According to historians like George Marsden and Joel Carpenter, a faction of the conservative Christian movement known as “fundamentalism” was, by the early 1940s, tired of feeling like cultural outsiders. These moderate fundamentalists wanted a new way to preserve doctrinal orthodoxy and to reach “lost souls for Christ.” In other words, they wanted to be in the world — engaged in evangelism and professing fundamental doctrines, but also conversant with cultural phenomena and politically franchised.
These moderate fundamentalists, according to Marsden and Carpenter, soon began to identify themselves as “new evangelicals.” Reclaiming the term “evangelical” was essential to the movement’s origin. Since the early twentieth century split between fundamentalists and liberals, the term “evangelical” had fallen out of use; neither side cared to claim it, since it had but lost its original meaning. In applying the descriptor to their new association—an association that was an explicit alternative to both the fundamentalist American Council of Christian Churches and the liberal Federal Council of Churches—the “new evangelicals” positioned themselves as the heirs of nineteenth century Protestantism, with its legacy of both revivalism and social reform.
Today, it would seem, there’s a new brand of “new evangelical” — the kind at the center of Marcia Pally’s new book The New Evangelicals: Expanding the Vision of the Common Good. Here’s the publisher’s blurb:
Hardly a day goes by when religion is not in the news, often associated with theocracy, oppression and terrorism. In this book, Marcia Pally rebuts this bleak and superficial view by offering the first in-depth look at “new evangelicals”–those who have moved away from the Religious Right toward a broadened focus on economic justice, environmental care, and democracy. The far-reaching effects of this shift–in the US and abroad–ask us to reconsider religious stereotypes and refine our political thinking.
The sharp empirical analysis and vivid reporting include interviews with “new evangelicals” across the country, ages 19-74–with megachurch pastor Greg Boyd, professor David Gushee, new monastic Shane Claiborne, and ordinary evangelical plumbers, bikers, students, and firemen–assembling a collage of thoughtful, passionate voices that create a compelling snapshot of this significant new movement in American Christianity and politics.
Why might a book like this matter for the Brethren in Christ? Without a doubt the Brethren in Christ joined the ranks of the original new evangelicalism back in the 1950s, but do they have anything to do with this new new evangelicalism?
I haven’t yet had a chance to read Pally’s book. (Although I’d like to — anyone looking for a book reviewer? *hint, hint*) But it seems clear to me that this new new evangelicalism very much includes the Brethren in Christ. Take, for instance, two of the three figures mentioned in the publisher’s blurb: Shane Claiborne and Greg Boyd. Both are touchstones for the kind of compassionate, Jesus-centric, more-than-Republican faith that characterizes the new new evangelicals. And both have Brethren in Christ connections of one kind or another.
Boyd, a megachurch pastor in St. Paul, Minnesota, is a beloved writer and thinker to many Brethren in Christ. And he recently joined The Meeting House’s Bruxy Cavey for the congregation’s “Inglorious Pastors” sermon series on Christian peacemaking. (Check out video here.)
This circumstantial evidence might not prove that the Brethren in Christ are part of Pally’s new new evangelicalism, but it does suggest that at least some corners of the Brethren in Christ Church “have moved away from the Religious Right toward a broadened focus on economic justice, environmental care, and democracy,” as the book blurb notes.
Check out a review of Pally’s book in Books and Culture.