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An Evangelical is Anyone who Likes Billy Graham: Defining Evangelicalism with Carl Henry and Networks of Trust

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 December 2021

Daniel Silliman*
Affiliation:
News Editor of Christianity Today

Abstract

The founding editors of Christianity Today spent more than a year planning the launch of their magazine. Carl F. H. Henry, L. Nelson Bell, and J. Marcellus Kik believed Christianity Today could “plant the flag” for evangelicalism. To do that, though, the editors had to decide what evangelicalism was. They had to decide where the lines were, who was in and who was out, which issues mattered and which did not. One key criterion, they decided, was whether or not someone liked evangelist Billy Graham. Historian George Marsden later offered this as a tongue-in-cheek definition of evangelicalism. More seriously, religious historians have used David Bebbington's quadrilateral definition, which says the basis of evangelicalism is conversionism, biblicism, activism, and crucicentrism. This article argues that Bebbington's definition is ahistorical, vague, and deeply unhelpful. Marsden's joking definition, on the other hand, is quite useful, as it directs historians to attend to actual relationships, historical affinities, and real-world conversations. Based on new archival research, this article tells the story of the launch of evangelicalism's “flagship” magazine, shows how evangelicalism's lines were drawn in 1956, and makes the case that evangelicalism is best understood as a discourse community which is structured by its communication networks.

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Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of American Society of Church History

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Footnotes

Thanks to Doug Sweeney for pointing out the almost untouched Carl F. H. Henry papers archived at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and encouraging me to look at them. Thanks also to Notre Dame's Colloquium on Religion and History (especially Pete Cajka, Philip Byers, and Suzanna Krivulskaya), the American Academy of Religion's Evangelical Studies Unit (especially Jason Sexton), the American Religious History Colloquium at the Heidelberg Center for American Studies (especially Jan Stievermann, Ryan Hoselton, and Claudia Jetter), Timothy E. W. Gloege, Kristin Du Metz, Devin Manzullo-Thomas, Aaron Griffith, and Church History's estimable reviewers, Grant Wacker and Matthew Sutton. They all provided invaluable feedback, insightful criticism, and encouragement in the writing and revision process, though they of course did not sign off on any of the arguments and should not be held responsible for my work.

References

1 Carl F. H. Henry to L. Nelson Bell and J. Marcellus Kik, 21 Octobert 1955, Carl F. H. Henry Papers, Gleason A. Archer Archives, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Trinity International University, Deerfield, Ill. (hereafter cited as Henry Papers).

2 Marsden, George M., Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1991), 6Google Scholar.

3 See Anderson, Benedict, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1983), 6Google Scholar; and Habermas, Jürgen, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into the Category of Bourgeois Society, trans. Burger, Thomas and Lawrence, Frederick (Cambridge: Polity, 1989), 3640Google Scholar.

4 Timothy Larsen, “The Reception Given Evangelicalism in Modern Britain Since its Publication in 1989,” in The Advent of Evangelicalism: Exploring Historical Continuities, ed. Michael A. G. Haykin and Kenneth J. Stewart (Nashville, Tenn.: B and H, 2008), 21–36, esp. 29.

5 See, e.g., John A. McIntosh, Anglican Evangelicalism in Sydney 1897 to 1953: Nathaniel Jones, D. J. Davies and T. C. Hammond (Eugene, Oreg.: Wipf and Stock, 2018); Sarbeswar Sahoo, Pentecostalism and Politics of Conversion in India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 168n7; and Douglas J. Davis, The Mormon Culture of Salvation (New York: Routledge, 2018), 63.

6 See, e.g., Boone Aldridge, For the Gospel’ s Sake: The Rise of the Wycliffe Bible Translators and the Summer Institute of Linguistics (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2018), 5; John A. D'Elia, A Place at the Table: George Eldon Ladd and the Rehabilitation of Evangelical Scholarship in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018), xxii; Jeffrey S. MacDonald, John Gerstner and the Renewal of Presbyterian and Reformed Evangelicalism in Modern America (Eugene, Oreg.: Pickwick, 2017), 5; and Christopher M. Rios, After the Monkey Trial: Evangelical Scientists and a New Creationism (New York: Fordham University Press, 2014).

7 Larsen, “Reception Given Evangelicalism in Modern Britain,” 26–29; and see also Derek J. Tidball, Who are the Evangelicals? Tracing the Roots of Today's Movements (London: Marshall Pickering, 1994), 14.

