Evangelicals and Tradition

TP BannerAt the First Things site this morning, I have an essay about young Evangelicals’ use of the phrase “Spiritual but Not Religious” to describe themselves, and what that suggests about tradition in America. Here’s an excerpt:

Paradox also characterizes our American religious tradition—a tradition in which Evangelical Christianity, broadly defined, is such an important element. On many cultural and political issues, tradition appeals to Evangelicals; they are the “traditional values” people. But Evangelicalism sits uneasily with the idea of tradition. Evangelicalism stresses personal faith, unimpeded by custom and “human” inventions. Wariness about tradition seems at the core of Evangelical spirituality, a characteristic that separates it from other forms of Christianity, like Catholicism and Orthodoxy, in which tradition has a much greater role.

The popularity of “Spiritual but Not Religious” among young Evangelicals today is a good example. Many young Evangelicals apparently wish to signal their distance from religious tradition, even their own. Tradition for them is not a benign thing; it is a snare to be avoided. True, one might distinguish religious traditions from other sorts. People might minimize tradition in their Christian life but honor it in politics, for example. But I have to think that wariness about tradition in religion influences how people see tradition in other areas of life, too.

I continue to think tradition may be ready for a revival. But I acknowledge the obstacles it faces. In America, it’s not only secular individualists who are suspicious of tradition, but many Christians as well. Tradition will have to overcome not only the objections of skeptics, but many believers, too.

You can find the full essay here.

Around the Web This Week

Some interesting law and religion news stories from around the web this week:

“Faith and Slavery in the Presbyterian Diaspora” (Taylor & Messer, eds.)

In January, Lehigh University Press released “Faith and Slavery in the Presbyterian Diaspora,” edited by William Harrison Taylor (Alabama State University) and Peter C. Messer (Mississippi State University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Faith and Slavery in the Presbyterian Diaspora considers how, in areas as diverse as the New Hebrides, Scotland, the United States, and East Central Africa, men’s 1611462010and women’s shared Presbyterian faith conditioned their interpretations of and interactions with the institution of chattel slavery. The chapters highlight how Presbyterians’ reactions to slavery –which ranged from abolitionism, to indifference, to support—reflected their considered application of the principles of the Reformed Tradition to the institution. Consequently, this collection reveals how the particular ways in which Presbyterians framed the Reformed Tradition made slavery an especially problematic and fraught issue for adherents to the faith.

Faith and Slavery, by situating slavery at the nexus of Presbyterian theology and practice, offers a fresh perspective on the relationship between religion and slavery. It reverses the all too common assumption that religion primarily served to buttress existing views on slavery, by illustrating how groups’ and individuals reactions to slavery emerged from their understanding of the Presbyterian faith. The collection’s geographic reach—encompassing the experiences of people from Europe, Africa, America, and the Pacific—filtered through the lens of Presbyterianism also highlights the global dimensions of slavery and the debates surrounding it. The institution and the challenges it presented, Faith and Slavery stresses, reflected less the peculiar conditions of a particular place and time, than the broader human condition as people attempt to understand and shape their world.

Bergen, “United States of Jihad”

This month, Penguin Random House released “United States of Jihad: Investigating America’s Homegrown Terrorists,” by Peter Bergen.  The publisher’s description follows: