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Evangelicalism: What Is It? And Who Cares?

Updated: May 3

Dr. John G. Stackhouse, Jr, theologian, historian and expert on Evangelicals has created a mini-course on Evangelicals titled, Evangelicalism 101: What Is It? and Who Cares? Below is an excerpt of part one of five on the quickest-growing forms of religion in the world today.

Another U.S. election prompts another round of analysis, commentary, and clever social media quips about evangelicals. Who are these people, really? And should anyone keep caring about that question?

Recent news brings us word that former U.S. president and current Republican candidate Donald Trump has changed his party’s position (he can do that by himself, it appears) on abortion to a “follow your heart” and states-rights posture. Trump is nothing if not cunning, and this attempt to blunt one of the key mobilizing issues for his Democratic opponents adds an interesting element to the contest.


It remains to be seen whether Trump’s change will cost him any votes from the white evangelicals that have heretofore been so conspicuously supportive.


In his first presidential race, white evangelicals typically told pollsters that the prospect of a pro-life president appointing a pro-life Supreme Court was crucial for them in overcoming any revulsion they might have felt toward Donald Trump. Now that they have such a Supreme Court, how will these white evangelicals feel about a president who has said he (currently) wants states to decide the issue?


Since the Democrats will offer them only worse options, maybe it doesn’t matter how they feel. In the binary world of two-party American politics, Trump’s GOP is still the better choice on that score. We’ll see whether ambivalence about Trump leads, perhaps, to lower turnout.


Opinion polls have shown, however, that abortion has not, in fact, ranked all that high in white evangelical priorities. Immigration, good jobs, progressive politics of sex and gender—these issues have fired up the white evangelical base more than has abortion. White Christian nationalism has emerged as the key explanation for evangelical support of Donald Trump and the Trumpified Republican Party.


I keep saying “white” because those priorities are not the priorities of even other American evangelicals. Black, Hispanic, and Asian evangelicals are more concerned, and variously among themselves, about matters of political and legal justice, economic opportunity, and various manifestations of enduring racism.


Poor evangelicals of any ethnicity naturally focus on economic concerns. Young evangelicals shake their heads at Boomer preoccupations. And keen evangelicals of all sorts mourn the co-option of evangelical churches by right-wing politics with the concomitant loss of evangelistic zeal, deep fellowship, generous care for the needy, and passionate worship.


Evangelicals beyond the U.S.A. care about politics, too. But their concern is mostly the politics of survival. At least, the millions of evangelicals in China are just trying to survive under President Xi’s steadily increasing pressure. Same with evangelicals in India, as Prime Minister Modi keeps stoking Hindu nationalistic prejudices.


Evangelicals in Nigeria, Rwanda, and elsewhere across the huge evangelical populations of Africa work to overcome the persistent problems of tribal divisions. Some of these divisions are exacerbated by Islamic/Christian antipathy, but sometimes they pit Christian against Christian.


Latin American evangelicals vary greatly in their political concerns. Evangelical minorities in some countries make their way against relentless pressure from Catholic establishments. Others dispute among themselves about their newfound prominence in regional and national elections as favored candidates once in office then embarrass evangelicals by strongarm tactics and widespread corruption.


Meanwhile, the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students and the Lausanne Movement, especially among younger people, resolutely seek to focus global evangelical attention on one key matter: not abortion, not nationalism, and not any sort of political program, but faithful and fruitful discipleship.


Who, then, are the evangelicals—both here in Canada and the United States, yes, but also globally considered? Does the term “evangelical” have any remaining usefulness, whether for historians and sociologists seeking to study a truly distinct population, for church leaders seeking to connect with a vital network, or for rank-and-file believers seeking a Christian identity beyond the denominational but not merely the generic?

This Mini-Course by Dr. John G. Stackhouse, Jr. sums up some findings from his many writings about evangelicalism, and especially those reported in Evangelicalism: A Very Short Introduction. You'll also get a brief survey of the term “evangelical” in Christian history, an understanding of how to define evangelicalism and how evangelicals must be sought with two concerns in mind.


Speaking of me Evangelicals and controversy...

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"I know of no other book that explains so clearly, with so lively a pen, and with such economy the various intellectual currents that are now disturbing our cultural peace. What is even rarer is that the author grinds no axes, treating both sides of the culture wars with thoughtful charity and a deeply Christian intelligence. 'Woke' has important things to say and it does so in a highly readable manner."

— Nigel Biggar, Ph.D., Regius Professor Emeritus of Moral Theology, University of Oxford


 Mini Courses 


Understand key ideas in important Christian theology, ethics, and history in 30 minutes (or less!) in ThinkBetter Media's mini-courses, created by award-winning theologian and historian Dr. John G. Stackhouse, Jr. 

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