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Evangelicalism is a wide-reaching definitional canopy that covers a diverse number of Protestant groups. The term originates in the Greek word evangelion, meaning “the good news,” or, more commonly, the “gospel.” The modern usage, however, usually describes the religious movements and denominations which sprung forth from revivals that swept the Anglo-American world during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
There are three senses in which the term is used today.
The first is to see as “evangelical” all Christians who affirm a few key doctrines and practical emphases. David Bebbington notes four specific hallmarks of evangelical religion: conversionism, the belief that lives need to be changed; activism, the expression of the gospel in effort; biblicism, a particular regard for the Bible; and crucicentrism, a stress on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.*
A second sense is to look at evangelicalism as an organic group of movements and religious tradition. Within this context “evangelical” denotes a style as much as a set of beliefs. Groups as disparate as Black Baptists and Dutch Reformed Churches, Mennonites, pentecostals, Catholic charismatics and Southern Baptists all come under the evangelical umbrella and demonstrate just how diverse the movement really is.
A third sense of the term is as the self-ascribed label for a coalition that arose during the Second World War. This group came into being as a reaction against dogmatic, confrontational fundamentalism. The core personalities (like Billy Graham), institutions (for instance, Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College) and organizations (such as Campus Crusade for Christ) have played a pivotal role in giving the wider movement a sense of cohesion that extends beyond the “card-carrying” evangelicals.
In defining or describing evangelicals, a term that frequently comes up is fundamentalist. In contemporary media accounts this term is often incorrectly used to describe anyone who seems to be certain about their religious beliefs in some sort of vague protestant way. Like evangelicalism, fundamentalism is a complex term that deserves a more subtle understanding. In the historic sense, fundamentalism was a movement that arose in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in reaction against “modernist” theology and biblical criticism as well as changes in the nation’s entertainment and sexual mores. The movement took shape after World War I, taking its name from The Fundamentals (1910-1915) a twelve-volume set of essays designed to combat “Liberal” theology. During the 1920s, fundamentalists waged a war against modernism in three ways: by attempting to regain control denominations by attempting to stop the teaching of evolution in the public schools. This last strategy resulted in the Scopes Trial fiasco of 1925 (which featured Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan) which discredited the movement in the eyes of the nation’s intellectual and media elites resulting in its subsequent disappearance from the center of America’s cultural stage.
Since the 1940s, the term fundamentalist has come to denote a particularly aggressive style related to the conviction that the separation from apostate (read liberal) churches was a mark of faithfulness to Christ. Most self-described fundamentalist churches today are conservative, separtist Baptist (though often calling themselves “Bible Baptist” or simply “Bible” churches) congregations such as the churches of the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC), or the Independent Fundamental Churches of America (IFCA).
One of the fastest growing segments of the wider evangelical movement has been its pentecostal branch. Pentecostalism began in the early 1900s in separate reviavls that took place in Kansas, California, and North Carolina and was soon spread or reported overseas. Most distinctive about this movement was an exuberant worship style and the experience of glossolalia—speaking in tongues—which was seen as a manifestation of the biblical Baptism of the Holy Spirit.
While the pentecostal movement was traditionally associated with the margins of American culture, its influence within the American church began to spread during the 1950s through the visibility of healing evangelists like Oral Roberts and groups like the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship. By the 1960s pentecostal ideas and style began to surface in the mainline Protestant churches, “officially” beginning in 1960 when Dennis Bennett, an Episcopal priest in Van Nuys, California, announced to his congregation that he had spoken in tongues. The movement quickly spread to other mainline denominations and in the mid-60s to the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches. A vigorous independent network of charismatic churches and organizations—at times described as the “Third Wave” and including churches such as the Vineyard Christian Fellowship—emerged in the 1980s.
Most significant about the contemporary impact of these movements is the effect they have had overseas, leading many to tag pentecostalism “world evangelicalism.” In many parts of the Third World pentecostalism had made significant numbers of new converts; analysts speculate that in several Latin America countries it will in the near future overtake Roman Catholicism as the largest Christian presence in Hispanic society.
One of the most difficult things to establish about evangelicals is just how many of them there are. As the intricacies of the definition above would indicate, the framing of the definition is an important determinant. Additionally, the beliefs and style of evangelicalism are historically so deeply-woven into American culture that people who seldom darken the door of a church will show up as dyed-in-the-wool born againers on opinion polls.
Estimates of the number of evangelicals in the United States, therefore, are just that: estimates. Gallup Polls in the early 1980s showed that as many as 40% of the American population were evangelicals by virtue of their self-description as having had a “born again” experience. The use of “born again” as a definition, for many different reasons, is a questionable benchmark. More recent surveys and studies that utilize more detailed definitional parameters estimate the number of evangelicals in the U.S. at about 25-30% of the total, or roughly between 60 and 75 million people.
One of the defining organizations within American evangelicalism is the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). Founded in 1942, the NAE serves as an umbrella organization that attempts to represent evangelical interests and views on a wide ranging assortment of spiritual, social, cultural, andpolitical issues. Including local congregations from 50 member denominations as well as individual churches from 24 other Protestant denominations, the NAE estimates that it represents a constitutency of about 15 million people. For further information contact the National Association of Evangelicals, P.O. Box 28, Wheaton, IL 60189; Phone: 630/665-0500 Fax: 630/665-8575; E-mail: NAE@xc.org
Traditionally, American evangelicalism as a movement has been reticent about politics because its sights were focused on more important tasks: evangelism, missions and nurturing the faithful. All that seemed to change in the 1970s when evangelicals “reentered” the national spotlight with the rise of presidential candidate Jimmy Carter, a devout Southern Baptist layman who unabashedly claimed to be “born again.” The most visible aspect of this new political sensibility was the appearance of right-wing organizations like the Moral Majority and Concerned Women for America. This new “Religious Right” was credited with playing a major role in the “Reagan Revolution” of 1980—a role which now seems not to have been as great as once believed by either evangelicals or the news media. Unarguably, however, there was a new evangelical interest in politics. This interest has continued and given birth to a next generation of “religious right” organizations, most notably the Christian Coalition.
The reasons for this resurging interest are many, including a desire to have a positive impact on culture and society; concern over abortion and changing sexual mores in society; and dissatisfaction with the content of mass media in America. Probably the overarching factor that has motivated evangelicals to become more involved, however, has been the expansion of the Federal Government into areas that were previously the province of the individual, family, church, and local government.
Yet it must be made clear that there is no monolithic consensus among evangelicals on politics, any more than there is on religious matters. While the movement does lean to the right, there are many evangelicals who would identify themselves as liberal and some, like the Sojourners community in Washington D.C., which are leftist in nature. In terms of party affiliation, the movement has been traditionally perceived as Republican. This impression reflects a bias that centers on the Northern, midwestern evangelicals of the NAE “card-carrying” variety. When the huge numbers of Southern white and black evangelicals are factored in, it is probably more accurate to say that in the years before 1970 the “average” evangelical was more likely to be a Democrat. With the defection of large numbers of white Southerners to the Republicans in recent decades, the political make-up of evangelicalism has changed. Today the overall political tenor of the movement could be described as mildly conservative and more likely to be Republican.
Blumhofer, Edith L., and Joel A. Carpenter, Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism: A Guide to the Sources. New York: Garland Publishing, 1990.
Burgess, Stanley M., Gary B. McGee, and Patrick H. Alexander, eds. Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988.
Marsden, George M. Fundamentalism and American Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.
Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990.
Noll, Mark A. A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992.
Reid, Daniel G. et. al., ed. Dictionary of Christianity in America. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1990.
Wuthnow, Robert. The Restructuring of American Religion: Society and Faith Since World War II. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988.
*Bebbington, D.W., Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (London: Unwin Hyman, 1989), 2-17.
With amazing regularity, the national media take notice of the fact that, generally speaking, America’s conservative churches are growing while the more liberal churches are losing members. If this is news, it is almost a half-century old by now. What is going on?
Observers of American church life notice this striking phenomenon—the high levels of lay involvement in evangelical churches. Against the backdrop of decline and membership losses in the more liberal denominations, trends related to attendance, giving, and active participation among church members are setting evangelical churches apart from larger trends. Why?
Liberal churches and denominations are suffering massive membership losses and the evacuation of active church members from congregational life. While some observers are interested only in the levels of church attendance and membership, others note that active participation in the life and ministry of the church is directly linked to long-term involvement and attendance.
Researchers have offered various sociological and demographic arguments for this pattern, but the most salient factors related to this issue are deeply theological. Churches that expect much of members tend to receive much in terms of active participation—and those expectations are directly related to doctrinal commitments and theological motivations.
The involvement of laypersons in church life is directly related to evangelism and the health of congregations. At one level, the evangelical understanding of ministry is poles apart from what is customary in many mainline Protestant churches and in Roman Catholicism. Put simply, evangelicals have historically offered greater resistance to the professionalization of the clergy and the sacredotalism or clericalism that shifts the work of the ministry from the people of God to pastors or priests. Where ministers are understood to bear sole responsibility for the fulfillment of the church’s ministry, church members naturally feel no obligation or motivation to be highly involved in the life of the congregation and its work. Church participation is largely linked to the level of the spectator, or directed toward community involvement that is unrelated to evangelism and church outreach.
While evangelicals have been sorely tempted by market-driven models of professionalism, congregations demonstrating the highest levels of lay involvement are most often led by pastors who see the teaching and preaching of the Bible as central to the task of mobilizing church members for ministry, mission, and action. These pastors put their priority on the teaching ministry of the church and on biblical preaching as the means by which God equips His church for action and witness.
Faithful preaching has always been the central means through which God has energized His people. Preaching the word “in season and out of season” requires that the pastor present biblical truth with clarity and courage, establishing clear boundaries between belief and unbelief, faithfulness and unfaithfulness, truth and error.
This is in stark contrast to what sociologist Nancy Ammerman identifies as the “lay liberalism” found in many more liberal churches and denominations. These “lay liberals” have only a weak grasp of a diluted Gospel, and tend to see doctrine as a matter of little or no consequence. For them, Christianity is reduced to a vaguely positive way of life that often comes down to little more than being kind to others. Ammerman and her team have identified this as “Golden Rule” religion, and it goes hand in hand with low levels of lay involvement.
