Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Culture that Created a Need for Rachel Held Evans

Rachel Held Evans( RHE) captured the attention of many – some who praised her, and others who are still bubbling over with miserable things to say about her. She was like a fresh breath of honesty, wrapping words around the frustrations of a whole generation of American Evangelicals. I find myself thinking of the analogy of breathing as quite fitting in light of her untimely death, reminding us all of the fragile and temporary nature of life itself. We are but a vapor. We know the exhalation of her creative expression which endures in her absence, but do we understand the culture which she drew into herself which prompted her message?

Consider that 70% of American adults identify as Christian with the Great Awakening revivals as factors that solidified the predominantly Protestant demographic. The First (1730-40) gave us many Puritans, Presbyterians, and pietists, and the Second Great Awakening (1790-1820) produced Methodists and Baptists.

Many view the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) as a microcosm of the larger Evangelical culture in America. It is the second largest single denomination (15 million members from among the 15.4% of all Baptists in the US), second only to Roman Catholics, and followed by the next largest denomination of Methodists (just 5%) [data self-reported by adults]. Because of its role in American history and its size, the SBC sets the tone and drives the direction of the Evangelical church at large. Baptists of all denominations strongly influenced the Christian school and the homeschooling movements and played an integral role in the development of the Quiverfull culture. 

Understanding Christian Fundamentalism

Today, most people use the term 'fundamentalist' to describe inflexible, authoritative religions of all varieties without realizing that early 20
thCentury Americans first coined the term as a descriptor. First launched by Presbyterians to be later claimed by Baptists, the original religious effort sought to direct Americans back to a devotion to the core doctrines of Protestantism.

When Evangelicals returned to a the fundamentalist campaign again in the 1960s, they employed it as both a political and religious strategy to make both church and nation great again. Now decades into fundamentalism's revival, I believe that the heavy-handed tactics employed in both church and civil government fall short of achieving the original spiritual intent.

The following outline aims at helping the reader trace the development of Christian Fundamentalism which contributes significantly to the modern political and religious landscape. Maybe some graduate student can find it years from now to help them track down info for their disseration. ;)

(Scroll over terms to find imbedded references.)

Primary Christian Fundamentalist Influences 
within 20thCentury America

Higher Life/Keswick Movement and Protestant Revivals
  • War Between the States ends (1865)
  • Baptist and Dispensational movements grow
    • Sunday School Movement
  • Lays foundation for the advent of Pentecostalism (1908-1915)
  • Protestants become the stewards of “the family pew” and other Victorian ideals by maintaining the meld between family and faith

Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy (1920s-30s)
  • Growing liberalism, modernism, and textual criticism of the Bible
  • Fundamentalism term coined to redirect Christians back to essential ('fundamental'), core beliefs
    • Presbyterians at Princeton (PCUSA denomination)
    • Presbyterianleaders separate from Princeton over liberalism to found Westminster Seminary
    • Orthodox Presbyterian Church founded after separation from PCUSA
      • Attended by the Chabad of Poway gunman April 2019
    • Wm J Bryandefends creationism in court for the State of TN
      • The matter leaves Christianity with 'egg on its face,' in the aftermath
    • Bryan College (RHE's alma mater)founded in 1930
      • Mission to educate students with a Christian worldview
    • The Lutheran Hour radio (1930 – present)
      • Lutheran Missouri Synod (evangelical denomination)
      • Encouraged Protestants to maintain a private faith which was welcomed after public embarrassment following the Scopes Trial 
  • Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) becomes more progressive, granting some liberties to women over time; develops some ecumenism 
    • Some adopt the Fundamentalism Movement from the Presbyterians
    • Leaders separate from the SBC to form the Independent Fundamental Baptists (IFB) network (1927)
      • John R RiceBill Piper (father of the Baptist minister)
      • Bob Jones University founded in 1927
      • IFB becomes the largest Christian education publisher in the US and spearheads the Christian school movement and homeschooling 

Social Changes in the 1960s and Religious Responses
  • Removal of Biblefrom government schools (1963)
  • Death of Victorian values
  • Charismatic Renewal and expanding revivals result in significant increase in new Evangelical converts 
    • Parachurch organizations (and cultic sects) expand rapidly with the aid of self-publishing and affordable cassette tape materials 
      • Cross-pollination of ideas across many denominational barriers
      • Aided the non-denominational movement 
      • Elder and church rule as intermediary priests/overseers between members and God
      • Enforcement of doctrine and rules of conduct
      • Developed to guard against too much experientialism
      • Obsession w/ reestablishing 1stCentury Christian church elements 
      • Consistent with top-down elder rule in Presbyterianism allowing for collaborative efforts (cross-pollination of ideas)

Christian Reconstruction (Established 1960s-80s)

The 21st Century deserves it's own post, but until then, you can find many other commentaries about Rachel Held Evans at No Longer Quivering.