Hart On The Intractable Problem Of Defining Evangelical

Key to Kidd’s strategy is definition. He characterizes evangelicals as “born-again Protestants who cherish the Bible as the Word of God and who emphasize a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.” [4] Conversion, Scripture, and experience of the Holy Spirit, accordingly, allow Kidd to decide who is part of his story and whom to exclude. It is a curious approach if only because Kidd cites no historical, theological, or ecclesiastical sources for his definition. Nor does it shape the contents of his book since Kidd does not explore doctrines of regeneration, Scripture, or the Holy Spirit, investigation that would have supported his definition. As it stands, Kidd uses his own definition to select his subjects. The trouble with this approach becomes evident when he writes about Barack Obama. The former president claimed that during one service at Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, while kneeling before the cross, “I felt God’s spirit beckoning me” [140]. For Kidd, this qualifies as a conversion, but it was a “mainline” variety, not “an evangelical conversion.” In contrast, he regards George W. Bush’s conversion as evangelical. Although the president avoided the phrase “born-again,” “he made it clear that Jesus had changed his ‘heart’” [136]. Kidd would likely agree that he lacks the capacity to discern a person’s heart. At the same time, the way he defines evangelicalism and selects his subjects reflects Kidd’s control over his material.

D. G. Hart, “ D. G. Hart’s Review of Who Is An Evangelical?: The History Of A Movement In Crisis, by Thomas S. Kidd” in Books At A Glance February 17, 2020.

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  1. As the authority of the Word of God is diminished, personal “experience of God” becomes increasingly authoritative.

  2. I stopped referring to myself as “evangelical” quite awhile ago just because of the confusion that this review exposes. A term without clear meaning is a meaningless term (you can quote me if you like it!). Further, I fear that the term has been shanghaied by the left and false teachers trying to steer orthodoxy into sin (re: TE Johnson, TGC, and others), thus transforming the “formally orthodox” into “extremists” or some other kind of pejorative term. I would rather go with Reformed, Calvinistic, or best of all Fundamentalist-Presbyterian! If the PCA’s General Assembly is cancelled this year, I expect this very thing to happen next year when the GA is held in Sodomy Central (a city formally known as St. Louis).

  3. I confess that I’m not up to speed on the latest Hart books (although it sounds like I need to get this one). So, who is this “Kidd” to whom he is referring?

  4. I would be interested in knowing more about Thomas Kidd. Since he teaches at Baylor University, is he a Southern Baptist? If so, then he is probably coming from the Baptist Traditionalist perspective, meaning his definitions are based on a semi-Pelagian view of Scripture. I sojourned amongst the Southern Baptists from 1981 – 1993, and as a Methodist at that time, well versed in Wesleyan Arminianism, I was appalled at the rampant semi-Pelagianism I found there. I thus began what’s turned into a life-long study of Baptist theology, including the Particular Baptists.

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