The Little Evangelical Engine that Could

If anyone is interested in background to the Presbycast podcast with mmmmeeeeEEEE last night, you might want to look at this very good history on the early days of the National Association of Evangelicals.

In the 1940s, no one would likely have predicted that “evangelical” would become the word to explain most of American Protestantism:

The years following the first convention proved determinative for the fledgling organization. The first among many action items was the 1943 opening of an office in Washington, D.C., to help on a number of fronts, such as supporting evangelical chaplains, assisting mission agencies in dealings with the State Department, championing the cause of religious broadcasting to the Federal Communication Commission, and defending religious liberty. Because the demands were great, NAE called Clyde Taylor, a Baptist General Conference pastor in New England, to oversee the strategic office. Taylor, a former missionary to South America with the Christian and Missionary Alliance and part-time professor at Gordon College, was well suited for the post and for the NAE in general. While he served in a number of roles, Taylor would become the dominant figure in the NAE over the next 30 years.

Continued concern over radio prompted the NAE to form the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) at its 1944 convention in Columbus, Ohio. NRB was the first of many related service agencies the NAE would charter with a particular purpose in mind. Following the lead of CBS and NBC, the Mutual Radio Network had announced it would no longer sell time for religious broadcasting and turned the Protestant broadcasting slot over to the Federal Council of Churches. NRB, after holding its own constitutional convention later that year, responded to the challenge, eventually persuading the networks to reverse their policies.

In addition to NRB, the NAE created two task-specific commissions in 1944 — the Chaplains Commission, to assist evangelical chaplains in the military, and War Relief Commission, which would eventually become a subsidiary known as World Relief, NAE’s humanitarian assistance arm. The following year, the NAE created the Evangelical Foreign Missions Association (later called the Evangelical Fellowship of Mission Agencies and now Missio Nexus, the largest missionary association in the world), chartered to handle the special needs of missionaries and their agencies.

By 1945 the NAE had also established regional offices in Detroit, Minneapolis, Portland and Los Angeles to promote the cause locally and foster communication with individuals, local churches, denominations and Christian organizations.

Some debate has focused on whether or not the NAE helped itself by founding new agencies rather than consolidating the functions under one centralized structure. Whatever the pros or cons, the arrangement was reflective of the evangelical mood at the time. While evangelicals sensed the value of some level of structure, the dynamic nature of their movement would only tolerate a limited amount of centralization.

Not only did they fear centralization, but they weren’t thinking New York City!!!!

By the 1960s, the NAE was still peripheral:

While NAE momentum was strong from its founding in 1942 through the late 50s, the next two decades would prove to be a time of testing for the organization, just as they were for the country as a whole. Not until the late 70s would any new initiatives galvanize the association into meaningful action. The 60s were particularly difficult. The NAE and most of its leadership were not at all encouraged with the prospect of the 1960 election of John Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, to the presidency — a first in American history. The mood digressed as civil rights, the Vietnam War and a new counterculture divided the nation. Assassinations of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King, Jr., leading political figures, shocked the populace. The state of the church was equally disturbing as liberal theologians proclaimed “God is dead” while some bishops experimented with psychedelic drugs. Young people were leaving churches seemingly as quickly as babies were being born in the 1950s.

NAE faced its own troubles as its executive leadership changed hands more often than did residents of the White House. While George L. Ford, the first permanent and resident executive director (1956-63), had brought needed stability to the organization, his ascendancy to the newly created position of general director in 1963 lasted only one year. Stanley Mooneyham, director of information at the time, was considered by many as heir apparent, but left NAE for a position with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. The board then named Clyde Taylor, who was in charge of the Washington operation, to the top post of general director. Taylor would remain in the nation’s capital while the executive director handled administrative matters in the Wheaton, Illinois office. Arthur Climenhaga was named to the Wheaton post, but three years later, in 1967, returned to a post in his own denomination, the Brethren in Christ Church. Billy Melvin, a denominational official with the Free Will Baptists, was brought in to succeed Climenhaga, and following Taylor’s retirement in 1974, was given sole leadership responsibility for NAE.

But Ronald Reagan changed everything:

While President Jimmy Carter had distanced his administration from the expanded NAE office, the new phase of the NAE history swung into full gear with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Reagan had come to power with the wide support of evangelicals. The NAE, increasingly consulted about administration appointments and policy, seized opportunities to influence government further and enjoyed unprecedented access to the White House. The Republican president courted evangelicals for support speaking at the 1983 and 1984 NAE conventions. This was the first time a U.S. president had ever visited an NAE function. At the 1983 convention in Orlando, Florida, Reagan delivered one of his most famous speeches referring to the Soviet Communist system as “the Evil Empire.”

