Acton Institute Powerblog

American Evangelical Protestantism For The 21-Century

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[Thanks to RealClearReligion for linking. — Editor]

9781433514838_p0_v4_s260x420Anthony Chute, Christopher Morgan, and Robert Peterson have delivered a real gift toward building a unified future in their newly released Why We Belong: Evangelical Unity and Denominational Diversity. This edited volume brings together Anglican (Gerald Bray), Baptist (Timothy George), Lutheran (Douglas Sweeney), Methodist (Timothy Tennent), Pentecostal (Byron Klaus), and Presbyterian (Bryan Chapell) representatives to do two things: (1) the contributors give personal narratives of how they became a part of their respective denominations and (2) each contributor highlights their respective denominational distinctives. Given the minority position that American Protestants hold in terms of Christians worldwide, the type of unity-in-diversity proposed in this book comes as a welcomed challenge to Christians of all denominations as we face an increasingly pluralistic America together.

American pluralism is not a problem per se, but the diversity of worldviews current in the country provide unique and new opportunities for unity in ways never experienced before in our nation’s history. Evangelical Protestants have had very easy lives in the American story and one could argue that they may have taken their “most favored religion” status for granted which leads to unwise cooperative efforts with government. So much so that, now politicians feel too comfortable proposing legislation that attempts to tell Christians and their organizations how they can or cannot put their beliefs into practice, as if politicians have such authority to speak into the life of the church.

Why We Belong is a clarion call for a new way forward. What is needed is a space to foster the kind of unity proposed in the book in local contexts in cities and towns across America. This type of multi-denominational discourse should be the new norm (as I tried to model in my latest book on Protestantism and issues of race). In the last chapter of Why We Belong, David Dockery makes several good recommendations regarding how Protestant denominations can foster more cooperation and solidarity. One of the best suggestions to start with would be for evangelical Protestants to not waste so much time and energy bogged down in intramural debates attacking one another. American Christians, especially Protestants, have much bigger issues to deal with than we often realize within our various denominational ghettos. Dockery also highlights the fact that networks and partnerships among evangelical Protestants have essentially replaced the type of cross-denominational relationships that were more the norm beginning in the 19th-century through the 1960s until a growing non-denominationalism began to increasingly erode confessional orthodoxy beginning in the 1970s. A central weakness and blind spot of the current partnerships and networks that Dockery does not mention is that many are heavily driven by celebrity Christianity, which often feeds the cult of the personality beast. Evangelical Protestants need a deeper, sustainable unity that is not driven by the celebrity status of generational leaders.

Again, what is needed is a non-celebrity driven, locally-focused movement of Protestants united together in pursuit of the greatest of Jesus’ commands to his disciples and the epicenter of why the church exists: to love God and love neighbor (Matt 22:36-40). Because love is the goal and motive of the Christian life, as David Jones explains, there could be nothing more wonderful in the making of American church history for the 21st-century than for Protestants to discover ways to locally lock arms to love God and love their neighbors. Why We Belong is a wonderful step in that direction.

Anthony Bradley Anthony Bradley, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics in the Public Service Program at The King's College in New York City and serves as a Research Fellow at the Acton Institute. Dr. Bradley lectures at colleges, universities, business organizations, conferences, and churches throughout the U.S. and abroad. His books include: Liberating Black Theology: The Bible and the Black Experience in America (2010),  Black and Tired: Essays on Race, Politics, Culture, and International Development (2011),  The Political Economy of Liberation: Thomas Sowell and James Cone of the Black Experience (2012), Keep Your Head Up: America's New Black Christian Leaders, Social Consciousness, and the Cosby Conversation (2012), Aliens in the Promised Land:  Why Minority Leadership Is Overlooked in White Christian Churches and Institutions (forthcoming, 2013). Dr. Bradley's writings on religious and cultural issues have been published in a variety of journals, including: the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Detroit News, and World Magazine. Dr. Bradley is called upon by members of the broadcast media for comment on current issues and has appeared C-SPAN, NPR, CNN/Headline News, and Fox News, among others. He studies and writes on issues of race in America, hip hop, youth culture, issues among African Americans, the American family, welfare, education, and modern slavery. From 2005-2009, Dr. Bradley was Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Ethics at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO where he also directed the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute.   Dr. Bradley holds Bachelor of Science in biological sciences from Clemson University, a Master of Divinity from Covenant Theological Seminary, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Westminster Theological Seminary.  Dr. Bradley also holds an M.A. in Ethics and Society at Fordham University.

Comments

  • Curt Day

    Anthony,
    You said some good things here but I would add that the too close for comfort relationship between Protestantism and the American story has produced a two-way problem. The problem lies not just in gov’t being presumptuous in producing policies, we have a problem with how we mix our Christian identity with our American identity with the result that we call many things that are American, Christian. Because of this, the challenge to love that we need to hear is not just to love our fellow believers, it is to love those who outside of America.

    As for how much time we should get involved in intramural debates depends on the issue. But perhaps it is not the time spent as much as how we debate that is the real issue here.