Why Did It Take 50 Years For Calvinists To Care About Race?: How The Mainline Saved Evangelicalism

Religion, The South, Uncategorized on June 13th, 2015 24 Comments

The Civil-Rights Movement in America lasted from roughly 1955 to 1968 (with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1968). That was half a century ago. In what many people would call “remarkable,” 2015 may go down in the annals of American church history as the year that conservative, Calvinist Baptists and conservative Presbyterians decided that racism is a real problem that needs the attention of the church. Why did it take so long?

In the 1950s and 1960s, if you were a white Christian burdened by the racial injustice of America’s past conservative Baptists and Presbyterians during that time would have likely labelled you “a liberal” and relegated the issues of racial justice to the category of “social issues” and not “gospel issues.”

In a capstone of disconnected discussions over the past few years, in 2015 the Calvinistic Baptist community decided to end the moratorium on racial issues as a merely social issue through a series of conversations, conferences, and articles. As I’ve said before, The Southern Baptist Convention, without question, is the leading conservative evangelical denomination in the America on confessing past racism, being completely honest about being on the wrong side of racial oppression, and taking strides toward racial reconciliation (and led by very visible leaders like Russell Moore). For example, Justin Taylor at The Gospel Coalition initiated, led, and directed a conversation about the response of evangelicals to the Civil-Rights Movement. The entire series was highly instructive and I was honored that Justin Taylor even thought my question was worth investigating. In a follow-up discussion, Russell Moore and Matt Hall had a courageously public and transparent conversation about the failings of Southern Baptists and posted it on social media–an unprecedented move for two white males, in my experience, with high levels of credibility within conservative evangelicalism.

Conservative Presbyterians: In 1976, Randy Nabors was installed as the pastor of a then newly particularized church called, “New City Fellowship” in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) denomination. Beginning in 1968, a small group of Christians in Chattanooga, TN believed that racial injustice was an issue that needed to be addressed in the church, by the church. This developed into the racial reconciliation emphasis of this new church that was particularized in 1976. For most of New City’s history their denomination has acknowledged the importance of the church’s racial reconciliation work but treated the racial discourse as an extra-curricular activity and never central to the denomination’s mission. As a result, according to 2014 data, the PCA had 4,556 ministers and roughly 50 of them are African American (that’s around 1%).

One the floor of the 43rd General Assembly of the PCA, the Rev. Jim Baird, one of the founders of the denomination, confessed his own passivity and indifference to the plight of African Americans in the 1960s and early 70s, saying, “but I confess I did nothing to help my black brethren who were suffering. I did nothing.” This was spoken as ministers in the denomination were debating a resolution, offered by the Rev. Drs. Ligon Duncan and Sean Lucas, for the denomination to work through confessing and repenting of the Southern Presbyterian/PCA complicity in facilitating resistance and indifference to the end of the Jim Crow era.

Why did this take 50 years? Why was Randy Nabors not taken seriously and embraced as a hero and model throughout the Presbyterian churches in the South beginning in the 1970s? I do not know the answers to these questions fully but I do know, in part, that we would not likely be having these conversations in 2015 if it were not for the scholarship of mainline liberal theologians and historians. Men like Nabors and the African Americans I know of who have been talking about these issues in the PCA for decades did not have enough credibility and they have paid the price for raising the issue at all.

Members of the PCA are largely ignorant of their own denomination’s actual history. Maybe that will change with Sean Lucas’ forthcoming book on the history of the PCA. Therefore, I can honestly say that had it not been for the for the work of Dr. Joel Alvis (Religion and Race: Southern Presbyterians, 1946 to 1983), Dr. Peter Slade (Open Friendship in a Closed Society: Mission Mississippi and a Theology of Friendship), Dr. Stephen Haynes, (The Last Segregated Hour: The Memphis Kneel-Ins and the Campaign for Southern Church Desegregation) and Dr. Carolyn Dupont (Mississippi Praying: Southern White Evangelicals and the Civil Rights Movement, 1945-1975) members of the Presbyterian Church in America would likely never have learned about the role that race played in the formation of the denomination and in the lives of prominent Presbyterians in South during slavery and Jim Crow. These issues were taken seriously only after mainline historians and theologians provided documentary evidence of what many African American pastors and scholars have been writing about for decades.

