Evangelicalism’s Poor Form

I’ve just guest posted over on Christ & Pop Culture:

Whether designed to clarify evangelicalism as an object of study or analysis, or to police its supposed boundaries, definitions of evangelicalism have generally tended to occlude the cultural, institutional, and sociological dimensions of the movement. This is unfortunate, as it is precisely these elements that are most salient in the experience of many within it. Evangelicalism is not typically experienced as a set of abstract and explicit doctrines or beliefs held by individuals, but more as a distinctive cultural environment within which such beliefs are inconsistently and idiosyncratically maintained. The official beliefs of evangelicalism exist alongside a host of other miscellaneous elements and the cross-pollination from the surrounding society, all sustained within local churches and a shifting constellation of denominations, movements, ministries, groups, and agencies.

Much that swims in the weird and wonderful (and sometimes not-so-wonderful) soup of evangelicalism was added quite independent of church leadership. There is a sort of evangelical folk religion, most of which is largely unauthorized by pastors or elders, a folk religion driven and populated by TV preachers, purity culture, uninformed theological speculations in democratic Bible studies, Chick tracts, evangelistic bumper stickers and T-shirts, Thomas Kinkade paintings, VeggieTales, Kirk Cameron movies, Amish romance novels, the Left Behind series, Focus on the Family literature, Christian bloggers, CCM, Christian dating guides, Answers in Genesis books, sappy mass-produced devotional literature, study Bibles for every conceivable niche market, and much else besides. Unsurprisingly, many presume that this all passed quality control and received the imprimatur of Evangelical Central Headquarters.

For a movement that has often promised those within it the pristine order and integrity of a single comprehensive “world-and-life view,” the reality on the ground of evangelicalism can be disorienting.

Read the whole piece here. I’ve also left a couple of responses to comments, which should appear at some point soon and help to clarify where I am coming from.

And follow Christ & Pop Culture: they do good work.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Culture, Guest Post, On the web, Society, The Church, The Sacraments, Theological, Theology, Worship. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Evangelicalism’s Poor Form

  1. zimsimon says:

    Reblogged this on Glory as Beauty and commented:
    Extended article on the original site is longer and insightful.

  2. RobD says:

    Great observations. This explains well why I’m currently attending RCIA.

      • RobD says:

        I finally read the full piece. Again, this is a great piece. I left mainline Protestantism for evangelicalism when I was 22. I was attracted by the robustness of evangelical theology. But after 15 years in evangelical circles, I’ve come to doubt the utility of judging evangelicalism by its alleged theological commitments. To the likely dismay of many pastors and elders, evangelical theological commitments are often incidental to evangelical sociological commitments. This is probably more true in the US than in the UK. And it was probably less true in the US 10-15 years ago than it is today. As an example, consider the “debate” over the Federal Vision theology in the PCA. At best, Peter Leithart was being tried for not being a good evangelical…in the subcultural sense.

        That’s why I suspect that many of us are leaving evangelicalism for the RCC. My current RCIA class has about 2 dozen members. About 3/4 are former evangelicals. In some sense, we’re all there for the same reason: We see the RCC as the last best hope for a robust Christian orthodoxy…over against the theological emptiness of mainline Protestantism and the subcultural folkishness of evangelicalism. I may feel a bit more at home right now in a CREC church or in an ACNA (conservative Anglican) church. But I know that those would only be way-stations to Catholicism.

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