Spirituality Review: Still Evangelical?

still evangelical

Title: Still Evangelical? Ten Insiders Reconsider Political, Social, and Theological Meaning. Edited by Mark Labberton
Genre: Essay Anthology/Christian Nonfiction
Rating: ★★★★ (4/5)

The evangelical movement is in crisis. After the missions boom of the seventies, rise of the right-wing Moral Majority in the eighties, decline in cultural influence in the nineties, and the fracturing of the movement after the 2016 presidential election in which 81% of white evangelicals voted for a man widely considered to not demonstrate Christian virtues, journalists are sounding evangelicalism’s death knell. In light of this crises, ten influential voices in evangelism have come together to unpack the election, talk social justice and spiritual renewal, and debate whether or not the label “evangelical” can truly be redeemed.

Full disclosure: I came of age in churches shaped by the evangelical movement, and remained evangelical for much of my life before being received into the Episcopal church in my first year of seminary. My feelings towards the evangelical movement are complex, and obviously, I had reasons for leaving. Despite this, I have close personal and professional ties with many in the evangelical church, and I’m interested in keeping my finger on the pulse of evangelicalism, especially in light of the huge sway it has held in the American church in the last fifty years.

I was worried this book might devolve into defensive protection of evangelicalism’s interests. But after reading the prologue, which incisively recounted the movement’s rise to power and subsequent decline after disastrous political collusion and the twilight of many of its central personalities, I was put more at ease. This is a book that intimately understands not only what is at stake for the evangelical movement, but the diversity of values within the movement and the innumerable wrongs the movement has been tied to theologically, politically, and socially.

There are traditional and progressive evangelicals here, and plenty of authors much harder to categorize. Jim Daly, president of the highly conservative Focus on the Family, is present, but so is Shawn Claiborne, a neo-monastic inspired by Christ to speak against war and the death penalty, and Lisa Sharon Harper, a black woman theologian with a passion for racial reconciliation. Together, the ten authors featured put forward a program that renounces political partisanship while upping political engagement, elevates the voices of minority and Majority World evangelicals, and sets aside church models predicated on stadium worship and cults of personalities. I didn’t agree with every opinion within the book, but I think that’s what made it for me: voices were held in tension without sacrificing their varying convictions or allowing ideological extremism to flourish. The presence of more women would have been welcome, but perhaps the lack of female writers represents the general trend evangelicalism has towards being a “boys’ club”.

Ultimately, the book urges readers to stick with the evangelical mission despite the loss of evangelical credibility in the eyes of most Americans. I can’t advocate for this choice either way, but I recommend this book to anyone interested in what went so wrong in evangelism and what evangelicals are doing to try and become better. It didn’t send me running home to the movement that raised me, but it did give me hope.

I received an advance review copy of Still Evangelical? from Intervarsity Press in exchange for an honest review. Still Evangelical? is set to drop in January 2018 and can be pre-ordered directly from Intervarsity Press or purchased on Amazon.

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