On American Evangelicalism

A response to Christianity Today’s listing of the 50 most influential books on evangelicalism:

One interesting thing about this list is that the number 3 book, C. S. Lewis’s excellent Mere Christianity,
was not written by an evangelical. If Lewis were alive today, it’s safe
to conclude that he would find little in common with the typical
evangelical in the pew. Lewis endorsed (or at least positively
explored) theological concepts such as universalism, purgatory, and a
second chance to believe in Christ after death, concepts which might
result in expulsion from some of the evangelical churches that now
claim him as their own.

This reveals an irony of
the evangelical movement. Most evangelicals are fed a constant diet of
works by popularizers such as Tim LaHaye, Hal Lindsey, James Dobson, D.
James Kennedy, Bruce Wilkerson, Frank Peretti, Rick Warren, etc. It
saddens me to find the excellent works of people such as F. F. Bruce
and Mark Noll toward the end of the list, indicating their relative
lack of influence, while finding the works of popularizers like
McDowell near the head of the list.

If nothing else,
this list should be a wake-up call for a movement that has increasingly
become more concerned about gay marriage, evolution, and The Da Vinci Code
than figuring out how to better love their neighbors, care for widows
and orphans, and announce the reconciling work of Christ. Is it any
wonder that evangelicalism’s most pressing concern often seems to be
creating a comfortable subculture replete with a smorgasbord of
entertainment alternatives, all designed to accommodate the movement’s
wholesale embrace of consumer culture?

Robert Eugene DiPaolo (other responses here)

To that I say “Ouch” and “Amen.”

7 thoughts on “On American Evangelicalism”

  1. the introduction to the list makes it pretty clear, though, that they are listing the books that have had the most effect in the last fifty years on evangelicalism, not the top 50 favorites, not the evangelicalism they wish we were, but who we actually in fact have become.  In that case, I would disagree strongly with this critic, whose statement seems kind of cranky and ivory tower.  Actually, Perkins, Bonhoeffer, Sider, and Stott don’t seem to me to be popularization softballs.  And if anyone doubts that American evangelicalism has not been shaped profoundly by the likes of Kennedy, Dobson, and Warren, they should leave get out once in a while from their urban, emergent church and recognize who we worship among in our country.
    And all that stuff about Lewis… uncited.  Where does he figure that Lewis believed those things?  I hope not from Lewis’s regular use of speculative allegory, as in The Great Divorce. 
    In any case, CT has done a pretty good job of showing American Evangelicalism as American Evangelicalism, and there’s no use denying the existence of the parts we may not like.  Instead, we should buy gratuitous multiple copies of the books that represent what we think is good and give them away.  🙂

  2. i’ve seen subculture over here like i’ve never seen it before… i think the thought behind it goes something like this (maybe you already know this but i’ll share it anyway): postmodernism is evil and so is liberal politics. they are both threats to our way of life, and we don’t want to change so we’re afraid of those things. so we need alternatives to avoid their corrupting influence. so let’s homeschool our kids and then later send them to christian colleges. if they want to go to grad school or even get a phd, that’s fine b/c we have christian schools that can do that. we’ll also only listen to christian radio (which is free of trashy lyrics and hey-look-at-me artists; I actually heard that on a christian radio station here).granted, none of the ‘alternatives’ are bad. also, i have no idea how many people actually think like this, but i do think that some do. and the result is that we end up with more polarization and less engagement. but i suppose when your battles are with longstanding church tradition and not with trying to find ways to engage actual postmodern people, you have different interests.

  3. I think the list is pretty flattering to evangelism, with guys like Lewis, Schaeffer, Packer, and Sider packing the top ten. A less generous editor would have given those spots to McDowell (for da Vinci Code), Dobson (for gay marriage), and Phillip E Johnson (for evolution). So I’m not sure what this guy is railing about. Maybe he was thinking of the Top 50 Musical Influences on Evangelicalism.

  4. duno if you already read this.
    CARLSON: It goes deeper than that though. The deep truth is that the elites in the Republican Party have pure contempt for the evangelicals who put their party in power. Everybody in…
    MATTHEWS: How do you know that? How do you know that?
    CARLSON: Because I know them. Because I grew up with them. Because I live with them. They live on my street. Because I live in Washington, and I know that everybody in our world has contempt for the evangelicals. And the evangelicals know that, and they’re beginning to learn that their own leaders sort of look askance at them and don’t share their values.
    MATTHEWS: So this gay marriage issue and other issues related to the gay lifestyle are simply tools to get elected?
    CARLSON: That’s exactly right. It’s pandering to the base in the most cynical way, and the base is beginning to figure it out

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