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Christian Nationalism #5  

The Reconquista – The Beginning

 

I am old enough, and have been a part of the Evangelical world for long enough, that I am now struggling with understanding what exactly (or even in-exactly) is an “Evangelical.”  In an earlier post I gave a short overview of the history of Evangelical social engagement starting with the 1940’s.  The difference between early 20th century Fundamentalism and mid-20th century Evangelicalism was social engagement.  The early social engagement of Evangelicals gave birth to institutions such as World Vision and Inter-Varsity.  There was a genuine effort to mix concern for the poor, the desire to right the wrongs of racism and other items that could be categorized as “mildly progressive” together with a commitment to a historic and orthodox version of Protestant Christianity.  Thus Evangelicalism was willing – at least on a limited basis – to take up the concerns of the earlier social gospel movement without compromising or watering down theology. 

 

This new engagement did not make Evangelicals into political liberals, but it also was very far from the reactionary politics of the early 21st century.  Institutions such as Wheaton College, Fuller Seminary and Christianity Today reflected these values.  With my own familiarity with Southern Baptists, I can also testify that this phenomenon was not just a Yankee thing.  The Christian Life Commission, Southern Seminary and the WMU all had strong components that reflected this new social awareness.  Perhaps the greatest example to the new Southern Evangelical was President Jimmy Carter. 

 

I remember as a college student going to the library and reading The Sword of The Lord.  This was the publication of John R. Rice, Jerry Falwell and Jack Hyles, and represented the last remnant of Fundamentalism that had survived into the 1970s.  The paranoia, the anti-intellectualism and the fierce hostility to any who did not completely accept their version of Christianity: these were the characteristics of their world.   I had a sort of perverse – almost schadenfreude – delight in reading their version of Christianity, knowing that they had lost.

 

I was wrong.  Starting in the late 1970s, a series of events and theological controversies began the reversal of the 20th century Evangelical renaissance.  Today, Evangelicalism much more resembles the Sword of Lord style Christianity than the progressive movement of earlier years.  Modern Evangelicalism represents a re-conquest of the conservative Protestant world by a version of Fundamentalism that accepted the call to social engagement of earlier Evangelicalism but took it in a much different direction.  In my next blog, I will cover the Re-conquest from 1979 to 2000. 

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