Here are a few key paragraphs.
In the last issue I discussed “An Evangelical Manifesto,” with its palpable and touching eagerness to be accepted by those whom its signers view as their cultural betters. The message of the manifesto is: “Please, we are not that kind of evangelical.”
But sometimes what passes for change is a replay of very old stories. Rick Warren is quoted by Fitzgerald as declaring to a Baptist convention that the great need is for ‘a second Reformation,’ one that would be about ‘deeds not creeds.’ I hope he is misquoted . . . . The slogan ‘deeds not creeds’ was of course the rallying cry of the social-gospel movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It was the “modernism” to which first fundamentalism and then its post-World War II reconfiguration in evangelicalism was the response. And now the New Evangelicals are hailed as the social-gospel movement redivivus. As one never runs out of occasions for mentioning, history has many ironies in the fire.
The only reason a Frances Fitzgerald is interested in evangelicals or evangelicalism is that these people are political players. For people such as Fitzgerald, politics is “the real world.” In the perspective of Carl Henry’s 1947 manifesto and the emergence of that earlier instantiation of “the new evangelicals,” the so-called religious right of recent years may be seen as the first inning in the game of cultural and political engagement. The evangelicals didn’t always play it well, but at least they were playing in the big leagues. Now, impressed by their unaccustomed influence, some evangelicals are prepared to concede the game in return for a permanent pass to the stadium. If Fitzgerald and like-minded commentators are right, evangelicalism is joining liberal Christianity on the well-worn path to public irrelevance.
Neuhaus, however, closes on a positive note:
It is a heady sensation to be exalted by the likes of the New Yorker, the Washington Post, and the New York Times, but it is an embarrassingly paltry reward for betraying the promise of evangelicalism in American public life, and I am persuaded that most evangelicals will not accept the deal.