Understanding the History of Evangelicalism to Build Its Future
The term evangelical is often misunderstood, multivalent, and controversial. In order to move forward responsibly, sustainably, and in ways that are beneficial to the world around us, we need first to understand the history of the evangelical movement.
Dr. Randall Balmer, prize-winning historian, Emmy Award nominee, author, and John Phillips Chair in Religion at Dartmouth College shared about this on Engage360 episode 106: Understanding the History of Evangelicalism to Build Its Future. One aspect of early evangelicalism that Dr. Balmer noted was the interest in social issues like prison reform, peace crusades, public education, elevating those of lower status in society, and women’s equality.
In his research, Dr. Balmer found that the Scopes trial in 1925 factored strongly in evangelicals withdrawing from institutions and politics, as they wanted to protect themselves from a society they now viewed as corrupt and corrupting, to focus more on an evangelical subculture network of churches, denominations, Bible camps, and similar connection points. As he studied the history of evangelicalism, Dr. Balmer also discovered that evangelicals’ involvement in politics was not originally or primarily spurred on by the issue of abortion and Roe v. Wade, but began further back with a defense of racial segregation in universities.
He also shares about the importance of the First Amendment, which has set up a flourishing of what he calls the “free marketplace” for religion. This separation of church and state was designed out of a desire to protect the integrity of the faith from the inherent compromise that comes from being conjoined or associated with the state.
While Dr. Balmer acknowledges that some of these facts may be difficult pills to swallow, he suggests that if we understand, reconnect with, and come to terms with the origins, traditions, and history of the evangelical movement, we can understand both where we are now and where we’re going.
Listen to the full conversation.