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Since colonial days, Evangelical Protestant Christians have been conspicuous in the American public square. Although we sometimes think of their low profile during the early twentieth century as the norm, it was actually a short-lived exception. Conventional wisdom dates their re-entry into public affairs to the spectacular rise of the fundamentalist Religious Right in the 1970s, but this view is misleading in several ways. In the first place, fundamentalists make up only a part of the Evangelical movement. In the second, Evangelicals had re-entered the public square at least a generation earlier. If a marker is needed, we might use the founding, in 1941, of the National Association of Evangelicals, a self-consciously "New Evangelical" organization -- new in its contrast with fundamentalism, but old in its desire to engage the civic culture.
Unfortunately, although Evangelicals have long played a part in the public square, they have never developed a clear, cohesive, and Christian view of what politics is all about. According to an old inside joke, their formula is "Ready, Fire, Aim." Of course one expects sarcasm from foes, but even their friends have remarked the disorderly quality of their political reflection. Historian Mark Noll, himself an Evangelical, attributes this shallowness to the origins of the Evangelical movement in successive Great Awakenings. Revivalistic leadership is "direct," "personal," and "popular," depending more than anything else on a speaker's "ability to draw a crowd." It attempts to "simplify the essentials of religion in a way that gives them the widest possible mass appeal." The result is that Evangelicals are "intuitionist," trusting their "sanctified common sense," but mistrusting the work of the intellect.
Despite these intuitionist tendencies, the political thought and activity of American Evangelicals have been strongly influenced by various intellectuals, the most noteworthy of whom have been Carl F. H. Henry, Abraham Kuyper, Francis Schaeffer, and John Howard Yoder. Not all four are American, and ironically, not all four are Evangelical. Neither do they all agree on politics; three of them are more or less on the right, the other firmly on the left.
This book discusses and critiques these four thinkers. Each analysis is followed by a response from an Evangelical specialist on the thinker in question (respectively David L. Weeks, John Bolt, William Edgar, and Ashley Woodiwiss). A graceful afterword was written by the late Jean Bethke Elshtain.