[Pillar on the Rock is devoted to teaching roundly and thoroughly on the church. From time to time, we'll put up articles that address issues in academia because the academy is deeply involved in preparing future leaders for church ministry. We hope it is helpful and encouraging!]
What does it mean to be an evangelical?1 This question is the starting point for Douglas A. Sweeney, Ph.D., (Vanderbilt University) in his concise look at the movement in The American Evangelical Story.2 Although Sweeney does attempt to define the movement, his work focuses more on a brief history of evangelicalism. Sweeney paints a broad picture of the evangelical movement, and does so in accessible language, while providing a number of useful details. Sweeney succeeds in his goal of testifying to the breadth of evangelicalism, and the Church’s continued need for the movement today.
Over the course of the twentieth century, the evangelical church has been of two minds about thinking. On the one hand, many in evangelical circles (especially in the South) have embraced an anti-intellectual approach that substitutes experience for education and rejects the role of formal theology and rigorous thought. This is the mood that has characterized most evangelical churches over the last several decades.1
On the other hand, some church traditions, especially mainline denominations and those that have maintained Reformed convictions, have overemphasized the power of intellect and reason, sliding slowly into a faith without expression. With the resurgence of Reformed theology over the last five or ten years, there has been an uptake in these circles to the point where the intellectualism so feared by the rest of evangelicalism has in fact appeared in many churches.
Every pastor at every church gets feedback from his congregation—lots of it. Some of it is encouraging, some of it is neutral, but much of it is critical. A pastor needs all three types of feedback. He needs to hear the ways his ministry is building up the flock as well as the ways he can continue to grow.
Unfortunately, sinful hearts tend to fixate on negatives far more than on positives: