Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Writer Didn't Understand the Subject

The Tennessean ran a feature article this morning by USA Today writer Cathy Lynn Grossman suggesting that the once popular term "evangelical" is now being shunned by many Christians due to its negative associations. There is much truth to that claim, but unfortunately Grossman's piece can hardly be called coherent.

Her piece begins with an insult. After asking, "Who's an evangelical," she answers her own question: "Until last year the answer was clear: Evangelical was the label of choice of Christians with the most conservative views on politics, economics and strict biblical morality" [emphasis added].

The word "most" is a pejorative here, suggesting that until last year the name evangelical clearly identified those who were in a race to the extremes of society. Wherever the "most conservative views" were on "politics, economics, and strict biblical morality" (not content with allowing "most" to define the extremism, she adds "strict" for good measure), that would seem to be where one would find the evangelicals, according to Grossman.

The writer then proceeds to quote various spokesmen explaining why they don't like the term, but she shows no evidence of realizing that the arguments are not consistent. Some reject the term because it is associated with the narrowness of the religious right or moral failings by religious leaders. On the other hand, Nashville pastor Kevin Shrum says he dislikes the term because it is theologically overly inclusive, a view that has circulated in various circles for a half century. Adding to the incoherence, she closes the article by discussing a group of more left wing groups that she says "now take on" the evangelical label.

So, the label is being shunned, but broader groups are anxious to take it on? Oooookay?!

Shrum's views are the closest to being correct. The truth is that the term "evangelical," which once identified a group of people holding to clear theological and philosophical commitments related to scriptural authority, the gospel, and cultural engagement, now only vaguely refers to a style of worship, a certain sentimentality in religion, or a political vantage point. Grossman is correct that the word no longer is helpful in identifying a set of distinctive Christian beliefs. Unfortunately, she appears to have no idea about why that is the case.


Blogger Kay Brooks said...

I couldn't agree more. Thanks for taking the time point out that, once again, the Tennessean's coverage of Christianity, in the Bible belt no less, is abysmal.

9:19 PM  

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