Has evangelicalism increasingly "othered" certain groups such as liberals, blacks, gays, feminists, and progressives? Is the evangelical movement in crisis and needs transforming? In this episode, Sean and Scott discuss a recent book by Isaac Sharp called The Other Evangelicals. They discuss his Sharp's thesis about the exclusive nature of evangelicalism and the battle over the definition of "evangelical."
Sean: Is evangelicalism a movement in crisis? Has the evangelical movement increasingly pushed people out and excluded them rather than created a bigger camp? These are just some of the topics we're gonna explore today. Discussing a recent book called "The Other Evangelicals" by Isaac Sharp. I'm Sean McDowell, your host.
Scott: I'm Scott Rae, your co-host.
Sean: This is "Think Biblically," a podcast from Talbot School of Theology, Biola University. Scott, maybe walk through, what is the big picture and idea of this big book, which by the way, is a dissertation, so it's a research-based book on the modern evangelical movement, but he has a unique take, and you could argue a unique critique. What is it?
Scott: Yeah, let me just say first, though it is a dissertation length and detailed work, it reads really well. It does not read like a dissertation. Isaac Sharp is a really good writer and he portrays the history, I think, in a very compelling and easy to grasp way. And this is the advantage of me being a little bit older than you are, 'cause a lot of what he described, I lived through. 'Cause I went to college in the early '70s and sort of came of age in my faith in the late '60s and throughout the '70s. And so a lot, you know, I followed a lot of this stuff. I was a seminary student in the late '70s. And sort of started out, you know, in my professional life in the late '70s, early '80s. So a lot of this stuff, you know, is very familiar to me. And I'm familiar from firsthand experience.
Sean: The '70s and '80s stuff is a little bit of history to me. '90s, I'm like, "Oh, now I get that." So fair enough, we got a good perspective.
Scott: I think the big idea of the book, I'd put it like this: is that the evangelical movement within Christianity was different from Catholicism, different from fundamentalism, and different from mainstream Protestantism. The evangelical movement arose out of a reaction to the excesses and sort of the style and tone of the fundamentalism that arose around the late 1800s, around the turn of the 20th century. It started out with just a handful of theological commitments, was designed to be a relatively big tent. And the idea of the book is that the idea of the big tent gradually shrunk as the people in power, the gatekeepers, gradually excluded more and more people who were considered to be not within the bounds. So the people they excluded were, first of all, and earliest were people who were committed to higher critical methods of biblical study, the theological liberals. African-Americans for reasons that had nothing to do with doctrine, and then political progressives, women, feminists, and then finally, more recently, the LGBTQ community. And his claim, I think, is that all of these folks meet the earliest criteria for what constituted an evangelical, but that the movement has become centered around white, straight, male power brokers that have defined the movement and excluded people who don't reinforce that power structure.
Sean: That's a really helpful summary. And I think as we look at this story, he's writing from a certain perspective. It's helpful to see the worldview and angle that he's taken. This is not a critique, this is just a reality. So he teaches at least adjunct at Union Theological Seminary. Let's just say, is that a very different theological spot than Talbot School of Theology would be. A number of the endorsements are people that would much be both to the political and theological left of us. One of the things that it felt like to me, I think there's a lot of really good insightful stuff like you said, he's a good writer and researching. In the introduction, in the prologue, he says, "When forced to face the uncomfortable reality of evangelicalism's internal pluralism, 20th century evangelical leaders frequently responded by sidelining minority groups and excommunicating dissenters in an ongoing effort to define and police the boundaries of evangelical identity." There's a big concern with power, and obviously that's kind of a postmodern feel, so to speak. So that feels like kind of the worldview in which he's coming from, kind of a postmodern critique of the evangelical movement. That's not to say it's false. That's not to say he got everything wrong. That's how it felt to me. Did you feel that way or did you see it differently?
Scott: Well, I did. And I think the primary set of lenses through which he was viewing the history was how these dissenters threatened the existing power structure. I think the sort of underlying assumption is that maintaining the power structure was the predominant concern and more important than maintaining theological orthodoxy or any particular or view on any particular position. And that these groups were excluded because they threatened the power structure and it was easier, it was more comfortable to maintain the power structure than to let the dissenters into this big tent. Now, I think what's missed is that many of the dissenters would not have been included under the big tent when it was originally founded.
