Tuesday, October 03, 2006

American Protestantism: A New Paradigm

After highlighting the traditional nomenclature with which American Protestantism is usually characterized ("liberal" vs. "evangelical"), D.G. Hart argues that these categories, like King Belshazzar's reign, have been "weighed in the balances and found wanting."

A better way to divide American Protestants, Hart argues, is between "pietists" and "confessionalists" (with both liberals and evangelicals falling into the former category). Hart writes:
"The two-party [liberal/evangelical] interpretation lacks nuance and so lumps together disparate Protestant communions on the basis of a slim set of criteria, such as conversion and social activism. Such a minimalist approach to the various denominations of Protestantism, in turn, ignores such historically important aspects of Christianity as liturgy, creeds, catechesis, preaching, sacraments, ordination, and church government. Ironically, by overlooking these churchly dimensions, the standard approaches to American Protestantism miss what may in fact be a more significant division in Unites States religion -- namely, between believers who distinguish the essence of Christianity from the external practices and observances of it (i.e., pietists) and those who refuse to make such a distinction (i.e., confession-alists)." (D.G. Hart, The Lost Soul of American Protestantism, xxvii, emphasis added).

So according to Hart's schema, the agreement that confessional churches have with evangelicals on issues such as the inspiration of Scripture and the diety of Christ is less significant than the disagreement they have over just about everything else.

How does this paradigm play into our discussion concerning the attitude of Refomed believers toward evangelicals? Toward Lutherans? Toward proponents of the New Perspective on Paul?