Peter Gillquist and the road from evangelicalism to Antioch

Christianity Today reported that Peter Gillquist died on July 1. Gillquist, a former evangelical with ties to Dallas Seminary, Wheaton College, and Campus Crusade, converted to the Orthodox church. He also had connections with progressive evangelicals Jack Sparks and members of the Christian World Liberation Front.

Gillquist represented a much larger groundswell of evangelical interest in the early church fathers. See, for example, Robert Webber’s Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail (1985) and Ancient-Future Faith (1999).

This desire to supplement–and in some cases, supplant–evangelical identification was part of a trend in the 1970s toward identity politics. Carl Henry, in particular, mourned in Evangelicals in Search of Identity (1976). Here’s part of my analysis in Moral Minority:

Other identities also undermined the evangelical left. High-church traditions such as the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Anglican Church poached surprising numbers of young evangelicals. Loyalties to mainline, Lutheran, charismatic-Pentecostal, and holiness traditions also destabilized the movement. Foy Valentine, a progressive Southern Baptist from Texas, told a Newsweek reporter he did not want to be identified as an evangelical. Irritated by the northern hegemony of neo-evangelicalism, he declared that “evangelical” was “a Yankee word.” “They want to claim us because we are big and successful and growing every year. But we have our own traditions,” Valentine explained. Notwithstanding the sociologist Robert Wuthnow’s suggestion of a “restructuring of American religion” along liberal-conservative lines, old denominational and theological categories still remained salient within the evangelical left. Even evangelical identity itself hurt the evangelical left. Despite overtures from some mainliners and some ecumenical cooperation, many in the evangelical left remained suspicious of their longtime Protestant rivals. Bill Pannell, an evangelist with Tom Skinner Associates, mocked mainline spirituality. Their social declarations were entirely derivative from secular politics, Pannell noted derisively at the second Workshop, and the most salient element of their social conferences was the predominance of “really stylish hairshirts.” Another Workshop participant criticized the “mealy-mouthed pieties of liberal Protestantism,” which merely echo “the false values of Americanism.” Cooperative efforts, which seemed promising at first, did not lead to productive co-belligerency. . . .

Carl Henry’s declension narrative failed to recognize already entrenched diversities within evangelicalism. In the 1950s and 1960s evangelical boosters had very effectively created the illusion of a single evangelical identity. The rise of Christianity Today and the National Association of Evangelicals, however, masked the reality that evangelicalism was a coalition of people with some traits in common but also with significant differences. Henry and others so remarkably succeeded in portraying a unified evangelicalism that the secular media in the 1970s fell over themselves to proclaim a “blossoming evangelical movement.” A vital evangelical center, however, would fail to emerge. Identity politics within the evangelical left exposed the illusion of evangelical unity and suggested that the progressive evangelical front might not thrive.

Have any of you taken the trail to Rome or Antioch instead of Wheaton or Colorado Springs?


2 Replies to “Peter Gillquist and the road from evangelicalism to Antioch”

  1. Well, Peter was more of a moderate in Eastern Orthodox circles. The left winf of eastern orthodoxy and the right wing in Russia or Greece can be very Anti-america, since the US is apart of the West and Eastern and Oriential Orthodoxy blame most problems of the church with Roman Catholicism int the middle ages and hence protestants are too be blame as well. This isn’t just religion but politics as well.

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