Sean: Fair enough.
Scott: 'Cause I think, for example, around the turn of the 20th century, there was a very strong consensus in all parts of Christendom about LGBTQ matters. And so that group, I think, would not have been included originally. And I think theological liberals who just held a different view of scripture and a different view of how we got the scripture and its authority and reliability, that was the first battleground. And I think that case was decided, I think, pretty clearly originally, and that's what separated the evangelical/fundamentalist movement from the mainline denominational folks. So I think that one, I think maybe the tent was not quite as big at its inception than the author is making it out to be.
Sean: Scott, I think this is super helpful, 'cause once you have a premise for a dissertation, you kinda have to argue it all the way through. You have to have your thesis. And the thesis you laid out seems to be more true when it came to like the black church, racism and power structures keeping out, more so I would argue than the LGBTQ issue or on liberalism, those are more theological and biblical. That's how I see it, we'll flesh those out.
Scott: Yeah, we'll get to a little bit more about the African-American community, 'cause I do think that chapter was very compelling in this. And an ugly part of the history of the evangelical movement.
Sean: Okay, good, that's fair, that's really helpful. Let's define what we mean or think we mean by evangelicalism. One of the things I found this study that he put in here that was super interesting about, he said one of the things that put evangelicals on the map in 1970 when Carter was either run or had become president called the year of the evangelical is you have not only a president who describes himself this way and being born again, but also you have Gallup poll emerging, and then shortly you have Barna. So this idea of the evangelical is somewhat the product of polling and defining. That's a piece of the puzzle I hadn't really put together. I think he's right about that.
Scott: Well, and we've gotten better at the questions that we ask to make sure that the polling is more accurate. And in fact, he cites, toward the end of the book, he cites the recent research that LifeWay has done, that our new dean, Ed Stetzer, was a significant part of leading that research and redefining what constitutes an evangelical. And that research goes back to the definition of evangelical that was propounded really at the very beginning.
Sean: Okay, now give us that definition, but here's how he gives difference. The truly evangelical 9% that Barna found in 1993, the self-identified evangelical 42% that Gallup poll found—the same year. That's a fourfold difference between self-identified and what Barna does, he lists out, I don't remember what all nine are, do you believe the Bible is inerrant? Do you believe you need to have a personal relationship with Jesus, like is Jesus coming back? That's how he defines an evangelical. Well, Gallup is just self appointed and a lot of pollsters will use that. I think a lot of people in the media will use self-appointed evangelical. That's where the term is so ambiguous and not as helpful as it can be.
Scott: Yeah, and I think that the research that LifeWay did more recently in like 2014, '15, distinguished between belief and practice.
Sean: That's helpful.
Scott: And to be an evangelical means that you have to believe certain things, but also that you have to engage in certain practices of spiritual formation and of Christian faith. So they highlight things like regular church attendance, regular Bible reading, daily prayer, things like that, that identify not only what someone believes, but the seriousness with which they take those beliefs. And that I think was a part of the polling that had been missed in the past and is more accurate today.
Sean: That's really helpful to bring beliefs and practices in. It's helpful for the church, but I doubt a lot of the media is going to be using that definition when they describe evangelicals.
Scott: Yeah, it's not a big adjustment to look at the way people actually live out their faith. And I suspect, what I'd like to see, and if the emphasis of some of these other evangelicals is I think brought to the fore, we might find some other criteria besides those more private religious faith things like: how frequently have you been involved with serving the poor?
Sean: Oh, interesting.
Scott: You know, how much of your income goes to your church, to different charities that serve the poor? I mean, things like that, I think those could be additional categories that I think would be super helpful in identifying how seriously people take their faith. And also might make some of these folks who have felt marginalized, maybe feel like, yeah, maybe there is a place for people who are more politically progressive, who have a much greater emphasis on serving the poor than I think has been true of the evangelical movement in general.
Sean: So what do we broadly mean by evangelical? Classically, it means somebody who has, you know, kind of three or four core beliefs. Somebody has an activist piece of their faith, they're put into practice, believe in the cross, the person of Jesus, the scriptures. There's these basic beliefs that you would hold. And it's meant to be this big tent kind of approach to the faith that goes across denominations.
