A historian, an ethicist and a pastor — all Baptists — displayed a difference of opinion on the usefulness of the word “evangelical” and the state of evangelicalism in an Oct. 29 conversation at the Museum of the Bible.
Thomas Kidd, history professor at Baylor University and prolific author, discussed the crisis in evangelical Christianity with Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and Thabiti Anyabwile, pastor of Anacostia River Church in Washington, D.C. Kidd interacted with Moore and Anyabwile regarding his new book, “Who Is an Evangelical?: The History of a Movement in Crisis.”
In his keynote address, Kidd said he remains optimistic about evangelicalism despite its politicization, especially in recent years. He cited as an example the 2016 poll results that showed 81 percent of self-identified evangelicals voted for Donald Trump.
“Some would say that I am naïve to hope that there remains a core of practicing orthodox evangelicals who really do care more about salvation and spiritual matters than political power,” Kidd told the audience. “It’s true that millions of practicing evangelicals are part of the 81 percent, but we should not define evangelicalism by the 81 percent.
“[A]t root, being an evangelical entails certain beliefs, practices and spiritual experiences,” he said. “So partisan commitments have come and gone, and sometimes it’s true evangelicals have made terrible political mistakes. But conversion, devotion to an infallible Bible and God’s discernible presence — those are the characteristics that make an evangelical an evangelical.”
Non-evangelical Americans, however, may have a variety of impressions about what “evangelical” means, Kidd said, “but one certain association that people make with the word is ‘Republican.’ And the term ‘evangelical’ has become fundamentally political in popular parlance today.”
Another likely association non-evangelicals make with the word is “white,” he said, adding pollsters assume evangelicals are white.
In his response to Kidd, Moore said he is not ready to surrender the word “evangelical.”
“I think when it comes to evangelical, it’s possible for a word — and it’s possible for a movement — to be born again,” he said.
Moore said in a panel discussion that closed the evening, “I am a realist when it comes to the Gospel but a nominalist when it comes to evangelicalism. And so I don’t have as much invested in evangelical as a word or evangelicalism as a movement except there is no available alternative to it except for adding modifiers.”
Anyabwile said he does not share the optimism of Kidd and Moore regarding evangelicalism.
He doesn’t think the “partisan and ethnic definition of evangelicals” is peculiar, he said. “I actually think that is the DNA” of evangelicalism.
“Evangelicalism as a movement has generally and consistently taken what I would refer to as anti-black positions on social and political questions,” Anyabwile told the audience. “Historically, the movement has been generally pro-slavery, pro-segregation — much of the movement, anti-affirmative action and anti-immigrant. [T]he common denominator has often been the disadvantaging of black and brown people.
“For that reason, evangelicalism should not become more diverse until this dynamic is radically and demonstrably changed,” he said. “To that extent, I would argue that we have not become evangelical enough, that we have not yet become the one people of God…. We have not yet been discipled enough in our Christian identity as our primary identity.
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Source: Baptist Press