Opinion

There are no real evangelicals. Only imagined ones.

The title page of Phillis Wheatley’s 1773 book “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral.” Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library/Creative Commons

(RNS) — Not long ago, Baylor historian Thomas Kidd published a short post at The Gospel Coalition blog on the anniversary of Phillis Wheatley’s death. He titled his piece “Phillis Wheatley: An Evangelical and the First Published African American Female Poet,” and concluded by saying that “Evangelicals, of all people, need to remember her today.”

In response, writer Jonathan Merritt tweeted: “Calling her an evangelical is, um, a bit weird.”

“Why?” Kidd countered.

“Because you’re assigning her to a movement at a time when the movement wouldn’t have her. How are you defining evangelical?” Merritt replied. “If self-identification, did she? If denominational affiliation, was she?

“If you can’t answer the question,” Merritt concluded, “you might need to think on this some more.”

Merritt’s dig at Kidd’s expertise (Kidd has authored several books on evangelicalism) provoked other historians to join the fray, and we very quickly breached the outer limits of productive conversation.

The problem was one of definitions.

An undated portrait of Phillis Wheatley. Image photo of Creative Commons

In referring to Wheatley as an “evangelical,” Kidd, like many other historians of American religion, was using the term to describe 18th-century revivalist Christianity. Yet Kidd was also asserting that Wheatley matters especially to evangelicals today, presumably because she is one of them.

This is where things become contentious.

Does “evangelicalism” extend from Wheatley to modern day? Perhaps, if one considers evangelicalism primarily a theological tradition. But to many, evangelicalism has morphed into a politicized movement — essentially made up of white religious conservatives who vote Republican. To claim Wheatley as a progenitor of this movement is indeed rather odd.

This definitional debate has been simmering for some time, but it reached new heights after 2016 exit polls revealed that 81 percent of self-identified white evangelical voters supported Donald Trump.

Or did they?

Even before Trump secured the nomination, white evangelicals contested purported levels of evangelical support. The president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Russell Moore, insisted the word “evangelical” had become “almost meaningless.”

According to Moore, a big part of the problem was the media, who rely on self-identification: “Many of those who tell pollsters they are ‘evangelical’ may well be drunk right now, and haven’t been into a church since someone invited them to Vacation Bible School sometime back when Seinfeld was in first-run episodes.” When the dust settled after the election, Moore said, the time would come “to make ‘evangelical’ great again.”

During the Republican National Convention, Kidd himself echoed these sentiments in The Washington Post. He expressed frustration with “time-strapped pollsters” who “just let people tell them that they are evangelicals, without probing what that means.”

Historian Thomas Kidd. Photo courtesy of Baylor University

Somehow, an entire generation of Americans had gotten “the wrong idea about evangelicalism” — a “pop culture” definition had usurped a proper historical and theological one, resulting in a large number of “supposed evangelicals” who had no clue about “the formal definition of ‘evangelical.’”

To be a real evangelical, in other words, one needed to fit the formal theological definition — preferably, the “Bebbington quadrilateral”: biblicism, crucicentrism, conversionism and activism. Other establishment evangelicals agreed. During the 2016 election, Ed Stetzer of LifeWay Research and Leith Anderson of the National Association of Evangelicals teamed up to conduct a poll with the intention of disrupting two faulty notions: “That ‘evangelical’ means ‘white’ and that evangelicals are primarily defined by their politics.”

By defining evangelicalism by belief (and basing their model on Bebbington), they ended up with a much more diverse “evangelicalism.” Twenty-nine percent of whites end up in this category, along with 44 percent of African-Americans and 30 percent of Hispanics. (A poll by PRRI puts the percentage of evangelical Protestants who are white at only 64 percent).

It’s not hard to see how this might change our understanding of evangelicals today.

If the movement is far less white than generally assumed, it clearly cannot be primarily motivated by racism. Additionally, if evangelicalism is defined by a set of theological commitments, then one can find evangelicals the world over, and the significance of American nationalism to evangelical identity diminishes as well, for obvious reasons.

Stetzer and Anderson highlighted these racial dynamics by quoting Anthea Butler. In a speech at Fuller Seminary in 2015, the African-American scholar had complained that “Bible-believing black evangelicals” were too often ignored.

Butler, it seemed, was staking a claim on evangelicalism, and she wasn’t alone. Last August, a press release proclaimed that “evangelical women” had “hit pause” on the culture wars. Just who were these “evangelical women”? In addition to Jen Hatmaker and Rachel Held Evans, whose evangelical credentials are currently up for debate, many who signed were women of color — Brenda Salter McNeil, Latasha Morrison, Kathy Khang, Christina Edmondson.

“Evangelicals of color,” however, have an ambivalent relationship with evangelicalism. There is a reason why a recent LifeWay survey found that only 25 percent of African-Americans who ascribed to the four points of evangelical belief actually identified as evangelicals.

