It is the 15th of January 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1998.
With a year so close to us in proximity, it might seem natural to think about what you were doing in 1998. I was a 19-year-old college dropout working as a barista in Los Angeles. But I assumed stuff was happening beyond my apartment. The late ’90s were, comparatively, a pretty optimistic era. Pre-Y2K, there was a feeling that maybe things were getting better. Consider the following from 1998 alone.
The Good Friday Agreement was signed in Belfast to bring peace to Northern Ireland.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission delivered its report on South African Apartheid, and while the reports weren’t pretty, they went a long way in reconciling South Africa.
Catholics and Lutherans (although, not all Catholics and Lutherans, as some will be quick to point out) even got together this year to mend the almost 500-year schism.
In America, the President was impeached for only the second time, and while this was concerning to many, it helped that in America, the federal deficit was nonexistent. There was a budget surplus. If you’re younger than me, I know, it’s hard to imagine. But trust me.
And if everything wasn’t already coming up roses, in 1998, Keiko the Orca who became famous as Willy in the movie “Free Willy” was finally released in real life. The poor whale had to pretend it was freed at the end of the 1993 film, but in 1998 it became a reality.
The American church reflected much of the optimism of the age. The counterculture of the 70s Jesus Movement and the excesses of 80s televangelism had given way to a “respectable” evangelical Christianity. Fundamentalists, especially on the coasts, had undergone a rebranding, and the suburban megachurch movement was born out of it.
In fact, here in Lake Forest, California, the home of the Christian History Almanac Studios, Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church emerged as the industry standard in the genre. Conservative and polished, homey but well-financed, these new evangelicals were looking to erase some of the bad press that came from well-publicized schisms in the past half-century.
In Lake Forest, California, on the 15th of January in 1998, one of the architects of those well-publicized evangelical schisms, Harold Lindsell, died.
Harold Lindsell was born in New York in 1913 and attended Wheaton Bible College, where he was friends with Billy Graham. The two would become lifelong friends and collaborators. Lindsell went on to the University of California at Berkeley and NYU before taking up a teaching position at Columbia Bible College in South Carolina and was ordained in the Southern Baptist Convention.
In 1947 he became one of the founding faculty members of the new Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California. The seminary was to be the “Cal Tech of the Evangelical world,” a nod to the nearby bastion of both academics and conservatism.
Lindsell came to prominence when he left the seminary over divergent views on the authority of scripture. Lindsell left Fuller to become an editor at Billy Graham’s Christianity Today. From this perch, he would begin his attack on those he believed to have abandoned a conservative view of scripture. His “The Battle for the Bible” in 1976 and subsequent works argued that the Southern Baptists needed to replace words like “inspired” and “authoritative” for the more precise “infallible” and “inerrant.” This might seem like a small issue, but the row over these words made two New York Times stories within months of each other in 1979. The Presbyterian schisms of the 1930s had come to the Baptists and the Lutherans.
Ultimately, Lindsell believed that one’s view on “inerrancy” was a litmus test for their fidelity to scripture. He rejected the “evangelical” label and called for a return to the terminology of fundamentalism. That initial faculty at Fuller and its place in the making (or unmaking) of American evangelicalism is a story for another day. One of the lead figures in that story, Harold Lindsell, died on this, the 15th of January in 1998.
The last word for today comes from Anselm of Canterbury, a prayer from the 11th century.
Lord Jesus Christ; Let me seek you by desiring you,
and let me desire you by seeking you;
let me find you by loving you,
and love you in finding you.
I confess, Lord, with thanksgiving,
that you have made me in your image,
so that I can remember you, think of you, and love you.
But that image is so worn and blotted out by faults,
and darkened by the smoke of sin,
that it cannot do that for which it was made,
unless you renew and refashion it.
Lord, I am not trying to make my way to your height,
for my understanding is in no way equal to that,
but I do desire to understand a little of your truth
which my heart already believes and loves.
I do not seek to understand so that I can believe,
but I believe so that I may understand;
and what is more,
I believe that unless I do believe, I shall not understand.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 15th of January 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man inspired but not infallible, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. And remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.