Is Warren Cole Smith an Evangelical?

On the one hand, the associate publisher of World Magazine warns about people who call themselves evangelical but aren’t:

3. Not everyone who calls himself an evangelical is an evangelical.

We have an old saying in my part of the South: “Just because my dog sleeps in the garage, that doesn’t make him a pick-up truck.” Just because a blogger calls himself (or herself) an evangelical doesn’t make it so. You don’t have to vote Republican or go to a particular church, but you gotta believe in that stuff in #1 above, or you’re something else. Beware of “progressive evangelicals” who claim to speak for evangelicals but who, upon examination, reject core doctrines that evangelicals find essential.

On the other hand, Mr. Smith looks like a fairly progressive evangelical himself:

2. Jerry Falwell wasn’t the first evangelical.

In fact, when Jerry Falwell started out, he wasn’t an evangelical, but self-consciously fundamentalist — and there was (and is) a difference. Church historian Phil Johnson credits William Tyndale with first using the word “evangelical” in 1531, when Tyndale wrote this: “He exhorteth them to proceed constantly in the evangelical truth.” The great Catholic martyr Sir Thomas More used the phrase a year later to describe Tyndale and other Protestant Reformers. The great missionary movements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were evangelical in character — think of the great evangelical statesman William Wilburforce, who fought against the slave trade in Great Britain.

In short, evangelicalism has a long history and is not a recent suburban American phenomenon.

5. Evangelicals are generous.

Virtually every reputable study, from Arthur Brooks’ book Who Really Cares? to the annual Empty Tombs, Inc. survey on church giving to the work of sociologist Bradley Wright, comes to the same conclusion: theologically conservative evangelical Christians give more money to charity than do theologically liberal Christians and non-Christians. And they don’t just give to evangelical Christian organizations. Liberals and non-Christians talk a good game when it comes to income equality or “social justice,” but evangelicals, not Episcopalians, are keeping the food banks of America alive.

6. Evangelicals love LGBTQIA people.

We are not homophobes. We are homophiles. Our churches welcome LGBTQIA people with the same message we present to all others: “Come as you are . . . but leave transformed.”

7. Evangelicals love the arts.

Ok, it’s true: our music mostly sucks. And so do our movies. At least, the music and movies we’ve made for the past 30 or 40 years. But not all of it, and it hasn’t always been so. I’m astonished and inspired when I see Kent Twitchell’s massive murals of Jesus on the public spaces in Los Angeles. Or Makoto Fujimura’s remarkable abstract expressionist paintings in chic Chelsea art galleries. Or hear anything by Bach.

Sure, contemporary evangelical writers, musicians, and artists are producing a lot of kitsch, but so are non-Christians. (You can’t blame the Kardashians and Honey-Boo-Boo on evangelicals.) And I predict that 100 years from now, if the Lord tarries, Christians will be singing Keith Getty’s and Stuart Townend’s “In Christ Alone” in the same churches that continue to sing Martin Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” and perform Handel’s “Messiah” at Christmastime.

8. Evangelicals are pro-science.

I support this assertion by noting that the rise of the scientific method and some of the great technological advancements of Europe correspond with the rise of evangelicalism in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. In our own day, Frances Collins (who leads the National Institutes of Health and led the Human Genome Project) is open about his Christian faith.

Evangelicals have endured the slanderous label of “anti-science” in recent years because of our skepticism about politically correct theories regarding the origins of man and climate change. In these arenas and many more, evangelicals joyfully go where the science takes us. But when ideology hijacks science — that is, when the pursuit of a point of view outruns logic, history, data, and reason — we rightfully object, and so should all who love pure science.

9. Evangelicals value quality education for all.

Because evangelicals operate most of the private schools in the country, and because most of the nation’s two million homeschoolers are evangelical Christians, we are often accused of being anti-public education and of having abandoned the public schools. That is simply not true.

For one thing, I state the obvious: evangelicals whose children do not attend the schools still support them with our tax dollars even though 100 percent of those dollars go to other people’s children. Secondly, most Christian schools I know about are generous with scholarships for those who would not otherwise be able to afford the school.

But the key point is that evangelical commitment to quality education for all means we do not support the government having a monopoly on education. The real threat to quality education for all is the near monopoly of the government-run education system, not the small-but-vibrant private Christian and homeschool sector. Private Christian education and homeschooling are the way up, not the way down.

10. Evangelicals are diverse and tolerant.

Evangelicals have never been, and are certainly not now, old white Americans. By some estimates, China has 30 million evangelical Christians. Some countries in Africa and South America have evangelical majorities. Here in the U.S. you can find millions of Hispanic evangelicals. That diversity is the result of — and has led more deeply into — a culture of tolerance evangelicals don’t get credit for.

No one values the free and honest exchange of ideas more than evangelical Christians. The Bible teaches evangelicals: “Come, let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18). We take that idea seriously. However, evangelicals believe mere tolerance is a low standard for those called to the much higher standard of love. Tolerance says, “Put up with those different from you.” Love says, “Help them achieve God’s highest and best.” (See #6 above.) Further, evangelicals see nothing tolerant in an ideology that brands any and all dissenting ideas as “hate speech.” Neither do we believe that tolerance demands us to view all ideas, beliefs, or behaviors as equally true and valid. Evangelicals believe some ideas are good and true and some are bad or false. Saying so does not make one a bigot.

So hipster evangelicals are not progressive evangelicals. As if I needed additional reasons for not reading World. Journalism is not cheer leading or re-branding.

The Evangelical Presbyterian W-w

Okay, remember this is a blog and most of the posts here are merely thinking out loud. And if all of us revealed all of our thoughts, we would likely surprise — even shock — many of those who know us.