The association was also gaining influence on Capitol Hill. The NAE’s efforts resulted in a number of legislative victories in the 1980s including the passage of bills on drunk driving, church audit procedures, and equal access to public school facilities for religious organizations. But the NAE did not just concern itself with domestic matters. In 1984, the NAE launched the highly-praised Peace, Freedom and Security Studies program in an effort to make a distinct contribution to the public debate.

With new visibility in Washington, Billy Melvin worked tirelessly to highlight the status and role of denominations in the NAE. At the 25th anniversary in 1967, some observers had noted that while denominations held membership in NAE, their role seemed to be minimized. Twenty-five years later the opposite was the case as NAE become more and more identified as a fellowship not just of evangelicals, but as a fellowship of evangelical denominations. Closely related to this change of identity was Melvin’s deliberate effort to persuade new denominations to join the NAE. In the mid-70s Melvin began building relationships with key officials in denominations outside the NAE’s fellowship. By the 1980s, his campaign had paid off as one denomination after another applied for membership in the NAE, enabling NAE’s membership to expand at a level not experienced since the 1940s. Between 1981 and 1990, 15 denominations joined NAE. Total NAE membership reflected in the combined categories of individuals, ministry organizations and constituent denominations reached nearly 4.5 million — a 74 percent increase since 1980. The gain during the decade was greater than the entire NAE membership as of 1960.

Meanwhile, no one knew what evangelicalism was. That was okay. It was apparently big and growing.

Is that why the PCA stays?

Advertisements

Maybe not Delegated but Self-Selective General Assembly

I enjoyed listening to Chortles and Wresby talk to Charlie Nave about the problems of under representation among elders (OPC lingo) at GA. Mr. Nave made his case in e-print before the podcast. Here is how he described his experience at the 2017 PCA GA:

The experience was certainly instructive, but I found that the troublingly secretive caucus controlled the assembly entirely. It installed its own candidate for Moderator; it cut off debate on topics about which it had already made up its mind; it defeated a measure to protect biblical marriage within the PCA; and it approved recommendations to open the door to ordaining women.

This all struck me as very odd and un-Presbyterian. How are things being done “decently and in order” if a caucus is making decisions in secret and then imposing them upon the General Assembly? How are we abiding by the plurality of elders principle if this caucus is predominantly Teaching Elders (TE)?

Worse still, I found that REs were outnumbered by TEs by 4:1 at General Assembly (apparently this is typical). Ultimately, this is the root of the problem. After all, we know that everyone – even a TE! – is a sinner. And people who prioritize politics in a convention system will eventually network together for mutual benefit. The formation of this caucus was inevitable.

One major reason why they were able exercise control was that there weren’t enough REs there to counsel them otherwise. So that raises the question: why don’t more REs attend General Assembly?

As it turned out, this was the same day that I registered for the OPC GA. I don’t want to gloat, but the OPC has a fairly good representation from its elders and that has to do partly with all costs being reimbursed. You ask, how does the OPC do it?

Well, we meet on college campuses and have commissioners share rooms and bathrooms. This year at Wheaton I will share a bedroom with one other commissioner and a bathroom with three others (my sphincter is already tightening).

I’d much prefer to have a hotel room to myself and even meet in the comfortable surroundings of a convention center. But dorm rooms and gymnasiums go with the OPC’s no-nonsense approach to affect.

In which case, one way to even out the proportion of pastors and elders (OPC lingo) is to meet in settings that weed out the under motivated.

Who’s Afraid of Orthodox Presbyterians?

I may have asked this before, but do Hasidic Jews or Amish engage in the wailing and gnashing of teeth that afflicts white Protestants in America? Where are the Hasidic Jews coming out in support of Trump because we need a president to appoint the right Supreme Court justices? And Amish on Twitter? Oxymoron doesn’t cover it. But the Amish do have a record of carving out their own existence in the United States without any ambition to take over “English” society.

Samual Goldman’s review of Mary Eberstadt’s new book, It’s Dangerous to Believe, prompts a repeat of the question: do Jews and Amish engage in the same sort of outrage about America’s decadence as Christians (and relatedly, why don’t Christians, if they really are strangers and aliens, act more like Hasidic Jews and Amish?)? Here’s one part of Goldman’s review:

Why do Jews escape the opprobrium to which traditionalist Catholics or Baptists are subjected? Partly because they have never been more than a tiny minority, but also because they make few claims on political and cultural authority. Apart from a few neighborhoods in and around New York City, no one fears that religious Jews will attempt to dictate how they live their own lives. As a result, they are able to avoid most forms of interference with their communities.