8 Julie Zauzmer Weil and Sarah Pullium Bailey, “After Trump and Moore, Some Evangelicals are Finding Their Own Label Too Toxic to Use,” Washington Post, 14 December 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/social-issues/after-trump-and-moore-some-evangelicals-are-finding-their-own-label-too-toxic-to-use/2017/12/14/b034034c-e020-11e7-89e8-edec16379010_story.html.

9 Timothy Keller, “Can Evangelicalism Survive Donald Trump and Roy Moore,” New Yorker, 19 December 2017, https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/can-evangelicalism-survive-donald-trump-and-roy-moore; and Thomas Kidd, “Roy Moore and the Confused Identity of Today's ‘Evangelical’ Voter,” Vox, 13 December 2017, https://www.vox.com/first-person/2017/11/22/16686614/roy-moore-evangelical-voter. See also Timothy E. W. Gloege, “#ITSNOTUS: Being Evangelical Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry,” Religion Dispatches, 3 January 2018, http://religiondispatches.org/itsnotus-being-evangelical-means-never-having-to-say-youre-sorry/.

10 Heath W. Carter and Laura Rominger Porter, eds., Turning Points in the History of American Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2017).

11 Mark A. Noll, America's God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln (New York: Oxford, 2002), 5; Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1994), 8; and Mark A. Noll, The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys (Downers Grove, Ill.: InverVarsity, 2003), 19.

12 Mark A. Noll, Between Faith and Criticism: Evangelicals, Scholarship, and the Bible in America (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1986), 2–3.

13 Noll, Scandal, 8.

14 Noll has said in recent years that he disagrees with Bebbington, but that he has not changed his position. It is not clear to this author what to make of such comments. See Mark Noll, “Who is Evangelical? Confronting Race in American Christianity” (audience comment, 133rd Annual American Historical Association Meeting, Chicago, Ill., 5 January 2019), in Daniel Silliman (@danielsilliman), “Mark Noll: I don't think evangelicals exist. David Bebbington does. I don't. ‘Evangelical’ is a useful fiction. I don't think I've changed on that,” Twitter, 5 January 2019, 1:02 p.m., https://twitter.com/danielsilliman/status/1081611933223133187.

15 D. W. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (London: Routledge, 1989), 2.

16 Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain, 4.

17 Linford D. Fisher, “Evangelicals and Unevangelicals: The Contested History of a Word, 1500–1950,” Religion and American Culture 26, no. 2 (Summer 2016): 184–226, esp. 186.

18 Fisher, “Evangelicals and Unevangelicals,” 193–194, 201.

19 Thomas Kidd, George Whitefield: America's Spiritual Founding Father (New Haven, Conn.: Yale, 2014), 3.

20 Harry S. Stout, The Divine Dramatist: George Whitefield and the Rise of Modern Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1991), xxii–xvi.

21 Frank Lambert, “Pedlar in Divinity”: George Whitefield and the Transatlantic Revivals (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994), 66–67.

22 Douglas L. Winiarski, Darkness Falls on the Land of Light: Experiencing Religious Awakenings in Eighteenth-Century New England (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018), 15–16.

23 See Todd Thompson, “The Evangelical Alliance, Religious Liberty, and the Evangelical Conscience in Nineteenth-Century Britain,” Journal of Religious History 33, no. 1 (March 2009): 49–65; and History and Prospects of the Evangelical Alliance, 1859 (London: Office of the Evangelical Alliance, 1859), 4.

24 Fisher, “Evangelicals and Unevangelicals,” 197.

25 D. G. Hart, Deconstructing Evangelicalism: Conservative Protestantism in the Age of Billy Graham (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2004), 23.

26 Hart, Deconstructing Evangelicalism, 23.

27 Donald W. Dayton, “Some Doubts about the Usefulness of the Category ‘Evangelical,’” in The Variety of American Evangelicalism, ed. Donald W. Dayton and Robert K. Johnston (Eugene, Oreg.: Wipf and Stock, 1997), 245–251, esp. 245.

28 See Kristin Kobles Du Mez, “Race, Gender, and the 81 Percent: Defining Evangelicalism and What's at Stake,” (lecture on the panel “Who is Evangelical? Confronting Race in American Christianity”), https://kristindumez.com/resources/race-gender-and-the-81-percent-defining-evangelicalism-and-whats-at-stake/.

29 Timothy E. W. Gloege, Guaranteed Pure: The Moody Bible Institute, Business, and the Making of Modern Evangelicalism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015), 167–192.

30 Carl F. H. Henry to George M. Marsden, 24 February 1986, quoted in George M. Marsden, Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1987), 10n4.

