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Is ‘White Evangelicalism’ the Same as ‘Historic Christian Theology’? Christians Debate Evangelicalism’s Place in Church History on Twitter

Photo by Christian Walker (via Unsplash)

Debate about the place of evangelicalism in the scope of church history, as well as its relationship to race, swirled on Twitter this week in response to a tweet by author and apologist Neil Shenvi, wherein Shenvi argued that many public critiques of American evangelicalism are little more than attacks on Christianity itself. 

“Railing against ‘white evangelicalism’ is often just a subtle way to rail against historic Christian theology,” Shenvi wrote

In recent times, evangelicalism has come under public scrutiny for the brand of political engagement it has become associated with in the age of Donald Trump, as well as high profile revelations of abusive leadership within the movement. Evangelicalism has also often been criticized for its sexual ethics and conceptions of masculinity, which stand in contrast to the growing acceptance and celebration of LGBTQ+ values in America.

Further, the term “White” as a modifier to “evangelicalism” has become increasingly common in public discourse, which has served to highlight that large numbers of Black protestants and other American Christians of color often align with their White counterparts on issues of theology while differing significantly in how they view social and political issues.

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In the past, Shenvi has noted that evangelicalism has even become the subject of public critique among those who might be considered to be within its own ranks.

This criticism is included in works such as “The Making of Biblical Womanhood” by Beth Allison Barr, “Jesus and John Wayne” by Kristin Kobes Du Mez, and “Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States,” by Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry—all of which have been lauded in popular media but which Shenvi fears provide a pathway for the denial of core Christian doctrines. 

“[T]hese authors’ ‘deconstructive’ approach to theology is necessarily a universal acid. Even if they weren’t explicitly committed to challenging evangelical doctrine broadly, their methodological approach makes such an outcome inevitable,” Shenvi wrote in a November 2021 article for CBMW. “This erosion is, perhaps, one of my greatest fears.”

When it comes to the criticism White evangelicals receive in public discourse generally, Shenvi emphasized on Twitter that such critiques are often levied against “historic theological positions related to gender and sexuality.”

To this claim, North Carolina pastor Ben Marsh responded, “Perhaps in the literature that you read, but most of the critiques that I see are leveraged against the historical positions on slavery, human dignity, and the role and nature of politics.”

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Shenvi replied, “Take a look at the bios of the people who liked your tweet.”