This correlates directly with research undertaken by Dean R. Hoge, Benton Johnson, and Donald A. Luidens, who looked at the religious patterns of mainline Protestant baby boomers. In Vanishing Boundaries, these sociologists argued that members of more liberal Protestant denominations—especially baby boomers—understood Christianity to require very few beliefs that would put them at odds with the larger secular culture. On matters ranging from the identity of Jesus Christ and the nature of the Gospel to the Bible’s teachings on sexuality, these mainline baby boomers saw no firm boundaries between the church and the world, belief and unbelief. Unsurprisingly, they were not highly involved in the life of any church or Christian movement. Why should they be?
Evangelicals should look to this research as a warning of what can and will happen if Christianity is redefined at the expense of biblical doctrine and a clear affirmation of Christian truth. The transforming power of the Gospel is what energizes Christ’s church—and biblical preaching is its Spirit-blessed fuel.
A look across the evangelical world indicates that lay Christians are most involved in the life of congregations and in the work of ministry when they are continually confronted with clear and convictional biblical exposition, and when the congregation takes the formation and fulfillment of a comprehensive Christian worldview as one of its central tasks.
Bold beliefs lead to bold action, and church members are energized to ministry and motivated to greater faithfulness and deeper discipleship when they can see biblical truth as it is presented to them by the church’s commissioned teachers, and when they are then able to “connect the dots” between Christian truth and the demands of everyday life.
In these churches, members are motivated and mobilized precisely because they come to understand the demands of the Gospel and to understand the New Testament’s vision of a church fully deployed for the cause of the Gospel. Christians are confronted with a biblical call to action and involvement. A commitment to Gospel priorities is produced by the prophetic preaching of God’s Word—and a passion for the glory of God will animate the congregation to action.
Churches hoping to energize members by the use of faddish programs and slick motivational messages should think again. The saints are not slumbering for lack of public relations and programming.
The development of “lay liberalism” among the mainline Protestant denominations should remind evangelicals that without clear biblical preaching, serious commitment to doctrinal fidelity, and passionate commitment to the Great Commission, the same phenomenon could arise in our midst. Indeed, studies of evangelical young persons suggest that such developments could be fast upon us.
This much is clear—resistance to “lay liberalism” will be found only among those with deep conviction. The preaching of the Word and the church’s confidence in the Gospel will, over time, produce a congregation of motivated members who are mobilized for ministry. But then, we shouldn’t need a team of sociologists to tell us that.
The shape of the evangelical challenge in postmodern America comes down to this—we must be continually on the alert to defend the faith, for the Christian faith now faces unprecedented attacks. The rise of a postmodern culture has produced an intellectual context in which the very concept of truth is held under suspicion, and claims to revealed truth are simply ruled out of order.
Benjamin Franklin, caught on the street during a break in the Constitutional Convention, is said to have been asked by a passerby to describe the new order to be proposed. “A republic,” he answered, “if you can keep it.” By definition, evangelicals are to be a Gospel people, cherishing, teaching, and sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We will remain evangelical only insofar as we maintain the integrity of our Gospel witness—if we can keep it. We are truly evangelical only if we keep our testimony to the Gospel without confusion or compromise.
We should be very concerned about certain trends in contemporary evangelicalism that threaten this integrity. The first is an ominous confusion about the Gospel itself. The heart of the Gospel is the objective truth that Christ died for sinners, and that salvation is by grace alone through faith in Christ—alone. The cardinal doctrine of justification by faith is, as Martin Luther warned, “the article by which the church stands or falls.”
If so, the church is falling in many quarters. Much of what is presented in many pulpits—and marketed by flashy television preachers—bears little resemblance to this simple message. Instead, sinners are told to seek after riches, material blessings, vibrant health, and earthly rewards. Salvation is packaged as a product to be hawked on the airwaves and sold at a discount. The notion of salvation from sin and judgment is entirely missing from this scenario. Instead, salvation is presented as a gift of self-enhancement.
On the theological left, the Gospel had long ago been transformed into a social and political message of liberation from oppression. Now, among some who consider themselves evangelicals, the Gospel of Christ has been reduced to a form of self-expression or therapy. Salvation is promised as the answer to low self-esteem and emptiness. Gone is any notion of a holy God who offers salvation from sin and its eternal penalty.
The other pressing front in the current battle for the Gospel concerns the exclusivity of the work of Christ. The testimony of the Bible could not be more clear. Salvation comes to all who call upon the name of the Lord. Salvation comes through Jesus Christ—and through Jesus Christ alone.
In our culture of political correctness and intolerant tolerance, we are told that such a claim is simply unacceptable. There cannot be only one way of salvation. Who is to say that the religions of the world are wrong, and that Christianity alone is true?
Well, that is the non-negotiable criterion of evangelical faithfulness. Jesus identified Himself as the Way, the Truth, and the Life—and “no one comes to the Father, but through Me” [John 14:6]. Without this clear testimony, the Gospel is emptied of its integrity. The Bible allows no misunderstanding. Without conscious faith in Jesus Christ, there is no salvation.
Dean Kelley, a liberal Protestant, once noted that, “Even the most gentle, humble, and loving Christians must divide the world into those who confess Jesus as Lord and those who don’t.” Given the clarity of the Gospel, we have no other choice.
Even so, various forms of compromise erupt on this crucial front in the battle for the Gospel. Some advocate an open universalism, in which all persons are eventually saved. Others promote pluralism, promising that all roads will eventually lead to God, and that no faith has a privileged claim to truth. Closer to home, some have advocated a form of inclusivism in which other religions and faiths are seen to be included in the work of Christ. Still others advocate a form of “anonymous Christianity” or a post-mortem opportunity to confess Christ.
Against these various attempts to evade the simple clarity of the Gospel stands the Word of God. Our evangelical integrity stands or falls on this truth—salvation is found through faith in Christ alone. This is the logic of the missionary mandate and the sustaining conviction for all evangelism. Nevertheless, the worldview held by many individuals today—especially those among the educated classes—flatly rejects such claims as imperialistic and arrogant.
Sociologist James Davison Hunter has long warned that younger evangelicals tend to go soft on this doctrine. Educated in a culture of postmodern relativism and ideological pluralism, this generation has been taught to avoid making any exclusive claim to truth. Speak of your truth, if you must—but never claim to know the Truth. Unless this course is reversed, there will be no evangelicals in the next generation.
Charles Spurgeon stated it plainly: “We have come to a turning-point in the road. If we turn to the right, mayhap our children and our children’s children will go that way; but if we turn to the left, generations yet unborn will curse our names for having been unfaithful to God and to His Word.” Those words ring with prophetic urgency more than a century after they were written. Evangelicals must regain theological courage and conviction, or we must face the tragic reality that this may be evangelicalism’s terminal generation.
R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
I offer an extract from (EERDMANS’) HANDBOOK TO THE HISTORY OF CHRISTIANITY, ed. Tim Dowley (Lion, Berkhamsted, England; Eerdmans, Grand Rapids MI, USA, 1977) p 596.
> In America, the movement protesting against liberal theology became known as ‘fundamentalism’. Fundamentalists believed not only in the verbal inspiration and infallibility of the Bible, but also in a whole series of evangelical doctrines published around 1909 under the title of THE FUNDAMENTALS. The writers included such men as B B Warfield, H C G Moule and James Orr. They emphasized the substitutionary death of Christ on the cross, the reality of eternal punishment, and the need for personal conversion. In later years the term ‘fundamentalism’ came to denote an unduly defensive and obscurantist attitude which was anti-scholarly, anti-intellectual and anti-cultural. For this reason, many conservative theologians who might be regarded as heirs of the original fundamentalists disown the label today.
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To this I append my own answer:
First a preliminary definition. Inerrantism is the belief that the Holy Scriptures have been preserved by God from all error. Inerrantists sometimes disagree among themselves in stating and applying this principle, but it obviously gives them a great deal of common ground.
The term “fundamentalism” is sometimes used to mean inerrantism, but is narrower in two ways.
First, from the beginning it was understood that fundamentalists were agreed not merely on the inerrancy of the Scriptures, but also on certain doctrines that they believed to be plainly taught by the Scriptures, but which not all inerrantists agree are so taught. Example: most fundamentalists are in considerable agreement on a scenario for the events accompanying the spectacular supernatural overthrow of the present order of things and the return of Christ in glory to judge the world. Example: they are mostly agreed, not only on the necessity of having “a conversion experience” in order to be in a right relation with God, but also on the proper content of that experience.
Second, fundamentalist congregations, as a natural consequence of worshipping apart from other groups and being more willing to borrow ideas and customs from other fundamentalists than from outsiders, have tended over the years to develop or preserve their own musical tastes, their own ways of talking, and the like, that set them apart. Example: Fundamentalists tend to like the hymns IN THE GARDEN (“I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses”) and THE OLD RUGGED CROSS (“On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross”). Non-fundamentalists tend not to like these, and the difference is not theological as much as it is cultural, literary, and musical. However, since an atheist would naturally not care for either hymn, when a non-fundamentalist tries to explain to a fundamentalist why he can’t stand the fundamentalists’ favorite hymns, the fundamentalist is likely to suspect that he is talking to someone in deep spiritual trouble, and this irritates the non-fundamentalist, whereupon communication tends to break down. (Naturally, this attitude is not limited to fundamentalists. “I understand that there are some persons around who are expecting to go to Heaven but who do not like to sing the music of J S Bach. Such persons had better shape up. What do you think we are going to be singing there?!”) Example: In a fundamentalist congregation, if coffee and doughnuts (or something more substantial) are to be served in the social hall after the service, a deacon will say, after the final blessing, “And now, let us fellowship.” (A visitor once whispered to his host, “What does that mean?” and got the response, “It means, let’s party!”) Non-fundamentalists seldom use “fellowship” as a verb. Little things like this add up, and make each side feel, even when the theological differences are not particularly great, that the other side must be from Mars. HINT: Superfluous use of “just” in prayer is a giveaway. If you hear someone saying, “Lord, we just pray that—”, or, “Lord, we just thank you that—”, then beware! You are dealing with a fundamentalist!
