Evangelicals: End or Beginning?

I had the privilege of speaking at Western Kentucky University last week, where Paul Markham teaches. This excellent article is worth the attention of folks interested in Evangelicalism (either as insiders, outsiders, or in-betweeners). Quotable:

A vital, and often overlooked, aspect of human social life is the power of narrative and its role in the formation of social systems. There is substantial literature on this subject, but for the purposes of the present article, I will assume personal and public narratives to be the means through which humans establish their sense of individual and collective identity. In his investigation of Christian social movements, David Gutterman stresses that “Narratives provide the scaffolding that offers the degree of stability we create in our world . . . [they] do not just describe or reflect, but rather define and give meaning to, human existence” (2005: 28). Likewise, Alasdair MacIntyre suggests, “Man is in his actions and practice, as well as in his fictions, essentially a story-telling animal. . . But the key question for men is not about their own authorship; I can only answer the question ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question ‘Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?’” (216). The present article captures a degree of irony in the emergence of new evangelicals because respondents in the study seem significantly disconnected from the progressive tradition of evangelicalism. In this way, the search for a “new story” is sociologically and theologically based not within the long tradition of evangelicalism, but in a reaction against contemporary forms of Christian fundamentalism.
[25] It is through the telling and retelling of stories that we create boundaries protecting us from an otherwise endless flux of social circumstances. Our sense of time and context is dependent upon the stories we tell ourselves; thus, narratives are the means by which we make connections between past, present, and future (Ricoeur). A key reason for my brief review of the historical development of “new evangelicalism” is to demonstrate that a sense of tradition is critical to the development of narrative. Hannah Arendt writes, “Without tradition – which selects and names, which hands down and preserves, which indicates where the treasures are and what their worth is – there seems to be no continuity in time and hence, humanly speaking, neither past nor future, only sempiternal change of the world and the biological cycle of living creatures in it” (5). It is plausible to assume many of the problems noted in the organization of new evangelicals is due to this disconnection from tradition and some of the essential practices that make social cohesion possible.