There is a lesson here for the Christian traditionalists for whom Eberstadt speaks. They are more likely to win space to live according to their
consciences to the extent that they are able to convince a majority that includes more liberal Christians and non-Christian believers, as well as
outright secularists, that they are not simply biding their time until they are able to storm the public square. In addition, they will have to develop institutions of community life that are relatively low-visibility and that can survive without many forms of official support. The price of inclusion in an increasingly pluralistic society may be some degree of voluntary exclusion from the dominant culture.

Keep that in mind when thinking about Camden Bucey’s post about the differences between the OPC and PCA. Two quotations stand out in that piece. The first goes to the transformationalism to which the PCA aspired from the get-go well before the elixir of TKNY. According to Sean Lucas:

The PCA has sought to be evangelical Presbyterians and Presbyterian evangelicals, which has given the church a voice to the broader culture. Holding the church together has not been easy. For some, frustrations have arisen from the church’s tendency to opt for an identity that is more comprehensive than pure. Others are disappointed that the church often spends a great deal of time on relatively fine points of Reformed doctrine instead of focusing on mission, cultural engagement, or evangelism.

But the OPC has functioned on the margins of American society and whether intentionally or not, its lack of size and financial resources has nurtured a communion with the outlook of a pilgrim people. According to Charlie Dennison:

While everyone in the OPC understands our opposition to liberalism, some have had trouble understanding the aversion that others have to evangelicalism. They have been unable to accept the conclusion of Cornelius Van Til and others that evangelicalism, as a system, is Arminian. They have been unable to accept the criticism that modern evangelicalism’s view of regeneration is subjective, incapable of rising above a personal experience of sin and grace to the level of the covenant and the federal headship of Adam and Christ. Further, they have been unable to accept the growing historical and social evidence that contemporary evangelicalism is worldly, individualistic, and adolescent, craving acceptance and desperately wanting to make an impact.

I (mmmmeeeEEEE) discussed these differences with CW and Wresby at Presbycast this week (feel the love).

What I have trouble grasping is the appeal of transformationalism and changing the culture. On the one hand, that is so Moral Majoritarian. Haven’t we seen the colossal failure of such efforts, not to mention how self-defeating they are if you want a hip, urban profile in the cultural mainstream? On the other hand, if you want to pass on the faith, which is lower-case-t transformationalism, do you really think you can do it in the public square? Didn’t Mary lose her son in the marketplace?

As Goldman writes, it won’t be easy giving up on Francis Schaeffer’s Christian nationalism. But at some point you need to adjust to the hand you’ve been dealt:

There is no doubt that this will be a hard bargain for adherents of traditions that enjoyed such immense authority until recently. As Eberstadt points out, however, it will also be difficult for progressives who resemble Falwell in their moral majoritarianism. The basis for coexistence must be a shared understanding that the Christian America for which some long and that others fear isn’t coming back—not only because it was Christian but also because it involved a level of consensus that is no longer available to us. There are opportunities for believers and nonbelievers alike in this absence.

If transformationalists finally recognize that Schaeffer and TKNY are in the same Christian nationalist orbit as Falwell, will they finally say “ewww”?

UPDATE

Postscript: In other words, you don’t pray in the public square (even if it’s in the hallowed city):

Mainline Presbyterians and later, evangelicals, may once have been the Republican party at prayer. There may once have been an easy alliance, an assumption of shared religious values between those entities but Ms Dhillon’s prayer last night illustrates how that alliance is coming to an end. This is not a lament. The alliance should never have been. Christians as individuals and private societies (groups) may affiliate as they will but Christians as a group and certainly the visible, institutional church should never become utterly identified with any political party. If evangelicals and other Protestants (e.g., confessionalists) were uneasy with Ms Dhillon’s prayer, I can easily imagine how awkward it must have been for Ms Dhillon to witness the closing prayer and imprecation. Watching it on YouTube last night made me uncomfortable and he professes to be a minister of (some version) of the faith I confess.

Both the opening and closing of last night’s events are a good argument for doing away with public, shared prayers in such, common, secular events. It’s not that delegates to political conventions should not pray. They should. It’s not that candidates should not pray. They should. It’s not that voters should not pray. They should. The question is not whether but when? It is dubious whether it is appropriate to open a common, secular, assembly with prayer. To whom are we praying? In whose name? What are we praying? As a Christian minister of the United Reformed Churches in North America I am not free to offer prayers to God that he has not authorized. I am not free to pray to any other deity than the Triune God of Scripture, to the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. I am not authorized to approach God in any other name than the name of Jesus. It is not a matter of bigotry. It is a matter of truth, eternal life, and salvation. Jesus was raised from the dead. He is the truth (John 14:6). There are not multiple ways to God. Religion is not multifaceted expression of a common religious experience. It is revealed by God to us.