I am confident to say, then, that the Protestant mainline churches may have just saved the conservative denominations from dying in an America where the only denominations that will survive in the future will have multi-ethnic members and leaders as the country’s racial demographics change. PCA outsiders knew more about the denomination than its own leaders. How did that happen? The narrative of the PCA’s formation has been largely told as only a theologically story–as if those men were not influenced by the cultural currents of the times. For that to be completely true, of course, the denomination’s founders would have been some kind of super humans unaffected by things that have always shaped church movements in the past.

My Protestant mainline friends are wondering why the Calvinistic Baptists and conservative Presbyterians are so celebratory about the current progress in 2015 given the fact the rest of American Protestantism had these discussions 50 years ago. In fact, Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic clergy came to the assistance of African Americans during the Civil-Rights Movement while gospel-centered, grace-centered Calvinists did nothing or supported racial segregation from the Bible. However, even with the half-of-a-century slowness to embrace issues that African American and “liberal” Christians regularly raise, we must give credit wherever credit is due. Progress is progress. What Russell Moore and Jim Baird did in 2015 is remarkable given the historical resistance to caring about African-Americans in their respective traditions. It is serving t0 silence progressive critics who believe that conservative evangelicals are committed to white privilege. So, we celebrate progress wherever it happens. Change is coming.

A few years ago, Randy Nabors said that no one in the PCA should be ordained without being able to tell the story of the Southern Presbyterian Church/PCA history of race relations. I wholeheartedly agree. I’ll go one step further and say that seminaries should require all of its students to read Alvis, Slade, Haynes, and Dupont, even if some of the details are contested, because without mainline scholars many of us are afraid that today’s Calvinists might never learn what actually happened in this country from professors at the Reformed seminaries across the US.

Now what? Solutions? What do we do? How do we fix it? How do we bring about change? How do we move forward? These are all natural questions. Great questions. There are answers.

In 2013, I put together a book title, Aliens In The Promised Land:
Why Minority Leadership Is Overlooked in White Christian Churches and Institutions
to answer these questions and provide a framework for what it looks like to move from racial reconciliation (looking at the past) to racial solidarity (moving forward). The book includes African-American, Hispanic, Latino, and Asian American perspectives. It’s a book of ideas and solutions that address the entire span of Christian institutions from church planting, denominational leadership, to recruiting students to Christian colleges and evangelical seminaries, and more. Dr. John Frame calls the book “A game changer.” We produced the book because I regularly hear the complaint that “you only highlight problems but we need solutions.” Well, here is a book of solutions and I pray that we don’t have to wait another 50 years to see the action steps mentioned in this book come to pass. The appendix is an outstanding set of practical steps for local churches.

Again, while I can’t answer the 50-year question, we also don’t have to wait until resolutions and overtures pass to start making real change today.

Learning From Retired PC(USA) Pastors

Religion on October 18th, 2014 3 Comments

Check this: A white 72-year-old PC(USA) pastor who used to participate in civil-rights activism in the 1960s told me this story about Young Life in Alabama in the 1970s during his years doing youth ministry in the North Alabama Presbytery:

As the Presbyterian Church got more and more involved in social justice and introduced more and more of their youth to connect the gospel to social action, Young Life came to town and pulled the middle and upper-class white kids out of the Presbyterian (what became the PC-USA) church-based fellowship groups and would meet separately with them to focus on individual salvation and personal spirituality and to keep them out of getting involved in social justice. The goal was to get them to camp. They would keep these teens Christianity separate from the social issues of the day. (He also mentioned that at camp the Presbyterian kids would then loses their Presbyterian commitments and when they graduated high school would join non-denoms and be introduced to all kinds of muddled theology).

In his part of north Alabama, the Presbyterian churches would hold their youth fellowship meetings on Sunday nights. When Young Life came to town, many of them would set up their meetings on Sunday nights as well. Yes, the same night at church-based youth events. This pastor was explaining to me why it is that whenever he hears “Young Life” he gets angry.

I just sat there. I didn’t know what to say. These conversations are blowing my mind.

Coming Soon New Book: Black Scholars In White Space: New Vistas in African American Studies from the Christian Academy

Books, Politics, Religion on May 28th, 2014 No Comments

These are among the most dynamic black scholars in Christian Higher Education. Never before in American history have we had this many African Americans teaching at America’s Christian colleges and university. If you have African Americans teaching at your Christian college you are witnessing history. Be thankful!

