Evangelicalism has played an important role in American society for hundreds of years, and today “evangelicals” remain an influential voting bloc. The term “evangelical” is thrown around a lot in historical scholarship and political rhetoric, but its meaning is less clear than most people imagine. Twenty-first century evangelicalism shares some tenets with evangelicalism of years past, and it has changed in other ways. If we are going to understand evangelicalism’s impact on society and politics, we need to try to understand what exactly it is and where it came from.
I’m not going to get into specific leaders or institutions known for their influence on contemporary evangelicalism. That would require delving into the countless parachurch organizations, leaders, churches, radio stations, colleges, seminaries, etc. Evangelicals are interconnected yet fundamentally decentralized. Thus, it would be very difficult to make sense of that aspect of the movement (if it can even be called a movement) in a blog post. Rather, I’ll speak generally about fundamental beliefs and concepts that broadly describe evangelicals.
Francis Schaeffer, one the greatest Christian thinkers and presuppositional apologists of the second half of the twentieth century, co-wrote with C. Everett Koop (pediatric surgeon and Surgeon General under President Ronald Reagan) one of the most powerful defenses of the value of unborn life in Whatever Happened to the Human Race? (1979, revised edition, 1983). This book is a must-read for anyone interested in an intellectual and medical defense of the pro-life position that holds that human life begins at conception. Schaeffer handles the intellectual heft, providing a position that aligns well with that of Christian Humanism. His use of the term “humanism” is decidedly different than the Christian Humanist version of the term. By “humanism”, Schaeffer means secularism. Koop handles the medical and scientific arguments.
Here is a brief excerpt from chapter 1 (page 4):
Until recently in our own century, with some notable and sorry exceptions, human beings have generally been regarded as special, unique, and nonexpendable. But in one short generation we have moved from a generally high view of life to a very low one.
Why has our society changed? The answer is clear: the consensus of our society no longer rests on a Judeo-Christian base, but rather on a humanistic one. Humanism makes man “the measure of all things.” It puts man rather than God at the center of all things.
Today the view that man is a product of chance in an impersonal universe dominates both sides of the Iron Curtain. This has resulted in a secularized society and in a liberal theology in much of the church; that is, the Bible is set aside and humanism in some form (man starting from himself) is put in the Bible’s place. Much of the church no longer holds that the Bible is God’s Word in all it teaches. It simply blends with the current thought-forms rather than being the “salt” that judges and preserves the life of its culture. Unhappily, this portion of the church simply changes its standards as the secular, humanist standards sweep on from one loss of humanness to the next. What we are watching is the natural result of humanism in its secular and theological forms, and the human race is being increasingly devalued.
Elsewhere in chapter 1 (page 6):
The Bible teaches that man is made in the image of God and therefore is unique. Remove that teaching, as humanism has done on both sides of the Iron Curtain, and there is no adequate basis for treating people well… The loss of the Christian consensus has led to a long list of inhuman actions and attitudes which may seem unrelated but actually are not. They are the direct result of the loss of the Christian consensus.
Studying history at the graduate level has taught me a very important fact: life without Jesus Christ is sad, dark, depressing, and meaningless. I am drawn to the history of Christianity in my research. Over the last year or so, that has included “third great awakening” revivalism, with a specific emphasis on D. L. Moody. But in readings for traditional history classes, the focus is often upon slavery and oppression. Nuance is all but absent in the post-Foucault discipline of history, and this has bothered me a lot because even the best people are capable of both good and evil. For a variety of reasons, the academy has chosen to throw out all of the good in western thought because of some instances of horrible injustices (injustices which are in fact antithetical to western principles). One of the reasons I’m excited about Spirit of Cecilia is because this site is hopeful. We understand that there is goodness in the world, and there are ideas that God placed inside of us that are worth protecting and preserving.
So who the heck am I?!
Well as you’ve probably gathered, I’m a graduate student. I’m in the second year of a Public History MA program at Loyola University Chicago, and I plan to work in museum collections. I interned this past summer at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, MI. Working there confirmed for me that I really enjoy collections work. It is very rewarding. Thankfully, most of my classes in Public History are more practical than traditional history in the sense that they are preparing me to work in public history settings such as museums, oral history projects, national park service, archives, historical interpretation, etc.
I earned my BA in history from Hillsdale College, where I had the honor of having one of Dr. Brad Birzer’s magnificent classes on Christian Humanism. He was kind enough to invite me to write for Progarchy back in 2013, and that sent me headlong into the contemporary progressive rock genre. I’m very grateful that he asked me to be a part of this new internet venture. I hope to contribute to its excellence in whatever small way I can.