Scott: I think we added a few things to it. I mean, we've specifically added the belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. It goes with the cross. and that the resurrection is not a myth, it's something that really happened. I think we've also put in, and I think correctly so, the affirmation that Jesus is coming back to establish his kingdom. Now, the details of what that looks like is part of the big tent. And I think the idea of personal conversion is important, and it's also important to tell people about your faith. So I think I'd say there's probably six or seven things that I put on that list that are different than the original, 'cause the original four were the ones that you described. I would add a little and those were added a little bit—those were added to probably in the 30s and 40s.
Seam: So do you use the term evangelical? I do, I'm kind of proud of it. I realize it has certain baggage and sometimes I have to qualify it, but I was having a conversation on my YouTube channel with a Mormon and a Christian, I'm like, how do I describe somebody who broadly would fit in the paradigm of evangelical Christian? Is too broad, might turn off some Mormons if I said Mormon versus Christian they might not watch it if it's framed that way. I was like, oh, evangelical Christian seems to best capture somebody who has these components. And it was my guess.
Scott: Yeah, I think in house it still does. I think in the culture at large, maybe not quite so much. So I still use the term to describe myself, but I'm prepared, if people give me pushback on it, I'm prepared to articulate exactly what I mean by that. What I mean by that is, I use the two terms, biblically faithful and theologically conservative. That's the tagline. So, in short, that's what I mean by that.
Sean: And that's where it gets difficult because people on the outside are thinking there's a political component to this. There's all these other dynamics on the outside that's carried into it. So when I have outsiders ask me—
Scott: So sometimes I'll add a third phrase. Okay. That's ‘politically homeless.’
Sean: Hmm, okay, interesting. So I'll ask if I, typically I'll just say, I'm a follower of Jesus. My dad would always say, I'm a believer. I'll say, I'm a Christian. If somebody on the outside asks me if I'm an evangelical, I'll say, "Tell me what you mean by evangelical."
Scott: That's a good question.
Sean: And usually by the time they're done, I'll say, "I'm not sure I'm one of those." But I wanna know what they mean by it.
Scott: Well, I think typically what our culture means by it is someone who's theologically very conservative, which I don't have a problem with, but also someone who has a distinct set of political positions that they hold. And I think at the far end of that, someone who will essentially wrap the cross in the American flag and promote some version of Christian nationalism. And that's where I'm hopping off the train and saying, “I don't believe, theologically speaking, America is any more exceptional than any other country in the world today.” Now, politically in its founding, I think there were some exceptions. But that's why I say, theologically speaking, I don't think that's true.
Sean: Well, we could have that debate and discussion about Christian nationalism, but in terms of that's how people perceive it, the only thing I would add that I think you're right is evangelicals, according to outsiders, not only hold those positions, but hold them with a certain attitude—
Scott: A certain nastiness.
Sean: And with a certain air about themselves. Whether that's true or not is not even my point. That's often the perception of evangelicals from the outside.
Scott: Well, and I think, I think recent, you know, more recently, I think that probably is more true than it's been in the past. I think there's probably, I would say tragically.
Sean: Okay, so I kind of want to jump into the book, but let's—do you think the idea of an evangelical consensus is a good one? And by this, typically the way he describes it in here, which I think is how people often use it is “an evangelical is somebody who likes Billy Graham, I think is the classic. There's an old joke that the definition of an evangelical is simply anyone who likes Billy Graham is the definition.” What Billy Graham tried to do, and he was for decades, kind of this consensus builder across denominations. He tried to, in different ways, across race, tried to across socioeconomic status. What's the big tent means it falls after Jesus and minimize things down to believe in Jesus, follow him, have a personal conversion. So as a whole, I think there's a lot of value in that kind of consensus. The way I approach my faith in people of different denominations, different backgrounds, different issues that we'll get into is oftentimes I wanna have as much charities I can have towards people who see secondary issues differently and just as much common ground as we can have as little barriers for the larger kingdom of God that we're fighting for, even though we might worship differently and we might have different churches, this idea of a consensus makes a lot of sense to me. Now, how well we do this today is a separate issue, but do you like the idea of a consensus or do you think it's not a good idea we should aim for as a church?