Working Title: Black Scholars In White Space: New Vistas in African American Studies from the Christian Academy


Social Sciences

1.            Prophetic and Priestly: The Politics of a Black Catholic Parish—Larycia Hawkins

2.             Jesus and Justice: The Moral Framing of the Black Policy Agenda—Larycia Hawkins

3.            Reading is not simply Black and White: Comparisons of Health and Non-Health Literacy in African Americans and Caucasians — Rihana S. Mason and Chizara Ahuama-Jonas

4.            American Women as Scholars in the Christian Academy: A Perspective on Sisterhood (in Academic Faith Communities)—Yvonne RB-Banks

5.            Becoming an African American Academic Leader on a Predominately White Christian Campus: The Use of Autoethnography as a Method for Exploring Mentoring Processes—Michelle Loyd-Paige

6.            Ain’t I A Student? Thinking through Spaces for Black Female College Students—

Deshonna Collier-Goubil


Religious, Historical, and Cultural Studies

7.            Erasing Race: Racial Identity and Theological Anthropology—Vincent Bacote

8.            An Open Door and a Welcome Hand: Lewis Garnet Jordan and his Ethiopian Vision—Eric Washington

9.            Civil Rights Movement in Public Memory: Exploration of Christian Symbolism in Civil Rights Movement Commemoration—Todd Allen

10.            Affirmative Action and Conceptions of Fairness: Jonathan Haidt and the Righteous Black Community”—Anthony B. Bradley


Author Bios:

Todd Allen (Ph.D., Duquesne University) is Professor of Communication Studies at

Grove City College. In 2006 Dr. Allen founded The Common Ground Project, a community based non-profit dedicated to promoting an understanding of the Civil Rights Movement.  Through this organization he conducts the “Returning to the Roots of Civil Rights Bus Tour,” which visits many of the key sites of the movement.  He has been the recipient of numerous awards including fellowships at the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and the National Endowment for the Humanities, New Pittsburgh Courier “50 Men of Excellence”, and the YWCA of Greater Pittsburgh Racial Justice Award.


Vincent Bacote (Ph.D., Drew University) is Associate Professor of Theology and the Director of the Center for Applied Christian Ethics at Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL. Dr. Bacote has also contributed to books such as Global Theology in Evangelical Perspective (InterVarsity Press, 2012), Prophetic Evangelicals: Envisioning a Just and Peaceable Kingdom (Eerdmans, 2012),  Keep Your Head Up: America’s New Black Christian Leaders, Social Consciousness, and the Cosby Conversation (Crossway, 2012),  Not Just Science (Zondervan, 2005), The Dictionary for the Theological Interpretation of the Bible (Baker, 2005), What Does it Mean to be Saved? (Baker, 2002), Building Unity in the Church of the New Millennium (Moody Press, 2002) and The Best Christian Writing 2000 (Harper, 2000). He is a regular columnist for Comment and has also had articles appear in magazines such as Christianity Today and Re:generation Quarterly and journals such as Urban Mission and the Journal for Christian Theological Research. He has been President of the Christian Theological Research Fellowship, and is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society, the Society of Christian Ethics and the American Academy of Religion.


Anthony B. Bradley (Ph.D., Westminster Theological Seminary; M.A. Fordham University) is Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics at The King’s College in New York City and serves as a Research Fellow at the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Dr. Bradley lectures at colleges, universities, business organizations, conferences, and churches throughout the U.S. and abroad. His writings on religious and cultural issues have been published in a variety of journals, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Detroit News, and World magazine. Dr. Bradley is called upon by members of the broadcast media for comment on current issues and has appeared on C-SPAN, NPR, CNN/Headline News, Fox News, and Court TV Radio, among others. His books include: Liberating Black Theology (2010), Black and Tired (2011), The Political Economy of Liberation (2012), Keep Your Head Up (2012), and Aliens In The Promised Land (2013).


