Deconstructing Evangelicalism: Conservative Protestantism in the Age of Billy Graham
Baker Academic, 224 pages (Hardback, 2005)
D.G. Hart is currently a visiting professor at Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Michigan.
Provocateur, prolific writer, and defender of ecclesiastically confessional Presbyterianism. There seems to be little that draws more fire than a blog post or article by Dr. Hart, yet even when I find myself vociferously disagreeing with him I cannot but help to learn and be genuinely helped by his thought and work. Not only is he a fluid writer, but his straight-forward and no-nonsense argumentation makes for easy, yet deep reading.
This particular book which takes a critical look at the post-war evangelical scene through the labors of the National Association of Evangelicals, Carl Henry, Billy Graham, and up to and including contemporary leaders such as Bill Hybles and Rick Warren has as its thesis that the big problem with Evangelicalism as a label and as a movement is there is no there, there. In other words it is a less than useless device in describing a coherent theology or ideology. Dr. Hart opens the work retelling a conversation he had where he was called an evangelical and it caused him to realize that the label did not really fit where he saw himself as an OPC Ruling Elder and (at the time) professor at a confessionally Reformed seminary. He notes in the opening chapters that even when there is a common ethos, the on-paper agreed upon doctrines (like inerrency) belie quickly (as Harold Lindsell showed in his book Battle For the Bible) a crossed-fingers approach at the top-levels of the “Evangelical” movement.
Some of the other necessary critiques become more clear in these representative words of Dr. Hart:
In each of these selections the common denominator is that agreement in big “E” Evangelicalism is often fleeting, generational, and dismissed in favor of competing demands and understanding. Any serious student of the contemporary religious scene in the United States must read this work, whether they agree with the author’s conclusions or not. As Dr. Hart notes:
Evangelicalism is a seemingly large and influential religious body, but it lacks an institutional center, intellectual coherence, and devotional direction.
In closing, Dr. Hart ends the work with a conclusion which points a way forward not only for evangelicalism, but for the church as a whole. Several of the ideas which he brings forth can be seen in more detail (and more cogently argued) in Dr. Hart’s other works, like With Reverence and Awe and Recovering Mother Kirk.