Evangelical = “the white guy that doesn’t get it.”

In the Orlando Sentinal, David C. Steinmetz, a professor of the History of Christianity at Duke, offers a critique of the recently released Pew study – “Impressive data, but flawed conclusions.

I think he makes a very good point.

Pew divided American Protestants into three groups: Mainline (the older Protestant denominations like Methodist and Presbyterian); Evangelical (the more recent Protestant groups like the Assemblies of God and the Nazarenes); and the Historically Black denominations (like the National and Missionary Baptist churches). Unfortunately, these categories, while intellectually defensible, are not sufficiently nuanced to fit the reality they describe.

For example, African-American Protestants are overwhelmingly evangelical in their religious faith and practice, but rarely classify themselves as “Evangelicals.” “Evangelical” often means to African Americans “a white guy who doesn’t get it.”

Furthermore, the boundary between Evangelical and Mainline Protestants is frequently blurred. A substantial number of lay and clergy in mainline churches (including some members of the leadership) are in fact evangelical. “Evangelical” is therefore not a synonym for “a member in good standing of a traditionally evangelical denomination,” and never has been. Rather, evangelicals are the spiritual heirs of a traditional Protestant Christianity influenced by Puritanism and the American Revivalist tradition.

Denominational labels decline daily in importance as they have become increasingly Continue reading

Mapping Church Conflict

Last week, Theological Mom at Conn-versation had a great post where she mapped out theological conflict in churches. She specifically focuses on reformed churches, but I think her insights can be applied to most church fights. Here are some highlights.

[UPDATE: April 2008. Unfortunately, the post I link to here seems to have been the victim of (or at least collateral damage from) the very type of church conflict it was describing. Sorry.]

She begins . . . “When the church begins to fight internally, things devolve quickly.”


[Those of us not from reformed traditions we can replace “confessional” with “traditional” or “theological.”]

  • Box A features those churches which tend to be people-oriented and more confessionally flexible. I have in mind here most independent churches with a reformed bent of any size; certain emerging churches, and some liberal reformed churches and denominations.
  • Box B features those churches which tend to be people-oriented but more confessionally rigid. Here, I am thinking of more conservative reformed churches which experience their confessionalism in tension with culture.
  • Box C includes those churches which tend to be more tradition-oriented, but confessionally flexible. These would include most liberal reformed churches and denominations.
  • Box D includes those churches which tend to be more tradition-oriented and confessionally rigid. These are churches whose confessional commitment trumps most cultural concerns.

Here is why it is important: As battles heat up and the stakes get higher, the ability to maintain perspective is important. These disagreements reflect fundamental differences in ecclesiology as much as anything else, and ecclesiological commitments are very resistant to change. Even what constitutes a win for each side is different. B’s are fighting for a definition of church robust enough to hold confession, people, and tradition in workable tension. A victory for B’s would likely extend the arc of viability through D territory to include a large portion of it, but marginalize those on the extreme ends. D’s, on the other hand, are in the battle on behalf of their idea of right ecclesiology. D’s will only understand themselves as winners if they can have box D defined as the true church, and all other boxes as something less. If the D’s prevail, they will become a church or—more likely—churches unto themselves.