Deshonna Collier-Goubil (Ph.D., Howard University; M.A., Fuller Theological Seminary) is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Biola University.  Her dissertation work used spatial analysis to look at the effects of economic strain (measured by home foreclosures) on domestic violence while controlling for characteristics of neighborhood deprivation. She’s also completed research on youth violence in urban communities, researcher-practitioner community collaborations, and prisoner re-entry. Additionally, Dr. Collier-Goubil conducts research in Hip Hop, the urban church and Black theology, as well as womanist musings.  In her current post, Dr. Collier-Goubil coordinates the criminology concentration, teaches classes on research methods, criminology, and race.  In her spare time, Dr. Collier-Goubil developed a leadership development group for female students of color on Biola’s campus and the program is flourishing.


Larycia A. Hawkins (Ph.D., University of Oklahoma) is Associate Professor of Politics and International Relations at Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL.  In 2011, her co-edited book, Religion and American Politics: Classic and Contemporary Perspectives, was published by Pearson.  Her active research agenda includes projects that explore how and whether black liberation theology frames contemporary black political rhetoric and how black liberation theology is reflected on black political agendas, like those of the Congressional Black Caucus and the NAACP.  Prior to academia, Dr. Hawkins worked briefly in state government administering federal programs, including the Social Security Disability program and the Community Development Block Grant.


Michelle Loyd-Paige (Ph.D., Purdue University) is Executive Associate to the president for diversity and inclusion at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Dr. Loyd-Paige accepted the executive associate’s position after seven years as the dean for multicultural affairs and 20 years as a faculty member in the department of sociology and social work at Calvin College in 2013. Dr. Loyd-Paige’s primary role is to lead and promote campus-wide initiatives that help to facilitate systemic changes which inspire anti-racism, diversity, and equity as essential values in support of academic excellence.  Dr. Loyd-Paige’s research interests include: Afro-Christian clergywomen, Anti-Racism, being Black and Reformed, and Plant-based diets among African-Americans.


Rihana S. Mason (Ph.D., University of South Carolina) is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Emmanuel College. Dr. Mason’s research areas include: the time course of incidental vocabulary acquisition, the assessment of vocabulary and reading in children and adults from disadvantaged backgrounds, and the influences of cognitive factors like working memory on sentence comprehension. At Emmanuel College, Dr. Mason integrates her faith and scholarship through the teaching of undergraduate courses related to the areas of development, cognition, social psychology, statistics, assessment and research. Her co-author, Chizara Ahuama-Jonas (BA, Georgia State University) is a clinical graduate student at the University of Cinncinati who completed her undergraduate honors thesis under the direction of Dr. Mason.


Yvonne RB-Banks (Ed.D., University of Minnesota) Yvonne RB-Banks (Ed.D, University of Minnesota) is a Professor in the department of education, and Dean of Academic Support Services at University of Northwestern-St. Paul, in St. Paul, Minnesota. Dr. RB-Banks’ primary research focus relates to issues surrounding equity in the Pk-12 educational system. Specially, her research centers on special education placements and remediation strategies that impact African-American males’ over-representation in EB/D settings and barriers to entering higher education. Dr. RB-Banks is an author and international presenter on a variety of topics related to culture, equity and gender experiences in the classroom. She teaches in the core curriculum and uses her courses to promote educational equity through the development of pre-service teachers. She has a growing interest in equity research centered on African-American faculty evolving out of her experiences as the only African American female faculty/administrator at her institution after 15 years.


Eric Michael Washington (Ph.D., Michigan State University) is Assistant Professor of African-American and African History, and Director of African and African Diaspora Studies at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI. A native of New Orleans, LA, Washington’s interest is in 19th century and early 20th century African-American Baptist missions to Africa focusing on the interrelation of Evangelicalism and Ethiopianism as dual motivating ideals. His other research interests include the development of Black Atlantic Calvinism during the late 18th and early 19th centuries primarily through the study and analysis of slave narratives.

A Gentle, Friendly Request For Southern Baptist Writers

Religion, Uncategorized on May 20th, 2014 5 Comments

impactSoong-Chan Rah and I have been writing and speaking about race and evangelicalism trends for decades. That work culminated in a project we started called Gospel and Race because we believe, as the data indicates, that the future of American evangelicalism will be diversely Asian American, Hispanic, and African American in its public expression, if it’s going to have a future at all.

