Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The History of American Evangelicalism at West Shore Evangelical Free Church--Week 1

The last time I spoke to the Lifebuilders Sunday School class at West Shore Evangelical Free Church I did a four-part series on my Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction. I thought it went well, although I am not entirely sure that I convinced everyone in attendance that the question in the title of my book was not easily answerable.  Many, I think, left frustrated that I did not answer the question in the affirmative.

So I must admit that I was gratified when the class invited me back to do a four-part series on the history of American evangelicalism.  We had our first class last Sunday and I was pleased to see so many familiar faces who were eager to learn more about their history.  As a teenage convert to evangelicalism in the 1980s, I found history, particularly the writings of Mark Noll, Joel Carpenter, George Marsden, Grant Wacker, and Randall Balmer, to be sure-footed guides for understand a culture that was very, very different from the Catholicism of my youth.

We spent most of the class on Sunday trying to define the term "evangelicalism."  The members of the class, most of them between the ages of 40 and 70, were seasoned evangelicals who were able to rattle off the main points of David Bebbington's quadrilateral despite having never heard of the University of Stirling historian or his classic works on evangelicalism.

We spent the rest of the hour discussing the First Great Awakening and particularly the role of George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards in shaping early evangelicalism.  It was a fun class.

This coming Sunday we will discuss the Second Great
Awakening and the way evangelicalism happened to fit very nicely with American democracy and American consumerism.

In week three I hope to spend some time on the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy and on week four I will focus on post-WW II evangelicalism.

If this sounds like a course that your church might find interesting, let me know and we might be able to work something out.