Anthea Butler. Courtesy photo

Black Christians have long resisted embracing the evangelical label because it is clear to them that there is more to evangelical identity than four statements of belief. In the words of Deidra Riggs, evangelicalism is a “white religious brand.”

It’s worth noting that Butler, in that same speech, went on to decry evangelicalism’s “problem of whiteness.” She called out white evangelical scholars’ inability or unwillingness to confront that problem. Bebbington’s four points, Butler asserted, are in fact culturally and racially specific.

Moreover, a recent LifeWay survey found that fewer than half of those who self-identify as evangelicals “strongly agree” with core evangelical beliefs. Many “evangelicals,” according to another LifeWay Research survey, in fact hold heretical beliefs.

When a large number of people who self-identify as evangelicals fail to ascribe to what some scholars have dictated to be the essential tenets of evangelicalism, does that mean that they are not actually evangelicals? Or does it suggest that something else has come to define evangelicalism?

Some evangelicals might see this erosion of theology and the politicization of evangelicalism as an abandonment of an illustrious heritage, but one cannot wish away the movement that evangelicalism has become.

If theology no longer defines evangelicalism, how should we conceptualize the movement?

In my own research, I examine evangelicalism as a culture of consumption, a web of interlinking personal, institutional and distribution networks. In this evangelicalism, James Dobson, Joshua Harris and the “Duck Dynasty” clan play a larger role than Jonathan Edwards or George Whitefield — or Phillis Wheatley.

An engraving of Phillis Wheatley. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Which doesn’t mean Wheatley wasn’t an evangelical. Or isn’t one, according to another definition.

All of these leave us asking: Is evangelicalism a theological category? A consumer culture? A white religious brand? A diverse, global movement?

What if the answer is “all of the above”?

Here I find it useful to borrow a page from Benedict Anderson’s scholarship and suggest that we consider evangelicalism as an imagined religious community.

There are, in fact, many evangelicalisms and each has a different center and different boundaries.

The primary question, then, isn’t which definition is “correct,” but rather which imaginings have more power to shape other people’s imaginings. When LifeWay’s stores decide you are no longer an evangelical, it matters. At least if you want to sell books. When the evangelical left claims the mantle of evangelicalism to call for an end to the culture wars, it matters rhetorically. But beyond that? When politicians claim to have the backing of evangelical voters, it matters. At least to some.

This shift in focus demands that scholars, too, examine our own positionality. How have scholars imagined evangelicalism, and to what end? Which imaginings have wielded power in the academy, and why?

Rather than seeking to impose one definition over all others, we should be more attentive to how evangelicalism has always been a dynamic, fluid movement, or series of movements, imagined and maintained through networks, alliances and authority structures, each drawing and enforcing the boundaries of “evangelicalism” for varying purposes.

And we will be forced to contend with how we, too, are implicated in this imaginative process.

(Kristin Kobes Du Mez is a history professor at Calvin College. This op-ed is adapted from a presentation she gave at a joint session of the American Historical Association and the Conference on Faith and History. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.)

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Kristin Kobes Du Mez

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  • For purposes of political and voting analysis, voter self-identification is a useful parameter. As the author suggests, the evangelical label can be useful in several different contexts. The users need to carefully define how they are using it.

  • “Evangelical,” as it is now commonly understood, really became ingrained in the cultural zeitgeist when Ronald Reagan joined forces with the so-called “Moral Majority” (which some bumper stickers at the time said was neither) in order to get himself elected president in 1980, since most evangelicals found the real evangelical, Jimmy Carter, far too liberal for their taste. That was about the same time as the conservative hostile takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention, when those devotees of the belief that the bible was the “inerrant word of God, without error or fault in all its teaching” became a dominant political as well as religious force. That force is/was overwhelmingly white and there’s no use trying to pretend that it isn’t/wasn’t.

    This article, like the broader discussion about the (true) meaning of evangelicalism, is happening now for one reason and one reason only: Donald Trump and the cult-like following he has garnered among white evangelicals and not people of color who might have called themselves evangelicals in an earlier era. In other words, there’s an attempt going on here and elsewhere at cultural reappropriation as a result of sheer embarrassment. People who willingly went along with all the racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia that have been Republican calling cards for more than a generation suddenly find themselves horrified that their religion, like their political party, has been co-opted by none other than a thrice-married philandering adulterer named Donald Trump.

    Sorry, folks – too little, too late. You own Donald Trump – and now he owns you. No amount of reappropriation is going to change that.

  • I think you have coined the term aptly: “imaginative process” is in line with the written Word. Jesus said we must be taught of God and that statement itself requires a certain amount of imagination. Of course one has to have their imagination tested in the crucible that is Jesus, and this testing is what separates the wheat from the chaff. This imaginative process only occurs in the last time.

    1 John 3:18 “Little children, it is the last time”

  • Jehovah’s Witnesses are the preeminent evangelists with their focus on Matthew 24:14 – preaching the good news worldwide and making converts. Obviously they are not part of the modern Evangelicals because they are apolitical monotheists.

  • AS USUAL, Thomas Kidd and Jonathan Merritt don’t know what they’re talking about. Neither does Kristin Kobes Du Mez.

    For in 1778, the African-American poet Jupiter Hammon wrote an ode to Phillis Wheatley because she was becoming pagan in her writings. Entitled “An Address to Miss Phillis Wheatley”, it calls upon Wheatley to return to her Bible Christian faith:

    “An Address to Miss Phillis Wheatley”
    By Jupiter Hammon

    “Come you, Phillis, now aspire / And seek the living God / So step by step thous mayst go higher / Till perfect in the word.

    “Thou, Phillis, when thou hunger hast / Or pantest for thy God / Jesus Christ is thy relief / Thou hast the holy word.

    “Come, dear Phillis, be advised / To drink Samaria’s flood / There nothing that shall suffice / But Christ’s redeeming blood.

    “While thousands muse with earthly toys / And range about the street / Dear Phillis, seek for heaven’s joys / Where we do hope to meet.”

  • No. They are not part of the modern Evangelicals because they don’t believe Jesus is God. They are a cult
    Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. 23No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. 1 John 2:22 – English Standard Version

  • Not only do they fall short of the threshold of Evangelicalism, they even fall short of the threshold of Christianity.

  • It’s not their refusal to vote that makes JW’s non-evangelical. It’s the specific beliefs they affirm and reject, that guarantees that they are not evangelicals. Even their famous “door-to-door witnessing” isn’t New Testament evangelism, because the message they present about who Jesus is and what He actually did, ain’t the gospel of Jesus Christ. It ain’t no John 3:16.

  • Here’s the sobering truth: The national media, and pollsters like Pew, are openly REFUSING to allow Black Evangelicals to self-identify themselves as such in their polls & articles. “White Evangelical” poll respondents get to attach that exact phrase to whatever responses they give to the Pollster. But “Black Evangelical” poll respondents are NOT allowed to do the same thing, and use the self-label of “Black Evangelical.” So lets be honest: Racial games are being openly played by the politically biased news media.

    Why? Because Trump’s election in 2016 involved (at least in Florida) the White Evangelicals and the Black Evangelicals “de-facto” working together to defeat Queen Hillary in a very close presidential election. Hence the divide-and-conquer racial games today. Gotta pretend that “Evangelical” only means a Trump-supporting white man. Gotta pretend that Black Evangelicals don’t exist. Gotta pretend that Black Evangelicals didn’t help Trump win, voting for Trump or at least boycotting Queen Hillary. Mm-hmm.

  • I think Latter-day Saints out evangelize the JWs. There are currently almost 70K full-time LDS missionaries at work around the world. The LDS Church is twice the size of the JWs.

  • We are in agreement. I said evangelists not Evangelical because they only believe in one god as did the Jews and not the Trinity.

  • If theology no longer defines evangelicalism, how should we conceptualize the movement?

    Politically. Definitions change along with values and orientations, so it should surprise no one that the theological definition of ‘evangelical’ no longer has the currency it once did. The architects of the modern Evangelical movement – Jerry Falwell and his ilk – bear the lion’s share of responsibility, but I don’t know of many complaints from the masses. These people seem content with their leaders’ focus on political activism, so you might say that ship has sailed. Not unlike every other political movement, Evangelicalism today is primarily about amassing political power for the sake of shaping the culture.

  • Jehovahs Witnesses are no more Christians than Latter-day Saints, something they both claim to be, followers of Jesus Christ.

  • If you want a really good example of extended spin on evangelicals, follow Mark Silk’s articles:

    https://pantheon-live.religionnews.com/category/opinion/columns/mark-silk/

    He made a career out of predicting the waning influence of evangelicals in the American public square, then the 2016 election happened.

    He also bought the mantra that race divided the evangelical vote, then the 2016 election happened.

    The polls are rigged, folks. The media elite spin and spin reality into a fairy tale to suit a narrative which falsifies America.

  • Jerry Falwell is hardly an architect of the modern Evangelical movement.

    He’s simply a convenient target for the liberal elite who really hate religious believers, the folks they consider “deplorables”.

  • Nobody, though, takes Evangelicals seriously until, right or wrong, “the theological definition of ‘evangelical’ no longer has the currency it once did”!

    (1) Just as: nobody takes Atheists seriously until, right or wrong, “the [pre-culture war] definition of ‘[atheist]’ no longer has the currency it once did”!

    (2) Just as: nobody takes LGBTs seriously until, right or wrong, “the [pre-culture war] definition of ‘[homosexual]’ no longer has the currency it once did”!

    Try looking at trailblazers “Jerry Falwell and his ilk”, therefore, as (1) the Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris of the Evangelical American Revolution; and (2) the Barbara Gittings, Harvey Milk, Bayard Rustin and Marsha P. Johnson of the Evangelical American Revolution.

  • “Being openly played by the politically biased news media” – YUP.

    EXCELLENT POINT re: “Black Evangelical.”