To these may be added a third difference. In public discourse, and particularly in the media, the term “fundamentalist” has become largely a term of abuse. This tendency was either originated or greatly encouraged by H L Mencken, editor of a magazine called THE SMART SET. Mencken was a writer who was popular largely on the basis of the witty style with which he attacked and ridiculed those persons, tendencies, and ideas that he regarded as insufficiently urbane, enlightened, sophisticated, and intellectually fashionable. He was a professional curmudgeon — that is, he may have liked some things, but he seldom said so in writing, and is even more seldom quoted or remembered for saying so. It was not his best style. (Andy Rooney is a useful comparison.) In 1925 Mencken went to Dayton, Tennessee, to cover the Scopes Trial (“The Monkey Trial”), held to determine whether the State of Tennessee could constitutionally forbid teachers in the public schools from teaching Darwinian evolution (more broadly, from teaching views on the origin of man that contradicted a literal interpretation of Genesis) in the public schools. Mencken was less interested in convincing his readers (most of whom needed no convincing) that the prosecution was wrong than he was in amusing them by portraying the prosecution, and the population of Tennessee, and fundamentalists in general, as a gang of idiots utterly devoid of the social graces. No reader of Mencken would want a fundamentalist attending his cocktail parties, let alone marrying his sister. If Mencken started the trend, other forces have continued it. Largely by historical accident, fundamentalism in the United States is disproportionately found in the rural South and (to a lesser extent), the Midwest. Since the Civil War, Northerners have tended to look at the culture of the South as an inferior culture, simply because it was the culture of the conquered. In the context of the Civil Rights movement, especially in the 1960’s, the idea was encouraged that anything connected with white Southern culture was positively evil. (I heard a professor give a lecture in which he undertook to prove that the Southern way of pronouncing certain sounds was in itself proof of moral degeneracy.) Those who opposed the Movement were generally perceived as fundamentalists, while those who favored it were not. More bad PR for the word “fundamentalist”. A recent development has been a series of scandals (in this context, two are enough to make a series) about television evangelists, in particular Jim and Tammy Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart. The result is a perception that all fundamentalists, without exception, are either sexually promiscuous con-men or pathetically gullible victims of the aforesaid con-men (all right, con-persons!). In view of the scandals involving Senators, Representatives, and other government officials, one might ask why the conclusion is not quite as widely drawn that all politicians, without exception, are scoundrels. The answer, I think, is that most of us do hear the Congress mentioned in other contexts. We know that the legislators do spend time in the Capitol Building as well as time in motels. (We may occasionally wonder whether the country might be better off if some of them spent all their time in motels to the utter neglect of their work, but that is another issue.) But the ordinary non-fundamentalist reader of the daily newspaper and watcher of the nightly news broadcast is unlikely to have heard of the Bakkers, or Swaggart, until they became objects of scandal, and is unlikely to remember having heard anything specific about any other evangelist (with the possible exception of Billy Graham) that was not scandalous. Ted Kennedy can get on the six o’clock news by making a speech calling for more money for child care. Billy Graham can probably not make it except by dying or by doing something that makes people say, “Aha! I always knew the man was a phony!” It also has not helped matters any that the press refers to the Ayatollah and his followers, and indeed to any Moslem who perpetrates an act of violence (or a speech condoning same) that the press disapproves, as Islamic fundamentalists. (That Khaddafi, for example, is certainly not a Moslem fundamentalist, and probably not, strictly speaking, a Moslem at all, tends to be overlooked by the average reporter, whose sensitivity to fine points of Islamic theology is limited.)
CONCLUSION: The term “fundamentalist” is used in at least three ways:
(1) As a synonym for “inerrantist”. Here I suggest using the term “inerrantist” instead on the grounds that it is less ambiguous, and carries less emotional baggage with it, and will on both grounds be preferred by those who aim at clear thinking.
(2) As a general term of abuse and mudslinging, appealing to the prejudices of the listener, whether against Southerners, or against Arabs, or against moral and religious standards that make him uncomfortable, or against all cultural and social circles not his own. This use the honest writer and speaker will avoid on principle. (I have been asked: “Do you think newspersons should stop talking about Moslem fundamentalists? If so, what word should they substitute? Should they talk about Moslem conservatives instead? That implies that the Ayatollah resembles Bill Buckley, which is hardly more accurate than suggesting that he resembles Jerry Falwell.” I reply by recommending that the newsperson stop and think for a moment about what the members of group under discussion really are. Are they anti-modernists? anti-Westerners? anti-Zionists? anti-Americans? anti-capitalists? nationalists? ultra-nationalists? militarists? chauvinists (the word is older than Gloria Steinem)? jingoists? xenophobes? Let him identify them a little more precisely than “fundamentalists” (meaning “people-definitely-not-from-my-club- who-are-all-riled-up-about-something-I-do-not-understand-and-I-do- not-like-them-and-I-wish-they-would-go-away”), and when he has identified it, let him find the right word or phrase for it, and use it. HINT: The correct word may vary from group to group, or even from event to event.)
(3) As a term for an inerrantist, normally a Protestant from the United States, accustomed to a certain style of worship: of devotional music (see above), of preaching (sermons that would lose much of their effect in printed form), of prayer (always spontaneous and “from the heart”, although habits of speech do develop), and so on. Now, all fundamentalists are inerrantists, but not all inerrantists are fundamentalists, and in addition to the beliefs common to all inerrantists, the fundamentalist normally has an additional set not shared by all inerrantists, although the fundamentalist often does not realize this, and takes it for granted that all “Bible-believing Christians” share his views on, for example, the future of Jerusalem, or what it means to be “born again”. DIGRESSION: Fundamentalist or not, it is easy to overlook the fact that the Bible does not actually say what you assume it must say somewhere. For example, I was in a Bible study on Genesis, where one of the Jewish participants asked, “Why do you talk as if it were Satan tempting Eve, instead of just a snake.” The Christians answered, “It was Satan disguised as a snake.” The Jew said, “But the Bible doesn’t say that.” The Christians said, “Of course it does!” and started skimming the page to find the place where it does. It doesn’t. The best one can do is a verse in Revelation referring to Satan as “that old serpent,” and it is not clear that this is anything more than generalized name-calling. That is why it is valuable to have group Bible studies with a diverse group, and to read commentaries by writers with whom you are totally out of sympathy. It keeps you from making unchallenged assumptions.
This third use of the word “fundamentalism” has some legitimate use, but only where all those involved in the dialogue already have some acquaintance with fundamentalism and know what the term means. And even then, there is some danger of sliding off into stereotype.
This is probably going to get some letters saying, “You are wrong. I am a third-generation Unitarian, and I think THE OLD RUGGED CROSS is the most beautiful hymn ever written,” or, “You are wrong. I am a fundamentalist to the core, and I positively loathe IN THE GARDEN.” Please note that I covered my bets by saying things like “most” and “many” and “by and large”.
Yours, James Kiefer
Has the message of Jesus been lost? That is the claim made by Steve Chalke and Alan Mann in their now-controversial book, The Lost Message of Jesus. Chalke is a well-known figure among British evangelicals. He founded the Oasis Trust and Faithworks and established his reputation through his broadcast ministry and publishing. Mann is his researcher and collaborator. Together, they have produced a book that has ignited a firestorm in Great Britain that is almost certain to spread to the United States. Put simply, these authors claim that evangelicals have misunderstood, misconstrued, and mispresented the meaning of the cross and the doctrine of atonement.
The authors begin with a lament, suggesting that Christianity has lost its identity in postmodern society. “What once profoundly shaped communities and changed lives has today been sidelined in society. The radical message of Jesus is now seen as nothing more than an ancient myth containing little, if any, historical truth or contemporary relevancy. Misleading potted versions of the story of Jesus have been filtered down to us through bland civic religion, caricatured snippets from the mouth of Ned Flanders, Homer Simpson’s nerdy Christian neighbour, and the sickly sweet, saccharine-flavoured version of Christmas presented to us by retailers and the media each October through December.” This is not a pretty picture.
Chalke, who has become the major focus of this controversy, suggests that Christian belief “for many people seems increasingly like a huge jigsaw puzzle.” In his words, “We feel we have been handed loads of jumbled-up pieces and we just can’t work out how they all fit together. The one thing we lack is what we need most-the lid with the picture on it. Without that big picture, all we have are the random pieces of ‘theology’ that we have managed to pick up along the way. And we are often at a loss to see much, if any, relevancy or relationship of the separate pieces to one another.”
Most of us can sympathize with Chalke’s lament about the disconnected state of postmodern Christianity. So much of what passes for evangelicalism in this age of confusion is actually an assortment of truth claims, habits, doctrines, and practices, that lack any coherent focus or overarching understanding.
Appropriately, Chalke points to God’s love, preeminently demonstrated in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, as the proper focus and “picture” that should frame our theology. Unfortunately, Chalke’s understanding of God’s love sets him at odds with any biblical notion of God’s wrath and righteousness. Specifically, Chalke suggests that a focus upon God’s wrath is profoundly unhelpful in this culture, and notions of hell, punishment, and judgment are simply out of step. He cites Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” as a particularly unfortunate message. “Preaching like Edwards’ has been all too representative of the portrayal of the gospel by the Church over the last few hundred years, and, by implication, of any popular understanding of the message of Jesus,” he argues. Edwards, you will remember, described the predicament of the sinner as similar to a spider who is held over the fire. Just as that spider faces sure destruction by fire, if he is not rescued, a sinner faces sure and certain judgment and punishment, if he or she is not redeemed. This kind of message is described by Chalke as “ferocious rhetoric” which is gladly “a thing of the past.” Nevertheless, he claims that the “residue of such portrayals of the gospel” still do much damage around the world. “People still believe that the Christian God is a God of power, law, judgement, hell-fire and damnation.” Where did Jonathan Edwards possibly get such an idea?
