Evangelicals and Identity Politics: Reconsidering the World-Viewing Impulse
This project is an inquiry into evangelical identity, particularly the identity politics of white, American evangelicals as played out both within the broader evangelical stream and in public. I focus my study through the “world-view” concept that has been a key instrument for generating an evangelical identity by analyzing three of its most powerful expositors: Abraham Kuyper, Harold John Ockenga, and Richard J. Mouw. Each of these figures has operationalized a world-view concept vis-à-vis the evangelical identity (in Kuyper’s case, the “Calvinist” identity as paradigmatic of true, evangelical Protestantism) for cultural engagement and sociopolitical transformation. Their attempts to both define, galvanize, and limit membership in the movement and take their views public with thin, publicly-available expressions like “as an evangelical” and “the biblical world-view” has made these terms the stuff of an evangelical identity politics. To date, evangelical scholarship on the world-view concept has focused primarily on cataloging its intellectual resources and rendering it increasingly serviceable in the consolidation of evangelical identity—over against threatening alternative world-views as well as the perceived breakdown of traditional sources of moral authority. Along the way, the language of world-view has been used intentionally and explicitly in ways ranging from naïve to authoritarian. Thus, it will not do to fixate on the concept while allowing the impulse that generates it to escape scrutiny.
The world-viewing impulse, I contend, drives its evangelical devotees to narrate human lives in this world (including their own) in ways that warp Christian identity as a personal, social, and theological reality. I offer several kinds of tests (psychological, sociological, and theological) that dispute the adequacy of the world-viewing concept to the cases under study themselves and that demonstrate the potential such concepts hold for deceiving the world-viewing person or community and for facilitating deleterious uses of social power. The scale of this thinking and the unquestioned normativity of the world-viewing subject, I maintain, are functions of the racial logic (viz. whiteness) that pervades power structures in the modern West. When the highly-specified world-view of this or that white evangelical is allowed to pass as the logical extension of the Bible—synced up with God’s intended order for creation and merely identifying the moral structures of reality itself—the powerful world-viewer evades responsibility for what are, in fact, their own judgments. Furthermore, the typical way of framing these matters as epistemological in nature participates in a more fundamental problem: denying humans’ creatureliness and, thus, rejecting the manner of knowing and relating that is appropriate to humans as God’s creatures. Ultimately, in conversation with the theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I submit that proper, creaturely knowing is characterized by a sociality that encourages us to renounce our false world-view security and to hear the word of God in Christ calling us to discover others and ourselves in encounters powered by God’s gift of faith.
Doctor of Philosophy in Theology (PhD in Theology)
Evangelicalism, Church and the world, Christianity and politics, Church and social problems, Christianity and culture
Missions and World Christianity