Is the Term “Evangelical” Over?

The media are full of anguished testimonies of people formerly identified as “evangelical” declaring that it has been irrevocably spoiled. It won’t disappear because, for scholarship, it’s too useful. But that doesn’t mean everybody has to keep it. 

 There is a difference, that is, between a label and a brand. 

 The “spoiling” has come from the linkage of evangelical leaders, mostly from the “prosperity gospel,” with American president Donald Trump. This alliance coupled with polls indicating that Trump enjoyed the vote of a large majority of white evangelicals has meant embarrassment for many evangelicals, white and otherwise, who are outraged by his behaviour, politics, and values. So they want to be identified otherwise, and are everywhere shedding the “evangelical” label. 

 This problem is, to be sure, largely an American problem. But because of America’s prominence on the world stage, evangelicals elsewhere, and particularly in Canada, feel its effects. So is “evangelical” over? 

 Speaking historically, it isn’t a big deal if it is. The roots of evangelicalism as a movement of renewal and mission go back to Puritanism in Britain and Pietism in continental Europe. It was the religious awakening of the eighteenth century under John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, and many lesser lights that wrote the first chapter of evangelicalism’s history. And it didn’t feature the term “evangelical.” The preaching and hymnody focused instead on “the New Birth.” 

 As evangelicalism spread throughout North America and around the world in the nineteenth century, it wasn’t called “evangelicalism” then, either. But again the revivals featured the characteristic emphases noted by British historian David Bebbington: a focus upon Jesus Christ (rather than “God-in-general”) and his atoning work on the Cross (rather than moralism or mysticism); a commitment to the supreme authority of Scripture (versus church tradition or the current opinion of the day); promotion of conversion, including both personal declaration of faith plus a lifelong commitment to holiness; and activism in fostering spiritual renewal, sanctification, and the improvement of society along Christian lines. 

[For the rest, please click HERE.]

What the Governor-General Got Right

I was a bit hard on Her Majesty’s representative last week as I encouraged her to stick to what she knows and what her office allows…instead of taking swipes at people’s religious beliefs in the name of science.

My main concern was her dismissal of anyone who believes in “divine intervention” regarding the origins of the universe or of life on earth. Lots of people, I averred, are well qualified in the appropriate sciences and still believe in God the Creator.

Still, a lot of us Christians share her exasperation about how science is treated by many of our co-religionists.

The flat denial of all forms of evolution, for instance, on the specious ground that evolution is supposedly incompatible with Genesis 1-3 persists across North America despite more than a century of Bible-believing Christians showing how at least some forms of biological evolution square nicely with reverent understandings of Scripture.

Faith-healing extremists continue risk their own lives and those of their children despite the teaching of mainstream Christianity that God heals primarily through the body’s own devices aided by medical science, and only rarely through prayer-fueled miracles.

And so-called Biblical or Christian or spiritual counselors offer psychotherapy according to principles they have derived from Scripture with no attention to decades of careful psychological research, thus imperiling their clients’ mental health and the welfare of their significant others as they offer spiritual band-aids when much deeper psychiatric rehabilitation is needed.

[For the rest, please click HERE.]

The Governor-General and Good Government

The furore continues over Governor-General Julie Payette’s attempt to solve several outstanding problems in one speech. She’s only one month into her new job, so she has started small: sorting out global climate change and the origin of life on earth, for instance.

On the face of it, there is a lot wrong with what happened, and pundits have enjoyed the target-rich situation. On the political side, a Governor-General is not supposed to wade into controversial matters of public opinion and of public policy. Queen Elizabeth II, whose representative she is, has proven a past master at such reticence, even as her son Charles, the man who shouldn’t be king, hasn’t resisted opining on all manner of things on which he is unqualified to speak.

And that’s the other side of it. As an astronaut and engineer, the Governor-General doubtless has interesting things worth the public hearing about, say, astronautics and engineering. But she decided to take on sciences well out of her expertise and whole disciplines (philosophy, religion) entirely beyond her training. She has nothing more interesting to say on those matters than the next person, and she demonstrated that sorry fact in her blithe dismissal of hundreds of years of careful thought, not to mention billions of her fellow human beings.

The Prime Minister has defended her. This will surprise no one, of course, as she was appointed on his recommendation. But it will surprise no one also because she is cut from the same cloth, being a Québecoise of the same generation who takes for granted the secularism they inherited from their Quiet Revolution parents.

In this culture of determinedly anti-Christian dogma, “whether life was a divine intervention” is not even plausible—that is, not worth arguing with. The Governor-General instead resorted merely to scorn, the contempt of the confidently correct. And the Prime Minister seems unruffled by this backhanding of his father’s religion, the cultural heritage of his home province, and what is still by far the dominant outlook of his country.

[For the rest, please click HERE.]