Chalke’s simplistic and unfair caricature of Jonathan Edwards serves as a signal of what is to come. The Bible is very clear about God’s holiness, and does not flinch from warning of his wrath poured out upon sin, and upon sinners. At the same time, God’s love is demonstrated in that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” [Romans 5:8] In other words, the Bible presents God’s love as a holy love—a redeeming love that is demonstrated in the atoning sacrifice accomplished by Jesus Christ. The very point of Jonathan Edwards’ sermon was to warn sinners of the wrath to come, and to implore them to turn to Christ in faith.
Later in the book, Chalke and Mann critique what they call “the myth of redemptive violence.” This notion is drawn from postmodern theologian Walter Wink, who calls for a radical reinterpretation of the cross and its meaning. Chalke has adopted a similar program, rejecting the doctrine of penal substitution and adopting what amounts to a moral influence theory of the atonement.
According to Chalke and Mann, the cross simply serves as a profound demonstration of the love of God. On the cross, Christ “absorbed all the pain, all the suffering caused by the breakdown in our relationship with God and in doing so demonstrated the lengths to which a God who is love will go to restore it.”
The doctrine of penal substitution—the understanding that, on the cross, Christ died in our place, bearing the penalty for our sin—is described as “a form of cosmic child abuse.” In their words: “The fact is that the cross isn’t a form of cosmic child abuse—a vengeful Father punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed.” They go further to suggest that “such a concept stands in total contradiction to the statement ‘God is love’.”
The penal substitutionary understanding of the atonement—the doctrine that has stood at the very center of evangelical faith—is rejected as based on a misunderstanding of the cross, described as a “twisted version of events” that is “morally dubious and a huge barrier to faith.”
Lest their point be missed, the authors go further: “If the cross is a personal act of violence perpetuated by God towards humankind but borne by his Son, then it makes a mockery of Jesus’ own teaching to love your enemies and to refuse to repay evil with evil.” Look at that statement closely. This audacious claim, so in keeping with postmodern sensibilities, directly rejects clear biblical passages that speak of God’s wrath poured out upon sin, of the necessity of Christ’s atonement, and of Christ’s atonement as propitiation which demonstrates God to be both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” [Romans 3:26]
As Chalke and Mann see it, “the cross is a symbol of love. It is a demonstration of just how far God as Father and Jesus as his Son are prepared to go to prove that love. The cross is a vivid statement of the powerlessness of love.”
There is little new here. After all, the moral influence theory of the atonement is hardly a recent development. Nevertheless, this understanding of the cross not only falls far short of the biblical testimony, it requires a direct and unqualified rejection of the apostolic preaching.
Last year, Steve Chalke emerged as a figure of controversy among British evangelicals, and The Lost Message of Jesus stood at the center of that controversy. The Evangelical Alliance, the established coalition of evangelicals in Great Britain, publicly criticized the book, charging that Chalke “has tended to avoid, rather than seriously address, the key biblical texts typically cited in defence of the penal substitutionary view.” Reaching out to Chalke in hopes of reconciliation, the Evangelical Alliance released a statement that called him to reconsider his position. “We trust that instead of dismissing penal substitution out of hand as a false teaching tantamount to ‘cosmic child abuse,’ Steve will recognize its significant place in the range of atonement theories to which Evangelicals have characteristically subscribed.”
Some openly called for Chalke to be expelled from the Evangelical Alliance. The group’s Basis of Faith does not use the specific terms “penal,” “penalty,” or “punishment” in its text, but the Executive Council of the Evangelical Alliance, in adopting the Basis of Faith, “took it as entailing and implying penal substitution.” As the statement continued, “We believe that its affirmations of universal human sin and guilt, divine wrath and condemnation, and the substitutionary, sacrificial and redemptive nature of Christ’s death, together comprise the key elements in the doctrine of penal substitution.”
Chalke later released a statement explaining that his book “isn’t specifically [a] discussion of the atonement.” Instead, he argued that his work is about “Christ’s graciousness.” Furthermore, Chalke claimed to have “no desire to become involved in a technical debate about how the cross works.”
Regrettably, his book puts him right in the middle of a “technical debate” about the cross. Chalke did not merely argue evangelicals should emphasize the love of God demonstrated in Christ’s death on the cross, he explicitly condemned the historic evangelical understanding of the cross, based solidly in the Bible, as “divine child abuse.”
His explanation only added fuel to the fire. “The theological problem with penal substitution is that it presents us with a God who is first and foremost concerned with retribution flowing from his wrath against sinners,” Chalke insists. “The only way for his anger to be placated is in receiving recompense from those who have wronged him; and although his great love motivates him to send his Son, his wrath remains the driving force behind the need for the cross.”
The claim that a penal understanding of the cross represents “divine child abuse” has been asserted by feminists and liberal theologians in the past. Now, Chalke presses his argument even further.
“In The Lost Message of Jesus I claim that penal substitution is tantamount to ‘child abuse—a vengeful Father punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed.’ Though the sheer bluntness of this imagery (not original to me of course) might shock some, in truth, it is only a stark ‘unmasking’ of the violent, pre-Christian thinking behind such a theology. And the simple truth is that if God does not relate to his only Son as a perfect Father, neither can we relate to him as such.”
The audacity of this statement is almost breathtaking. Rather than pointing to the cross as the love of God demonstrated in his provision of the very sacrifice he has demanded, Chalke caricatures a penal substitutionary understanding of the atonement and adds insult to injury. Furthermore, he explicitly argues that a God who would require the sacrifice of his only Son is not a “perfect Father,” and cannot be trusted.
In recent weeks, the controversy has been reignited as the Evangelical Alliance announced the adoption of a new Basis of Faith which comes far closer to stipulating a penal substitutionary understanding of the cross. The new wording asserts belief in “The atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross: dying in our place, paying the price of sin and defeating evil, so reconciling us with God.”
In its recent statement, the Evangelical Alliance also announced a symposium to be hosted by the London School of Theology in 2006, intended to clear the air and focus on the most important issues at stake in the controversy.
Evangelicals in the United States should watch this controversy with both interest and concern. Attacks upon the penal substitutionary understanding of the atonement are hardly new—in fact they are to be found among some who would claim to be evangelicals in the United States. Evangelical identity is at stake in this controversy. But, far beyond that, the Gospel is at stake.
R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
by Bruce J. Clemenger
According to our survey, 44 % of Canadians agree with the statement “I have committed my life to Christ and consider myself to be a converted Christian.” This represents a significant increase of 15% since 1993, and 9% since 1996 in response to the same question.
Evidently the Good News is being proclaimed and received, whether through television ministries, initiatives such as the Jesus video or Alpha, or by believers simply talking to their neighbours and colleagues.
Canadians also expressed high levels of agreement with other basic Christian beliefs. More than two thirds believe that through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, God provided the way for the forgiveness of my sins, up 5% from 1993. God is understanding and forgiving, according to 82%, up from 75% in 1993.
Since the majority of Canadians affirm these basic Christian tenets about God, the divinity of Jesus (76%), and His redemptive work, we have a lot in common with our neighbours – sufficient common ground for conversations about the implications of belief on daily life!
But what impact have these increases in affirmation of basic Christian belief had on Canada?
Fewer Canadians attend church on a regular basis – down to 19%. This is partially explained by the broad agreement that my private beliefs about Christianity are more important than what is taught by the church. Here, evangelicals (68% agree strongly or moderately) are not far behind other Canadians (72%). Likewise, 85% of Canadians say, I don’t think you need to attend church to be a good Christian, and 59% of evangelicals agree. And evangelicals are the ones who regularly attend church! If not in the local church, where do Christians find fellowship and community?
Commitment to faith without adherence to a church is usually termed “spirituality” rather than “religion,” but it is misleading when the beliefs of the majority are essentially Christian. Are these Christian affirmations an indication of a privatized faith, or the residual commitments of a generation that attended Sunday School and participated in Christmas plays in public school? Yet, although the percentages decrease with age, the statistics show that a surprising number of young people agree with the statements.
Personalized religion seems to be on the increase. This approach to Christianity is not foreign to the Protestant tradition that emphasizes the priesthood of all believers. But what happens when personalized faith becomes individualistic and believers find no merit in gathering together? What are the implications for the Body of Christ, which, as the term itself suggests, is contrary to the isolation of believers?
The data indicates that our efforts at evangelism have been successful. Perhaps our weakness has been discipleship and the importance of living out our faith in word and deed as part of a community of believers.
This article appears also in Canada Watch, EFC’s quarterly newsletter (winter, 2003).
Evangelical leaders are worried that their diverse group is misrepresented in the media.
“There has been an upset over the portrayal of evangelicals. Some stories are truly accurate and some truly stereotyped,” said Mike Paul, spokesperson for a new seminar titled, “What is an Evangelical?”
To remedy the problem, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), Christianity Today, and the New York Divinity School are hosting the seminar meant to educate the press in New York City on Thursday, Sept. 8.
Although this is the fourth seminar since February, concerns have grown recently after Pat Robertson’s statements suggested that the U.S. should “take out” the Venezuelan president.
“When Pat Robertson spoke, many thought that he spoke for all evangelicals,” said Bob Wenz, V.P. of National Ministries of the NAE and one of the primary organizers of the event.
According to Wenz those who are often associated with the “religious right” (otherwise known as fundamentals), such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, do not fully represent the entire evangelical body.
He said, “They are people who we love to work with, brothers in Christ, but we have a broader constituency than that.”
This is especially the case in New York where the ethnic churches that make up a majority of the evangelical community do not all agree, said Wenz.
“One of the key messages that will come out of this conference is that the evangelical community is not a monolith, no different from the black community, the white community, and the Hispanic community,” he said.
The seminar had its beginnings as early as October 2004, when President Bush was voted for a second term and members of the press were surprised that “moral values” had won the day. Rather than answering all the calls, said Wenz, Christianity Today and Gordon-Conwell Theology Seminary opted for an educational seminar in a handful of cities that had a high concentration of press members.
The event was first held at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Boston in February. Others followed in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles. This month the seminar will come to the New York Divinity School in New York City. Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio will host the fifth seminar in October. Up to 40 members of the press attended each of the three previous seminars.
Eleven notable evangelicals from around the nation as well as the local New York area will explain the evangelical community. With a historical perspective, Wenz will delineate the evangelicals from the fundamental and liberal Christians, and senior writer for Christianity Today, Tony Carnes, will talk about the “changing sociological profile of evangelicals.”
Once the press understands who the evangelicals are, the next logical step, Paul said, is to figure out how to work together.
Editor of Christianity Today, David Neff, will speak from an insider’s perspective of the evangelical media while Paul, an evangelical and president of a leading public relations firm in New York, will speak on how to open up communication between mainstream media and evangelicals.
“If you’re a Christian organization and you want to get stories placed on mainstream media consistently, you need to form a relationship, you need to think from their perspective, not just our own,” he said. “It’s a two-way street.”
Samuel Kliger, director of Russian-Jewish Community Affairs for the American Jewish Committee, and former persecuted “refusnick” in Russia will give an outsider’s perspective of the “Changing Sociological Profile of Evangelicals: the Outside View.”
Paul de Vries, PhD., President of New York Divinity School and founder of the Center for Applied Christian Ethics at Wheaton College, rounds out the holistic ministry talk with another session on the NAE’s Call to Civic Responsibility, a statement adopted October last year encouraged evangelicals to cover a broader range of topics — such as religious liberty, poverty, peace, racial injustice, and the environment/creation — rather than fixating on the fight against abortion and same-sex marriage.
Daniel Mercaldo, founder and pastor of Gateway Cathedral, one of the largest churches on Staten Island, will discuss Expository Preaching for Post-modern people, and J. Stanley Oakes, president of the King’s College, will discuss Evangelicals in the Present Clash of Cultures. Kittim Silva, bishop of about 300 churches and helped found the most powerful Hispanic Christian radio station in the world, Radio Visión Cristiana.
Kareem Goubran, assistant pastor of East 7th Baptist Church in the Lower East Side, also called Graffiti Ministry will give his presentation on the “Whole Gospel for the Whole Person: Evangelicals in Biblical Holistic Ministry.”
The Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization (LCWE) will gather hundreds of young leaders worldwide for a conference in Malaysia next year.
The Younger Leaders Gathering, which brings together about 500 young leaders between the ages of 25-35 from over 100 countries, aims to serve as a platform for emerging global Christian leaders of the 21st century to connect and develop. The gathering is scheduled for Sept. 25-Oct. 1, 2006 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Among the qualities the Committee seeks in participants are leaders who actively and personally engage in reaching people with the Gospel, demonstrate a Kingdom mindset through collaborative/cooperative ministry, influence others to reach their potential, have a current and potential ministry impact, and are respected by their peers.
The Lausanne Younger Leader Gathering will be a unique world-scale event with world-class leaders and will offer partnership opportunities as well as an occasion for new and creative ministries.
The event’s goals for participants are that they be informed of the state of the gospel worldwide and know what the needs are and who is doing what; develop younger leaders who want to grow spiritually and personally and who will in turn develop other younger leaders; inspire by God’s ideas, the challenges that lay ahead and to finish the task; and to meet, network and partner with leaders around the world and to pray, worship with fellow young leaders.
LCWE seeks to encourage and stimulate the involvement of churches, denominations, ministries, networks and individuals in the cause of world evangelization. The organization provides a place for theological discussion and the development of practical strategies to address crucial issues facing the church in spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization developed out of the 1974 International Congress on World Evangelization held in Lausanne, Switzerland. The Congress gathered more than 2,300 evangelical leaders from 150 countries to create The Lausanne Covenant, a declaration that provides the theological foundation for intentional world evangelization. The gathering was called by a committee headed by the Rev. Billy Graham.
A new study reveals the changes in evangelical views on religious identity and Islam since 9/11.
In a new discourse by the editor of Religious Watch newsletter , Richard Cimino shows that Evangelicals have a more negative view of Islam than other Americans – a view that helps shape their personal identity as Evangelicals. The study, titled, “No God in Common: American Evangelical Discourse on Islam After 9/11,” also discusses how Evangelicals view the challenges of pluralism and relativism in American society.
Numerous surveys, evangelical books and articles published in the last decade have reflected the more negative view of Islam than other Americans, but the new study indicates that this viewpoint has strengthened since 9/11. The findings resulted from analysis of popular evangelical books published before and after 9/11, showing that writings after 9/11 draw sharper distinctions between Islam and Christianity, as well as asserting that Islam is essentially violent.
In addition, the study found that there were three forms of writing against Islam: evangelical apologetics to prove the truth of Christianity against Islam; prophetic literature linking Islam as the main protagonist in end-times scenarios; and charismatic literature applying “spiritual warfare” teachings to Islam. According to an article released by Religious Watch, there is an increase in evangelical apologetics against Islam with a new breed of ex-Muslim evangelicals issuing sharp critiques that stress the radical separateness of Christianity from Islam.
The article also indicates increase pluralism in American society and new patterns of interaction between Islam and Christianity are challenging evangelical identity, leading to the emergence of new boundaries between evangelicalism and other religions. These new boundaries can both strain interfaith relations but also strengthen evangelical identity.
The study will be published in the December issue of the Review of Religious Research.
Religion Watch is in its 20th year of publication and is an independent monthly newsletter reporting on trends in contemporary religion through monitoring new books and periodicals and through first-hand reporting.
University of Akron (Ohio) polling finds evangelical Protestants are the largest segment of actively religious Americans, outnumbering Roman Catholics. But the definition of “evangelical” is open to dispute.
That issue arises with “Thy Kingdom Come: An Evangelical’s Lament” (Basic Books), a caustic tract by historian Randall Balmer of Barnard College in New York. He says the evangelical activists’ agenda “is misguided, even ruinous” to “the nation I love and, ultimately, to the faith I love even more.”
Unlike many recent books that attack the “religious right,” Balmer grabs attention by claiming to defend God and country from within evangelicalism, though he acknowledges that many would deny him that label.
The loosely knit evangelicalism includes millions like lay Episcopalian Balmer in pluralistic “mainline” denominations, as well as members of conservative denominations and congregations.
By Balmer’s definition, an evangelical “takes the Bible seriously” and often literally, emphasizes personal conversion to Jesus, and sees a necessity to evangelize.
Similarly, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) theologian Jack Rogers says evangelicals believe that people need a personal relationship with God through Christ, the Bible is the final authority for salvation and life, and everyone should hear about Jesus.
Like Balmer, Rogers has had his evangelical credentials questioned because he advocates full acceptance of same-sex couples and gay clergy, as in “Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality” (Westminster John Knox). Years ago, he taught at evangelical Fuller Theological Seminary and opposed gay behavior.
Balmer complains that evangelicals refuse to read Paul’s “apparent condemnations of homosexuality” as rooted in, and “arguably” limited to, “the historical and social circumstances of the first century.”
Conservative scholars have published thorough rebuttals of the Balmer-Rogers stance.
Balmer is equally agitated about abortion, which set the pattern for later evangelical activism on gay issues. A libertarian, he believes abortion is “properly left to a woman and her conscience.”
He charges that conservatives grabbed abortion “as the issue that would propel them to prominence,” indicating that moral principle wasn’t involved, only “shameless pursuit of affluence and power” through politics. He likewise says conservatives within mainline denominations exploit the gay issue to build their power base.
Defending that harsh judgment, he says evangelicals “take pride in a kind of slavish literalism” on the Bible, which never forbids abortion as such. Conservatives say biblical teaching requires opposition.
Balmer believes the activists “would love nothing more than to dismantle the First Amendment and enshrine evangelical values and mores as the law of the land,” impose “intelligent design” upon biology classes, and end separation of church and state. Of course, liberal agitators continually enshrine the opposite values.
Balmer says, “I’ll put up my credentials as an evangelical against anyone,” and expects to be cast out because of this book, including possible ouster from the masthead of Christianity Today, the movement’s flagship magazine.
Asked whether Balmer and Rogers are evangelicals, that magazine’s editor David Neff (another lay Episcopalian) says they’re “in a very small minority” on issues like gays and abortion. He’d consider them still within the fold “if they employ evangelical discourse and display evangelical piety,” basing conclusions on the Bible rather than on current social science.
Neff considers Balmer and Rogers part of the evangelical family the way Woody Allen is Jewish — not representative of the group but shaped by it.
The question remains: Does Christianity have social ramifications? So preach the non-evangelical Protestants who enjoyed political influence through much of the 20th century. Balmer appears to believe the less activism the better and that faith is purer and more effective when it’s unsoiled by politics.
He pronounces both the mainline denominations and the Democratic Party “virtually moribund.”
The most comprehensive national religion survey to date found that only a small percentage of Americans prefer to label themselves as evangelicals over other terms including “Bible-believing” and “Born Again.”
The recent survey – analyzed by sociologists from Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion, in Waco, Texas, and conducted by Gallup – found that only 15 percent of the population use the term “evangelical” to describe their religious identity when given a list of religious terms to choose from. Moreover, barely two in 100 Americans say the term is the best description of their religious identity.
Participants picked from a list of 14 religious terms including Bible-Believing, Born Again, Mainline Christians, Theologically Liberal, Seeker, Fundamentalist, and Charismatic.
By far, the most popular religious self-identity was “Bible-Believing” with nearly half of Americans (47.2 percent) preferring the label. Americans in the South and the Midwest were more than twice as likely to choose the identity of Bible-believing (52.8 percent and 54.2 percent, respectively) than evangelical (19.2 percent and 17.3 percent, respectively).
“Born Again” was favored by those with ties to Black Protestant and Evangelical Protestant religious groups, while “Mainline Christian” is the term of preference for Mainline Protestants and Catholics.
Results also indicate that people with household incomes of more than $100,000 a year are twice as likely to describe themselves as “Theologically Liberal” than are people with household incomes of $35,000 or less a year.
Touted as the most comprehensive religion survey to date, the survey contained 77 questions and nearly 400 answer choices was fielded during the winter of 2005. Some 1,721 Americans participated in the survey. Data was made available for analysis in the spring of 2006.