So here is today’s conundrum: why is it that John Frame is almost as popular as Tim Keller? I say almost because TKNY obviously rocks. Yes, I concede a degree of envy. Any human, aside from Bryan Cross, would. Keller may not have the looks and charisma of a Billy Graham (neither does Frame nor — all about me — do I), but from his perch in NYC, the cosmopolitan capital of the world (for New Yorkers anyway, I’m not sure that Londoners or Romans or Istanbulus agree), and with his steady stream of books on the front shelves of national book chains and his easy access to religion journalists who don’t want to travel to Wheaton or Waco to report on evangelicalism, Keller is remarkably useful.

But what about John Frame? He has not (nor have I) been on any of the major conference circuits (Ligonier, T4G, TGC, ACE), he is not (nor am I) an exceptionally riveting speaker, and he has not (nor have I) broken through to the secular trade book market. Plus, for the last 30 years or so, he has labored in remarkably out of the way places (so have I) — the d’oh!s of Escondido and Oviedo. And yet, he continues to be the leading systematic theologian among evangelical Presbyterians. World magazine’s recent recognition of Frame’s Systematic Theology offers support for this conclusion.

Could it be that Frame’s appeal stems from his biblical literalism and devotional pietism? According to Paul Helm, these are the chief attributes of Frame’s body of work:

What motivates Frame’s theological work? I’d say, besides what has already been mentioned, a hermeneutic. The Bible, particularly the Bible’s language about God, is to be interpreted literally wherever possible. The genre of literal description is to prevail unless there s a very strong reason to disallow it. As Kevin Vanhoozer might say, the spirit of Carl Henry lives in KJV’s old teacher, John Frame. So wherever possible what God is said to be in Scripture, God literally is.

This hermeneutic is in evidence in Frame’s attitude to change in God, and to his various perspectives in time and in space, as we saw in our earlier piece on Frame’s outlook. ‘When he is present in our world of time, he looks at his creation from within and shares the perspectives of his creatures’. (570 ) ‘God engages in a conversation with man, as an actor in history. The author of history has written himself into the play as the lead character, and he interacts with other characters, doing what they do.’ (571) It would not be surprising if Frame has imbibed some of the modern outlook of the Christian religion as consisting in personal interaction between God and his creatures, despite holding that if one rejects libertarianism then the strongest argument for God being in time vanishes.

As already noted, another strong theme in Frame’s systematic theology is his concern that theology should be readily applied in the life of the believer. This is understood as having an everyday relationship with God as he interacts with his people. Such an interactive God must change, he thinks. It is important for obvious reasons that theology should be user-friendly, though it should not be forgotten that, say, Stephen Charnock’s Existence and Attributes of God contains numerous ‘applications’ in the Puritan style. Charnock’s theology is by no means purely cerebral. And – while we are on the topic – the nature of the worship of God will clearly be affected by the worshippers understanding of God. Worshipping a God who is at our shoulder is likely to be different from worshipping one who is simply ‘Our Father in heaven’. But that’s another topic.

As insightful as the post is, I do disagree with Helm’s opening that Frame “generally does not present his views polemically.” That may be true for his systematic theology, but once a warrior child it’s hard to avoid the combat.

What's the Big Deal?

Carl Trueman is rightly confused about the allies of the gospel making such a big deal of complimentarianism. I’ll see him a confusion and raise him a bewilderment — why are professional historians so worked up about David Barton? For weeks, nay, months academics hounded the God-and-country amateur historian, who sees faith writ large everywhere in the American founding (like some seminary presidents we know). For a summary of some of the objections, go here and here. And when word came that Thomas Nelson was recalling Barton’s book on Jefferson, The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson, one might have thought that Lyndon Baines Johnson had just signed the Civil Rights Act. So seemingly controversial had Barton become that Marvin Olasky, editor-in-chief of World magazine, believed he needed to create distance between his own understanding of the United States and Barton’s:

We report in our current issue—and plan to report again in our next—about a controversy between two groups of Christian conservatives (also see “Lost confidence,” by Thomas Kidd, Aug. 9). On one side are David Barton and his many readers. Barton has provided a useful service for many years in fighting the left’s interpretations of history. On the other side are other Christian conservatives who point out what they believe are inaccuracies in Barton’s work. Left-wing historians for years have criticized Barton. We haven’t spotlighted those criticisms because we know the biases behind them. It’s different when Christian conservatives point out inaccuracies. The Bible tells us that “iron sharpens iron,” and that’s our goal in reporting this controversy. As the great Puritan poet John Milton wrote concerning Truth, “Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?”

Olasky goes on to observe that historians have not been so obsessed with another popular and flawed account of U.S. history, Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. Olasky has a point but it is not entirely accurate. This summer the History News Network ran a poll among its readers on the “Least Credible History Book in Print.” For most of the time that people responded, Zinn led the pack. But when editors made the final tally, Barton surpassed Zinn by nine votes (650 to 641). In which case, if this poll is representative, academics can spot a bad book on the left and on the Christian fringe (to call Barton the right is an injustice to conservatism). Do Christians have as good a track record of acknowledging bias among their favorite writers on politics, history, and economics?

And yet, the question remains whether professional historians have sought to have Zinn’s book recalled? I am actually not sure whether historians wanted to see Barton’s book removed from the marketplace. Thomas Nelson likely made its decision to pull The Jefferson Lies for economic as much as scholarly reasons. Even so, considering all the bad books that publishers print, I am still befuddled by the large and concerted critique of Barton. I get it. He’s on Glenn Beck. But how many academics listen to or watch Beck? Thomas Nelson is a big and profitable trade press. But how many academics receive the company’s catalog? Barton’s ideas are silly and irresponsible. So are Zinn’s, right?

So I guess I really don’t get it. It seems to me the free market makes a lot of bad products available including books. What’s one more?