“Christian Politics?”: Week Four

56aef-hunterYesterday I taught the third of four 90-minute classes on Christian politics at West Shore Evangelical Free Church in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.  Read my summary of week one here and week two here and week three here.

In week two, I introduced the political playbook of the Christian Right.  In week three, I suggested a different playbook–one that privileged hope over fear, humility over power, and history over nostalgia.  In week four, I introduced the class to yet another playbook: James Davison Hunter’s To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World.

I summarized Hunter in several points:

  • Cultures rarely change from the bottom-up
  • Evangelicals have been largely absent from the arenas in which the greatest influence in the culture is exerted
  • Electoral politics will not change the culture
  • Evangelicals should stop trying to change the world
  • Evangelicals need to place-centered
  • Evangelicals must pursue others (community)
  • Evangelicals must learn to think vocationally
  • Evangelicals should work for pluralism, but be prepared for exile.

In the end, I thought this class went much better than I thought it would. So often scholars and pundits talk about “evangelicals” in monolithic and detached terms from their perches outside of the evangelical community.  After spending about 90 minutes a week with over 125 evangelicals of all ages, I am more encouraged than ever about the witness of the church in the age of Trump. We have a long way to go, but I am hopeful.

“Christian Politics?”: Week Three


Yesterday I taught the third of four 90-minute classes on Christian politics at West Shore Evangelical Free Church in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.  Read my summary of Week One here and Week Two here.

Last week I ended class by asking: What might evangelical politics look like if we replaced fear with hope, power with humility, and nostalgia with history?  This week we began to formulate an answer to this question.

We began by examining what the Bible says about “fear” and “hope.”  I concluded that fear is a natural emotion, but as Christians we must not allow fear to fester or try to build a political philosophy around it.  Instead, we must be people of hope.   I argued:

  1. A politics of hope is different than a politics of progress or optimism
  2. A politics of hope must be built on a Christian understanding of history.
  3. A politics of hope is limited in what it can accomplish due to human sin.  We see through a glass darkly (I Cor. 13:12).
  4. A politics hope is paradoxical: It requires waiting on God and acting (for truth, love, and justice) in history.

We then examined the difference between a politics of power and a politics of humility.  A politics of humility requires:

  1. An acknowledgement that Christian politics will always be limited in what it can accomplish due to sin (see point 3 above).
  2. An acknowledgement that Christ’s death on the cross was a political act in the sense that it ushered in a new kingdom–the Kingdom of God–that is not of this world.
  3. Some kind of pluralism based on the dignity of all human beings.  A belief in human dignity should result in listening, debate, conversation, and dialogue.
  4. An acknowledgement that we may suffer.  Political suffering, like all human suffering, can draw us closer to God and makes us more sensitive to his call on our political lives.

Finally, we examined the difference between a politics driven by nostalgia and a politics informed by history.

  1. Nostalgia is often linked to fear.  It provides an island of safety in times of trouble.
  2. Nostalgia leads us to look backward, not forward in hope.  History allows us to move forward with an understanding of where we have been.
  3. Nostalgia is an inherently selfish way of looking at the past.  It focuses entirely on our own experiences of the past and not on the experience of others who may not have experienced the past in the same way.
  4. History allows us to better understand the neighbors we are called to serve in politics.
  5. History teaches us that the belief that America was founded as a Christian nation is at best a complicated and problematic assertion and at worst a form of idolatry.

We did a lot more, but this was the general outline.

My class drew heavily from these books:

Glenn Tinder, The Political Meaning of Christianity

Ron Sider, The Scandal of Evangelical Politics

John Fea, Why Study History?

Next week we will explore James Davison Hunter’s idea of “Faithful Presence.”

“Christian Politics?”: Week Two


Yesterday I taught the second of four 90-minute classes on Christian politics at West Shore Evangelical Free Church in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.  Read my summary of Week One here.

If you recall, in Week 1 I explained five ways in which Christians have thought about politics–past and present.  We discussed Anabaptism, Lutheranism, the African-American Church, Calvinism, and Catholicism.

This week we asked: “How have American evangelicals practiced politics, especially in the last fifty years?

We began by defining evangelicalism using the Bebbington Quadrilateral: Biblicism, Crucicentrism, Conversionism, and Activism.  This proved to be a very fruitful conversation.  I taught about 120 people this morning (in 2 sections) and nearly all of them believed in the theological tenets of the Bebbington Quadrilateral.  But only a small percentage ( roughly 25%?) use the word “evangelical” to describe their faith.  In both hours I had people ask me to distinguish between an “evangelical” and “fundamentalist.”