  • HpO – I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying here, but for my part, I do take Evangelicals seriously as a political bloc. It’s their shenanigans I object to, since they’re the ones pushing politicians to enact legislation in accordance with their worldview.

    All’s fair in love & war, as they say, and to be clear I don’t actually begrudge the attempt. As I said, all political movements do the same. But I will continue to resist as far as my limited abilities allow.

  • There are no real evangelicals. Only imagined ones.

    More significantly . . . There are no real gods. Only imagined ones.

  • It really does not matter what the evangelicals call themselves. They are first and foremost calvinists and therefore not Christians.

  • He made himself a convenient target you mean. Falwell, Pat Robertson, and others of their kind took it upon themselves to set America straight with their brand of fundamentalist Christianity. They made themselves the spokesmen of the Evangelical movement whether or not they truly were.

  • As one who theologically self-identifies as an evangelical (and who traces his evangelical lineage into the FGA of Edwards, the Wesley’s, and Whitefield, I side more with Kidd than Merritt, though I think Merritt raises important issues. In the aftermath of the Trump election (confession, I am passionately anti-Trump) how we understand evangelicalism is up for grabs. I do think the writer is on to something in that we live within an age of warring tribes within American evangelicalism with rhetorical hand-to-hand combat reaching a fever point of social media. It may be that those of us who value the theological heritage of evangelicalism as a renewal movement within the larger church (and not an organization or a denomination) will have to stop using the term. What I am interested in is a multi-ethnic global movement not controlled by American whites that is generous in its service to others and its desire to frame a Christian ethic that leads to human flourishing.

  • I will go one step further: I do not think you can be a consistent evangelical and vote for Donald Trump. Voting for Trump would be like casting a ballot for Nero Caesar.

  • It’s not that many hate “religious believers”. The animosity stems from certain ones who, because they are such ardent believers, think they should lord over and dominate me, and others like me because we don’t.

  • Sorry for delay, David. Let’s try Trump’s gig at National Prayer Breakfast last week. “Trump emerges as an unexpected champion in the White House for evangelicals,” is the ABC News headline.

    At one point, this ABC News story says, “According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll, 60 percent of evangelical white Protestants say they plan to support Trump in the next election.”

    Okay, that’s a legitimate factoid. But the ABC News poll never mentions evangelical BLACK Protestants at all. Isn’t it important that WE are allowed to tell America (specifically as black Evangelicals), exactly what percentage of US will or won’t vote Trump in 2020? The only specified evangelicals are the WHITE evangelicals. A misleading picture is given to America: Evangelical = White Only.

    That’s a racial mess David. So let’s look at the ABC News poll itself. (The PDF link is below.)

    You gonna love this. They said: “Other groups ruling out Trump include those without a religious affiliation (73 percent), nonwhites (77 percent), 88 percent of Democrats and 92 percent of liberals. Strong backing for Trump is comparatively lower, peaking demographically at 60 percent of evangelical white Protestants and reaching 70 percent only among Republicans and approvers of his work in office. ”

    But that’s ALL they said in this area. Unbelievably, there’s ZERO mention of Black Evangelicals (or even Black Protestants!!) in that poll. (Look carefully: they don’t even say the word “black” at all in the entire report. Same absence for Latino Evangelicals and Protestants. C’mon now!!)

    So now you see evidence, yes? These national Media and Pollsters are refusing to let Black Evangelicals self-identify and state OUR positions (whether pro- or anti-Trump) as Black Evangelicals.
    https://www.langerresearch.com/wp-content/uploads/1204a42020Election.pdf

  • As I understand it Evangelical Churches are either Protestants or non denominational Churches that aren’t part of a larger denomination.

    Their leaders tend to follow pop culture closely and their followers tend to be of low IQ.

  • Your could label them a Christian “heresy,”or you could label them a Christian “cult” (Walter Martin established the latter usage). Both could slip in under the rubric of “Christian,” but neither qualifies under a creedal definition of orthodox (little “o”) Christianity.

  • ah yes, lets bring back the religious wars of the 1600s and fight about who is or who is not a real christian . the good old days .

  • You are the only one speaking about wars.

    Mature adults today are able to disagree about matters theological, political, etc., without resorting to violence.

    I guess you are not one of those people.

  • Or let’s just be willing to compare people’s religious claims with the Scriptures. Doesn’t mean you hate or despise anybody. Just means you’re willing to compare and contrast various truth claims with the Scriptures.

  • “…and their followers tend to be of low IQ.”
    The largest Evangelical Church in Berkeley (1st Pres) is composed substantially of University students, grad students and Professors.

    When ignorance prevails, prejudice shines through.

    The Bell Curve insures that smart people are in the minority in any general-admission collection of human beings.

  • And…ZOOM! — attention snatched from the topic at hand, and whisked straightaway to your usual list of suspects.

  • They are not part of the modern (or any other) Evangelicals because 1) their teachings on Jesus are heretical, and 2) their organization is cult-like.

  • “Sadly, nothing changes but the name.”

