The cable network MSNBC has published an article about President Bush’s evangelical faith. The article, written by reporter Alex Johnson, is filled with appalling ignorance about evangelicalism and evangelicals.
“Evangelicalism is a style of worship.”
Johnson writes that evangelicalism is a style of worship. He doesn’t describe the style of worship and obviously has no idea about the variety of worship styles among evangelicals. He would be amazed, I’m sure, about the debate among evangelicals over “style of worship”: whether contemporary music or traditional hymns should be sung; whether choruses and other songs are appropriate for Sunday morning; whether it is acceptable to raise your arms, kneel in prayer, say “amen” out loud, clap hands, sway to the music, have a band or organ, and the list could go on. Johnson clearly has no idea about the controversy over whether it is appropriate to dress casually for worship or if the traditional “Sunday dress” is required for reverence and worship.
Evangelicalism is “not a set of beliefs.”
MSNBC’s article claims that evangelicalism is not a set of beliefs. Any first-year theology student could set him straight about that, not to mention anyone who has ever attended Sunday school. Their beliefs and orthodox theology clearly identify evangelicals. As any dictionary would have informed Mr. Johnson, evangelicals are Protestants who believe in the authority of the Bible and in salvation through the personal acceptance of Jesus Christ as Savior. Evangelicals are known as “true believers” because we know in Whom we believe and we are persuaded that He (Jesus Christ) is able to redeem and transform lives.
“Evangelical Protestants are defined by their personal stories of faith.”
The arrogance and condescension in Mr. Johnson’s statement that “evangelical Protestants are defined by their personal stories of faith” is beyond belief. Evangelicals do provide testimony to their faith, but the focus is not on their “personal” stories; the focus is on “The Story.” In the words of the old hymn, evangelicals “love to tell the story” of Jesus, the “old, old story of Jesus and His love.” The stories are always about the incredible love of Jesus, how He reaches out to lost sinners and how, through his death on the cross, He washed away the sin changing even the stain of sin to white as snow in believers’ lives. Evangelical Protestants are defined by Christ’s death on the cross and their belief that the “Passion” is personal.
Evangelicals are defined “by whom they choose as their pastor.”
Mr. Johnson’s statement about evangelicals being known by their choice of pastor is as perplexing as it is misinformed. Evangelicals fill the so-called mainline Protestant denominations. In fact, evangelicals are the lifeblood of most churches in the mainline denominations. Many of the churches have an organizational structure where pastors are assigned churches by a supervising denominational hierarchy with various names, such as district superintendent and bishop; the congregation has no choice in the matter.
“Core to many evangelicals’ identity is the ‘born-again’ experience.”
Correction, Mr. Johnson. All evangelicals are “born-again”; that is the defining characteristic of an evangelical. That is the core belief of evangelicalism not their style of worship, not their personal story, not their choice of pastor, not their experience. Evangelicals believe in the power of salvation through their personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and that is the meaning of “born again.”
Central to the experience is an “intense conversion during a personal interaction with the Holy Spirit, often Jesus Himself.”
Clearly, Mr. Johnson is confused and mixes up the theology of fundamentalism and the charismatic movement with evangelicalism they are not always the same though they share many beliefs. Evangelicals do not insist on an “experience.” In fact, one of the most prominent evangelicals, Ruth Bell Graham, wife of evangelist Billy Graham, says that she grew up knowing and accepting Jesus so that she cannot pinpoint a specific experience or a point in time when she “accepted Christ as her personal Savior.”
Numerous evangelicals would find it difficult to cite a specific “experience” of conversion. Further, the “personal interaction” is always with Jesus Himself. (Jesus and the other persons in the Trinity, God and the Holy Spirit, constitute the Triune God. These persons are experienced separately.) He is personalized in the human body of God’s son, Jesus, and was sent to earth to experience all that we, as human beings, experience in order to understand our weaknesses and identify with us. The Bible clearly states that we come to the Father (God) through His Son (Jesus).
It is appalling to see the number and magnitude of this reporter’s errors. How did such ignorance get by the editors? Why was such an article published? Someone rushed an article to print yet again that is filled with falsehoods and misunderstandings. If the editors want an article about Bush’s faith, there are competent writers who know and understand that faith who can write intelligently, perceptively and accurately about it.
For a link to the MSNBC article by Alex Johnson, click here.
Janice Crouse is senior fellow for the Beverly LaHaye Institute.