I then offered a quick history lesson focused on why so many conservative white evangelicals in the 1970s began to worry about the decline of Christian culture.  We touched on the separation of church as defined by the Supreme Court in 1947Engel v. Vitale (1962), Abington v. Schempp (1963), changes to American immigration policy (Hart-Cellar Act of 1965), the relationship between segregationism and evangelical libertarianism, Roe v. Wade (1973), Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), and the religious liberty debates of the last twenty years (“Merry Christmas,” Johnson Amendment, Ten Commandments in courthouses, etc.).

I then introduced the political playbook devised by the Religious Right in the 1970s to deal with these social and cultural changes.  The playbook teaches:

  1. America was founded as a Christian nation
  2. America’s status as a Christian nation is in jeopardy
  3. We must “reclaim” or “restore” America to its Christian roots
  4. We must do this through electoral politics by electing the right people who will, in turn, pass the right laws and appoint the right judges
  5. We will win back the culture for Christ
  6. If this happens, we’re not really sure what we will do next, but we do know that God will once again be happy with the United States.

When I talked about #6 above I emphasized how evangelicals have not thought very deeply about politics.  Many evangelical leaders have no idea what they will do if the proverbial dog catches the proverbial bus.  This, as Ronald Sider described it, is the “scandal of evangelical politics.”

Here is what I told the class they could expect in Week Three:

  1. The current evangelical political playbook, as written over the course of the last fifty years, privileges fear over hope, power over humility, and nostalgia over history.
  2. We will then ask: “Are these healthy or biblical ideas (fear, power, nostalgia) from which to build a truly evangelical approach to politics?

Stay tuned.

“Christian Politics?”: Week One

Faith and Politics

This morning I taught the first of four 90-minute classes on Christian politics at West Shore Evangelical Free Church in Mechanicsburg.  We spent most of our time defining politics and examining five Christian approaches to political engagement.

I began with Christian political scientist Glenn Tinder’s definition of politics. Tinder writes: “Politics is the activity through which men and women survey the historical conditions they inhabit.”  I like this definition because it challenges us to think about politics beyond electoral politics and political parties.  According to Tinder, political engagement requires us to be “attentive” and “available.”  People who are attentive ask: “What are people in this world doing, suffering, and saying?”  Attentiveness moves from mere curiosity to politics when we make ourselves available.  People who are available ask” “Is there anything I can do about it?”

After we played around with this definition, I moved into a brief discussion of Christianity before and after Constantine.  I noted how Christian politics changed drastically after Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity.

We spent the bulk of our time discussion five approaches to Christian political engagement: Anabaptism, Lutheranism, the African-American Church, Calvinism, and Catholicism.

Since we had a lot of background work to do today, the discussion was limited.  I plan to allow more time for this in coming weeks.  I did get some really interesting questions though:

  • When did the idea of the “separation of church and state” develop?
  • Too what extent with the first-century Christians “atheists?”  (In other words, the Romans saw them this way because they did not worship the Roman gods)
  • Of the five Christian views of politics, which one was most influential at the time of the American founding?
  • In what way do pro-Trump Christians justify their vote using Lutheran theology?

Next week we will consider the following question: “How have American evangelicals practiced politics?”  We will try to unpack this question with three related questions:

  1. What is an Evangelical?
  2. What has Evangelical political engagement looked like in the past fifty years?
  3.  To what extent have Evangelicals drawn upon these historic models to craft their approach to politics?  In what way have they crafted a unique approach to politics?

We meet at 9:00am and 10:45am in room 202 at the church.

Christian Politics?: A 4-Week Class at West Shore Evangelical Free Church


Tomorrow at West Shore Evangelical Free Church in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania I will be leading a 4-week course titled “Christian Politics?”

Here is a description:

Christian Politics?

How should Christians engage in politics?  We will examine the historical roots of Christian participation in politics today as well as some popular approaches to Christian political activity.  We will think together about how we can be Christian citizens in a way that replaces fear with hope, the pursuit of power with humility, and nostalgia for the past with a healthier view of changes taking place in the moral life of the United States

Rooms 200-202.  9:00 and 10:45

I am still developing the course, but tomorrow we will be discussing different Christian approaches to politics:  Reformed, Lutheran, Anabaptist, African-American, and Catholic.