    The viewpoint he espouses has been unchanging since long before he came on the scene – and it won’t change no matter how many names get attached to it. If the unfailing consistency of the message wears on you, you’d best stick to blowing with the political winds, which can reverse themselves from one election-cycle to the next – a happy development for those who suffer from EADD (Existential Attention Deficit Disorder – a pathological inability to pay sustained attention to basic existential questions).

  • And you’re STILL the only one here speaking of disagreements in terms of warfare. Since that’s the way you view those you disagree with, I reckon it’s no wonder you’re so aggressively (if ignorantly) hostile toward them

  • Yes it is. There are individual churches within major denominations that are more “evangelical” (by a creedal definition) than others. The evangelical/progressive (or, if you like, theologically “conservative/liberal”) divide tends to be more visible among the Presbyterians, Episcopalians (believe it or not) and Catholics.

  • Actually, the line of psychological influence normally runs in the opposite direction: BECAUSE you think that what Christians believe (and believe ardently) is wrong, any assertion of their social or political presence is wrong by definition – and threatening to you

  • Of course “lord over and dominate” means opposing same sex marriage and otherwise presenting views with which you disagree in the public square.

    Unfortunately for you the Constitution permits them to do that, and as Masterpiece Bakery illustrated your side given any chance tries to “lord over and dominate”.

  • Everyone pushes politicians to enact legislation in accordance with their worldview.

    Your objection, then, can only be to their worldview.

  • Yes, although the conservative Episcopalians have largely exited for continuing churches, the Orthodox, or Catholicism, while the liberal Catholics have and continue to exist for the Episcopal Church and their various zany groups like WomenPriests.

  • Just so you’ll know I support anyone who would rather not cater to something or someone the don’t approve of. I also think if two people want to say they’re married, to me they’re married.
    I’m actually an Anarcho-Capitalist. Maybe you should Google that if you’re not familiar with it. So I don’t want anyone lording over me.

  • Defining evangelicalism seems fairly straightforward.

    “Evangelical” – from the Old French “evangelique” and late Latin ” evangelicus” means “of or pertaining to the gospel”.

    So at the very least “evangelicalism” involves believing in the core message of the Gospels, the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ, conversion, faith, and trying to lead a life consistent with that core message.

    It would appear, then, not to include a church endorsing something like same sex marriage based on a supposed new revelation (e.g., the Spirit is doing new things).

    It would also appear not to require voting for a particular candidate, unless one of the candidates supports a program of such consummate no person of good conscience could support it.

    Sloppy use of “evangelical” ala the Pew Forum, Mark Silk, and others simply muck the issues up with a priori assumptions and misdefinitions.

  • The Black Evangelicals don’t figure into their a priori classifications of voters and voting trends.

    Since they don’t figure, they can’t measure them.

    Pew Forum is a particular offender because their entire shtick is based on assumptions about who votes and why that do not correspond to reality.

    The same problem led to the bad polls for the 2016 election, and the claim that most people support abortion.

    Ask stupid questions, get stupid answers.

  • The Calvinists’ divergence from your personal version of Christianity violates no standards of theological probity but your own.

  • I’ve been told that about JWs and Mormons by the resident experts on defining Christianity here at RN. Either way they both put Real Evangelicals to shame regarding Matthew 24:14.

  • Yes, apolitical, hard-working, law abiding, tax paying, family oriented pacifists. Shameful -nothing to do with Real Christianity.

  • The characteristics of being “apolitical, hard-working, law abiding, tax paying” and “family oriented pacifists” can apply to numerous people, and are not determinative of whether or not one is a Christian. Adherence to the contents of the ancient creedal standards (such as the Nicene Creed) would be determinative The JWs do not pass that test.

  • If you could understand that it was an oblique reference to your unfailingly “brainless repetition” of attacks on religion, it might at least keep you awake long enough for a little self-reflection.

    Naah — forget it. That’s a pipe-dream

  • Being critical of three respected scholars while hiding behind a screen name of HpO… a bit ironic isn’t it.

  • While thoughtful, why do you believe that re-appropriation is something of only our current era? Have they not been taking place throughout history? In the late 1990’s, I was part of a movement that was defined by outsiders as ’emergent church’ or ’emergent Christianity.’ We were asking many of these same questions of our evangelical brothers and sisters, and we found the answers largely lacking. Prior to emerging church, people such as Frank Schaeffer and Ed Dobson, who had been in the Moral Majority, and were the young guns in the leadership ranks, walked away from this newly engaged right-wing political machine. Your perspective minimizes many voices who have done much hard work in previous decades – even if that work fell largely on deaf ears.

  • I googled it. Another bizarre ‘ism’ that fortunately will never see the light of day in America.

  • Those qualities they cultivate are straight out of the Bible, and not well practiced by mainstream Christians, who better fit the definition of CINOs. Fine, they’re not Christians. In the end it makes no difference.

  • No, I’m no longer “iron”-deficient from the time they hot “iron” branded me with “HpO” on my 3 middle fingers. Wanna see? Read between the lines. H-p-O – that’s what it says, randiedbust.

