American Evangelicalism

Carl Trueman is insightful and often right in his assessment of theology, culture and theological trends, especially among Evangelicals. I appreciate his words and works immensely. However, he can at times sound edgy and critical.

In this brief article, “Mark Driscoll’s Problems, and Ours” he addresses American Evangelicalism, the young, restless and reformed group, and the recent revelation that Mars Hill bought Driscoll’s book on marriage onto the bestsellers list. With this recent revelation, Trueman uses it as an example of a larger problem in Evangelicalism. The subtitle speaks to the heart of his concern: “The crisis of leadership in American Evangelicalism.”

Yet he [Driscoll] is also a function of structural problems within the new Reformed movement itself. Despite its distinct and in many ways sophisticated theology, the “young, restless, and reformed” movement has always been in some respects simply the latest manifestation of the weakest aspects of American Evangelicalism. It was, and is, a movement built on the power of a self-selected band of dynamic personalities, wonderful communicators, and talented preachers who have been marketed in a very attractive manner. Those things can all be great goods but when there is no real accountability involved, when financial arrangements are opaque in the extreme, and when personalities start to supplant the message, serious problems are never far away. The overall picture is one of disaster.

This is in contrast to yesterday’s post that focused on an instance in which Evangelical identity worked. There were boundaries that were discerned and addressed which made a difference in one Evangelical para-church ministry’s decision. Here Trueman focuses on what is not working well in American Evangelicalism. Rather than address these significant issues, Trueman notes that no one really said anything about these matters. There was silence. As he noted, it was not that this group was afraid of speaking to other issues, as they had often in the past. But, claims Trueman, those other issues and people like Osteen and those from the Emergent group were soft targets. It is much more difficult to say anything when the issues are closer to home and heart. This, he concludes, is a mark of a fracture in this movement, for all the good it has done.

The one thing that might have kept the movement together would have been strong, transparent public leadership that openly policed itself and thus advertised its integrity for all to see. Yet the most remarkable thing about the whole sorry saga, from the Jakes business until now, has been the silence of many of the men who present themselves as the leaders of the movement and who were happy at one time to benefit from Mark Driscoll’s reputation and influence. . . . All of us who are thought of as Evangelical or Reformed now live with the bitter fruit of that failure of leadership.

Though I acknowledge and agree with many of the concerns raised, I wonder if some of the criticism is due to expecting of and from Evangelicalism what it is not intended to provide. The expectations stated above regarding structure, leadership and accountability are more matters for denominations not broader coalitions or movements that make up Evangelicalism.

It raised a number of questions, which I share with you.

  • How do you assess the strengths and weaknesses of American Evangelicalism?
  • Is Evangelicalism intended to have structure and leadership that policies itself and others within the movement?
  • Is Evangelicalism supposed to be similar to or equated with a denomination?
  • Are we expecting from Evangelicalism what we ought to expect from denominations?
  • How do we relate to Evangelicalism?
  • Where is my accountability?
  • Am I plugged into a denomination?

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