Monday, October 7, 2013

History of Amercian Evangelicalism at West Shore Evangelical Free Church--Week 4

(Get up to speed by reading about week one and week two and week three of this course.)

Yesterday I taught the final installment of my mini-course on the history of American evangelicalism to the "Lifebuilders" class at West Shore Evangelical Free Church in Mechanicsburg, PA.  This week we covered the years between 1925 (the Scopes Trial) and 1980 (the rise of the Christian Right). 

I began with Joel Carpenter's argument that evangelicalism did not disappear after the Scopes Trial, but developed strength during the 1930s through a host of sub-cultural institutions such as radio programming, missions and parachurch agencies, print, and Christian colleges.

I then focused on the differences between the neo-evangelical movement of the 1940s and 1950s and the separatist fundamentalists who continued to cling to the "fundamentalist" label and continued to identify themselves with the ecclesiastical battles of the 1920s.  The former group included Billy Graham, Carl F.H. Henry, John Harold Ockenga, and the early faculty of Fuller Theological Seminary.  The latter group included self-proclaimed separatists such Carl McIntire (got to tell some good McIntire stories), John R. Rice, Bob Jones, and Robert Ketcham.

Finally, I chronicled the "perfect storm" that led many conservative evangelicals to throw their support behind Jerry Falwell's "Moral Majority."  This so-called "storm" included the Engle v. Vitale and Abington v. Schempp decisions of the 1960s (which removed prayer and Bible reading from schools, respectively), the Immigration Act of 1965 (which brought more the adherents of non-western religions into the United States), Roe v. Wade (abortion), Green v. Connally (which withheld government funds from segregated academies and colleges. mostly in the South),and the Bicentennial (which led evangelicals to start looking to the past, specifically the founding era).

What I really enjoyed about this class was the fact that so many of the evangelical people in attendance were familiar with the history I was discussing.  The Lifebuilders class is made up of West Shore members who are mostly between the ages of 40 and 70.  Many of them have lived through this stuff!  I could throw out names like Jack Wyrtzen, Francis Schaeffer, Henrietta Mears, and Ron Sider and these lay folks knew exactly who I was talking about.

I would love to teach this class again in another church setting.  Let me know if you might be interested. Or perhaps we can work out a more concentrated course over a weekend or a Saturday.