  • He/she/it was a regular fixture at National Catholic Reporter Comments until they closed them down.

    Same crap.

  • Neo-evangelicals of the mid-20th century such as Carl Henry, Harold Ockenga, and even Billy Graham, tried to distance themselves from Fundamentalists. Alas, many cozied up to the Moral Majority, and as Jim Wallis makes so clear, Fundamentalism, with Jerry Falwell, Tim LaHaye, and Pat Robertson leading the infiltration, co-opted the term evangelical and gave America the mess that now drives the religious base of Donald Trump’s self-aggrandizing, hate-filled Nationalism that spews lies and promotes ignorance at every turn, especially at political prayer breakfasts.

  • Sounds a lot like today’s Catholicism. There are tens of millions of Catholics who don’t believe in some tenet/supposedly infallible teaching but they still identify as Catholic, practice that faith at least some of the time (not necessarily Mass every Sunday). The press and the “leaders” (bishops) want to and try to say ridiculous things like “Catholics believe” but a lot of those full-time and part-time practicing Catholics don’t agree on issues like contraceptives, civil gay marriage, female priests.

    It is very tricky to try to equate Catholic identity with some particular set of religious beliefs or particular positions on political issues. Seems “evangelical” has the same mix-up. I suspect Islam has the same mix-up – not all who claim that faith are members of the Taliban.

  • The viewpoint espoused by the person in question – no matter the name – did change a great deal over time. That person’s viewpoint did not change – he just keeps espousing a particular viewpoint that has evolved. It is not the same view espoused by Jesus and all of the Apostles, but a view picked by a few who were powerful enough to have their particular view adopted by powerful political actors. And, the view grew over time, developed with a marriage to Greek/Roman philosophical ideas and norms and customs, and the political practices under which it grew. It has also developed over time – for 2000 years. Ideas like “marriage” as a sacrament were not recognized until about 1000 years after the Catholic Church got started.

    What we have lost sight of is that such development needs to continue. We want it written in stone – when many of the beliefs are developed over time based on knowledge, customs, and alignments with civil power. If it took 1000 years to see marriage as a sacrament, what should we be finding now? Or has the Christian faith – some version of it – reached perfection?

    Ahhhhhhh, hubris.

  • The viewpoint espoused by this person has not changed over time.

    https://disqus.com/home/discussion/religionnews/there_are_no_real_evangelicals_only_imagined_ones/#comment-4327455132

    It is the same view espoused by Jesus and all of the Apostles.

    Ideas like “marriage” as a sacrament were recognized by Jesus Christ – Matthew 5:31-32, Matthew 19:3-12, Mark 10:2-12, Luke 16:18.

    Since your alleged development as you allege it never happened, that “such development needs to continue.” is unwarranted.

  • In “the “leaders (bishops) want to and try to say ridiculous things like ‘Catholics believe'” implies that Catholics are actually Catholics, not faux Catholics, disbelieving Catholics, or dissident Catholics.

  • Given how in these past two years you had defined the word, “thoughtful”, I’ll take it as a compliment that “nothing quite like being a punk on a thoughtful article.” For instance:

    (1) “randybuist 2 years ago … One of the most thoughtful … theological pieces” is by Scot McKnight, “The Death Penalty: American Law vs. Christianity”, Jesus Creed, May 18, 2015, according to whose “commendable … gospel”: “Jesus clearly undermines … the famous lex talionis of Exodus 21:24 (Lev 24:20; Deut 19:21) … He just doesn’t think that is the way to proceed”.

    (2) “randybuist … 6 months ago … Thoughtfulness makes us all better people, and using words well is powerfully good … [like] this … great line: ‘Makes ya wonder what scares these guys more … illegal voting or the monster under their bed.”

  • Speaking of “Carl Henry”:

    (1) Wasn’t he being prophetic, though, about “Jim Wallis”? – when he wrote:

    ”The clergy have neither a divine mandate nor authority nor special competence to articulate particular programs of politico-economic action and when they pronounce their fallible ideas with presumptive piety they encourage public doubt about the church’s possession of an authentic word of God in the theological and moral realm.”

    (2) Tell me you’re still a “Carl Henry” fan even after reading this:

    “In general society, [Carl F.H.] Henry said even secular humanism – as represented in mass media, universities and U.S. politics – is ‘decomposing into paganism.’ … [Influenced by] a predominant media disdain for ‘inherited values, particularly the biblical ideals of chastity, marriage and family,’ he said America today resembles ancient Rome in its benign tolerance of a variety of religious beliefs but is intolerant of any religion that claims to be the only true one. ‘The cross-pollination of religious ideas is reflected in a Gallup [Poll]report that one in four Americans believes in reincarnation,’ Henry observed in his keynote talk. ‘The wave of the immediate future is not neo-orthodoxy but neopaganism.’

    Source: John Dart, “What Is Future of Evangelism”, Washington Post, November 14, 1987.

  • Then even more significantly, there are no real atheists, agnostics and nones. Only badly imagined ones, twos and threes.

