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A Gentleman's Debate by Benjamin Eugene Fichel (Photo Credit: Fine Art America)

A Gentleman’s Debate by Benjamin Eugene Fichel (Photo Credit: Fine Art America)

I’ve started reading Deconstructing Evangelicalism for my commute. I enjoy perusing D. G. Hart‘s works not necessarily because I am a Two Kingdoms thinker but because he asks really good questions. Take, for example, this observation: evangelicalism lacks a common “church polity, creed, and worship.” Thus, it is “without a self-conscious notion about ministry, a common theology, and a coherent understanding of worship.” By the latter, Hart means the shape of service or liturgy–what may be called ordered worship. Though evangelicalism tends to avoid reliance on forms, it does not have any substantial, enforceable rules for worship practice. The issue of creed and church polity go hand-in-hand: “In effect, the evangelical movement of the late twentieth century replaced the church with the parachurch…”

As Hart proves through the historical record, before the 1940s, both fundamentalists and revisionists claimed the Evangelical title–it functioned almost the same way as “Protestantism.” Bear in mind that Hart is speaking here of what may be called neo-evangelicalism, which sought to extricate itself from any belligerent fundamentalist roots while retaining vibrant piety and eschewing liberal skepticism. The founding of this movement is marked in the 1940s and 1950s by the founding of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), Christianity Today, and Billy Graham’s rise to revivalistic ministry.  Those mechanisms necessary for authoritative creed (and in some Protestant traditions, confessions) simply aren’t there–instead, we are given coalition-building, big personalities, and a nebulous means of expulsion for those somehow dubbed heretics.

Question: What else is left for unity? What really does matter if not the nature of the Church, her beliefs, and her way of forming souls through worship? Are we really that surprised that the post-1940s Evangelical movement is unraveling and spiraling out of control in a matter of three generations or so? [Examples: NAE’s leftward trajectory, the hyper-politicization of Graham’s legacy for the GOP, the Driscoll/RHE divide, the various emergence/radical movements].