I’m not quite sure how to say this, and I’m not trying to be a offensive or cause trouble, but several of us are wondering if our Southern Baptist friends can stop conflating issues in their own denomination with “evangelicalism” or “the American Church” or “The Church” in general. For example, many Southern Baptist writers (current and former) posting at Religion News Service, major blogging websites, research organizations, conferences, etc. have been writing on the issue of millennials leaving the church. It turns out, that this is not an evangelical problem nor an American church problem, but a white problem in certain circles. Asian American, Hispanic, and African American millennials are growing in number. Black millennials are not leaving the church.

“One of the dangers of being the majority culture is that you become complacent and you don’t listen,” says Derwin Gray Pastor of Transformation Church on this issue. “You think your problems are everyone else’s problem.”

There was a time when evangelicalism had a white male face but, if the data holds, that is the face of American evangelicalism’s past. Many of us have been trying to make the case that there needs to be new leadership faces but few it seems are listening to us.

We tend to look at the church through our own tribal and denomination lenses. It happens. It’s inadvertent. It just is what it is. Granted, there are 16 million Southern Baptists so the tendency to do this is totally understandable but I think it should be known that Asian American, Hispanic, and Black evangelicals (as well as many non-Southern Baptists) find it extremely frustrating when articles are written about trends in evangelicalism which are, in fact, trends only among white evangelicalism and, at times, are limited to particular Southern Baptists contexts–like the whole discussion of New Calvinism. There was no Calvinist resurgence among Presbyterians.

In conclusion, the friendly request is for all of us to not make our denominational problems the problems of “The American Church” or “American Evangelicalism,” and the like. So, could you Southern Baptist writers (currently in, recently left, or critically provoking) not use “evangelicalism” as a synonym for “Southern Baptist”–even when challenging it like we see when we read voices like Rachel Held Evans and Jonathan Merritt. Perhaps, then, in the future a more accurate article title would be something like, “Why Millennials Are Leaving The Predominantly White “X” Denominational/Non-Denominational Churches.” Your problems don’t necessarily reflect trends and issues among Asian American, Hispanic, or Black evangelical churches or other denominations.

Again, I’m not trying to be overly harsh, offensive, critical but I believe that sharpening our categories leads to better diagnosis and provides greater opportunities to be innovative about solutions. I just didn’t know any other way to make this request. I think that speaking more in terms of denominational identity could help all of us anyway.

How Evangelicals Sold Out To Politics And Lost Their Kids In The Process

Religion on February 4th, 2014 14 Comments

I had an “aha” moment reading Eastern Orthodox theology the other day. Ok, so here’s a thesis (it’s just a thesis and I’m sure someone else has pointed to these things before): it’s doubtful that evangelicalism will ever have another Carl-Henry-era “center” again. In it’s desire for centralizing structural/cultural power, the Carl Henry-era/CT evangelicalism, with Calvinists, Arminians, Reformed and Dispensational working together, went from gathering various denominational communions fighting against theological liberalism to fighting primarily against social & political liberalism in the 1970s & 1980s. Evangelicalism allowed herself to be co-opted by suburban conservative Reagan/Bush era deistic God and country political operatives who used evangelical leader’s influence for votes & promised (fleeting) legislative and executive branch access and influence in return. That never happened. In other words, evangelical leaders sold their churches out for politics in the 1970s through the early 1990s and lost their kids in the process.

The result is that by the 1990s, evangelicalism had become the religious dimension of political/social community and had lost entire generations of Gen X and Millennials by 2010. Evangelicalism was a 1980s/1990s political/social community that adopted a suburban politically conservative posture toward those on welfare, low-income whites, inner-city blacks and Latinos, instead of one driven by the sacraments. A political/social community that wanted good, socially & politically conservative kids, and so on. But their children longed for intimacy (in a culture of divorce & constant moving from neighborhood to neighbor chasing the American dream) and community so they left to go be a part of some version of emergent church–McLaren/Bell/Driscoll–in order to experience community around the Lord’s Supper, Christian tradition (ancient/future), religious experience, worship, mystery, “brokenness,” vulnerability, and so on. Their kids wanted connection, their parents wanted to win the “culture war.”

