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Know Your Historical Evangelicals – Intro

February 6th, 2005 | 2 min read

By Shea Ramquist

It’s a pleasure and an honor to be joining the fine gentlemen (and, more importantly, my good friends) here at Mere-Orthodoxy. For my inaugural contribution to this fine forum, the plan is for me to share each week from my intensive, readings-based seminar course on the topic of Evangelicalism which I am taking at the Torrey Honor’s Institute .

The topics that I’ll be posting on will likely be as varied as the intriguing figures of historical Evangelical thought whose works I’ll be reading each week. In general, however, I hope to focus my posts on three subjects: 1) the historical development and cultural impact of Evangelical thought, 2) the current state of Evangelicalism, and 3) musings on the misty path that lies ahead for the movement.

Each post will be linked to the writings of one great Evangelical thinker. I’ll do my best to not delve too deeply into the purely historical issues, but I apologize ahead of time if the history gets too thick—a potentially annoying tendency of those like myself who have been trained as a rhapsode of Clio.

Before diving in, however, I feel that it might be wise to briefly set the mental stage for these posts.

When I mention “Evangelicalism,” the term no doubt conjures in the mind of each person some certain set of ideas, images, experiences, and even public figures. Yet, though many would be hard pressed to quickly come up with a good, necessary and sufficient description of what it means to be an Evangelical, chances are these days that many of the mental-correlations that one might have are not winsome.

This is the case especially in the public square and, to tell the truth, increasingly in certain sectors within the Christian church. The word “Evangelical” is usually spoken by serious-faced news anchors in a grave, knowing, and slightly suspicious tone. Ask the man on the street for a definition and you’re likely to get a dirty laundry list of associations: Fundamentalists. Intolerant. TBN. Jerry Falwell. Ned Flanders.

But when those of us who are even within the moment stop for a second to think, can we provide a fully accurate and viable description of what we are about? Evangelicalism–what is it? What is this thing that is often maligned, that has such a dizzying array of divisions, that allegedly tipped the 2004 election in Bush’s favor, that millions of Americans identify themselves with?

B.B. Warfield (one of the authors who I’ll be writing on later in this series) wrote back in 1916:

“There is that good word ‘Evangelical.’ It is certainly moribund, if not already dead. Nobody any longer seems to know what it means.”

If Warfield thought the word “Evangelical” was dead in 1916, our chances seem slim that we could understand it today. Yet somehow, many of us do seem to know what we mean when we use it–but roughly at best.

My goal, then, in this series is to my best to provide mental fodder that can be used to think more deeply into what is means to be an Evangelical today–and what it perhaps will mean tomorrow–by sharing from the Evangelicalism’s past. I throw wide open the door for comment, questions, and (hopefully) criticisms, and call on my fellows here at Mere-Orthodoxy to take my meager offerings and draw the discussion further up and further in.