  • Ben Franklin said religion, like commercial markets, should sink or swim based on their own merits, without the help of govt. Christianity is sinking in america. I suppose it’s the evangelicals calls to mistreat gays and women, take over the govt and impose biblical law per the republican platform, and to be able to ignore generally applicable laws and discriminate at will.

    Moderate christians don’t want to be special, just live their lives and do no harm. But evangelicals don’t like to be around non christians and non believers, and they want the govt to come to their aid.

  • Ben Who? Oh yeah right – that dude (1) who “nearly electrocuted himself trying to kill and cook a turkey with electricity”! And (2) in whose “basement in 1998 … were found … the bodies of 10 people, including 6 children”! And (3) who “sat naked in front of open windows to take ‘Air Baths’ and prevent sickness”! And (4) who “wrote an essay about f*rting”!

  • Ligonnier is wrong and promoting Satan’s Babylonian trinity.
    A real Christian should be evangelical and ready to defend the truth.

  • bmayer – you are no Christian as by definition a Christian should know presidents are raised by GOD.
    Your prattle about ‘human flourishing’ also reveals you are no Christians as by definition you would know that GOD has set a date for the end of this sytem of things and we are in theose End Times now.

  • You are a Satanic hypocrite.
    Donald is going what GOD wants: Making America Great and Protecting Americans from terrorists, liars and thieves.

  • JWs preach Satan’s lies.
    They worship their Watchtower and other publications which are full of subliminal images of demons, serpents, bests, Pan, Baal etc….just as the Jews windowless room was full of the idols of all manner of creeping things.

  • Jerusalem’s Jews self-identify as the Chosen Race but my Bible says they are all condemned to death by their own mouths because they deny Jesus is the son of GOD YAHWEH.
    Zephaniah 1, Acts 7, etc etc.

  • It’s called ‘Trying to establish True Believers’ – childish people like yourself think it is simple quarreling.

  • JWs are brainwashed and drawn into devilworship by their Freemason leaders.
    They recently cut John 8 1-12 because it is about all the pedophilia scandals they cover up

  • JW leaders deny the congregation the right to take communion.
    They also claim the 144,000 was themselves until the total dead became greater than 144k.
    Now they claim it is just 144k overseers…etc etc.
    Satan is the father of the lie so the leaders of the JWs follow Satan?

  • The Nicene Creed is remarkably clear in its teachings about Jesus, likewise about the Christian Church.

    It is the touchstone of Christian Orthodoxy.

    As regards the Church, the Creed says it is “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic”. How could any Christian find those adjectives objectionable?

  • Religious labels in the USA do not have much meaning. In fact most Americans, raised in any church, define their identity and who they affiliate with by politics or lifestyle. At least on the internet. Beyond religions there are a vast number of Americans who do not pay much attention to religion. Or politics, for that matter. Has anyone studied how those who do not pay attention to politics or religion define themselves? Someone needs to write a book about American Identities. P.S. A vast number of churches and pastors can muster support for Trump around one issue: abortion. Does that make them Anti-Abortion, Pro-Fetus, Pro Women’s Sovereignty over Their Own Bodies., etc. I think abortion, because it centers so many other issues, is the current main factor defining American identity.

  • And Catholics do not qualify as Christians too> Isn’t that correct? They can be valued as political allies but not as Christians, isn’t that right?

  • christians ain’t catholics as catholics by definition is devilworshipping idolaters.
    Ask your catholic leaders to smash all their idols and allow their priests to marry instead of being closet homos and pedos.
    Nicene is selfcontradictory Satanism:
    ‘the only Son of God,
    eternally begotten of the Father,
    God from God, Light from Light,’

    The Creed, GOD and Jesus all says Jesus is not GOD and GOD is not Jesus.
    Keep on accepting Satan and his lies.

  • You convinced me of one clear definition of a real evangelical . . . Imperious Dogmatist Insisting On Theocracy.

  • Imperious Muslims insist on Petrfcracy – theyw worship a black stone they call ‘allie akbah’.
    Go to your local mosk and tell the Muslims they are Imperisous Dogmatists – they will probabaly love you fo rit.
    Oh yes, Grow up and stop using silly big words.

  • Your remark in light of Henry’s, makes me wonder. Has “neopaganism” – “the wave of the immediate future” – already arrived? When exactly? But the “Catholics, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, JWs, Mormons, Jews” in your list have been around since ancient times. So Henry was wrong, then?

  • I am not Roman Catholic, Rosey.

    You ignorance is barking up the wrong tree.

    “the Son of God, the Only Begotten,
    Begotten of the Father before all ages”
    (actual wording of the Nicene Constantinopolitan Creed)

    You object to this?

    So you believe there is more than one Son of God? How many more? Did the Father have a few daughters too?

    Real Christians believe that Jesus is the Only Begotten Son of God, as the Bible clearly teaches (John 3:16).

    You must not be a real Christian.

