Who Is an Evangelical? The History of a Movement in Crisis by Thomas S. Kidd

Who Is an Evangelical? The History of a Movement in Crisis
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The term ‘evangelical’ has fast become a combustible label, especially since the 2016 election. Thomas Kidd generously understates our disagreements by saying the election has “renewed a sometimes acrimonious debate,” describing that election as “the most shattering experience for evangelicals since the Scopes Trial.” This is what makes Thomas Kidd’s new book, and its driving question—Who is an Evangelical?—such a useful, maybe even essential little book. In a short, affordable, and very readable 156 pages, this distinguished professor of American religious history manages to trace the roots of evangelicalism, its convictions, practices, and stories. The subtitle is all-important, we discover, as the movement of persons, churches, and charities that orbit the evangelical identifier have, since their very beginning, persisted in almost perpetual crisis. What ails evangelicals? Is it race? Inerrancy? Political collaborations or corruption? Is it, as some have complained, decentralized authority, meaning the media often count “the wrong” leaders of the movement? These and more are recurring in evangelical history, hardly new to 2016, and yet compounding our fractures like never before. Kidd’s final plea, that some ecumenical arrangement of core beliefs and practices, might still rescue us from our political and social ruptures, may seem optimistic in that context. And yet, we would not be the first generation to reconceive of the label or debate its proper boundaries. Christian Reformed readers will note two things: first, that the conversation, though globally contextualized, is almost entirely American. Canadian readers will need some help with the American context sometimes taken for granted. And second, the Christian Reformed Church hardly appears, a humble recognition of our size and influence perhaps, but also a necessary recognition that our little denomination sits uneasily between “evangelical” and “mainline.” As the CRC, like all churches in the North Atlantic world, undergoes its own soul searching on our past and future, I can think of few more timely books to focus our conversations than Thomas Kidd’s marvelous new book, Who is an Evangelical? (Yale University Press)

About the Author

Robert Joustra is a member of First CRC, Hamilton, Ontario. He is assistant professor of international studies at Redeemer University College, a fellow with The Review of Faith and International Affairs, and a fellow at the Center for Public Justice.