A Tale of Two Evangelical Churches

Yesterday, at the evangelical church I attend, my pastor preached a sermon on Isaiah 12:1-6:

You will say in that day:
“I will give thanks to you, O Lord,
    for though you were angry with me,
your anger turned away,
    that you might comfort me.

“Behold, God is my salvation;
    I will trust, and will not be afraid;
for the Lord God is my strength and my song,
    and he has become my salvation.”

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day:

“Give thanks to the Lord,
    call upon his name,
make known his deeds among the peoples,
    proclaim that his name is exalted.

“Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
    let this be made known in all the earth.
Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion,
    for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”


This passage speaks of God’s grace and power in our lives.  It tells us not to be afraid because we find our strength and our song in the salvation that the Lord provides.  It challenges us to proclaim God’s love for others with joy.  It encourages us to tell the world about God’s transforming love for His creation.

After the sermon, my pastor gave an old fashioned altar call.  He invited people in the congregation who wanted to experience God’s love in a deeper way to come to the front of the sanctuary where they would find members of the pastoral staff available to pray with them and for them.  It was a moving and powerful moment.  My heart was encouraged as I watched dozens of Christians come forward.  This is the kind of thing that should happen in a Christian church.  Sunday morning should be a time for Christians to rededicate their lives to God.

At roughly the same time Sunday morning, at First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, pastor Robert Jeffress was leading his own service.  After the choir led the congregation in some beautiful singing, Jeffress sat down for an interview with Fox News pundit Sean Hannity.  (You can read my post on that interview here).

After the interview, Jeffress preached a sermon titled “America at the Crossroads.”  You can watch it here.

I am not sure if this is the kind of sermon Jeffress preaches every Sunday morning, or if he was just trying to impress Hannity, but it sounded more like a political speech than a sermon.  While my pastor in Pennsylvania was reading Isaiah’s exhortation to not be afraid, Jeffress was playing to the fears of his congregation.  He said that the United States was “imploding.”  He said that the “atheists, infidels, and secular humanists” were perverting the Constitution.  He said that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, but we have lost our way.  He even blamed Harvey Weinstein’s behavior on the removal of prayer from public schools.

He concluded the sermon by asking his congregation to be “salt and light” in the world (Matthew 5:13-16).  I appreciated this exhortation, until I realized that Jeffress’s understanding of Christians being “salt and light” was just another way of saying that they should have voted for Donald Trump in 2016.  Jeffress said that American culture has become a battleground between the “Kingdom of God” and the “Kingdom of Satan” (the main issue is abortion) and then connected Trump with the former and Hillary Clinton with the latter.

And then, somewhere in the middle of this rant, Jeffress blurted out: “And let me say…how grateful I am for a courageous man like Sean Hannity who is out in the public square pushing back against evil and taking every kind of attack you can imagine. God bless you Sean Hannity.”  The congregation then gave Hannity a standing ovation.  Hannity stood up and thanked everyone as he soaked in the praise.

Jeffress is preaching a holy war.  He is training his congregation to fight in this war.  He is propagating fear.  He has defiled his Sunday morning service with politics.  He is using the Lord’s Day to bring praise and honor to a Fox News political commentator (and in the process no doubt securing his own place as commentator on the cable network).  Is this Christianity?

Court evangelicalism at its worst.

Talking with Evangelicals About Religion and the American Founding

West Shore

In January I had the wonderful opportunity to teach a course at my church titled “Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?”

“Mainstream Evangelical” is probably the best way to describe the people who attend West Shore Evangelical Free Church.  The theological commitments and cultural sensibilities of the folks who attend West Shore represent the views of millions of white American evangelicals. The membership of West Shore is solidly middle class.  The pastors are generally Calvinist (some more than others) in theological orientation.  The music is contemporary (yes we have a worship band).  The sanctuary has chairs (not pews) and a state of the art sound system.  Members read popular books published by evangelical publishers and listen to Christian speakers such as Tim Keller, Beth Moore, Eric Metaxas, Rick Warren, Joyce Meyer, Andy Stanley, David Platt, Tim Tebow, Max Lucado, and Ravi Zacharias.  Most of the members vote GOP.  I would guess that a good number of the people in my church voted for Donald Trump.  I would also guess that many supported another GOP candidate in the primaries.  And I would guess that very few voted for Hillary Clinton.

Again, this is mainstream white evangelicalism.

