Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 09/16/2010 by John Bird.
Recommended. An important book about Evangelicalism's past, present and future.
What is an Evangelical? To many on the outside, it is "a white, middle-class male Republican from the southern part of the United States." The terms Evangelical and Religious Right are often used synonymously (to the embarrassment of many evangelicals). But according to Christopher Catherwood, "this description presents a highly misleading picture":
...It confuses evangelicalism as a whole, which is a worldwide, global movement, with just a tiny segment of it, and gives it a political coloring that is utterly atypical of evangelicals in most countries today. For it is now widely said that the average evangelical is an economically poor black Nigerian woman with numerous family members suffering from HIV/AIDS.
Catherwood, who holds a PhD from the University of East Anglia, corrects the false assumptions in his new book, The Evangelicals. He makes clear that what Evangelicals share has nothing to do with natural citizenship, family, political views, income, or even denominational affiliation. Instead, they are united by their theological beliefs, which he outlines and describes in his first chapter. He also discusses those beliefs on which Evangelicals can disagree while still landing within what is considered Evangelical, though they may be the very issues that divide along denominational lines.
Denominations are part of the lives of most Evangelicals, but their ultimate loyalty does, or certainly should, cross denominational boundaries, since what unites us as Evangelicals is far more important than what divides us as Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Pentecostals, or whatever man-made divisions may exist.
This inclusive spirit is refreshing. But lest one get the idea that Catherwood considers every church an Evangelical church, or even a Christian church, he gives many examples of those that are not: "A church, whatever its television profile or however gigantic its congregation, that packs people in by making them feel good about themselves, is by biblical definition not Christian at all."
The subsequent chapters include:
2. A Typical Evangelical Church’s Statement
3. Who Are Evangelicals?
4. Evangelicals Past and Present
5. Trials and Tribulations [A look at the different views of the end times held within evangelicalism, and how these views can affect one's politics.]
6. The Minefield: A Survey of Evangelical Politics
This book has several strengths, but the greatest is its uniqueness. Each chapter offers something new - if not new information, at least a fresh view on what we already know. But I found chapter 3, "Who Are Evangelicals?" to be the most exciting. Here are some highlights:
There are more Presbyterians in Korea, a nation that might soon be majority Christian, than there are in the United States...There are more church-attending Christians in Brazil alone than in the whole of the United States and Western Europe combined...The Church of Nigeria...has more people in church every Sunday than all the Southern Baptist congregations in the United States...There are, whatever way you look at it, millions more Christians in China than members of the Communist Party...the country with the world's greatest number of evangelicals in the twenty-first century could indeed be the People's Republic of China!
Are these just interesting statistics? They are more than that. These are facts that should inform a Christian’s world view and politics. How can one ignore the two-thirds world knowing that the majority of God's adopted children live there? How can we be unconcerned with AIDS, knowing that it plagues many of our brothers and sisters in Christ? How can one blindly support war, whether it benefits their country or not, knowing that it will kill believers on both sides? Where is our allegiance? Christ's kingdom, or the Western kingdom? These are questions that deserve some thought. And they are questions that the majority of worldwide Evangelicals take seriously.
I'm grateful to Catherwood for this courageous book. He has made me more aware of the make-up of Christ's church, though this shouldn't be the case; after all, the description of the church he gives matches the description we already have in the New Testament. And I’m reminded again that my relationship to my brothers and sisters in Christ transcends any other relationship. This is an important book with an important message, and one that I highly recommend.