In this morning’s post, I quoted historian John Fea, who wrote at his blog that while he struggled with his own identification with evangelicalism, he would probably continue to use “evangelical” to describe himself. In part that was because he had decided “that to quit evangelicalism is to abandon a significant part of my responsibility and calling as a public scholar.”
That prompted a bit of discussion on Facebook, where my Anxious Bench colleague Kristin Kobes Du Mez (a history professor at Calvin College) didn’t “see a reason to associate with [the evangelical] brand,” nor that “refusing to do so means one can no longer serve as a public scholar.” John replied that it depended on the nature of the “public”: (I’m quoting both with their permission)
In the religious world I live in–a world defined by my congregation and the congregations that send students to my college where I teach–to say that I am no longer an “evangelical” means that I lose some credibility and authority. On the other hand, it may get me more street cred among non-evangelical Christians and secular friends.
Can one not identify as a Christian scholar instead? Would open-minded evangelicals tune out anyone identifying as such but not buying into the evangelical brand? I still see my “public” as a Christian one. I have street cred among secular friends, but not so much a truly secular public, but that’s not really the public I am drawn to speak to.
At least for me, this isn’t just about branding. While I’m vastly more comfortable with “Pietist” than “evangelical,” I hold theological convictions that largely fit with the prevailing definition of “evangelical” used by historians. And like former Christianity Today editor Katelyn Beaty, also quoted this morning, “When it comes to the Bible and Jesus and evangelism and service, the 81 percent [who voted for Donald Trump] and I share the same DNA.” So even if I decided to stop using “evangelical” to describe myself, those convictions and that “DNA” aren’t going away, and someone who reads what I write might reasonably categorize me as “evangelical.”
But for scholars who have made much of the importance of historians working harder to reach out to “the public,” it’s no small matter that the label itself may cause people either to pay attention, or to dismiss you.
I’ve long assumed that most members of my “public” either identify as “evangelical” or once did so. If not, I’m not sure why almost every post I write about evangelicalism gets such high readership… But perhaps I’m wrong.
So as I continue to wrestle with these questions, I’d appreciate your help:
Whether you’re a regular reader of this blog (or of my writing at The Anxious Bench), a friend/follower in social media, a colleague or former student, a fellow church member, a relative, or any other member of my “public,” please take a moment to complete this one-question poll:
Vote early, but please don’t vote often; this won’t be scientific, but I’d love to get a reasonably accurate snapshot. And knowing that you might struggle to pick one of the broad categories provided, please feel free to elaborate on your answer in the comments section.