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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Selective History Is Not The Answer

Written by: on February 1, 2018

“Many evangelicals themselves have little understanding of their own historical roots and little appreciation of the movement’s diversity across many cultures and nations.” – Lewis & Pierard[1]

“History is but a fable agreed upon.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

“For most of history, anonymous was a woman.” – Virginia Woolf

I love history. In particular, I love to look through the lens of history to see how we got to where we are today and how we are shaping history at this very moment. That’s why I have really enjoyed the books we have been reading this past few weeks. The history of the ways in which church, faith, and culture have intersected and continue to interact is fascinating and oddly invigorating. When I taught high school history and government, some of the liveliest discussions were about how church influenced politics, art, and even fashion trends, as well as how culture has shaped the church today.

Lewis and Pierard’s collection of essays, Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History and Culture in Regional Perspective, provides a good refresher of some of the history of evangelicalism we encountered in Bebbington’s much weightier Evangelicalism in Modern Britain, and adds perspective to evangelicalism’s global expansion. In particular, I appreciated that the editors included thoughts about African evangelicalism from Ogbu Kalu, and Latin American evangelicalism from C. Rene’ Padilla. While the authors who wrote about Asia, Australasia, and the Pacific Islands are undoubtedly experts in their field, I was disappointed to note that they are not indigenous people of the areas about which they wrote. I learned a great deal from their perspectives, but wondered if there might have been an Asian (or maybe several considering the diversity of Asian evangelicalism) or Pacific Islander who could have contributed a more focused perspective on how evangelicalism has spread in these cultures.

My greatest frustration with this collection is that the one essay written by a woman (Sarah C. Williams) is essentially an apologetic for Victorian evangelicalism and seems to be a token afterthought tacked onto what otherwise had been a vibrant discussion about evangelical expansion and culture. Williams insists that, in studying gender and evangelicalism, it isn’t fair to impose 21st century ideas about gender on evangelicalism in Victorian Britain. I wholeheartedly agree and found many of Williams’ arguments persuasive. It simply didn’t make sense, however, for this essay to be included in the section of this compilation entitled “Issues in Evangelical Encounters with Culture.” Unlike others in this book, this essay does not attempt to answer the question “how did we get here?” as it doesn’t address the way fundamentalism coopted evangelicalism and influenced not just the evangelical churches, but all of American middle to upper-class norms regarding gender roles, masculinity, and femininity through the movement known as Muscular Christianity. Evangelist Billy Sunday, for example, champion of exaggerated masculinity, took to the pulpit to remind men that Christianity was not a “pale, effeminate proposition” and that “Jesus was no ascetic…but a robust, red-blooded man.”[2] This Muscular Christianity has continued to influence evangelicalism with a toxic masculinity that is often couched in “complementarian” terms, but is really about maintenance of power and fear of the other.[3]

I don’t know what parameters Williams was given in this essay, or if the editors simply chose an already published paper to include in this text, but presenting a discussion of Victorian gender issues as something relevant to evangelical encounters with culture does more harm than good if it is not traced to the issues faced by these traditions today. While I definitely appreciate the editors’ intention to bring a female voice to the party and to address gender as an issue facing evangelicalism, it would have been better to leave this essay out of the mix and save it for a more detailed collection tracing the history of gender issues. Just as it is important to include a diversity of voices in our conversations and research about history, it is perhaps more important to be cognizant of how those voices will be valued (or dismissed) in the context of our own writing. If we want the voices to be valued, we must include them in such a way that readers know we value them as well.

                  [1]. Donald M. Lewis and Richard V. Pierard, Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History and Culture in Regional Perspective, (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014), 11.

                 [2]. Margaret Bendroth, Fundamentalization and Gender (1875 to Present), (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993), 24. See also Michael Kimmel, Manhood in America, Manhood in America, 3rd ed., (New York, Oxford University Press, 2012), and Betty A. DeBerg, Ungodly Women: Gender and the first wave of American Fundamentalism, (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2000).

                  [3]. See ANYTHING by Mark Driscoll or John Eldredge.

About the Author

Kristin Hamilton

15 responses to “Selective History Is Not The Answer”

  1. Stu Cocanougher says:

    Two responses:

    “While the authors who wrote about Asia, Australasia, and the Pacific Islands are undoubtedly experts in their field, I was disappointed to note that they are not indigenous people of the areas about which they wrote.”

    I agree. One person to keep on your radar is theologian and author Jackson Wu. Check out his blog.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jacksonwu/

    ————

    “it would have been better to leave this essay out of the mix and save it for a more detailed collection tracing the history of gender issues.”

    I understand your point. But the reality is that most pastors/theology students in the U.S. are male (a few of them are even muscular). For them (us) to have to read about the importance of women in the context of a book about our heritage is not a bad thing. Your critique of playing it safe by focusing on the past is spot on, though.

    • Kristin Hamilton says:

      Thanks for the blog info, Stu. I have heard of Jackson Wu and am glad to be able to follow him.

      I agree with you that the information Williams presented is important for our heritage, I just don’t think this book was the right place for this particular essay. I would love to read something by her that tied this information to the way evangelicals view women as well as masculinity and femininity in today’s society.

  2. Mary says:

    Kristin, Thank you, thank you!!!!
    I am reading books on domestic violence right now for my essay and the Williams article (though I agree with many of her points like you do) made me so angry I had to just leave it and focus on something else.
    You mention the Fundamentalists – A book that had a huge impact was “Bobbed Hair, Bossy Wives, and Women Preachers” by John R. Rice. Today, Wayne Grudem claims that for women to preach is a sin. And he (think Nashville Statement) apparently thinks he speaks for evangelicals.
    I decided to focus on how exciting it is that evangelicalism is growing in Africa and China. We sure need help here in the US!!!

    • Kristin Hamilton says:

      I’m right there with you, Mary. I read a lot about John Rice and people like him for my master’s thesis and the impact that theology had on what is happening today with people like Grudem and Piper (and Driscoll, etc.) is disgusting. I also learned a lot about how fear of anyone who didn’t fall within strict guidelines about masculinity and femininity oozed its way into general culture. Did you know our MMPI is still based on a gendered test given to junior high students until not too long ago to determine if they need “correction” regarding their characteristics and behaviors to bring them back ‘in line with norms?’ It makes me pretty sick.

  3. Lynda Gittens says:

    Thanks for your love of history. You always provide a view that I haven’t considered. I love history but most writers to me embellish their writing to add volume. This book was an easier read for me because of the essays and it had a low amount of fluff.
    Writing about the book was a challenge because I didn’t know how to tie in the various writings so I stuck with what I was familiar with. Now, on the women writing, I didn’t think of it as an add-on but you did open my mind to why was it placed where is was placed. I guess they realized they need to insert a woman’s point of view and they chose an interesting one.

  4. mm Katy Drage Lines says:

    Hmmm… seems like you and I had similar questions about this text. To your first question, yes there are good Asian theologians who, in my opinion, could’ve been called upon to write. Kosuke Koyama (“Water-buffalo Theology”) would’ve been good– though, like Kalu, he died in 2009. Another widely respected Asian theologian is Vietnamese-American Peter Phan (though as a Catholic, maybe he WASN’T considered evangelical???)

    Yes, I got the sense, in reading Williams, that she was either under certain constraints or perhaps this was her response to tokenism; to suggest that “gender” isn’t all about women, that there’s been a “scholarly neglect of masculinity and the formative construction of male and female cultural identities in dialogue with one another” (277).

    • Kristin Hamilton says:

      Like you I thought of several voices that would have provided deeper perspectives, Katy.
      To be honest, there HASN’T been scholarly neglect of masculinity. When I was writing my master’s thesis I found a ton of material, both critical and sympathetic.
      The bottom line is that I really enjoyed many parts of this book, and valued the voices that were involved, but I felt like it could have been so much richer and deeper.

  5. Jim Sabella says:

    Kristin, really great post as usual! Since we’ve all been in this cohort together for some time and you all know me a bit better, may I respectfully play the devil’s advocate for one moment? It is possible that Billy Sunday was more “theoretical” than “masculine” in his presentation. Not unlike the well known and respected women evangelist Kathryn Kuhlman who too was quite theatrical her presentation? And if his message seemed to be “masculine” in nature, could it be that he was directing his message at men —hey you lazy bums, do something for the kingdom? In any case, maybe both Billy and Katheryn had a unique style that reached different people. Enjoyed your post!