By 2000, many evangelical “leaders” realized the misdirection an attempted a course correction. Too late. This has not worked because of the influence of non-denominationalism, celebrity Christianity, theological tribalism, etc. There is no longer a space where Arminians and Calvinists share a common theological enemy. In the end, this is a story of how evangelicalism lost Gen Xers and Millennials between 1990 & 2010 by lusting after political influence. “The Gospel” is not enough of a common mission because even that word is defined according to theological preferences. What’s next? I’m not sure but I’m pretty convinced that as long evangelicals do not have a common enemy (this is basic social psychology 101) don’t expect their to be an Arminian, Calvinist, Reformed, Lutheran, Dispensational, Pentecostal, Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Anglican, non-denominational, etc. theologically conservative “center” in the near future if ever. Again, this is just a thesis. Thoughts?

Ebony Exodus Project: So, Who Cares About Black Women?

Religion on January 12th, 2014 6 Comments

This video was painfully hard to watch. WOW. Really hard. This is a project (explained also in a book) describing why it is that black women are increasingly walking away from Christianity (esp. word-of-faith type churches). It was hard to listen to Candance’s story. These are the stories that mainstream evangelicalism is ignorant of because black women are basically invisible in those circle. Additionally, these women are generally too conservative for mainline churches to have a platform there as well. They are, then, left to the anti-intellectual word-of-faith movement leaving them without sufficient categories to navigate the broad brokenness of shalom.

To make matters worse, when black men leave the black church and move into evangelical circles they are often inadvertently discipled away from caring about the needs of black women, or desiring their company, leaving many black women on an island alone. These are black women who often suffer the twin burdens of gender and race making them, according to the data, the least desired of all women in America. Her interview also provides some perspective as to why I prefer Christian counseling models like “Christian Psychology Model” (Covenant Seminary) and the “Christian Integration Model” (Reformed Theological Seminary, Gordon-Conwell, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, etc.) over and against the “Biblical Counseling” model.

So, then, what’s the consequence of paying no attention to the unique needs of black women? Let’s call it the “Ebony Exodus Project.”

Links: Tim Keller explains the 4 different models of Christian counseling here. The book The Ebony Exodus Project.

Pope Francis Is Exposing The Idol Of Politics Among The Religious Left And Progressive Evangelicals

Education on December 16th, 2013 No Comments

Pope Francis is exposing people. After completing the 84-page single-spaced document, this one truth is clarified about Evangelii gaudium: anyone who immediately celebrated the document’s critique of an atheistic libertarian understanding of the role of free markets does not understand Christianity and/or revealed that for progressive Christians political ideology drives their understanding of Christianity. For example, those who shared and re-shared the “Business Insider” drivel about the condemnation of capitalism exposed that their Christianity is syncretize with political ideology.

Here’s why I say this: only 3% of the entire document is about economic concerns (I counted). The focus of the document revolves around the need for increased evangelism and apologetics, spreading of his understanding of the Gospel, increasing Bible teaching in local parishes, more Bible-centered preaching, catechizing children in the faith, and paying attention to the poor.

The 97% did not make the headlines and is not what went viral–but the 3% did. Don’t believe the hype. Progressive Christians are just as idolatrously driven by political ideological as syncretistic conservatives. The headlines about this document should have been about what it means that the Catholic church is mobilizing to launch in international program centered on evangelism. Instead we’re talking about 9 paragraphs out of 288. What does this tell us?

King’s College Students At Poverty Cure NYC Film Festival, Dec. 12th

Religion on December 13th, 2013 No Comments


Does your Christianity begin with Gen 1 & 2 or Gen 3?

Religion on August 8th, 2013 1 Comment

I explain over at The Acton Institute.

Beginning with Gen 1 & 2: God is redeeming people and creation.

Beginning with Gen 3: God is only burdened by the salvation of individuals for the this life and the one to come.

Which are you are why?

What’s So ‘Evangelical’ About Rachel Held Evans?

Religion on August 3rd, 2013 1 Comment

The short answer: nothing. Here’s the moral of the RHE story: the best way to read her is through the lens of Mainline Protestantism. Nothing she writes is anything we haven’t heard from Carter Heyward. Nothing.

Rachel Held Evans’ follow-up to her recent CNN post about Millennials should finally settle the issue of where she stands along the Protestant Evangelical/Protestant Mainline spectrum. When reading “Why Millennials Need The Church” if there is something we should all be on it is that the fact Rachel Held Evans should not be considered an evangelical or even “post-evangelical.” Perhaps simply a “no evangelical.” This is perfectly fine, by the way. You don’t have to be an evangelical in order to be a Christian but, as I mentioned before, the media and many of her followers wrongly believe that she embraces the worldview of the broad evangelical tribe in the United States or the United Kingdom.

