrote extensively on what I call “revival theology,” which I define as the three-fold combination of Protestant soteriology, conversion expectations, and preaching practices associated with revival. The book identifies, explores, and charts the historical theological developments of the various different schools of revival theology of the period, with specific attention given to the major controversies and writers.

JF: Why do we need to read Theologies of the American Revivalists?

RC: Revivals have been a fundamental feature of American evangelicalism. My hope is that the book has faithfully explored the multiple theological traditions that have undergirded the revivals of the First and Second Great Awakenings. Theologians and historians will find an in-depth account these various theological traditions and practices. General Christian readers will hopefully come to appreciate the theological backgrounds to evangelical revivals and see just how deep the interplay is between theology and corporate Christian practice. As I mention in the introduction, the book is “fundamentally a theological history about what it has meant to ‘become a Christian’ during the age of America’s Great Awakenings.” (10)

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

RC: I come to American history as a student of intellectual history and historical theology. I have always been fascinated by the interplay of thought and history. Numerous scholars shaped my work during my student days. As an undergraduate at Northwestern University, I was drawn to the history of science and Isaac Newton’s theology while taking several courses from Dr. Betty Jo Teeter Dobbs in the late 1980s. When I went to seminary at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School I benefitted greatly from courses by Drs. John Woodbridge and Douglas Sweeney, both of whom know how to situate theology deeply in its historical context. There, my interests shifted to the history of theology of American evangelicalism, especially that of Jonathan Edwards. Studying Edwards, his theology and legacy, as well as the First and Second Great Awakenings has required me to become more proficient as a historian. In many ways I still feel like I am becoming an American historian.

JF: What is your next project?

RC: I am working on two smaller projects now. The first deals with the lesser-known antinomian controversy that surfaced in the late 1750s upon the publication of James Hervey’s Theron and Aspasio in England (1755). The controversy involved a broad cross-section of American and English non-conformists: New Divinity and traditional Calvinists, Sandemanians, Radical revivalists, Moravians, Methodists, and English Particular Baptists. Another study addresses Jonathan Edwards’s assessment of Isaac Watts. Both Edwards and Watts attempted to do theology while simultaneously engaging the enlightenment. Edwards found Watts’s strategies for doing this woefully inadequate, even though he admired Watts in many ways. Both studies illuminate some of the lesser-known intramural debates that existed among early evangelicals on both sides of the Atlantic.

JF: Thanks, Robert!

Theologian Roger Olson On Why He is an Evangelical

What is an evangelical?  

We have visited this question a few times before here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home. (See here and here and here and here and here).  I have taught a course on the topic and devoted an entire season of my Virtual Office Hours to the topic.

I was thus interested in reading this report on Baylor theologian Roger Olson‘s recent lecture at Samford University, “Why I Still Call Myself ‘Evangelical’ In Spite of Everything.”

Olson wants no part of the so-called “evangelical subculture” or the media’s perception of evangelicalism as a divisive, political, ultra-conservative movement in American culture.  Instead, he prefers to define “evangelicalism” theologically, using what has been described by historians and theologians as the Bebbington Quadrilateral.

Here is a taste of Mary Wimberley’s article at the Samford website:

“My own judgment as a theological historian is that the American evangelical movement is either dead or hopelessly divided, but the spiritual theological ethos I call evangelical is still alive and well,” Olson said, speaking to a student convocation at Samford University Thursday, Oct. 8.
Olson, Foy Valentine Professor of Christian Theology and Ethics at Baylor University’s Truett Theological Seminary, spoke as this year’s Holley-Hull lecturer at Samford. His topic was “Why I Still Call Myself ‘Evangelical’ in Spite of Everything.”
Olson explained that he still calls himself “evangelical” despite a perceived lack of fit between his theological orientation and spirituality and the popular image of an evangelical.
“Somehow, evangelical has come to be closely associated in the popular mind with an ultra-conservative approach to Christianity, one that is harshly judgmental, narrow-minded, inseparably related to conservative politics and backward-looking rather than progressive,” Olson said.
“It isn’t I who have changed; it is American evangelicalism that has changed and I’m just too stubborn to give up a label I’ve used for my particular Christian identity my whole life,” said Olson, whose father was an evangelical preacher for more than 50 years.
The evangelical movement as a cohesive coalition has dissolved into competing parties, each with its own expression of the evangelical ethos, said Olson. Its last gasps, he believes, were in the 1990s as it divided over politics, biblical inerrancy, roles of women in church and family and other issues.
A “combustible compound” from the beginning, the movement held within it the seeds of its own destruction, he said. “Especially its tendency to identify with Americanism and its obsession with opposing liberalism in every form.”
While the evangelical movement of his youth has dissipated in multiple controversies and the label ‘evangelical’ has lost much of its meaning, the original evangelical ethos that once energized the movement, unified it and served as its living center is alive and well, he said.
Olson cited four hallmarks of “authentic evangelical ethos” as identified by scholars David Bebbington and Mark Noll: biblicism, a general regard for scripture as the uniquely inspired, written Word of God; conversionism, which authentic Christianity always includes; crucicentrism, cross-centered proclamation and devotion; and activism in missions, evangelism and social transformation.
Olson suggested a fifth hallmark:  respect for the great tradition of Christian orthodoxy, especially as interpreted by the Reformation.