The many perspectives of American evangelicalism

A new book of essays shows that evangelicals aren't all the same culturally or politically. So what's holding them together?

Is the evangelical movement still of any use? Is the term evangelical meaningful? After 80 percent of white evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump for president, some of the other 20 percent (as well as most nonwhite evangelicals) are considering these questions. How could a faith tradition devoted to the transforming power of the gospel align itself so readily with a racially divisive bully whose life has been unashamedly devoted to greed and self-promotion?

Part of the explanation, writes Mark Labberton, president of (evangelical) Fuller Theological Seminary, is that popular evangelicalism has become “an amalgam of theological views, partisan political debates, regional power blocks, populist visions, racial biases, and cultural anxieties, all mixed in an ethos of fear.” The underlying problem, says Labberton in his useful introduction, is that for many people evangelical no longer refers to a set of theological commitments but to a “theo-political brand.”

As the title suggests, this collection of essays is conceived as a series of reaffirmations: “I’m still evangelical, despite . . . [insert here whatever problem you wish to identify].” A common refrain of several contributors is that there’s nothing wrong with evangelicalism that can’t be cured by a bigger dose of the evangel. If evangelicals really loved Jesus and allowed the Holy Spirit to act in their lives, they’d be more humble, less divisive, more winsome, less partisan. That’s a deeply evangelical way of framing the issue.