Young Christian leaders from around the world listened to a mission expert present about the rapid growth of evangelicalism, especially in the global South, at a Lausanne gathering in Malaysia this week.
Jason Mandryck – co-author of the mission prayer guide Operation World – presented on the status of the Christian faith around the world Tuesday during the plenary session “State of the Gospel” at the Younger Leaders Gathering.
Nearly 500 young leaders from over 110 countries have gathered in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for six days, Sept. 24-30, for Christ-centered leadership development. The Younger Leaders Gathering is a ministry of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization where emerging leaders in churches, ministries and the marketplace ages 25-35 convene to learn new leadership skills, strengthen their spiritual life, and form networks with other young Christian leaders around the world.
Mandryck, as part of the session’s feature presentation, pointed out that although Christianity has barely kept pace with world population growth over the last century, evangelicalism is “far and away the fastest growing major religious movement in the world today,” as reported by Lausanne.
Evangelicalism is growing twice the pace of Islam and three times as fast as the overall world population according to Mandryck.
He indicated that a significant growth of evangelicalism is seen in the global South such as Brazil, China, Bangladesh and Nigeria which have “exploding” Christian populations.
According to Mandryck, the Mongolian church is now the most efficient missions force, sending one missionary for every 222 Christians.
“For the first time in my life, I heard that Mongolia is the most efficient mission sending country,” said Tim Im of South Korea to Lausanne. “For me being Korean I was very embarrassed; I thought we were the most efficient.”
Furthermore, the churches in the global South, from China to Nigeria, are now increasingly aiming to spread the gospel and close the gaps of the 10/40 window.
“When they showed the information on the reached and unreached it really touched me and showed me that we have much more work to do,” said Nnaji Chukwuemeka Bidwell of Nigeria who serves on the Nigeria Fellowship of Evangelical Students.
The session was followed by an extended time of prayer for the expansion of the church worldwide.
“I believe the older generation has slipped away from the idea of mission, but now I believe God is using a younger generation to renew the church’s commitment to mission,”
The Lausanne Movement was formed in 1974 during a meeting of 2,500 Christian leaders for Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in Switzerland. Lausanne has helped launch numerous mission initiatives, organizations, and provided more than 30 Lausanne Occasional Papers which help church and mission leaders understand current missiological issues.
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Embattled national evangelical leader the Rev. Ted Haggard admitted Friday that he bought methamphetamines and received a massage from a gay prostitute, but denies he ever used the drug or had sex with the man.
“I bought it for myself but never used it,” Haggard told reporters gathered outside his home. “I was tempted but I never used it.”
Haggard, 50, a married father of five, who resigned his post as head of the thirty million member National Association of Evangelicals, said he never had sex with Mike Jones, a 49-year-old gay escort who claims to have had a drug-laced three year tryst with Haggard.
Haggard, who was leaving his home with his wife and three of his five children, said he bought the methamphetamine because he was curious. He claimed he threw it away.
Haggard earlier claimed charges against him were untrue, and were political retribution for his campaign in support of a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
Haggard, pastor of the 14,000-member New Life Church, announced his resignation on Thursday.
“I am voluntarily stepping aside from leadership so that the overseer process can be allowed to proceed with integrity,” Haggard said in a statement. “I hope to be able to discuss this matter in more detail at a later date. In the interim, I will seek both spiritual advice and guidance.”
Haggard also gave up his post at the church.
A pastor at Haggard’s church, Ross Parsley, sent an e-mail to congregants saying Haggard “confessed to the overseers that some of the accusations against him are true.”
“It is important for you to know that he confessed to the overseers that some of the accusations against him are true. He has willingly and humbly submitted to the authority of the board of overseers, and will remain on administrative leave during the course of the investigation,” the e-mail stated. A copy was obtained by KMGH-TV in Denver.
Late Wednesday, Haggard told KUSA-TV: “I’ve never had a gay relationship with anybody, and I’m steady with my wife, I’m faithful to my wife.”
Among the allegations made by Jones was that Haggard paid him for sex and snorted methamphetamine with him before their sexual encounters to heighten the experience.
Jones said he decided to go public with his story because of Haggard’s opposition to the proposed state ban on gay marriage.
“I just want people to step back and take a look and say, ‘Look, we’re all sinners, we all have faults, but if two people want to get married, just let them, and let them have a happy life,’” said Jones, who added that he is gay and is not working for any political group.
“It made me angry that here’s someone preaching about gay marriage and going behind the scenes having gay sex,” he said.
Colorado voters will decide on the gay-marriage ban amendment when they vote next Tuesday.
Jones claimed Haggard paid him to have sex nearly every month over three years. He said he advertised himself as an escort on the Internet and was contacted by a man who called himself Art.
Jones said he later saw the man on television identified as Haggard and that the two last had sex in August.
He said he has voice mail messages from Haggard, as well as an envelope he said Haggard used to mail him cash. He declined to make the voice mails available to the AP, but KUSA-TV reported what it said were excerpts late Thursday that referred to methamphetamine.
“Hi Mike, this is Art,” one call began, according to the station. “Hey, I was just calling to see if we could get any more. Either $100 or $200 supply.”
A second message, left a few hours later, began: “Hi Mike, this is Art, I am here in Denver and sorry that I missed you. But as I said, if you want to go ahead and get the stuff, then that would be great. And I’ll get it sometime next week or the week after or whenever.”
Carolyn Haggard, spokeswoman for the New Life Church and the pastor’s niece, said a four-member church panel will investigate the allegations. The board has the authority to discipline Haggard, including removing him from ministry work.
The allegations stunned church members.
“It’s political, right before the elections,” said Brian Boals, a New Life member for 17 years.
Church member E.J. Cox, 25, called the claims “ridiculous.”
“People are always saying stuff about Pastor Ted,” she said. “You just sort of blow it off. He’s just like anyone else in the public eye.”
Haggard, 50, was appointed president of the evangelicals association in March 2003. He has participated in conservative Christian leaders’ conference calls with White House staffers and lobbied members of Congress last year on U.S. Supreme Court appointees after Sandra Day O’Connor announced her retirement.
After Massachusetts legalized gay marriage in 2004, Haggard and others began organizing state-by-state opposition. Last year, Haggard and officials from the nearby Christian ministry Focus on the Family announced plans to push Colorado’s gay marriage ban for the 2006 ballot.
At the time, Haggard said that he believed marriage is a union between a man and woman rooted in centuries of tradition, and that research shows it’s the best family unit for children.
A relatively substantial number of people label themselves as evangelicals. But new research by The Barna Group found a much smaller number of people actually fit the criteria.
For two decades, The Barna Group has been measuring the characteristics of evangelicals based on a 9-question set of criteria. In its latest study, the research group names them “9-point evangelicals.”
On a general note, 38 percent of the population accepts the label of evangelical. When The Barna Group measured them using its nine questions to categorize evangelicals, only eight percent of the adult population fit the criteria.
Applied to the entire adult population, the difference is “staggering,” the report stated. Self-proclaimed evangelicals would number 84 million versus 18 million 9-point evangelicals.
Moreover, the study found that 86 percent of the 9-point evangelicals also call themselves evangelicals while only 19 percent of self-proclaimed evangelicals meets the research group’s criteria.
The two evangelical groups differ in demographic background.
Self-proclaimed evangelicals are less likely to have graduated from college, to be married, and to be white and have much lower average household incomes. They are also more likely to come from the Northeast or West and be 60 or older.
Additionally, 45 percent of self-proclaimed evangelicals say they are mostly conservative on social and political matters compared to 65 percent of 9-point evangelicals. The former group of evangelicals are also less likely to be registered as a Republican.
There is also only a seven percentage point difference in the number of Democrats and Republicans among the self-proclaimed evangelicals. Among the 9-point evangelicals, the difference is 25.
Differences are also apparent in their beliefs.
Those who claim to be evangelicals are 60 percent less likely to believe that Satan is real; 53 percent less likely to believe that salvation is based on grace, not works; 46 percent less likely to say they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs with others; 42 percent less likely to list their faith in God as the top priority in their life; 38 percent less likely to believe that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; 27 percent less likely to contend that the Bible is totally accurate in all of its teachings; and 23 percent less likely to say that their life has been greatly transformed by their faith.
On another note, the study found that 27 percent of those who say they are evangelicals are not born again, based upon their beliefs, The Barna Group reported, and they are also less likely to read their Bible and attend church during a typical week.
“The Bible does not refer to any person as an ‘evangelical,’” researcher George Barna noted. “This is a construct created within the religious community many years ago to differentiate a group that possesses a distinctive theological perspective. Over time, people have become sloppy in the measurement process, as evidenced by the fact that one out of every four self-proclaimed evangelicals has not even accepted Christ as their savior.
Rather than labeling them “evangelicals,” Barna suggested that they more closely resemble the “born again Christian” population, by definition of the research group. Born again Christians display an above-average interest and involvement in religious activity, but whose religious fervor and commitment is nowhere near that of true evangelicals, the report stated.
The 9-point evangelical criteria is derived from the belief statement of the National Association of Evangelicals.
A couple years ago when the definition of an “evangelical” seemed broad, the former NAE head, Ted Haggard, had defined evangelical as simply a person who believes Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that the Bible is the Word of God, and that you must be born again, according to Christianity Today.
“We probably overestimate the number of evangelicals, since we do not take into account all of the beliefs that NAE says a true evangelicals holds,” said Barna. “But our measurement approach incorporates the key elements from their statement of faith.”
“Keep in mind that only God knows a person’s heart,” said the researcher added. “No scientific instrument is able to perfectly evaluate what a person believes, or how deeply they believe it. Research is just an approximation of what is happening in society. But America certainly deserves – and has access to – better measures than those that are often used in public discussions about the religious faith of people, and the implications of that alleged faith, especially in matters of politics and public policy.”
The survey is based on a random sample of 4,014 adults conducted in January, April, August and October of 2006.
The term “evangelical” is increasingly taking on a negative connotation amid sex scandals and other controversies from the pulpit. But one conservative evangelical reminded Americans of what the term defines.