Scott: I think it's a good idea as an end. But I'd say how much I like it sort of depends on what things constitute the consensus. So, if the consensus is this enormous tent where people can hold views that I would consider to be heterodox and are still allowed in the tent, then I think the consensus is probably self-defeating. Because I think it's misleading to communicate to people that they are inside the tent when they're actually not. So, this is why I think that the chapter in this book on the higher critical biblical scholars, the liberal theologians, I think was the right place to start. Not only chronologically, but ideologically that was the right place to start too. Because that was the easiest group, I think, to say: when it comes to basic stuff about the Bible and about the historical Jesus and about the resurrection and the cross, they have some wildly different views of how we view biblical authority. I mean, inerrancy went out the window in that group a long time ago. And so, I think it's misleading to suggest that people who hold really radically different views of the Bible are in the same tent that I'm in. And so, I think if we take those out, and I wish the author here had been a little bit clearer about the fundamental theological reasons for why the liberals were ushered out of the tent. Although I'm not, I think most of the liberals, in my view, they weren't excluded from the tent; they left voluntarily. Because they recognized that I'm not at home here anymore.
SeanL Okay, so let me ask this before we get to the liberal ones. When you say the same tent, somebody who holds a different view of the Bible, you're not saying they're not a Christian. So they're the same larger kingdom of God tent. But in terms of one, what do you mean by the same tent?
Scott: I say they're not in the evangelical tent.
Sean: Okay, that's specifically what it is. So authoritative, inerrantist position, you would define as the evangelical.
Scott: I would even, yeah. Yes, I think later on, in the '70s, the view of biblical authority, I think, was further clarified to include inerrancy under the tent, under the evangelical tent. And there are a lot of people who they left because of that. And the only thing that gives me a little pause about it—and I'm a thoroughgoing inerrantist—but some of our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world don't understand our preoccupation with inerrancy. I mean, I found, you know, you've been—
Sean: Michael Byrd is key to that.
Scott: Yeah, you've been to Australia and New Zealand several times like I have. And our brothers and sisters over there, they don't get it. And the arguments that we give for the importance of inerrancy just don't resonate with some of those folks. So that's why, I think, and I would consider all my Australian brothers and sisters to be in the evangelical tent, although we have, and I would say we have a slightly different view of what's meant by the term “biblical authority.” What I wanna get away from are the higher critics who are picking and choosing the sayings of Jesus that they think are authentic—the Jesus seminar folks.
Scott: That's, I think, that's just a diametrically opposed view of the gospels and of the teaching of Jesus that I don't think is fair to say that fits under an evangelical tent.
Sean: That's fair. Okay, that's helpful. Well, let's jump into this first chapter that we've been hitting at a little bit with liberalism. And in this one, the story's kind of that certain people got into power, that there were certain, what we would consider liberal theologians who were a part of the evangelical camp and kind of got pushed out. And one of the stories that he tells is over Karl Barth, obviously one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century. And there was debate between somebody like Van Til arguing that he is completely out, Cornelius Van Til, and his arguments were accepted and considered authoritative. So, Barth is pushed out. I remember having classes at Talbot 20 years ago, in 20th century theology, just discussions about is Barth evangelical, is he not? It's like, we just had these discussions. There was no power move going on. He was borderline. That's a borderline example that could maybe go either way. I'm not an expert in Barth. But a piece that he didn't talk about in this chapter was Machen's work that was written earlier than this, where he argues that liberalism, liberal theology, is essentially a different religion. Different doctrine of man, different doctrine of God, different process of salvation. And so I think while there probably were some power plays that sorted this out, when it's all said and done, it really was a different religion, and that's why it's separated and should not be considered evangelicalism.
Scott: I think there's something to that. And I think that the original evangelicals who so—I mean, they were reacting to the excesses of fundamentalism and they were reacting to the higher critical methods that were undermining trust in the reliability of the Bible. And if you haven't, for our viewers, if you haven't read some of those early higher—like Adolph von Harnack, for example, I mean, he laid waste to the gospel accounts and the early documentary hypothesis that completely undermined the historical reliability of a lot of Old Testament narrative. The authorship of Daniel and Isaiah, that really undermined the reliability of those books. I think they tried hard to salvage what the enduring message of those books should be in the aftermath. But I think most of the more mainstream evangelicals would consider that, they sort of left the Bible to be a bit of a smoking rubble and were trying to get some flame out of that. I think they would consider that a lost cause. And so, I think we should also recognize a lot of the higher critics reacted against the fundamentalist excess just like the evangelicals did. And they wanted no part of a group that had the same, in their view, the same rigid, anti-modernist, backward view of the Bible that the fundamentalists had. And the early evangelicals showed no inclination to take any kind of different view of the Bible—maybe in how they viewed the first few chapters of Genesis. But a lot of the higher critics, they left on their own accord. Now there are a small handful of schools where they were actually pushed out and that's true. But in the early period, in the early part of the 20th century, they found themselves much more at home in the mainland denominations than they did in this new evangelical movement.
