Review of Kidd: Who is an Evangelical?

With an original publication date in 2019 of Thomas S. Kidd’s book, Who Is an Evangelical?: The History of a Movement in Crisis, by Yale University Press, Kidd has woven a short but properly scoped history of Christians in America, specifically of those who are or who label themselves as ‘evangelicals’ and how they have engaged in political work or influence.

Image captured from Yale University Press (accessed 9 May 2022)

In this book, Kidd notes there were famous evangelicals who are famous for other Christian activities such as evangelism, say, somebody like George Whitefield, famous as a preacher, also owned slaves and did not take anything like a current mode of understanding against slavery.

Then there was Kidd’s extensive tracking of the famous Billy Graham, world traveler, holder of massive preaching crusades, and who got involved with politics, prayer for presidents, and unofficial support of certain candidates for President over others.

The book’s focus is how evangelicals have gotten involved in culture and politics – racial issues in America being an ongoing challenge, no matter the context or presuppositions. Kidd maintains a category of ‘White evangelicals’ throughout the book, while also adopting the category of ‘Black evangelicals’ as that label has come to be adopted by some Black Christians in America – it was not always.

Kidd’s continual use of these categories as labels for people adopting or being given these categories, I think, is to describe who they were or how they got involved in political promotion, cultural influence on topics such as abortion, prayer in schools, etc. There are many topics and many permutations brought up in the book with all kinds of results or effects. I was a little skeptical of over-using these categories, which are very current understandings, and then inserting them back into history, but he does properly frame some of his basic starting points – which I found helpful. I mention this because the categories are used without clearly defining who actually is being labeled or what those categories mean (or meant). I found the lack of definition a little simple.

Even though the book seems to point to a series of efforts, not always happy results, and ever-changing relationships for evangelicals to the Democrats and Republican parties, the sheer number of meanings and examples reveals there is weight in what American culture pursues and where those pursuits do not align with biblical morality or readings of how to apply biblical truth and morality.

I was particularly impressed by the justifications used by Christians as to who they voted for (or abstained from voting) in our most recent several elections for President. Not that I agreed with everything, but that there is no easy answer. I was humbled as I went through this history.