Since evangelicals have voted as a block in recent elections supporting questionable politicians and partisan social issues, most Americans view evangelicalism as a right-wing political movement rather than a theological tradition.
In response, theologian Al Truesdale (PhD, Emory University) has edited Whatever Happened to Evangelicalism? an anthology of articles by several religious leaders who identify as evangelicals and yet are eager to correct what they see as a misrepresentation of evangelicalism.
I began my interview with Dr Truesdale by asking him to answer the question in the title of his book – indeed, whatever happened to evangelicalism?
As with any other part of the Christian faith, ‘evangelical’ and ‘evangelicalism’ are subject to misrepresentation and abuse. One thing that has happened to “evangelicalism’ is that some of its proponents let evangelicalism escape prophetic judgment.
Why did you write this book?
The purpose was to clarify a central part of Christian doctrine by placing it in its proper biblical, historical, theological and global context.
What should evangelical leaders be telling their constituents?
Inform them that being identified as evangelical must be thoroughly governed by the New Testament and Apostolic Christian faith, not by political interests and parties, not by nationality or ethnicity, and not by the media.
In the Introduction you quote the Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore, who no longer identifies as an evangelical. Do you claim to be an evangelical?
I do identify as an evangelical. I understand why Russell Moore no longer identifies as one. But if in the past 2,000 years the Church had abandoned all parts of its vocabulary that had been misrepresented, abused or ridiculed, we would have no vocabulary left.
How do you describe evangelicalism for a popular audience both in and out of the church?
Evangelicalism describes that expression of Christianity which sees itself as transformed by the good news (euangelion) of the kingdom of God, inaugurated in Jesus of Nazareth.
How do popular expressions of evangelicalism differ from this historic root?
Popularly, too often the term lacks theological, moral and intellectual depth. Often it collapses into an anthropocentric and utilitarian soteriology, it lacks intellectual rigor and a vision for social justice and it cozies up to narrow political ideologies.
In your Conclusion you warn of the danger of ‘political alliances.’ To what degree do you think evangelicals have fallen prey to that danger?
Extensively. The sin of idolatry is one we can easily recognize in others. Perhaps nowhere does our fallen condition reveal itself more grotesquely than in our disposition to identify God with narrow political, economic, national and ethnic interests. Evangelicals seem to be no more astute and discriminating at this point than anyone else.
Why do you think the majority of Americans who identify as evangelicals are Republicans and voted for and continue to support President Trump?
I am not sure. I suspect that some of the reasons will not pass Christian “muster.” Many Evangelicals do not so much support President Trump, as oppose the radical secularism that liberal ideology champions. But they err grievously when they attribute righteousness to the Republican Party and make uncritical league with it.
What have you learned from the other writers included in the book?
What I learned from all the contributors is that thoughtful evangelical scholars know how to anchor the term evangelical in thoroughly responsible biblical and historical analysis. And they know how to retain the name while also submitting its abuses to sustained criticism.
What message do you think this book has for the current controversies about evangelicalism in the United States?
The message is that the term evangelical is central to our Christian vocabulary and mission; it is neither to be abused nor surrendered. Instead, the term must be repeatedly clarified by submitting it to instruction by the New Testament and Christian tradition.
Al Truesdale is emeritus professor of Philosophy and Christian Ethics at Nazarene Theological Seminary. He is an alumnus of Nazarene Theological Seminary and Emory University. Truesdale has published numerous articles and books, including With Cords of Love. He and his wife Esther live in the historic South Carolina Lowcountry.
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