Sean: That makes sense. I think it's fair to say that there were power plays, like that's inescapable, but at the heart of it is people who are saying: what is the gospel? What is the Christian message at its core? And I think it's irrefutable that this liberal theology, as Machen laid out years ago, long before even a lot of what he writes in this book, is an entirely different message. So I would say not only is it not Christian, it's not evangelical. Now, sometimes in here, he'll quote some people who see themselves as being a part of a movement as if that's the defense for it. And I think, well, it doesn't matter how you see and define yourself, it depends on what your views are. And if your views are outside of historic Christianity, it's fair to question whether it's historically Christian, and in fact, if it's evangelical.
Scott: And the reason Karl Barth was up for debate, Barth was long considered a fundamentalist by German and European scholars. But the reason he was considered on the fringe was because he denied most of the historical parts of the faith. He affirmed the message of the resurrection while being somewhat skeptical about the historical roots of ita nd he took the Bible strictly on faith alone. And whether it was historically true or not was less relevant to Barth than the message itself. So that I think was why he was viewed with such skepticism as he divorced the message from the historical roots of the faith. And I think for most evangelicals, we would take something like what the apostle Paul said, 1 Corinthians 15, if Christ is not risen from the dead, your faith is vain.
Scott: And you're still in your sins. And I think that's the rough shores that Bart eventually found himself landing on.
Sean: That's fair, as I read this first one, I was less convinced by his thesis that it was a power move and more, although that was a play, more convinced of its radical theological differences. But when he moves to the second one, on the black church, this one gave me a lot of pause.
Scott: I think he's onto something here.
Sean: I don't know a lot of the history here, but a lot of what he told is really pretty heartbreaking. He says, "Many historically independent black traditions were theologically evangelical by just about any definition." But then he says, "There were a bunch who were not the least bit interested in making common cause of black Christians for any purpose, even fighting modernism." So if the story is correct, basically what he's saying is the entrenched racism was deeper concern in many in the evangelical church than fighting against the threats of modernism. And if that's the case, then I think his thesis is probably correct as it relates to the black church.
Scott: Yeah, now I think that there are exceptions to this all along the way.
Sean: Of course.
Scott: But I think the general trend that he's describing is right. And that even though the black church has had significant theological affinity with the broader evangelical movement, and I think for the most part, they haven't considered themselves part of that more broad evangelical movement because of the way the black church had been treated for so long. And I think he's right about that. Now, whether it's the power structures or just sort of flat out racism, to me that's kind of six of one, half dozen of the other. So, but I think we need to be clear that the difference between the black church and the mainline denominations was like night and day. And in fact, I think that's still true today that some of the most conservative parts of the church today are the black church in Africa. And the mainline denominations in Sub-Saharan Africa look just like the Bible churches of today in terms of their doctrine and what they hold to theologically.
Sean: It's a fair point. He walks through some of these black evangelicals and some of the battles that they had to fight and ways that they were mistreated. I'm thinking if I were in their shoes, I would have bailed a long time ago.
Scott: Yeah, it's not, yeah. Again, I think they, it's probably more fair to say that they were excluded. 'Cause I think it is true that the black church tried to get in the tent and were denied. And there's, I mean, there are several denominations that were begun out of attempts to keep the black church out. And I think that sooner or later they got the message that they weren't welcome. And then they left voluntarily. But the reason they did is because the door was closed at the beginning.