I went into this 4-week course expecting trouble.  Frankly, I was surprised that the pastoral staff asked me to teach it.  Most evangelical churches tend to shy away from courses like this.  Such courses are too controversial.  Pastors don’t want their congregations divided over political issues such as whether or not America is a Christian nation.

Anyone who has read my Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? knows that the book is not polemical in its approach to this question.  But in certain evangelical churches, the very fact that a book like this does not openly promote the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation automatically makes it polemical and unChristian.

Now that the course is over, I am happy to report that everything went well.  If there were David Barton-types in the class (I taught about 150 people per Sunday) they did not speak-up.  (Although a few of them made themselves known anonymously on their course evaluations forms.  Some were quite scathing).  Those in the class seemed to approach the topic with an open mind. It gave me hope that we actually can make progress in bringing good American history to the evangelical church.  It made me want to continue my work on this front (if other evangelical churches would have me).

The biggest challenge in a course like this is trying to get the class to think historically.  As Sam Wineburg has taught us, historcal thinking is indeed an “unnatural act.” When most evangelicals come to a class titled “Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?” they naturally think about the question in political terms.  This question has become one of the major battlefields in the so-called “culture wars.”

When I started to teach from a historical perspective–an approach that makes every effort to understand the material on its own terms rather than using the historical facts to make a contemporary political point–I think some people found it jarring.  Why is he pointing out that the founding fathers may have been too innovative and political in their use of the Bible?  Why is he calling our attention to founding fathers who were not Christians?  Why is he pointing out the fact that God is not mentioned in the Constitution? Is this guy one of us? They feel much more comfortable when I talk about the God-language in revolutionary-era state constitutions or how Patrick Henry and Samuel Adams appealed to the Bible to make a case for independence.  They want a usable past to fight the culture wars.  But that is not how historians work.

A few years ago one of the people in my church who had just finished reading Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? stopped me in the hallway and thanked me for writing it.  But he said that reading the book was like “riding a rollercoaster.”  He said that as he read one page he found himself in agreement with me, but then on the next page he said that he was baffled when I raised issues that did not fit well with his political world view or his assumptions about the agenda behind my book..  This person was conditioned to read American history through the lens of the culture wars. It took him some time to realize that my book– a history book–was not written to promote a political agenda.   My class at West Shore last month seemed to be just as disoriented.  They were looking for ammunition to fight the culture wars and I did not deliver.  Instead, I tried to tell the truth about the past to the best of my ability.

The response to the class was overwhelming.  I received at least 8-10 e-mails each week from folks who had additional questions.  I was encouraged that so many of my fellow evangelicals wanted to think more deeply about religion and the founding.  Many left with more questions than answers.  This is good. Some have already asked me for additional reading material so they can expand their knowledge of the subject.

I learned a lot from the course as well.  I thought I attended a church filled with Christian nationalists.  Instead, I discovered that many folks in my church are eager to learn.  They want to make sure that their political witness is not damaged by claims that America is a Christian nation that somehow needs to be “restored.”  And I also learned that there are a lot of folks in my church who did not think the United States is or ever was a Christian nation. They are very bothered by the fact that so many evangelicals manipulate the past to serve political ends.

I want to thank the pastoral staff at West Shore for inviting me to teach this class and for advertising it to the congregation.  I am becoming more and more convinced that my church really does care about the cultivation of the evangelical mind as a means of equipping men and women for faithful Christian service.

Sundays in January at West Shore Free Church

Christian NAtionStarting tomorrow (Sunday, January 8) I will be teaching a 4-week class entitled “Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?”  The class is part of the “Training Arena” series at West Shore Free Church in Mechanicsburg, PA.

I will be teaching the class twice each Sunday morning. One session runs from 9:00-10:15.  The other session runs from 10:45-12:00.  We will be in rooms 200-202 if you are in the area and might be interested in attending.  The class is open to the public and will be taught on January 8, 15, 22, and 29.

Baby Boomers Respond to the Juvenilization of American Evangelicalism

Last Sunday was the final day of a 4-week class on recent evangelicalism (since 1960) that I taught at West Shore Evangelical Free Church in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.  The topic for this last class was the history of evangelical youth culture.

