What Must I Do to be Left Behind from Evangelicalism?

I have long complained that evangelicalism is one of those associations from which it is impossible to extricate yourself. Ron Wells, one of the editors of The Reformed Journal, used to joke that he would be glad to return his evangelical membership card but didn’t know where to send it. The bigger joke may have been the idea that evangelicals actually issued membership cards. It’s one thing to be on a mailing list. It’s another to belong to a duly constituted body.

John Fea proposes thirteen questions for determining whether you are an evangelical. I paste them below and offer my own answers:

1. Do you attend a church of over 2000 people? I suppose this refers to a congregation, in which case I say no. But I do go to a church — the OPC — that is small but not that small. The lesson may be that evangelicalism has a bias against connectionalism (read presbyterian polity).

2. Have you studied at, or do you work at, a college that identified itself as a “Christian college?” Yes, but only for a year. What happens if I transferred to a secular university? Does evangelicalism still claim me?

3. Have you seen the rapture movie A Thief in the Night? (I could have probably asked if they read the Left Behind series of novels by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye). I have seen the movie. It was part of the cinematic fare of my home congregation’s youth group. But what if I now vote strongly against any proposal before session that calls for our OPC congregation to show the movie?

4. Have you been to any of the following Christian Bible conferences: Word of Life, Camp of the Woods, Harvey Cedars, America’s Keswick, Sandy Cove, or Rumney Bible Conference? (Remember, this is an east coast group) Not only have I been there, but for two summers I worked in the kitchen at Sandy Cove and sang tenor (one summer) and bass (another) with the Sandy Cove Choralaires (we even performed the Ralph Carmichael Christian teen folk musical, “Tell it Like it Is” at the affiliated youth camp, Hilltop Ranch. (I’m still in recovery.)

5. Did you vote for George Bush in 2000 or 2004? Yes, but I still don’t sense corporate guilt.

6. Have you been on a short-term mission trip? Does doing something Christian outside the United States count? How about teaching at a seminary in Brazil?

7. Have you attended a Billy Graham or other evangelistic crusade? Yes and yes. I am pretty sure my parents took me to the 1962 Philadelphia Crusade. And in 2002 we went to the San Diego Crusade under the false pretense that this would be the evangelist’s last. I still worry that I am on some terrorist organization’s list for having attended a Crusade (and for having rooted for the Wheaton College Crusaders before they became the Wheaton College Thunder.)

8. Have you read Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict? Hallelujah! No.

9. Have you read something by C.S. Lewis? Darn! Yes.

10. Do you listen to Christian radio? Yes. But let me explain. I generally have on the radio as background noise. For most of the week it is Sports Talk Radio (from Philadelphia). This drives the missus batty and keeps me near the dog house. In the car I listen to NPR. On Sundays I stream Family Radio in the background. It is all about nostalgia. My parents had on Family Radio during the whole week. It is one way I remember my parents and treat the Lord’s Day as a day set apart. You get occasionally a good hymn.

11. Do you have a Thomas Kinkade painting in your house? Hades, no.

12. Have you read Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life? Yes, but it was for a review in Modern Reformation (when it had an edge).

13. Do you read or subscribe to Christianity Today? Yes, but not for edification and I place my hands over my eyes.

Fea speculates:

I then told them that if they answered yes to more than half of these questions there is a good chance that they might be an evangelical.

It looks to me like I have at least 8 yes answers. That makes me an evangelical. It also tightens my jaws.

I wonder if John should change his questions to something like, “do you still do or recommend X, Y, or Z”? I wonder too if I’ll ever be delivered from being an evangelical? You write three books critical of born-again Protestantism and you find you’re still part of the tribe. Is this how Garry Wills feels about Roman Catholicism?

Did Evelyn Waugh Write Brideshead Revisited to Transform Culture?

In case anyone wondered what happened to Rick Santorum, the once rising-star of GOP politics from the virtuous commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a news story puts those questions to rest. He’s starting a movie company.

“For a long time, Christians have decided that the best way to fight the popular culture is to keep it at bay, to lock it out of their home. … That’s a losing battle,” Santorum said in an interview at America’s Center Convention Complex, where he was attending the International Christian Retail Show.

With “the pervasiveness of (media) right now, the content just seeps through. The only option is to go out into that arena and try to shape the culture, too.”

Santorum said one problem with Christian-themed films was that they’ve traditionally been aimed at just Christian audiences, rather than attempting to appeal to audiences that don’t necessarily share the movie’s messaging going in.

He blamed that limited appeal on what he said were often the “hokey” and “cheesy” feel of such films, with all the filmmakers’ attention focused on the message and not enough on artistic quality.

“Quality. Quality acting, quality directing, quality scriptwriting. That is going to be a watchword for me,” Santorum said at a news conference talking about the studio’s pending projects. He said the goal was to produce movies “that rival any good Hollywood film.”

Aside from the entertaining thought of inserting Santorum into Barton Fink, I am snickering at the proposition that the better way to respond to worldliness is by making the worldliness wholesome rather than fleeing it. I understand that the petri dish that produced Mrs. Hart and me, the fundamentalist mentality of not drinking, dancing, smoking, or going to movies, is a tough sell. It was tough even in the 1960s and it had limited success (obviously) since I became a film studies major. Major DOH! Still, even if the prescriptions weren’t air tight, we did have a sense that worldliness existed and that it was something to avoid. (Just as when it came to worship we had a sense that God could be offended and that we shouldn’t offend him — a sense seemingly lost on worship leaders and members of their bands.) And we also had productions that some believers thought could compete with mainstream culture. (Seriously.) Aside from Billy Graham’s production company, Ralph Carmichael‘s musicals, like “Tell it Like it Is” which Wikipedia describes as a “folk musical about God” (Laugh track, please) were the occasions for relief from not having to endure a sermon.

So I have serious doubts whether Santorum and company will figure out the right mix of piety and entertainment. A major reason is that producing quality rarely is so self-conscious. If you are committed to producing the best thing possible, you are not also calculating its broader effects on society. I can’t prove this but it does seem self-evident about most creative efforts. Only after finishing such a work do its wider consequences become evident. But if you start with the idea of influencing society, you’ll end up not with The Wire but The Restless Ones.

Better to stick with the catechism (especially one that comes in less than 140 questions — that way, there’s time for milk and cookies).