Sean: He tells one story here of Jones—the fellow's last name, make sure I got it right—Howard Jones was, he joined the Billy Graham Evangelist Association as the organization's first black full-time evangelist. Doesn't describe when, oh, 1966. So, we know what was going on that year. One of the most devastating incidents at all came during a '66 crusade stop in London where he was dutifully informed that he could not stay in the same hotel where the rest of Graham's team had booked their rooms. Undeterred by the ever-present threat of such indignities, he continued working for the BGEA for the next 35 years. So this was not in the United States. This was not a decision by the BGEA. But if you're working for them, and when this happens, oh my goodness, I can't imagine how painful that was, but he was committed to the cause, stayed there, pretty radical voice, I love that. So I think in this chapter, I haven't studied the history on this, I'd love to study it more. That chapter really got to me a little bit, but I think his premise is probably right that we've dropped the ball on that one as an evangelical community.
Scott: This is where our provost, Matt Hall, wrote about this in his dissertation.
Sean: I didn't know that.
Scott: It's particularly related to the Southern Baptist Convention. And part of what he points out is that from about, from post-World War II until 1990, when the Berlin Wall fell, as he describes it, the Southern Baptists reviewed social issues through the lenses of the Cold Warùprimarily. And one of the reasons that they were so skeptical about the black church is because of the radical black revolutionaries that had specific ties to Marx, Marxism, and more specifically to communism. Now I don't think that was not MLK's group. I think it was, it was some fringe groups, but they got lionized because of that and the skepticism, I think as he described it, served as a somewhat respectable veneer to cover over blatant racism. And I think that those same sets of lenses, I think also were in play when they viewed political liberals, political progressives, as well. And I think a lot of times our younger viewers may not remember, but the specter of the Cold War influenced virtually everything in the '60s, '70s, and even into the '80s. And I think, in large part, what took place is that the communist regimes around the world were avowedly atheistic and the human rights abuses were horrendous coming out of there. And I think understandably so. And it set up a battle of good versus evil, of God versus atheism. And so, to be on the side of God and good, you had to be on the side of democracy, freedom, markets, things like that, as opposed to socialism, authoritarianism, things like that. So I think that explains some of the reasons why the bigger tent evangelicalism moved sort of more progressively to the right politically. Now the Roe v. Wade's decision, I think, was sort of the tipping point. But I think we're remiss, and this I think is a part that's missing out of this, we're remiss if we don't take into account how influential those worldview lenses of the Cold War were in shaping the way sort of the God and country movement among evangelicalism took root.
Sean: It's interesting you mentioned Roe versus Wade and there's not a section on liberal, black, progressive, pro-choicers, feminist. I wonder what that decision was. Obviously, that's a lightning rod issue as well. Now he's not trying to fix this. He's just highlighting what he thinks is a problem. So, how we go about fixing and what that looks like to the evangelical, that's a separate conversation, but he seems to be on something here, as far as I can tell, with the black church.
Scott: I think we both say, well done with this chapter.
Sean: Let's move on to the next one. We've got a couple more here, where he describes specifically political progressives. So when he says progressive, he's not talking about theological progressives. Political progressives might be called political liberals, of course, you have to define that carefully.
Scott: I'd say he's referring to anybody who's to the left of center.
Sean: Okay, fair enough. Now, he argues that there's power play, squeezing them out of the evangelical mold, but there were certain people like Campolo and Cider and Wallace, Jim Wallace, who kinda pushed for this left-leaning evangelical stain within the fold. You lived through some of this, you saw some of this. What was your take on his chapter there?
Scott: Well, I think, originally, and he points this out, originally the vast majority of evangelicals when they started out in the evangelical movement were Democrats, not Republicans. And that shift came more, I think, from 1970 onward. And the degree to which there's room, I think, for a variety of political views, I think the tent, in my view, ought to be bigger than it is today. Because as we've talked about several times with different guests, no political platform is gonna be perfect. They're all gonna have flaws. They're all gonna have places where they're consistent with scripture and places where they're not. And, I mean, I'm not aware of any political platform, even in foreign countries where they're called the “Christian Democrats,” for example. I'm not aware of any political platform that was written with the goal of being faithful to scripture was paramount. And so every political platform is gonna have something to give and take from. Now, I think for myself, I'm passionately pro-life. I think religious freedom really matters. But I think our policies toward the poor and the homeless, especially in major metropolitan areas, are a source of public shame. Our immigration policy is hopelessly broken. We go on and on. So, I'm not sure exactly where I fit among—
Sean: That's what you mean by politically homeless.