31 Marsden, Reforming Fundamentalism, 158.

32 Billy Graham to L. Nelson Bell, 6 June 1955, quoted in Carl F. H. Henry, Confessions of a Theologian: An Autobiography (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1986), 141; Billy Graham to L. Nelson Bell, 25 January 1955, Harold Lindsell Papers, Billy Graham Center, Wheaton, Ill., quoted in Marsden, Reforming Fundamentalism, 158.

33 See Kenneth Taylor, “The Spirituality of the Church: Segregation, The Presbyterian Journal, and the Origins of the Presbyterian Church in America, 1942–1973,” Reformed Perspectives Magazine, 19 August 2007.

34 L. Nelson Bell, “Board of Trustees,” 1955: Christianity Today, Henry Papers,.

35 Robert E. Bedingfield, “Personality: A Prayerful Enterpriser; W. Maxey Jarman, Born Shoe Man, Ranges Widely but Questions as to Tiffany Deal Puzzle Him,” New York Times, 5 August 1956, https://www.nytimes.com/1956/08/05/archives/personality-a-prayerful-enterpriser-w-maxey-jarman-born-shoe-man.html.

36 Sam Roberts, “Howard E. Butt Jr., Grocery Empire Heir Who Spread a Gospel, Dies at 89,” New York Times, 17 September 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/18/business/howard-e-butt-jr-heir-to-a-texas-grocery-empire-dies-at-89.html.

37 “Walter F. Bennett, head of an advertising agency instrumental . . . ,” United Press International, 5 December 1980, https://www.upi.com/Archives/1980/12/05/Walter-F-Bennett-head-of-an-advertising-agency-instrumental/4917344840400/.

38 Bob E. Patterson, Carl F. H. Henry (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1983), 19.

39 Ben Peays, “The Modern Mind and the Uneasy Conscience: Carl F. H. Henry and Postwar Evangelical Social Ethic,” in Essential Evangelicalism: The Enduring Influence of Carl F. H. Henry, ed. Matthew J. Hall and Owen Strachan (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2015), 149–173.

40 Marsden, Reforming Fundamentalism, 160.

41 Carl F. H. Henry to L. Nelson Bell, 7 March 1955, Henry Papers.

42 Carl F. H. Henry to Billy Graham, 20 June 1955, Henry Papers.

43 See D. G. Hart, Defending the Faith: J. Gresham Machen and the Crisis of Conservative Protestantism in Modern America (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P and R, 1994), 120–135.

44 Kik, “Our Policy,” Bible Christianity, 1 December 1935.

45 “The Quiet Influence of a Canadian Presbyterian,” This Day in Presbyterian History, 22 October 2013, http://www.thisday.pcahistory.org/2013/10/october-22/ (site no longer available at the time of publication).

46 L. Nelson Bell to Carl F. H. Henry, 23 July 1955, Henry Papers.

47 J. Marcellus Kik to Carl F. H. Henry and L. Nelson Bell, 1 October 1955, Henry Papers.

48 Carl F. H. Henry to Thomas M. Beers, 20 December 1955, Henry Papers.

49 Carl. F. H. Henry to L. Nelson Bell and J. Marcellus Kik, 16 March 1956, Henry Papers.

50 Carl F. H. Henry to L. Nelson Bell and J. Marcellus Kik, 7 October 1955, Henry Papers.

51 L. Nelson Bell to Carl F. H. Henry and J. Marcellus Kik, 5 October 1955, Henry Papers.

52 “Proposed Contributing Editors,” 1955: Christianity Today, Henry Papers.

53 “Proposed Contributing Editors.”

54 “Proposed Contributing Editors.”

55 Kik to Henry and Bell, 1 October 1955.

56 “Proposed Contributing Editors.”

57 Henry to Bell and Kik, 7 October 1955.

58 Carl F. H. Henry, “What is Fundamentalism?” 1955-Writings, Henry Papers.

59 “Proposed Contributing Editors.”

60 Hallesby admitted taking too high of an income tax deduction for about a decade. “Hallesby går på skattesaka,” Firda Folkeblad, 12 November 1953, https://www.nb.no/items/fcc52cb35307caf96116d14a53dace43.

61 L. Nelson Bell to Carl F. H. Henry and J. Marcellus Kik, 15 September 1955, Henry Papers.

62 Carl F. H. Henry to L. Nelson Bell and J. Marcellus Kik, 18 October 1955, Henry Papers.

63 “Proposed Contributing Editors.”

64 L. Nelson Bell to Carl F. H. Henry and J. Marcellus Kik, 14 January 1957, Henry Papers.

65 National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America: Bureau of Research and Survey, Churches and Church Membership in the Unites States: An Enumeration and Analysis by Counties, States and Regions (New York: National Council of Churches, 1956).