I prepped for this session by reading Thomas Bergler’s excellent The Juvenilization of American ChristianityThe book is basically a history of twentieth-century Christian youth ministry in America. It focuses mostly on Catholics, mainline Protestants (especially Methodists), and evangelicals.
Bergler’s coverage of evangelical youth ministry centers on Youth for Christ, the organization founded in the 1940s by fundamentalists (or were they neo-evangelicals?) such as Jack Wyrtzen and Percy Crawford. Some of you may know that Billy Graham was an evangelist with Youth for Christ before he started his own ministry.
Bergler argues that the leaders of Youth for Christ were successful in preaching the Christian gospel to evangelical young people. By making Christianity fun and exciting, and by encouraging teenagers to “take a stand for Christ” in their schools, thousands and thousands of kids became evangelical Christians. Youth for Christ leaders were cool. They used popular forms of music, organized informal “small groups,” tended to be “seeker-friendly” in their approach, and turned the Christian gospel into an attractive commodity. 
Bergler suggests that this approach to youth ministry was high on emotion and light on doctrine.  Youth for Christ preached a feel good Christianity that gave high school students what they wanted, but not necessarily what they needed. He is thus not surprised by Christian Smith’s recent study characterizing 20th century Christian young people as “moral therapeutic deists.” Youth for Christ, he argues, rarely produced “mature” Christians. 
But Bergler takes the argument further. Evangelical adults, many of them the product of Youth for Christ clubs and rallies, are duplicating the Youth for Christ philosophy of ministry in evangelical congregations today. This “juvenile” approach to Christianity is prevalent in “seeker-friendly” megachurches, the evangelical love of “small groups,” feel-good” praise music, and an obsession with celebrities.

As you may recall from my previous posts, my “students” in this class are all evangelical baby boomers.  Many of them had very positive experiences with Youth for Christ.  One family said that they knew Jack Wyrtzen personally and credited Youth for Christ for sustaining their ongoing commitment to the Christian life.  Others felt that I (or perhaps Bergler) was being too hard on evangelical youth ministry.  Sure the theology was shallow and the focus was more on fun than deep Christian thinking, but many insisted that the cultivation of mature Christians was not the primary purpose of Youth for Christ.  The goal of the YFC clubs was to win young people to Christ and then let the local churches handle their maturation in the faith.

As much as I affirmed the way that Youth for Christ changed and transformed young lives, very few people in the room were willing to admit that their favorite youth ministry had been partially successful because it preached a rather undemanding version of the Christian faith.  Because so many people were bothered with how I (using Bergler) portrayed Youth for Christ, I fear that the class may have missed the larger historical point that I (again, using Bergler) was trying to make about how YFC’s philosophy of ministry has influenced today’s megachurches.

It was an interesting four weeks. Some of the people in the class seemed to really enjoy it. Others seemed a bit uncomfortable discussing subjects like evangelicals and politics (I used James Davison Hunter’s argument that politics may not be the best way to change the world) or evangelical views of the Bible (I implied that one did not need to believe in biblical inerrancy to be a committed evangelical).

After finishing this class I realized that I am still learning how to bring good historical scholarship to the church.

Teaching Evangelicals About The Recent History of Evangelicals and the Bible

Carl F.H. Henry was a defender of biblical inerrancy

As some of you know, I am teaching a Sunday School class at West Shore Evangelical Free Church on the last fifty years of American evangelical history.   Last Sunday I devoted the class to evangelicals and the Bible.  I only had fifty minutes to discuss this very complex subject.  And as a historian, not a theologian, I focused on explaining the way various positions on biblical authority emerged in particular historical contexts.

David Bebbington has argued that “biblicism,” or the belief that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and thus has authority over a Christian’s life, is a fundamental tenet of evangelical faith. With this in mind, I suggested that evangelicals have come to embrace four different views of the Bible over the last fifty years.

1.  Dictation:  The idea that God dictated his Word to the biblical writers and they merely copied it down as scribes.  This view has been rather rare in post-1960s evangelicalism, but it was championed by some fundamentalists such as John R. Rice.  The dictation theory of Biblical revelation has also been connected to those fundamentalist churches who believe that the King James Version is the only divinely inspired translation of the Bible.

2.  Inerrancy:  I introduced this position on the Bible by pointing the class to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978).

3.  Infallibility:  The idea that the Bible is inspired and without error in its central message of salvation through Jesus Christ, but does contain errors in the areas of science and history.  I spent some time discussing the controversy over Biblical authority in the 1960s at Fuller Seminary and the way that Harold Lindsell’s book The Battle for the Bible fueled these flames of controversy.