    • Kristin Hamilton says:

      Thank you Jim! You know, I used to think of Billy Sunday as simply a dramatic preacher who employed masculine antics to reach people for Jesus. It’s like the guy who used to tear phone books in half before giving his “Power” testimony, right? Unfortunately, the more I studied Muscular Christianity as a fundamentalist movement, the more I came to realize how terribly damaging it was. Men who didn’t live up to their ideals of masculinity were mocked and belittled and, essentially, told they were an embarrassment to Christ. Women who preached, or even spoke up, were thrashed as trying to be men and their husbands or fathers were humiliated. Much of the toxic masculinity and homophobia we experience today is a direct result of this twisted “Christianity.” I think they would have called Jesus a “sissy” after the Sermon on the Mount.

  6. mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    Great point Kristin about the absence of the female voice. Ironically, I guess the limited voice in the book is actually an accurate portrayal of the value of women throughout evangelicalism history- seen and not heard. And yet we can see by looking at our churches today how influential the women’s voice is in leadership, relationships, and many others areas of the church, so we know they had to have been influential throughout history. It seems to me it would be appropriate for someone to write a book acknowledging the women’s voices and rescript their value in church history. Someone with a lot of knowledge on women theologians, has a value for diversity, is fearless about her position, is getting a DMin, has a bleach blond adorable pixie cut…

    • Kristin Hamilton says:

      Hey, this pixie-cut is natural silver now! HAHA
      Anyway, one day I will take the stuff from my thesis and write more about it. I ache for the damage that has been done to the church. Everyone misses out on so much when we attempt to sideline any person who is made in the image of God.

      • mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

        Great words Kristin. Like you, I ache for the hurts the church unknowingly creates. Sometimes it’s too much and I find myself having to look away at beautiful faces.
        Oh and I love the beautiful natural hair. 🙂

  7. Kristin,
    Thanks for the post and the perspective, which as always, was appreciated.
    I think you make some very good points, but as I read your post this week, I started to think a lot about what makes someone ‘better’ or more well suited to address a particular topic.
    Full disclosure: I think I often would have read your post and nodded in agreement without too much thought, but because I know Dr. Sunquist, consider him a friend and hold him in the highest possible regard, both as a person and as a scholar, I bristled at the suggestion that he might not have been the best person for the task he undertook (at this point Jennifer might highlight the importance of relationship).
    This conundrum really made me think deeply about how and why we make these decisions. I really think it is import to make space for local voices and the many gifted and deserving voices of POC and women – this is a perspective that was cultivated directly because of my studying under Dr. Sunquist.
    There are, no doubt, incredibly capable native Asian theologians, historians and writers – as Katy, Stu and others noted – their perspective is invaluable. However, if the authors were looking for a broad historically focused overview, it is hard to argue against someone that, literally, wrote the book(s) on the development of Christianity in Asia.
    Should that person not have been asked because they happen to be a white, american male?
    In this case, at least, I think that is the root of the question, ‘what makes someone the ‘best’ person for a particular task.
    The exclusion of local voices, POC and women historically and in the current moment does, I think, mean that we should ‘privilege’ their perspective whenever possible. At the same time, we would be foolish to ignore or disqualify voices – especially those of ‘allies’ – without first engaging with them and judging them on the merits.
    Thanks so much for making me think more deeply about all of this

    • Kristin Hamilton says:

      Chip, when I read your post and put together who Sunquist is, I thought, “Well, of course they chose him!” But the more I thought about it, I realized that this is what happens so often. As you mentioned, there are many voices and Sunquist’s is one that I would personally go to, but should I? Is that part of the problem? Sunquist (and others like him) are published experts partly because of their talent and knowledge, but also at least partly because of the access their privilege affords them. I would like to find out what other experts would become well-known if we as consumers insisted on hearing indigenous voices at least alongside people like Sunquist.

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