  • marching as to war !

    you might notice that i am satirizing those who turn those who disagree with them into people who are wrong and as “christians in name only” as the one above puts it .

    and that is at the heart of those who are fighting what they call the culture wars . those who seem to be so afraid of opposing ideas that they must fight against what they think or the way they live . even when that “neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg,” to use jefferson’s phrase .

    i welcome one stating what one believes . disparaging what others believe only suggests that you are picking a fight .

  • I can’t tell who Rose likes or doesn’t like around here and elsewhere. Everybody is treated as her enemy. She’s testing me, I suppose. I know she’s generically a Bible Christian like me, and appreciate being upvoted by her recently, but I can’t tell what’s really setting her off against atheists, gays, Catholics, Orthodox, Evangelicals.

  • i apologize for my comment that forced you to respond in like manner . though your additional touch of paternalism was a nice touch .

    my problem is simply, in discussions on religion, there is no final authority of who is right or who is wrong . to each, there is the right and the ability to hold their own perception of what is the truth . trying to write off people off as true christians is not something one can realistically do .

    you may toss them out of your church, and not keep company with them, and loudly complain of their teachings, but in the end your perspective is only your perspective, your argument in only your argument.

    christianity is not yours nor mine, and the bible is not mine nor yours, and our establishment of “true believers” is only as good as our ability of convincing others that our perspective is what the writers of the word of god heard and wrote as the gospel truth.

    one who strongly advocates their own beliefs or, with a certain humility, questions why others hold to the positions they do are, rightly, here for civil discussion . those who tell others what they are, or are not, are wasting all our time .

  • H20,
    As I’m a Christian and you are not you are unable to understand the Bible passages such as 1 Corinthians 6:9 and Revelation 22:14.
    Those verses condemn the vast majority of Earth’s population to total destruction and I like to think I’m doing my bit to warn you and they of your impending fate but sadly you prefer silly platitudes, evononsense and ecumenisms.

  • Neopaganism has been around an awful long time and came on strong after Satan put teh fairy tale of evolution into the head of ARWallace one evening in a spiritualist’s meeting.

  • RE: 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

    TRUE, “[no] unrighteous will … inherit the kingdom of God … neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.” But neither also those who “were [not] washed … [not] sanctified … [not] justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God”! SO YOU TOO ARE KICKED OUT, (a)RO(u)SE(d). Unless, of course, you can convince God & Jesus that you’ve been “washed … sanctified … [and] justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God”! I doubt it.

    RE: Revelation 22:14-15

    TRUE, “outside [New Jerusalem shall be] the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying.” But so, too, “are those who [don’t] wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city”! SO YOU TOO ARE KICKED OUT, (a)RO(u)SE(d). Unless, of course, you can convince God & Jesus that your “robe” has been “washed”! I doubt it.

  • Uhm … any School of Hard Knocks will tell you what that prefix “neo” indicates. “Neo”-paganism isn’t paganism per se, but its redevelopment in the near or far future. If “Catholics, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, JWs, Mormons, Jews” are all paganism, they can’t also be “neo”-paganism. So Henry wasn’t referring to these ancient, historical or traditional religions. Clearly, you have no idea of what he was talking about. Hint: New Age.

  • Christians are not afraid of ‘opposing ideas’ but by definition all ideas that oppose GOD, Jesus and Christianity must be Satanic from your friend Satan?
    This will be above your level of understanding.

  • A Christian by definition does not want any non-Christian to be destroyed for ever.
    This is obviously difficult for you to understand.

  • I grew up baptist. I remember being told not to be around non christians. and I remember the bible calls them heathens and requires them to be killed. The pope says a good atheist is better than a bad christian.

  • your head got messed up by Baptists.
    The Bibel does not say heathens have to be killed.
    It does many time say they were killed and obviously all will killed.
    pope is teh false prophet and Satan’s mouthpiece – Catholics ain’t Christian.

  • Well, then, how is it that you’ve been “washed … sanctified … [and] justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11) and that your “robe” has been “washed” (Revelation 22:14-15)?!

    You can’t answer that because there’s really no such testimony coming from you any time soon.

  • It doesn’t appear the author or American evangelicals know what the word ‘evangelical’ means –it’s means the Holy Gospel. It has nothing to do with the color of a person’s skin or their politics.

  • we Christians don’t want to make anyone a Christian against their will as Catholics do…we just point out that non-Christians is going to be slaughtered when Jesus returns.

  • so christian crosses on govt property, ten commandments in public schools, christian prayers at govt meetings, putting ‘in god we trust’ signs at schools and courthouses, isn’t against the will of non christians?

    and, believe like you or get slaughtered isn’t using fear against our will?

    love your neighbor unless they are going to be slaughtered?

  • As the US is by definition a Christian country putting its trust in GOD the US Govt has a duty to teach Christianity and display signs of allegiance to GOD.
    GOD owns the universe and makes the rules for our good but you are perfectly free to ignore Him and His rules and get slaughtered when Jesus returns.
    You need to understand what resurrection and judgment mean.

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