4.  Neo-Orthodoxy:  There are some evangelicals who have embraced Karl Barth’s vision of Biblical revelation.  Here I referenced Phil Thorne’s book Evangelicalism and Karl Barth: His Reception in North American Evangelical Theology.  I mentioned Thorne for two reasons.  First, his book is the best thing I have read on Barth’s influence on evangelicalism.  Second, Thorne is the former pastor of the West Shore Evangelical Free Church.

We had a good discussion about these various views.  I honestly don’t know where the members of this class stand on these approaches to biblical authority, but I have a hunch that most of them believe in inerrancy.  What I appreciated most was the way that many members of the class stressed the importance of charity when it comes to assessing fellow evangelicals who might disagree with them on these questions of biblical authority.

Next week’s class will focus on evangelical youth culture.

The History of American Evangelicalism in Four Hours

Several of you have asked to see my notes/outline for the 4-week course on the history of American evangelicalism that I just finished at West Shore Evangelical Free Church in Mechanicsburg, PA.  First a bit about the logistics.  I was invited to come into an already established Sunday School class of mostly baby boomers.  Each class period (Sundays from 9:00-10:20) began with either prayer requests, singing, or announcements.  I usually took the lectern at about 9:20 and was given the rest of the class period to teach.  I mostly lectured, but tried to leave time at the end of each lecture for questions.  If I were to do it again I would probably use PowerPoint slides to compliment the lecture, but I am still not sure if a projector was available in the classroom.  I am assuming that most of the class did not have a problem with the lack of images.  (I did use the white board a lot).

Here is the basic breakdown of the material covered (not including stories, jokes, examples, etc…)

WEEK ONE: The Birth of Modern Evangelicalism
I.  What is Evangelicalism?  (Discussion)

  • Biblicism
  • Crucicentrism
  • Conversionism
  • Activism
  • Essentials vs. Non-Essentials (Diversity on issues such as women’s role in the church, baptism, politics, eschatology, etc…)
II.  When Was Evangelicalism Born?
  • Early church?
  • Protestant Reformation?
  • Puritans?
III.  First Great Awakening
  • What is a revival of religion?  How do we identity a revival in history?
  • George Whitefield: Celebrity, voice, theater, communication networks, charisma, followers
  • Jonathan Edwards: Distinguishing Marks, Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God; The Nature of True Virtue
WEEK TWO: Evangelical America, 1800-1865

I.  The Results of Disestablishment and the New Religious Marketplace
  • Religion in decline during American Revolution
  • First Amendment disestablishment clause
  • Jefferson quote about everyone becoming Unitarians
  • Religious marketplace emerges
II.  The Second Great Awakening
  • The Second Great Awakening creates an evangelical America
  • The various manifestations of the Awakening: Colleges (Yale, Timothy Dwight), Cane Ridge, women’s role in revival
  • Passions over reason
  • Primitivist
  • Use of communication and print
  • Change in religious music
  • Uneducated charismatic leaders
III.  Charles Finney and the New Measure
  • Lectures on Revival
  • Anxious bench
  • Protracted meetings
  • Free will theology and the decline of Calvinism
IV. The Reforming Impulse of the Second Great Awakening
  • Anti-slavery and abolitionism
  • Women’s rights
  • Prison reform
  • Temperance reform
  • Poor relief
  • Postmillennialism
V.  The Americanization of Evangelicalism
  • Links between evangelicalism and democracy (individualism, Tocqueville)
  • Links between evangelicalism and consumerism  (marketplace, church shopping)
WEEK THREE:  American Evangelicalism in Crisis, 1865-1925

I.  Dwight L. Moody
  • Ruin by sin, redemption by Christ, regeneration by Holy Ghost
  • “I look upon this world as a wrecked vessel…God gave me a lifeboat and said to me ‘Moody, save all you can.'”
II.  Dispensational Premillenialism
  • Defining premillenisalism
  • Defining dispensationalism (Darby, Scofield)
  • Prophecy conferences (Niagara, Winona Lake)
  • Schools (Philadelphia School of Bible, Evangelical Theological Seminary in Dallas, Moody Bible Institute, BIOLA)
III.  Threat to Evangelical Culture
  • Darwin
  • German Higher Criticism
  • Social Gospel
  • Religious Pluralism
IV.  The Fundamentalist-Modernist Controvery
  • The Fundamentals (1910-1915)
  • Defenders of a Christian Civilization:  Billy Sunday and William Jennings Bryan
  • Fight for control of denominations (J. Gresham Machen, Curtis Lee Laws coins term “fundamentalist,” William Bell Riley)
  • Fosdick, Shall the Fundamentalists Win?
V.  Separation
  • Orthodox Presbyterian Church and Westminster Theological Seminary
  • Robert Ketcham and the General Association of Regular Baptists
VI.  Scopes Trial
WEEK FOUR: The Resurgence of American Evangelicalism, 1925-1980

