Michael Gerson, former speech writer and policy adviser to President Bush, has written an important essay for Newsweek titled “A New Social Gospel.” The topic of the article is summed up nicely in the subtitle, “Many evangelicals are chafing at the narrowness of the religious right. A new faith-based agenda.”
Gerson argues that the latest generation of evangelicals is more holistic in its political activism. Gone are the days of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson and the rallying of evangelical troops against abortion, gay marriage, and prayerless schoolhouses with the Ten Commandments stripped from their walls.
The concerns of the new evangelical movement are closer to those of Bono than of Bauer. In other words, the new generation is just as likely to spend time and energy fighting AIDS in Africa, war in Darfur, and poverty in the Third World, as they are confronting abortion in the United States.
I think that Gerson is probably right on target with his description of the evangelical landscape with respect to its political advocacy. But I am also a little concerned with a descriptions such as his that focus exclusively on evangelicals as a political constituency.
Far too many pols (and I’m afraid too many evangelicals) define evangelicalism in terms of what political causes it supports/opposes. This kind of description is a symptom of the larger identity crisis that American evangelicals are having today. Evangelicalism has become so doctrinally and theologically amorphous that descriptions of it have less to do with the Gospel that it supposedly confesses and more to do with the politics it espouses.
No doubt, there are some evangelicals who broaden their activism because they wish to broaden their appeal to the culture. For example, the emerging church is a case in point of those who are leaving behind the traditional issues associated with evangelical activism. In as much as the culture castigates opponents of abortion and homosexual “marriage,” emerging evangelicals are all too eager to replace the old issues with the cause du jour of the celebrity class.
Evangelical Christians would do well to listen to how they are portrayed in the popular media. Sometimes hearing such descriptions can be like looking at oneself in a broken mirror that distorts just as much as it reflects. But sometimes, even broken mirrors reveal some blemishes. In this case, the blemish is the vacuity that bedevils so much of evangelicalism.
May God grant evangelicals to recover their faithful proclamation of the evangel for which they are named. And may the world take note of us not because of our solidarity with Bono, but because of our proclamation of and submission to the crucified and risen Lord, Jesus Christ.