Defining American Evangelicalism
January 15, 2013 Leave a comment
Academics love to debate the definitions of the terms that they use. One term that has proven to be quite susceptible to being defined in such a way as to fit an author’s predetermined goal is “American Evangelicalism.” Into the morass of definitions for this religious and political movement I believe a recent post at The Immanent Frame has brought some clarity. In a post titled “Evangelicals who have left the right,” Marcia Pally (author of The New Evangelicals: Expanding the Vision of the Common Good), defines American Evangelicalism in this way:
…American Evangelicalism is an approach to Protestantism across denominations, its central features including: the search for a renewal of faith toward an “inner” personal relationship with Jesus; the mission to bring others to this sort of personal relationship; the cross as a symbol of not only salvation but also of service to others; individual acceptance of Jesus’ gift of redemption; individualist Bible reading by ordinary men and women; and the priesthood of all believers independent of ecclesiastical or state authorities. It was a progressive movement from the colonial era to World War One. Its emphasis on individual conscience made it anti-elitist, anti-authoritarian, economically populist, and socially activist on behalf of the common man. Twice in the twentieth century, evangelicals turned to the right, the second time in the late 1970s, when they became a central pillar in the modern conservative movement.
This, I think, is actually a pretty accurate definition of the movement theologically and historically. The rest of the article provides a good synopsis of a third turn, this time to the left, in American Evangelicalism which is currently taking shape. I recommend reading the whole article.