I.  Post Scopes
  • Evangelical culture grows despite loss of cultural power
  • Bible colleges 
  • Radio
  • Leading personalities  (Ironside, DeHaan, Fuller, Barnhouse, etc…)
  • Publishing (Mears, Cook, Fleming-Revell, SS Times, Moody Monthly)
II.  Neo-Evangelicalism
  • Evangelism (“Puff Graham”
  • Great engagement with the world (Fuller Seminary, Carl F.H. Henry,Christianity Today
  • Restore a Christian civilization (Ockenga, Henry)
  • Rejection of fundamentalist label (National Association of Evangelicals)
  • Essentials vs. Non-Essentials
III. Separatist Fundamentalism
  • Cling to “fundamentalist” label
  • Second degree separation
  • Empires:  Bob Jones, Carl McIntire, John R. Rice
  • 1957 Billy Graham crusade
IV.  The 1960s and the “Perfect Storm”
  • Engle vs. Vitale
  • Abington v. Schempp
  • 1965 Immigration Act
  • Green v. Connally
  • Roe v. Wade
  • Bicentennial (1976)
V.  The Rise of the Christian Right
  • Jerry Falwell
  • Successful in local political races
  • Brings evangelicals back to public life
  • Fails to overturn Supreme Court cases
  • New alliance between most evangelicals and the Republican Party
  • Creates a sense of nostalgia for an evangelical “golden age.”
  • For close to 300 years in America, evangelicals have consistently preached the gospel
  • Evangelicalism has moved from the center of American culture to the sub-culture status
  • Evangelicalism has always been associated with big personalities and new methods
  • Evangelicalism works particularly well in America

History of Amercian Evangelicalism at West Shore Evangelical Free Church–Week 4

(Get up to speed by reading about week one and week two and week three of this course.)

Yesterday I taught the final installment of my mini-course on the history of American evangelicalism to the “Lifebuilders” class at West Shore Evangelical Free Church in Mechanicsburg, PA.  This week we covered the years between 1925 (the Scopes Trial) and 1980 (the rise of the Christian Right). 

I began with Joel Carpenter’s argument that evangelicalism did not disappear after the Scopes Trial, but developed strength during the 1930s through a host of sub-cultural institutions such as radio programming, missions and parachurch agencies, print, and Christian colleges.

I then focused on the differences between the neo-evangelical movement of the 1940s and 1950s and the separatist fundamentalists who continued to cling to the “fundamentalist” label and continued to identify themselves with the ecclesiastical battles of the 1920s.  The former group included Billy Graham, Carl F.H. Henry, John Harold Ockenga, and the early faculty of Fuller Theological Seminary.  The latter group included self-proclaimed separatists such Carl McIntire (got to tell some good McIntire stories), John R. Rice, Bob Jones, and Robert Ketcham.

Finally, I chronicled the “perfect storm” that led many conservative evangelicals to throw their support behind Jerry Falwell’s “Moral Majority.”  This so-called “storm” included the Engle v. Vitale and Abington v. Schempp decisions of the 1960s (which removed prayer and Bible reading from schools, respectively), the Immigration Act of 1965 (which brought more the adherents of non-western religions into the United States), Roe v. Wade (abortion), Green v. Connally (which withheld government funds from segregated academies and colleges. mostly in the South),and the Bicentennial (which led evangelicals to start looking to the past, specifically the founding era).

What I really enjoyed about this class was the fact that so many of the evangelical people in attendance were familiar with the history I was discussing.  The Lifebuilders class is made up of West Shore members who are mostly between the ages of 40 and 70.  Many of them have lived through this stuff!  I could throw out names like Jack Wyrtzen, Francis Schaeffer, Henrietta Mears, and Ron Sider and these lay folks knew exactly who I was talking about.

I would love to teach this class again in another church setting.  Let me know if you might be interested. Or perhaps we can work out a more concentrated course over a weekend or a Saturday.

History of American Evangelicalism at West Shore Evangelical Free Church–Week 3

(Get up to speed by reading about week one and week two of this course.)