It means the “good news” in Greek, Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family told Neil Cavuto on FOX News on Friday.
Despite media coverage defining what evangelicals are against, Daly does not believe the “e-word,” as Cavuto and Christianity Today magazine called it, is “dirty.”
“I think they (the media) like to try to drive a wedge between us (evangelicals),” said Daly. “I don’t think they’ll succeed because again there’s nothing wrong in the description of an evangelical.”
“Christians are about love and truth,” he said.
Daly went on to say that it is reasonable for media to be interested in the recent scandals in the evangelical circle just as it would be with teacher scandals in schools.
“These are people in positions of trust, yet they break that trust,” Daly explained.
One of the biggest evangelical scandals broke out this past November when Ted Haggard’s drug and sex scandal was exposed. A former male prostitute alleged that Haggard, who resigned as head of the National Association of Evangelicals, paid him over a three-year period for sex and sometimes for methamphetamines. Haggard said the accusations were not all true but only stated to being guilty of “sexual immorality.”
Haggard and his wife, Gayle, recently completed a counseling program in Arizona, the Associated Press reported.
A Barna Research poll conducted before the scandal found that 38 percent of Americans label themselves as “evangelical.” However, only 19 percent of the self-proclaimed evangelicals actually meet the evangelical criteria, defined by Barna.
“Only half of them understand what the [evangelical] creed is,” noted Daly, explaining why evangelicals do not agree on everything.
Still, the e-word is here to stay, Daly reassured.
Ron Sider, founder of Evangelicals for Social Action, said he plans to stick with the word evangelical despite the broad spectrum of people (from Jerry Falwell to Rick Warren) who identify with the term.
“It tells you something about the attractiveness and good character of the term,” said Sider, according to USA Today.
And Daly has hope for the faith of the nation.
“I think where sin abounds,” he said, “grace abounds even more.”
On many of the nation’s elite university campuses, Asian American evangelicals have increasingly become exemplars of evangelical piety. They’re fast dominating Christian campus groups and campus fellowship leaders say they’re just touching the tip of the ethnic group.
Asian Americans make up 4.4 percent of the U.S. population. At Ivy League colleges like Yale, Harvard, and Columbia, they constitute more than 15 percent of student enrollment and over 40 percent at UC Berkeley, UCLA and UC Irvine, according to Rebecca Y. Kim, author of God’s New Whiz Kids?.
And many of the Christian fellowships on campus that were predominantly white are now predominantly Asian American. There are 50 evangelical Christian groups at UC Berkeley and UCLA alone, and 80 percent of their members are Asian American, Kim wrote.
At UC Berkeley, InterVarsity (IV) Christian Fellowship – one of the nation’s largest evangelical campus groups – began offering separate fellowships for different ethnic minority groups as membership became largely Asian American. IV’s multiethnic fellowship has roughly 200 members, most of whom are East Asian.
On the East Coast, one out of four Evangelical college students at colleges and universities in New York City are Asian American and the once all white Campus Crusade for Christ at Yale is now 90 percent Asian, according to Kim.
“We’re only touching the tip of the Asians,” Collin Tomikawa, an InterVarsity official for the East Bay, told the San Francisco Chronicle. While Tomikawa told the local newspaper that the campus group has tried to diversify its staff, he noted that many evangelical groups have found they are continuing to attract a disproportionately Asian American membership.
To try to explain the phenomenon, Kim referred to a paper by Antony Alumkal of Iliff School of Theology titled “Race in American Evangelicalism: A Racial Formation Analysis,” and stated that Asian Americans retreat into evangelical campus fellowships as an act of self preservation in a racially hostile setting.
Russell Jeung argues in Religions in Asian America: Building Faith Communities that contemporary evangelicalism gives Asian Americans a chance to escape the undesirable aspects of their racial status by adopting an alternative identity, by making Christianity the locus of their identity.
Ethnic and racial distinctions are thus transcended through a relationship with God, stated Kim.
“Why should I have to feel what I do represents my race?” posed Hatty Lee, 20, to the San Francisco Chronicle. “I am who God made me to be.”
“I don’t represent Korean Americans, I represent God,” said the South Korea native.
Asian Americans often share common cultural traditions and values – what Paul Takunaga, national coordinator for IV’s Asian American Ministries, calls “Asian DNA.”
They are often described as more self-controlled, disciplined, fatalistic, obedient to authority, humble and collective relative to the European American population, Kim stated.
Tommy Dyo, former leader of the Asian American Christian Fellowship, told the local newspaper that Asian Americans are also more accustomed than other students to identifying with a group rather than seeing themselves foremost as individuals.
“A lot of what we are taught in general society is that it’s very individual, that it’s all you. But Asian Americans are attached to the greater whole,” said Dyo, explaining why Asian Americans may be drawn to evangelical groups.
And campus ministries offer a refreshing change to the immigrant church, or the church of a second generation Asian American’s parents, often viewed as patriarchal, hierarchical, dry and disconnected.
On campus, evangelical groups offer students contemporary worship songs, messages catered to their cultural and spiritual needs, and all the social benefits with frequent trips to the beach, retreats in the mountains and even study sessions.
“This is not just a place of worship; it is a place of community where you develop deep bonds with people,” Kim quoted one IV staff member.
[KH: These are still not true liberals who should not be called “evangelicals”.]
by Mark Tooley
SEVERAL DOZEN PROMINENT evangelicals have released a letter to President Bush in an effort to distinguish themselves from ardent pro-Israel evangelicals and to urge evenhandedness between Israel and the Palestinians.
The letter’s authors got the idea while visiting the U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Qatar, where, according to the New York Times, they “met Muslim and American diplomats who were shocked to discover the existence of American evangelicals who favored a Palestinian state.” The organizers plan to translate their letter into Arabic and distribute it internationally.
“As evangelical Christians committed to the full teaching of the Scriptures, we know that blessing and loving people (including Jews and the present State of Israel) does not mean withholding criticism when it is warranted,” the letter read. “Perhaps the best way we can bless Israel is to encourage her to remember, as she deals with her neighbor Palestinians, the profound teaching on justice that the Hebrew prophets proclaimed so forcefully as an inestimably precious gift to the whole world.”
The letter repeated a common media-grabbing formula for liberal evangelicals. Demand action on climate change, denounce U.S. policies on “torture,” or insist on a less pro-Israel stance. The ostensibly surprising revelation that not all evangelicals are reflexively Republican is an almost guaranteed headline maker.
Inevitably, the spin is that evangelicals are breaking up as a reliable conservative voting bloc. Purportedly, younger and more progressive voices are emerging to speak for a new generation not identifying with old evangelical patriarchs like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, or James Dobson.
Claims of a seismic shift in evangelical opinion are usually exaggerated. Evangelical political opinion was never monolithic. About a third of white evangelicals voted for Bill Clinton. Twenty-five percent voted for John Kerry. Nearly 30 percent of Americans are evangelical, and millions of them commonly vote for Democrats.
There has always been an evangelical left. The 67-year-old Ron Sider, an organizer of the Israel letter, founded the left-leaning Evangelicals for Social Action in the early 1970’s. Evangelist Tony Campolo, age 72, is one of the Israel letter’s endorsers and has been prominent for decades but is perhaps most remembered for his service as one of President Clinton’s three spiritual counselors after the Lewinsky scandal.
Gordon MacDonald, another signer, is a long-time evangelical author and pastor who was the second of Clinton’s three spiritual counselors. Other signers include Christianity Today editor David Neff, Fuller Seminary president Richard Mouw, Florida pastor and global warming activist Joel Hunter, officers from several evangelical relief groups, and former Clinton-era U.S. Ambassador for Religious Freedom Robert Seiple. So too is Glenn Stassen, a Fuller professor, who kicked up dust before the 2004 election by suggesting that abortions rates had increased under Bush compared to Clinton. Another signer is Don Argue, a Pentecostal and former National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) president who struggled to develop NAE’s ties to the liberal National Council of Churches during the 1990’s.
“This group is in no way anti-Israel, and we make it very clear we’re committed to the security of Israel,” Ron Sider told Times. “But we want a solution that is viable. Obviously there would have to be compromises.” The signers insist that they share the evangelical perspective that God will bless all who bless the descendents of Abraham, a common biblical theme among pro-Israel evangelicals. But they assert that both Israel and the Palestinians have “legitimate rights stretching back for millennia to the lands of Israel/Palestine,” and that a Palestinian state must include the “the vast majority of the West Bank.”
These evangelicals also insist that “Both Israelis and Palestinians have committed violence and injustice against each other.” Both sides must abandon their “competing, incompatible claims” and “accept each other’s right to exist,” for which “robust leadership” from the United States is required, to include a return to the “Middle East roadmap.” As the Times observed, the evangelical letter signers were targeting not only the United States government but also the Muslim World. The letter had been conceived, after all, in Qatar at a conference on Islam. “We think it’s crucial that the Muslim world realize that there are evangelical Christians in the U.S. in large numbers that want a fair solution,” Ron Sider told the paper, hoping to counteract stereotypical images of zealous pro-Israel enthusiasts who supposedly think that any criticism of Israel is “anti-Biblical,” as the Rev. Joel Hunter explained. The Times quoted a church historian who contrasted the letter signing evangelicals with pro-Israel evangelical “dispensationalists.” These Christians are Zionists because of Israel’s role in their end-times eschatology, he claimed. Although theirs is a “distinctly minority position theologically within evangelicalism,” he said, pro-Israel evangelicals are a “major political voice.”
Dispensationalism is strong among pro-Israel evangelicals, but it’s not the only factor. Nor is a mystical connection between Israel and biblical prophecy confined to evangelicals. A Pew poll taken in 2003 showed that U.S. white evangelicals favored Israel over the Palestinians by 54 to percent to 6 percent, compared to 41 and 13 percent for the population as a whole.
Over 60 percent of evangelicals thought Israel would play a role in the Second Coming of Christ. But 21 percent of mainline Protestants and one quarter of Roman Catholics agreed with them.