Scott: —among the tribes. And I think there's an increasing number, and this would be my critique of that chapter, is I don't think it's quite as up to date as some of the rest of them. Because I think in the last five, six years, maybe seven years since 2015, with both the Obergefell decision and with the candidacy of Donald Trump, we've seen, for a variety of reasons, we've seen more and more younger, millennial Gen Z evangelicals become more politically progressive and they've rejected that close affinity that I think characterized the evangelical movement in the '70s and '80s with conservative politics. Now, what that's done, of course, is it forced some in my view to move farther to the right, but I think it's forced. I wouldn't say they've left the evangelical movement, but they've left the evangelical political caucus. So, I'm not sure this chapter is quite as accurate as the other ones descriptively, 'cause I think there's an increasing number of people who are at risk of not identifying as evangelical at all because of the political stuff. And if the tent's big enough to have some political progressives about some issues, then I think that's good for us. And I think that diversity of political thought is good. Now, I think on some issues, not so much. I rejoiced when Roe v. Wade was overturned. I believe that markets are not, I mean, they're one of the best human inventions we've ever had. And so, I'd be very reluctant having lived through the era where socialism was considered the answer to everything—it's clearly not. And it's been socialism, not Marxism, or non-capitalism, that was swept into the dustbin of history. So that's my take on that. I say, kind of depends on the view. I think there ought to be room for different views on immigration under our tent.
Sean: Sure. That's where it gets hard when it gets to issues like life, obviously.
Scott: Life, gender, and sexuality, I think, are different matters.
Sean: Those are really, really hard to deal with. Fair, good take. Let's shift to the last one, where he talks about the LGBTQ conversation that's going on here. And he goes back longer than I thought he would. He's kind of in the '60s, '70s, and '80s before my memory. And he kind of paints a picture that this is an excluded group that's kept out from people who saw themselves as being evangelical. And the Christian response was: no, the Bible doesn't teach that, change them; that's the only option. And in some ways I think, yeah, there were a lot of mistakes in the evangelical response to the question of LGBTQ relationships. And he walks through the story with Exodus and gives some fair criticism in ways that we should assess this. I think, when it's all said and done, at the heart of the issue for this one though, is the Bible and what it means to be, if one of the core evangelical ideas is authority of the Bible, you're not gonna get there to affirming same-sex relationships. And even some of the most outspoken, or actually I would say some people who are affirming, these are experts who say, "You know what, you can't get there through the Bible. You're gonna have to go—” people like William Loader, an expert in ancient culture, going, "You have to get there another way." So, I basically set the authority of the Bible aside. That's what I think the heart of the issue for this is. And while there are people who say, "Hey, we're evangelicals. We believe in the authority of the Bible. We can dot all the I's and cross all the T's of evangelicalism." I think there's too many people saying, "The arguments are not there. It's not supported by scripture. This is not just a secondary issue we can agree to disagree on because of the clarity of scripture. That's how I see it. It's not a power play. It's a faithfulness to scripture play.
Scott: Two, I think two comments on this. One is, I think Ephesians 5, the way it links the marriage between a husband and wife with the relationship between Christ and the church makes it something different than a peripheral issue. I think it really, it does make it really important. But my critique of this chapter, I'm really surprised at this, 'cause there's no mention of people like Wesley Hill. Really, just maybe a sentence or two, but just in passing about the gay Christians who have chosen to be celibate out of faithfulness to Christ. That's a much bigger category, I think, than he's given credit for. And I think there is plenty of room under the evangelical tent for people who are same-sex attracted and who have given up trying to change that—that's an important caveat there. But who, out of faithfulness to Christ, have chosen to live a celibate life. And sometimes the counterargument to that is: well, that's just so unusual, it's abnormal, it's not human. But then if you make that counterargument, you are vulnerable to the example of Jesus coming back at you in return. Because if the ideal man was someone who lived a celibate life, you know, then I—
Sean: That's exactly right.
Scott: Then I don't know what you do with that if you're trying to outline an affirming position. I think we've been correct to distinguish between the attraction and behavior. It's the behavior that scripture has its message about, not so much the attraction. And I think for most, I would agree, that most people's same-sex attraction is not chosen. It's not something that they've even chosen to nurture in many cases. And as a result of that, I don't think that's something they can be held morally culpable for. But the behavior is a choice. And the behavior includes lust and also acting out on it. 'Cause those are both decisions that are made.
