My next column at Patheos is a response, in part to an essay at the New York Times website entitled “The New Evangelicals” by Marcia Pally. Pally has apparently written a book of the same name, which was released last month. To readers of Patrol, of course, the story of young, left leaning Christians constituting a kind of new evangelicalism is an old story and one that, frankly, doesn’t ring true for many of us. The question, which we’ve wrestled with several times here, is whether we can still be considered evangelicals. I argue not.

Here’s a bit of my column, which will be published later this week:

Those of us who left evangelicalism–and, according to recent Pew surveys there are plenty of us–find ourselves the objects of a process to be reabsorbed into evangelicalism. It’s been happening since at least 2007, in the run-up to the presidential election in 2008. Faced with the apparent splintering of young people from the evangelicalism of our parents’ generations, attempts were made to reassign us as members of a “new evangelicalism.” The problem was, we didn’t call ourselves evangelicals.

I’d love to hear some preliminary thoughts here, if anything strikes your fancy.

About The Author

Jonathan D. Fitzgerald

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0 Responses to There’s Nothing New About “New Evangelicals”

  1. JMJ says:

    I get discouraged by labels, especially “evangelical”. It seems to me that too many items are being tossed into the pot and the output is not even close to what I would consider myself.

    I’m not sure what you mean by left leaning. I’ll assume politics for now. I hesitate to use politics in any form to define “evangelical”. Those are what words like “conservative” or “liberal” or “progressive” or in my case “conservaberal”. (I’m not sure if anyone else has taken the credit for the latter term. If not, I do so now.)

    Personally, I use theology to define evangelical. There are many nuances, but the basic is the gospel, the good news: Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died for my sins and my faith in him and his gift saves my soul.

    That’s it. I’m sure others would add exclusivity to the Gospel as a pre-req for being evangelical. I flirt with that, but won’t add it now.

    Just my $0.02.

    (BTW, there are plenty left leaning evangelicals. I lean right of center, but reject many, many traditional conservative views.)

  2. Fitz says:

    JMJ,

    Thanks for this. I’m with you on not wanting to label our faith based on our politics. But, I think that’s what fuels this whole thing. As soon as evangelicals lost ownership of the word and it became a quick and easy way to describe people who voted for Bush and happen to be Christians, many evangelicals said “no thank you” and jumped shipped. Precisely because we didn’t want our faith defined by politics (in my case, someone else’s politics).

    Thanks again for the input.

  3. Steve K. says:

    Jonathan, you know I’m right there with you in this tension. You seem pretty resolved that you are no longer an “evangelical,” and I’m pretty much there with you as well. I did an interview recently with a Christian newspaper about why I no longer consider myself an “evangelical.”

    I know there are good people still fighting to make a good name for evangelicals, and on some days, I feel good about those efforts and feel more OK with the label. But most days, “evangelical” seems irrevocably tainted by the history of right-wing politics, and most of the “evangelicals” with the loudest megaphones seem more like fundamentalists in disguise.

    I agree that “The New Evangelicals” is not a new conversation, but there is another election cycle around the corner, so another opportunity for publishers to make bank on this elusive voting block. That may be too cynical of me, and I don’t mean to dismiss Pally’s book. I appreciate her telling the story again, from a slightly different perspective, even if it isn’t really new — it’ll be new to someone who reads it/hears about it.

  4. Jordan Peacock says:

    Most of the folks I know who left evangelicalism are atheists now — myself included.

    Those that are not, have little patience or tolerance with what passes for evangelicalism, and even those who have sympathy for the term and people organized under that term do not self-identify as such.

    Not representative, necessarily, but within my experience evangelicalism is dead.

  5. John says:

    A lot depends on understanding Pally’s perspective on evangelicalism. Based on her comments in this interview [I don’t yet have her book], I understand Pally to be saying that the term “evangelicalism” basically encompasses all the streams of post-Reformation Christianity. Though each stream is constantly trying to lay claim to “being in charge” of the whole movement, none has succeeded and there is no sign any can or could succeed. All merely ring changes on the same bells. What are those bells?
    http://theartofthegoodlife.blogspot.com/2011/11/interview-marcia-pally-on-new.html

    Quoting Pally, “…The core tenets of evangelicalism remain consistent since the early modern era. They include the search for an “inner” relationship with Jesus; a mission to bring others to that relationship; the cross as a symbol of service, sacrifice and salvation; individual responsibility to develop a system of moral conduct; individualist Bible reading by ordinary men and woman; and the priesthood of all believers. Moreover, not only have theological tenets retained their core but evangelical activism has as well. American evangelicals have always been robust civil-society builders, just as today…”

    As I read Pally, and I too only just learned about her work, she offers a “big picture” view of evangelicalism that might be helpful. Though many of us are discouraged with evangelicalism, we have little interest in joining top heavy bureaucratic Christian denominations.

    In short, Pally has prompted me to ask some new questions of Christianity in general and evangelicalism in particular.

    I look forward to your essay.

  6. Caleb Roberts says:

    In defining evangelicalism in theological categories as has been done above, a move away from evangelicalism would mean a move to another theological category. Having eschewed “evangelical” for myself in favor of “catholic” (which I see to be evangelicalism’s most comprehensive theological nemesis), I’m curious to to know what “label” you, Mr. Fitzgerald, have decided to go with in your abandonment of “evangelical”.

  7. Gary Horsman says:

    Americans seem to have this habit of conflating spirituality with politics in a way most other cultures don’t. This has a tendency to obscure people’s perceptions of evangelicalism on both sides of the issue in a negative way. Extricating the two must be difficult for you all in the States.

    If Americans could distinguish two, maybe there wouldn’t be such disdain for what is simply a socially active, culturally engaging form of Christianity which acts, for the greatest part, in the interest of society as a whole, with faith as the catalyst to propel Christians to serve those in need and spread ‘good news’.

  8. Patrick Sawyer says:

    Jonathan,

    The term “Evangelical” has become so broad that it is virtually meaningless. At minimum, Historical Evangelicalism is marked by belief in the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible in its original texts, the deity of Christ, the virgin birth, the exclusivity of Christ in salvation, and salvation by grace alone. In addition, historically, when someone identified him or herself as an Evangelical it also meant that you could have some assurance that he or she had some understanding as to what the Bible actually teaches (and conversely, what it does not teach) on a range of subjects. This is no longer the case.

    I think you will do a good service by offering some historical perspective on what it means to be defined as Evangelical and then demonstrate how people of your perspective depart from that definition, and in so doing suggest a more accurate label (hate to use that term) that defines you.

    I think that would also be helpful for this blog. At times some of your readers mistakenly believe that you and David Sessions are part of the broad definition of Evangelicalism. Suggesting another term (label) to clear up that misconception would perhaps be helpful to your readers. If the term approaches brilliance in its creativity, pithiness, and clarity, perhaps it will get national traction and absorbed in our national discourse. Here’s hoping it does. Wish you the best with the article.

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