This week we raced through another sixty years of evangelical history–from the end of the Civil War (1865) to Scopes Trial (1925).  I began by juxtaposing the very “otherworldly” aspects of late 19th-century evangelicalism with the very “worldly” developments in American cultural, intellectual, and religious life occurring at the same time.  As Dwight L. Moody was saving sinners with his “lifeboat,” and evangelicals were “going deeper” with God in the Holiness movement, and dispensationalists were contemplating the timing of the rapture, America witnessed the emergence of Darwinism, the social gospel, and German higher criticism. 

Evangelicals eventually woke up to these changes, but it was probably too late to do anything about them.  The Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy of the early 20th century redefined the Protestant landscape in America.  Figures such as Harry Emerson Fosdick, Shailer Matthews, William Bell Riley, J. Gresham Machen, William Jennings Bryan, and Billy Sunday also figured prominently in the lecture.

I ended with the Scopes Trial and the collapse of evangelical cultural and religious authority in America.  Next week I hope to discuss the so-called reawakening of evangelicalism (borrowing heavily from the work of Joel Carpenter), the emergence of the neo-evangelical movement, and the birth of the Christian Right.

It’s not too late to join us.  9:00 in room A143 at West Shore Evangelical Free Church in Mechanicsburg, PA.

The History of American Evangelicalism at West Shore Evangelical Free Church–Week 2

See my post on the first week of class here.

Today we moved into the early 19th century and discussed the rise of what might be called “evangelical America.”  I showed the way in which the disestablishment clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution created what historians call a “marketplace of religion” that was dominated by various evangelical denominations.  We then explored the history of the Second Great Awakening–from the Yale revival under Timothy Dwight to the Cane Ridge Revival to Finney’s “New Measures” to the so-called “businessman’s revival” of 1857.  I tried to focus on the ways in which the Second Great Awakening was similar and different (more American) than the “First Great Awakening” (Jon Butler scare quotes added for effect).  Finally, we looked at the way this new form of American evangelicalism converged very well with the individualism inherent in the early national rise of consumer capitalism (manufacturing) and democracy.

I hope those in attendance took a few things away from class this week:

1.  That evangelicals have always used communications networks, charismatic personalities, and consumer tactics to spread the gospel.

2.  That the Second Great Awakening and the evangelicalism it cultivated accommodated (assimilated?) in many ways to some of the dominant culture trends in American culture.

3.  That the revival and evangelism legacy of American evangelicalism started with Finney and continued (as we will see in coming weeks) in the ministries of D.L. Moody, Billy Sunday, and Billy Graham.

Next week will focus on American fundamentalism.

I am really enjoying teaching this class.  I hope the people in the Lifebuilders Sunday school class and the various visitors feel the same way.

After sitting through today’s class my friend Bob sent this photo to me via Facebook with the caption: “Finney=>Moody=>Steelers?”

The History of American Evangelicalism at West Shore Evangelical Free Church–Week 1

The last time I spoke to the Lifebuilders Sunday School class at West Shore Evangelical Free Church I did a four-part series on my Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction. I thought it went well, although I am not entirely sure that I convinced everyone in attendance that the question in the title of my book was not easily answerable.  Many, I think, left frustrated that I did not answer the question in the affirmative.

So I must admit that I was gratified when the class invited me back to do a four-part series on the history of American evangelicalism.  We had our first class last Sunday and I was pleased to see so many familiar faces who were eager to learn more about their history.  As a teenage convert to evangelicalism in the 1980s, I found history, particularly the writings of Mark Noll, Joel Carpenter, George Marsden, Grant Wacker, and Randall Balmer, to be sure-footed guides for understand a culture that was very, very different from the Catholicism of my youth.

We spent most of the class on Sunday trying to define the term “evangelicalism.”  The members of the class, most of them between the ages of 40 and 70, were seasoned evangelicals who were able to rattle off the main points of David Bebbington’s quadrilateral despite having never heard of the University of Stirling historian or his classic works on evangelicalism.

We spent the rest of the hour discussing the First Great Awakening and particularly the role of George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards in shaping early evangelicalism.  It was a fun class.

This coming Sunday we will discuss the Second Great

Awakening and the way evangelicalism happened to fit very nicely with American democracy and American consumerism.

In week three I hope to spend some time on the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy and on week four I will focus on post-WW II evangelicalism.

If this sounds like a course that your church might find interesting, let me know and we might be able to work something out.