Sean: I have a couple of comments at the end here I thought was interesting. He cites two people who've been outspoken in the quote gay Christian kind of category. One, Justin Lee, who wrote a book "Torn,” he started the Gay Christian Network, and it kind of describes the book that he wrote, and then a prominent Christian conservative scholar just wrote a scathing critique. Well, for one, ideas really matter. So I see no problem with writing a critique of ideas. He kind of caches it like it's a power play a little bit, but there's a lot at stake—he should. Second, we, at Biola, had Justin on campus to have a conversation with Wesley Hill—I was there saying, we're not afraid of these ideas, make your case, let's learn how to love our neighbors, but we're gonna go back to scripture.
Scott: And just to be clear, Justin affirms same-sex sexual activity.
Sean: He does.
Scott: As well as the same-sex attraction.
Sean: He does, yes.
Scott: Which puts him in a different category.
Sean: Agreed, yes. He is in a unique category. But he was on campus, we weren't trying to cancel him, it's not a power play, let's have a conversation. Same, he mentions Matthew Vines, who wrote a book, "God and the Gay Christian." That he cites some people here kind of as a power play to respond to him, to silence him. And I don't think it's wrong for them to respond. I think with how they responded is important because again, a lot is at stake. But I also had a conversation with him about 90 minutes if thrown up on YouTube, it's gotten, I don't know, probably close to a couple hundred thousand views, meaning a lot of people saw this and are hungry for this kind of dialogue. But my point is there's a lot of evangelicals willing to say, let's have this conversation. We're not threatened by this. We're not trying to cancel you. But if you cannot make your argument from scripture, we are not going to be compelled by this. I can hear some people saying, yeah, Sean, but your job is at Biola. I can tell you, I gotta look myself in the mirror when I go to bed at night. And I've told my wife when I study these issues, I said, if there really was a position I didn't hold consistently with Biola, I would not teach there anymore. And that's a gut check we all have to do. So it's fair for him to draw attention to the power play 'cause they affect all of us. But I don't think that's the story as it comes to LGBTQ. I think the argument has just not been made and can't be made from the scripture. That's the heart of it.
Scott: Yeah, I agree. And it is around hermeneutics and exegesis and Bill Lowter, the Australian New Testament scholar.
Sean: Brilliant scholar.
Scott: Brilliant. I mean, he fully acknowledges that what Paul taught was the traditional view. He just thinks that Paul was wrong about it and so he can't hold it. And I think that's—I mean, I commend him for being honest about it.
Sean: I do too, I appreciate that.
Scott: As opposed to what I would consider to be a myriad of exegetical gymnastics that are done in order to justify same-sex sexual activity.
Sean: I agree. There's so, I mean, each one of these—we could do an entire in-depth show on it. There's so much more I wanna say. I would recommend this book to people, it's a 300-page book. It actually was a dissertation, but he's made it very readable. It's a critique from outside at least the Biola Talbot, what you might call “conservative theological position.” And sometimes reading those helps us see some of our own weaknesses. But just realize it's a longer book, in fact, in the opening, even David Gushy says, "This book might make you mad." And there were a couple of moments I was like, "Ah, I don't know that I was bored." Mad might be overstating it. But if you wanna read a book that's going to critique contemporary evangelicalism, raise some good questions to think about that's kind of academic—I would recommend it if that's what you're looking for. What would you say?
Scott: I think so too. You'll be better educated about the history of the evangelical movement. You'd be better educated about people who claim to be evangelical and who have wanted to make that claim and for various reasons have not found themselves fitting under the bigger tent.
Sean: Well said. Well, good conversation.
Scott: Lots of fun, as usual.
Sean: As always, good job, Scott. Thanks for your thoughts. This has been an episode of the Think Biblically podcast. Thanks for joining us here. Make sure you hit subscribe. And if you thought about studying at Talbot or Biola, we would love to have you. Top level theological conversation where we're not threatened by ideas from the outside, but we wanna study 'em, and we wanna take 'em back to scripture. If you enjoyed today's conversation, give us a rating on your app, or just hit subscribe or a like if you're watching this on YouTube. And remember, think biblically about everything. [MUSIC]