White evangelicals tend to be more conservative politically over all and are generally more hawkish on matters of national security. Evangelicals strongly backed increased military spending and robust anti-communism during the Cold War. Ronald Reagan gave his “empire of evil” speech to the National Association of Evangelicals. Identification with a traditional American ally and with a fellow democracy also fuels evangelical support for Israel.
Ron Sider insisted that he and his fellow letter signers want “security” for Israel. But it’s difficult to know what he, as a professed pacifist, means by security. Many of the signers are skeptical about the U.S. war against terrorism and place greater hope in international mediation than do typical evangelicals. The letters signers assume that Middle East peace depends on pressuring Israel into more accommodations. Most evangelicals are more skeptical.
Left of center causes are especially appealing among evangelical academics, who are sensitive about Religious Right stereotypes. Shaun Casey, a liberal evangelical who teaches at Wesley Seminary in Washington, D.C., and advises Democratic candidates, recently blogged:
“Many evangelicals are tired of being painted as ignorant huckleberries who follow the dictums of preachers with bad hair. They are tired of being painted with the labels “dominionists” and “theocrats.” They are tired of the war, they are troubled by poverty, and they are tired of being taken for granted politically.”
For some evangelicals, separating from the Religious Right is politically motivated. But it is also about overcoming cultural baggage that identifies evangelicals with sawdust floors, big hair, and polyester suits. Ironically, now that evangelicals are America’s largest religious group, the evangelical left is arguing, at least in part, that respectability means evangelicals must echo the New York Times.
Mark D. Tooley directs the United Methodist committee at the Institute on Religion and Democracy.
WASHINGTON – “What are the top issues of concern to American evangelicals today?”
Leaders of the country’s largest evangelical organization say dealing with changes in American culture is of utmost concern.
The National Association of Evangelicals recently surveyed its leadership and found little concern centered on national politics or the war in Iraq. Culture concerns including consumerism, materialism, family finances and the preservation of traditional families were listed as top issues of concern to the evangelical leaders representing about 30 million members.
Highest in culture concerns was reduction of abortions and defense of the sanctity of human life, according to NAE president Leith Anderson, who summarized the responses of the survey conducted in September.
The next likely issue of concern identified by evangelical leaders was helping the hurting, which included HIV/AIDS, poverty reduction and immigration reform. Hispanic evangelical leaders were the most likely to cite immigration.
“Since evangelicals have always cared for the poor it’s no surprise that these concerns are high priorities,” said Anderson.
The NAE board’s third top response was evangelism. More specifically, leaders called for clarity of the Christian message, freedom of religion in other countries, credibility and integrity of Christians, and increased evangelistic passion in churches.
NAE’s response comes as more Americans have a negative impression of Christianity. The latest Barna Group report revealed that the majority of non-Christians in their late teens and twenties believe Christianity is judgmental, hypocritical, old-fashioned and too involved in politics. Also, nearly a quarter of both young non-Christians and born-again Christians say “Christianity in today’s society no longer looks like Jesus.”
Some evangelical leaders expressed concern about misunderstandings and misrepresentations of evangelicalism as primarily political rather than spiritual and interested in a few issues rather than many, according to the NAE survey. Some also focused on the need for evangelicals to better represent Christian values in their beliefs and behavior. Restoring the definition and value of the term “evangelical” was the fourth most likely response listed by the NAE leadership as a concern for American evangelicals.
On a more controversial issue, evangelical leaders rounded out the top concerns with “creation care” or environmental stewardship.
In recent years, evangelicals have debated global climate change, disagreeing about the cause and severity of the global warming issue. The NAE was urged last year by a group of conservative evangelical leaders not to adopt an official position on global climate change. In January, evangelicals, including the Rev. Rich Cizik, NAE’s vice president for government affairs, and scientists joined in an unprecedented collaboration to protect the environment. Not all evangelicals, however, backed the coalition.
Evangelicals in general are least likely to be concerned about global warming that other Christians and American adults, a Barna study showed. Only 33 percent of evangelical Christians view global warming as a major problem facing the country compared to 55 percent of non-evangelicals.
Other topics of concern cited by NAE leaders include health care, teaching of Christian doctrine, homosexuality, Islam, racial reconciliation, financial pressures on churches, ministering to youth and issues of church law.
“Answers were so diverse that they were difficult to categorize,” Anderson noted in the summary. “Maybe that’s the whole point – that evangelical leaders have a long list of concerns.”
The Evangelical Leaders Survey is a monthly questionnaire to 100 members of the NAE board of directors that includes heads of evangelical denominations with about 45,000 local churches, executives of para-church organizations and colleges plus a limited number of individual evangelicals who hold at-large seats.
[KH: NAE turning more liberal, no longer trustworthy]
The National Association of Evangelicals has formally named the Rev. Leith Anderson as its president nearly one year after a sex-drug scandal forced its former president, Ted Haggard, to resign.
Anderson, who serves as senior pastor at the 5,000-membered Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minn., was unanimously approved by NAE board members on Oct. 11 during their fall board meeting held in conjunction with the NAE-Micah Challenge USA “Global Leaders Forum.”
“Leith Anderson is a man of astute mind and has a wealth of experience the NAE needs,” said Israel Gaither, National Commander of the Salvation Army and NAE Executive Committee member, in a statement.
“I highly regard and value Leith’s intellectual strength, godly manor, and impact on evangelicalism in America,” Gaither added.
Anderson had stepped in as the NAE interim president after the sex-drug scandal of former NAE president Ted Haggard forced his resignation in November 2006.
During that difficult time, Anderson reportedly offered stability to the NAE. He has been with the same church for over 30 years and has been married since 1965 to his wife, Charleen, who he has known his whole life.
“The reason they asked me to be the interim president is that I represent stability and continuity,” said Anderson, 62, to The Associated Press last November when he first assumed the position.
It was the second time in six years that Anderson had served as the NAE’s interim president. The first time he came in was during a major repair of the group’s finances and management.
Now, as president, he again finds himself leading the group as it repairs its image.
Anderson has supported the NAE’s movement towards greater social involvement on issues such as global warming, torture, and Darfur.
In March, the NAE board – under Anderson’s leadership – affirmed creation care as an important moral issue deserving the group’s support and commitment. The board also approved a statement on terrorism and torture.
This past week, the Global Leaders Forum, which brought together evangelical leaders from the United States and the Global South, focused on educating evangelical leaders on the U.N. Millennium Development Goals and spurring discussions among leaders on the global social issues. U.N. General Secretary Ban Ki-moon gave the address on the MDGs on the forum’s opening night Thursday. It marked the first time a U.N. head has attended an NAE summit.
Personally, Anderson is a signer of the Evangelical Climate Initiative along with 111 other prominent evangelical leaders including Pastors Rick Warren and Bill Hybels. The ECI statement proclaims global warming is real and mainly human induced. His church is also highly involved in helping HIV/AIDS victim.
Anderson has also authored eight books and is regularly featured on the radio ministry Faith Matters which can be heard on Christian stations across the United States.
Some prominent evangelical leaders are criticizing the heads of the National Association of Evangelicals for signing a letter to Muslim leaders containing controversial language.
The critical leaders include Dr. Albert Mohler, Gary Bauer, and Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo who voiced opposition to the apology in the letter for the sins of Christians during the Crusades and for “excesses” of the global war on terror, without mentioning Muslim acts of violence.
Moreover, the leaders contend the letter compromises the importance of Jesus in Christianity in order to appease Muslims.
Mohler noted that the letter “sends the wrong signal” and contains basic theological problems especially in “marginalizing” Jesus Christ, according to Focus on the Family’s Citizenlink. He also rejected the apology for the Crusades.
“I just have to wonder how intellectually honest this is,” he said. “Are these people suggesting that they wish the military conflict with Islam had ended differently – that Islam had conquered Europe?” asked the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
In November, over 100 theologians, ministry leaders and prominent pastors signed a response letter issued by the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. The Christian letter was a response to an unprecedented letter signed by 138 representative Muslim leaders that called for peace between Muslims and Christians.
Among the Christian response signers were NAE president the Rev. Leith Anderson and the NAE vice president the Rev. Richard Cizik.
When signing the letter, Anderson had qualified acknowledged in a public statement that there were parts of the letter that he did not support.
He also explained that it was “nearly impossible” for more than a hundred busy theologians and Christian leaders to “keep going back [and forth]” with the “addition and subtraction and rewriting of words and paragraphs.”
In the end, Anderson said, “Sometimes we all sign onto things that are not all that we would like them to be.”
According to Citizenlink, the name of the Muslim letter, “A Common Word between Us and You,” is from a verse in the Koran that condemns “people of the Scripture” (Christians) for polytheism (the belief in the trinity).
Campaign for Working Families, Gary Bauer, responded to the NAE leaders’ support by saying he has been lately concerned with the NAE’s recent involvement in social issues, such as global warming, and that the Muslim letter was another such cause for concern.
“Many of us have been concerned about the NAE getting into all sorts of areas where it has had no previous expertise,” Bauer said. “And now, I’m afraid, I see signs that they’re going down the same road that the National Council of Churches (NCC) is going.”
NCC has been criticized by many Christian conservatives for being too liberal and partnering with socially liberal organizations.
Meanwhile, Islam expert Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo, an Anglican priest and director of the Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity, called the letter a “betrayal” and a “sellout.”
Sookhdeo called for the Christian leaders to withdraw their names from the response, saying the admittance of guilt betrays the Christian faith and puts fellow Christians in the Muslim world in danger.
However, Anderson said other evangelical leaders more knowledgeable in Islam than him had encouraged him to sign the statement and said it would help Christians who live and minister in Muslim majority countries.
“In fact, some suggested that not signing could be damaging to these Christian brothers and sisters who live among Muslims,” the NAE president recalled.
“So, I agreed to add my name to the letter,” he said. Yet he admitted that, “There simply was not an easy way to process the complexities of this inter-faith communiqué on short notice.”
The NAE leader further noted in his explanation letter that he anticipated misunderstandings and criticisms about his support for the letter and ended by stating that he believes Jesus Christ is his savior and Lord. He also said he wanted Muslims to know about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.