66 Grant Wacker, America's Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2014), 123–125.

67 Henry to Bell, 7 March 1955.

68 See Matthew Avery Sutton, American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2014).

69 Wilbur Smith to L. Nelson Bell, 2 June 1955, Henry Papers.

70 L. Nelson Bell to Wilbur Smith, 10 June 1955, Henry Papers.

71 Bell to Henry, 23 July 1955.

72 Wilbur Smith to L. Nelson Bell, 15 June 1955, Henry Papers.

73 L. Nelson Bell to Carl F. H. Henry, 29 July 1955, Henry Papers.

74 See Grant Wacker, Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals and American Culture (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001), 35–57.

75 L. Nelson Bell to Carl F. H. Henry and J. Marcellus Kik, 19 September, 1955, Henry Papers.

76 Oral Roberts, Expect a Miracle: My Life and Ministry (Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 91.

77 Roberts, Expect a Miracle, 142.

78 Bell to Henry and Kik, 19 September 1955.

79 L. Nelson Bell to Carl F. H. Henry and J. Marcellus Kik, 27 September 1955, Henry Papers.

80 National Council of Churches, Churches and Church Membership in the Unites States.

81 Carl F. H. Henry to L. Nelson Bell and J. Marcellus Kik, 30 September 1955, Henry Papers.

82 Carl F. H. Henry to L. Nelson Bell and J. Marcellus Kik, 10 October 1955, Henry Papers.

83 L. Nelson Bell to Carl F. H. Henry and J. Marcellus Kik, 28 November 1955, Henry Papers.

84 Carl F. H. Henry to L. Nelson Bell and J. Marcellus Kik, 14 December 1955, Henry Papers.

85 Carl F. H. Henry, “What is This Fundamentalism?,” United Evangelical Action, 15 July 1955, 3.

86 Bell to Smith, 10 June 1955.

87 Carl F. H. Henry, “CT The First Year,” 1955: Christianity Today, Henry Papers.

88 J. Howard Pew, quoted in Kim Phillips-Fein, Invisible Hand: The Businessmen's Crusade Against the New Deal (New York: W. W. Norton, 2009), 70.

89 See Lee Haddigan, “The Importance of Christian Thought for the American Libertarian Movement: Christian Libertarianism, 1950–71,” Libertarian Papers 2, no. 14 (2010): 22–25.

90 J. Marcellus Kik to Carl F. H. Henry and L. Nelson Bell, 19 December 1955, Henry Papers.

91 Carl F. H. Henry to L. Nelson Bell and J. Marcellus Kik, 18 October 1955, Henry Papers.

92 George M. Marsden, The Twilight of the American Enlightenment: The 1950s and the Crisis of Liberal Belief (New York: Basic, 2014), 97–126.

93 Carl F. H. Henry, “The Fragility of the West,” Christianity Today, 15 October 1956, 11.

94 Carl F. H. Henry to L. Nelson Bell and J. Marcellus Kik, October 1956, Henry Papers.

95 Carl F. H. Henry to L. Nelson Bell and J. Marcellus Kik, 20 December 1955, Henry Papers.

96 Henry, “CT The First Year.”

97 Henry to Graham, 20 June 1955.

98 Haddigan, “Importance of Christian Thought.”

99 L. Nelson Bell to Carl F. H. Henry and J. Marcellus Kik, 30 September 1955, Henry Papers.

100 Henry, “CT The First Year.”

101 Henry, “CT The First Year.”

102 Freeman, Curtis W., “‘Never Had I Been So Blind’: W. A. Criswell's ‘Change’ on Racial Segregation,” Journal of Southern Religion 10 (2007)Google Scholar, http://jsr.fsu.edu/Volume10/Freeman.pdf.

103 Carl F. H. Henry to L. Nelson Bell and J. Marcellus Kik, 16 March 1956, Henry Papers.

104 J. Marcellus Kik to Carl. F. H. Henry and L. Nelson Bell, 23 April 1956, Henry Papers.

105 E. Earle Ellis, “Segregation and the Kingdom of God,” Christianity Today, 18 March 1957, 7.

106 “The Church and the Race Problem,” Christianity Today, 18 March 1957, 22.

107 Henry, “CT The First Year.”

108 Taylor, “Spirituality of the Church.”

109 Henry, “CT The First Year.”

110 Henry, Confessions of a Theologian, 159.

111 Robert K. Johnson, “American Evangelicalism: An Extended Family,” in Dayton and Johnson,Variety of American Evangelicalism, 252–272.

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