EVANGELICALISM'S ROOTS

I read with great interest the symposium on Mark Noll's "The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind" in your August 14 issue. One of the most difficult points about this debate is finding an adequate definition for the term evangelical. I think it is more accurate to see contemporary American evangelicalism as coming specifically out of the revival tradition of the nineteenth century. If this is the case, the spiritual forebears of today's "evangelicals" are not the Protestant Reformers, the Puritans, nor even Jonathan Edwards or George Whitefield. Rather, those spiritual ancestors would be nineteenth-century revivalists like Charles Finney, Jonathan Blanchard, and D. L. Moody. In this sense, the Princeton theologians of the nineteenth century, like Charles Hodge and B. B. Warfield, could not even be called "evangelical" since they vigorously opposed the revival preaching and theology of leaders like Finney.

If twentieth-century American evangelicalism is the descendant of nineteenth-century revivalism (as Harold Bloom suggests in his book "The American Religion"), it should be no wonder that it does not have a high regard for the life of the mind in the broad cultural sense. While nineteenth-century revivalists believed in educating people in the faith (they founded such institutions as Oberlin College, Wheaton College, and Moody Bible Institute), they also showed little or no interest in the broad cultural, artistic, and intellectual issues of their day except when these were seen as posing a direct threat to their Christian beliefs (i.e., Darwinism). In such cases, their interests were more to refute error than to engage in intellectual debate. In the final analysis, Professor Noll may be lamenting the loss ...

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