Of Sacraments and Sawdust: ECT, The Culture Wars, and The Quandary of Evangelical Identity -- By: Russell D. Moore

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 05:4 (Winter 2001)
Article: Of Sacraments and Sawdust: ECT, The Culture Wars, and The Quandary of Evangelical Identity
Author: Russell D. Moore


Of Sacraments and Sawdust:
ECT, The Culture Wars, and
The Quandary of Evangelical Identity

Russell D. Moore

Russell D. Moore is a Ph.D. candidate and Instructor of Christian Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also serves as Executive Director of the Carl F. H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement. In addition to being a frequent contributor to Baptist Press, Mr. Moore has written several scholarly articles and co-edited and contributed to Why I Am a Baptist (Broadman).

In 1960, a Catholic presidential candidate traveled to Texas to reassure evangelical ministers there that he would not listen to the Pope on social and political matters. In the year 2000, an evangelical presidential candidate travels from Texas to Washington to reassure the American public that he will in fact listen quite closely to the Pope. With the recounting of this anecdote at a recent symposium on American evangelicalism, Roman Catholic commentator Richard John Neuhaus winsomely summarized the change in evangelical/Catholic relations in the past generation.1 Neuhaus might just as easily have illustrated this point by pointing to his very presence at a forum designed to explain the fortunes of conservative American Protestantism.

The conference, “Pilgrims on the Sawdust Trail,” sponsored by Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School, explored the direction and prospects of American evangelicalism and fundamentalism. While representatives from various communions addressed the topic, perhaps the most provocative voice was that of Neuhaus, a former Lutheran pastor and 1960s civil rights activist turned Roman Catholic priest and editor of the neo-conservative monthly First Things. Exploring topics ranging from the notion of “Christian America” to the threat of militant Islam, Neuhaus and his respondents navigated much of the discussion toward the significance of the “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” (ECT) discussions for conservative American Protestantism and the larger goal of Christian unity, a debate that has continued almost non-stop since Neuhaus spearheaded the ECT phenomenon with Southern Baptist Charles Colson in the mid-1990s.2 Neuhaus’s intellectually rigorous attempt to forge a precise definition of the Christian unity sought by the “mere Christianity” of the ECT project is not incidental to the questions about the “sawdust trail” raised by the Beeson conference. Indeed, the ECT project and its accompanying efforts to forge a doctrinal consensus between the evangelical and Roman Catholic communions strikes at the very heart of evangelical theology’s ongoing quest for definition. As such, the ECT proj...

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