Skip to comments.Authors seek to clarify Catholics' murky view of evangelicals
Posted on 09/16/2006 8:34:03 PM PDT by Alex Murphy
These days, "evangelical" seems like a bit of a loaded term, one whose use in conversation frequently produces more heat than light. As often as they are cited for their sheer numbers or political influence, it remains the case that most people Catholics included have at best a murky picture of evangelicals.
This should not be all that surprising, since evangelicalism is not a monolith but a mosaic of movements, events and people that in general has three main emphases: the need to be "born again" by entering into a personal relationship with Jesus, a conviction that the Bible as the inerrant word of God is the sole rule of faith, and the duty of sharing the Gospel and converting others.
Historically, evangelicalism has been watered by the streams of 17th-century pietism in the Lutheran and Reformed churches of Europe and the Great Awakening of the 18th century in this country that made famous names like George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards. It is a diverse group, to be sure, one which comprises conservative Baptists, Dutch Reformed Calvinists, Pentecostals, even pacifist Mennonites.
This is the varied terrain that Jeffery Sheler covers in Believers: A Journey into Evangelical America, an engrossing survey that devotes each chapter to a different part of the evangelical landscape. These include Rick Warren's Saddleback Church, the beacon of evangelical education Wheaton College, the wildly popular Creation Festival, and even a mission to a Mayan village in Guatemala.
Sheler, who spent 15 years as U.S. News & World Report's religion editor, has the perfect touch for this stuff, and it doesn't take long for the tired stereotypes of evangelicals to start flying out the window. Indeed, the only thing aside from a shared faith in Jesus Christ that seems to unite evangelicals in Believers is their utter normalcy.
It is rare to find a book that succeeds in weaving together the strands of a phenomenon as kaleidoscopic as evangelicalism from its development through American history right down to individual believers' moving descriptions of their struggles to live their faith into such a fluid and engaging narrative. Better still, Sheler's portrait of the evangelical world is unmarred by any attempt to tell the reader what to think about it and so it is highly recommended.
For a Catholic take on evangelicalism, there is Peter Feuerherd's Holy Land USA: A Catholic Ride through America's Evangelical Landscape, a reflection on Catholic-evangelical encounters in a variety of settings. Feuerherd, who was drawn to the topic during a stint as an editor with the American Bible Society, covers a remarkable amount of ground in the book's 186 pages, including those perennially awkward "are-you-saved?" conversations, "two-way conversion traffic," and differing conceptions of the public and private nature of faith. Strangely absent, however, is any discussion of the sacramental life of the Catholic Church and particularly the Eucharist that stands in such stark contrasts to evangelical worship.
Contrasts aside, however, Holy Land USA seems most interested in teasing out the ambivalence of its believers, who often come off less as seekers after truth than as shoppers in a diverse "religious marketplace," scanning the aisles for a church containing their preferred mix of attributes.
Feuerherd, like Sheler, proves adept at fitting together the disparate pieces of his subject into a flowing narrative, one which seems to draw the reader into the conversation. And while this kind of church sociology may not make for ideal spiritual reading, Holy Land USA is nevertheless full of keen insights religious and political from an astute observer of church culture.
My dad was in WWII and was in a Sherman tank, his tank was hit many times and all were wounded. They were all mostly of different faiths, however, their blood was the same color "red". Catholics, Evangelicals and Jews got along and work together, because with all your friends you're not alone.
What a wonderful post. So refreshing to read this on the religion area of FR.