I have just a few short, unassorted, random observations from Evans’ latest:

(1) RHE seems extremely confused and unknowledgeable about the what makes the church “the” church:

For example, the Lutherans (a.k.a., the original evangelicals) describe the what the church is as an institution that administers the “means of grace.”

These means of grace are the Word of the Gospel, in every form in which it is brought to man, and the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and of the Lord’s Supper. The Word of the gospel promises and applies the grace of God, works faith and thus regenerates man, and gives the Holy Ghost, Acts 20:24; Rom. 10:17; 1 Pet. 1:23; Gal. 3:2. Baptism, too, is applied for the remission of sins and is therefore a washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, Acts 2:38; 22:16; Titus 3:5. Likewise the object of the Lord’s Supper, that is, of the ministration of the body and blood of Christ, is none other than the communication and sealing of the forgiveness of sins, as the words declare: “Given for you,” and: “Shed for you for the remission of sins,” Luke 22:19, 20; Matt. 26:28, and “This cup is the New Testament in My blood,” 1 Cor. 11:23; Jer. 31:31-34 (“New Covenant”).

Evans makes no mention of the need for the Gospel when describing why Millennials need the church, which is really odd.

(2) The World Council of Churches describes Baptism this way: “baptism Christians, men, women or children, become part of the church, i.e. of the people of God.”

Evans: “baptism drags us – sometimes kicking and screaming as infants – into the large, dysfunctional and beautiful family of the church.”

Evangelical Wesleyans describe Baptism this way: “We believe that water baptism is a sacrament of the church, commanded by our Lord and administered to believers. It is a symbol of the new covenant of grace and signifies acceptance of the benefits of the atonement of Jesus Christ. By means of this sacrament, believers declare their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior.”

(3) Confession

In the tradition of Protestant evangelicalism confession is not mentioned without an emphasis on repentance.

Evans relates confession to accountability which is one aspect but it is also, historically speaking, distinct from repentance. Again, the Lutherans (the original evangelicals) introduce us to the distinction between confession and repentance, and the relationship between the two, in two separate articles of the Augsburg Confession.

The call to repentance is how Jesus framea one of the central reasons why he came.

(4) Communion

Evans defines communion (the Lord’s Supper) as: “the significance of remembering Jesus through eating bread and drinking wine.” While the Zwinglian understanding is still alive in many circles, for many evangelicals communion is more than mere remembrance. For example, the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 97, connects the Lord’s Supper to repentance:

“Q. 97. What is required for the worthy receiving of the Lord’s Supper? A. It is required of them that would worthily partake of the Lord’s Supper, that they examine themselves of their knowledge to discern the Lord’s body, of their faith to feed upon him, of their repentance, love, and new obedience; lest, coming unworthily, they eat and drink judgment to themselves

These are types of themes that have classically been a part of Protestant Evangelicalism but you will not hear emphasized in Protestant mainline churches nor, by extension, in Evans. There are good reasons for that. Her comments about healing, leadership, etc. are parts of various denominational distinctives in terms of emphasis but she fails to give a vision for what it’s all for. Now, I understand that it’s just a short blog post on CNN but my guess is that an evangelical Lutheran or Wesleyan would have written it much differently.

If you think I’m going too far, read the doctrinal beliefs of the United Church of Christ(UCC), one of the oldest mainline denominations in America, and then go back an read what Rachel Held Evans writes over at CNN.

Perhaps the most painful part of Evans (very non-evangelical) way of thinking about why Millennials need the church is the call to glorify God. Evans’ list of why Millennials “need” the church remains, at the end of the day, individualistic and consumeristic. It seems to be more about the needs of Millennials and the benefits of Christ’s church rather than the ancient call to live a life to glorify the Triune God.

Again, it’s ok for Evans to critique conservative evangelicals. It’s no biggie. I do it all the time. Lots of those outside of the evangelical world do so. It just seems that it’s time for Evans, and others, to be honest about their mainline Protestant 1970s theological ethos that has no real interest in aligning herself with the promotion of the beliefs of classical evangelical churches. I don’t think I’ll ever understand why anyone finds her credible. Carter Heyward already showed us what this looks like I’m not sure what Evan’s neo-Heywardism is particularly adding.