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American Evangelicalism Theology Lab: Discussion Guide

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In 2022/23, Highrock’s Theology Lab explored the topic of American evangelicalism. The Lab took place over eight sessions, three in the fall (Part 1) and five in the winter/spring (Part 2). This document serves as a discussion guide for these sessions, the recordings of which are available for review by both small groups and individuals. In the following pages, you’ll find all the materials used in the original sessions, including an introduction to American evangelicalism and our general approach to the topic, links to the recordings, readings, podcasts, and discussion questions, and a Conversation Covenant. In short, we aim to extend the impact and reach of the profound ideas engaged during these sessions and to amplify the time and effort of our distinguished guests by making these materials accessible to all, beyond those who attended the session in real time. We hope the contents will challenge, enrich, and bless you.




  • American Evangelicalism means a lot of things to a lot of people. For some, the evangelical movement has nurtured their faith and helped shape a lively relationship with the person of Christ. It’s profoundly impacted many of the communities we know and have been a part of. Now it seems to be getting lots (and lots!) of attention, and perhaps we just want to know why. If that’s you, welcome! For others, the word “evangelicalism” raises doubts and suspicions. Is evangelicalism just a mask for a narrow-minded form of politics marred by scandals and corruption? This side of evangelicalism, it seems obvious enough, has little resemblance to the actual ways and teachings of Jesus. And so we ask, what’s really going on? If that’s you, welcome! Or maybe, like many of us, you have ways of resonating with both sides. One thing’s for sure: it’s time to talk about it!

  • So, what’s our approach to the topic of American evangelicalism? At Theology Lab, posture is everything. And not just any posture, but one that’s marked by compassion, curiosity, and honesty. We often describe Theology Lab as an endeavor in public theology. Don’t be intimidated by this! It simply means that we realize we’re not alone in the big questions we ask and are committed to learning and engaging with them in community. We want to become more faithful followers of Jesus not merely by our own efforts, but together. None of us know it all. Each of us comes to the table with something to share. For this reason, we believe that our conversations are more productive and generative of community when we approach them with a readiness to learn from and with one another.

    Accordingly, we invite you to take up a posture of curiosity in our discussions on American evangelicalism. The more we do this, pursuing truth while holding steadfast to a spirit of compassion, the freer we’ll be to engage in challenging but important conversations, freer to share about the things that have shaped us and who we want to become, without either fear or a sense of shame. Curiosity and compassion – it’s these things, we believe, that can help us relate to one another with dignity and respect and have fruitful conversations about God, faith, life, and the things that matter most.

    We hope you enjoy the American Evangelicalism Theology Lab at Highrock! You can always find the latest Theology Lab news on our website or find us on Facebook.

  • We hope that all small group discussions are lively and enriching, but sometimes tough topics will be discussed. The Conversation Covenant* is an agreement to hold respect and grace toward all participants within a small group, no matter the conversation. Please adhere to the Conversation Covenant or think about creating one that fits your context.

    *Adapted from

    I pledge:

    To act in good faith, with curiosity. I will assume the best about my conversation partners when entering into our groups. I will give the benefit of the doubt, recognizing that they may know something I don’t.

    To show respect. I will show respect. I will be polite and give due regard to the feelings and traditions of others. I understand that I do not have to agree with someone to show them respect.

    To speak the truth. I won’t use rhetorical tricks to try to win an argument. I will speak what I genuinely believe is the nuanced truth.

    To aim to discover the truth. I will not enter into a conversation with the purpose of changing the mind of anyone to my way of thinking.

    To focus on what we can change. I will focus on what we can do differently in the future since we cannot change what we did in the past.

    To take responsibility for the conversation. I will take responsibility for the quality of the conversation and the abidance of the rules both in principle and in spirit.

    To follow the covenant even when others fail to do so. I will abide by the rules regardless of whether another person breaks them.

    To respect the confidentiality of the group. I will not share stories of group members verbally or in written form (including on social media and online outlets).

    To lighten up and approach the conversation in good humor. I recognize that humor is a hallmark of a constructive, generative conversation and take the conversation in good humor.

Session 1: Evangelicals & The Bible

  • Note: This Session 1 recording does not contain an introduction but jumps right into the conversation between Dennis Edwards and Hauna Ondrey. For some initial context of their discussion, please see the comments in the Introduction of this discussion guide.

    1. What does the word evangelicalism mean to you? What question/s about evangelicalism are you asking?
    2. What do you hope to get out of these sessions? Relatedly, is there a way others can help in that (something to be mindful of)?
    3. Would you say you relate (past or present) to the Bible in an evangelical way? What does that mean to you?
    4. Dr. Edwards and Dr. Ondrey talked about the role of the Bible in the Covenant. What stands out to you from their conversation about engaging the Bible in the Covenant tradition? Do you see anything in the Covenant approach that makes a difference in reading the Bible or living as a faith community? How so?

Session 2: Community & Polarization

    1. Rev. Gilliard and Dr. Peterson discussed different features of community (i.e., collective identity) and individualism. Of the examples they mentioned, which stood out to you? Which one/s do you see as particularly relevant today?
    2. Rev. Gilliard and Dr. Peterson shared stories about facing challenges and growing as faith communities. What can we learn from them?
    3. What’s one way this discussion helps you think differently about the statement, “We need each other to be the body of Christ”?

Session 3: Christian Nationalism & The Future of Evangelicalism

    1. Dr. Moore and Dr. Kim discussed the reality and danger of Christian nationalism. Of the examples they mentioned, which stood out to you? What questions, curiosities, or challenges does this raise for you?
    2. Dr. Moore shared about his relationship with politics as a Christian and how this changed over time. Do you resonate with what he shared?
    3. Dr. Moore writes, “For the kind of unity we need, we must be unified in doing what’s right and pleasing in the sight of God. Sometimes that means a future that looks nothing like the one we planned—seeking unity with people we never thought about.” What stands out to you in this quote? Has this session (or others) caused you to think about Christian community differently? How so?
    4. How has this session (or others) helped you see how evangelicalism has influenced you? What are you doing with that knowledge? (This is a hard question. A tip: Consider what you might appreciate more and/or what you want to learn from or do differently.)
    5. What’s one thing (big or small) that you are taking away from this discussion?

Session 4: Gender, Christian Nationalism & Evangelicalism

    • Podcast: Interview with Kristin Kobes Du Mez, “A Modern Church History of Toxic Masculinity,” The Bible for Normal People on Apple or Spotify 
    1. Prof. Du Mez’s book Jesus and John Wayne claims that “evangelicals have worked to replace the Jesus of the Gospels with an idol of rugged masculinity and Christian nationalism.” Does this resonate with your own experience or observations? What questions, curiosities, or challenges does this raise for you?
    2. Pastor Meghan asked Prof. Du Mez and Dr. Kim about examples from history of “positive masculinity” and shifts in evangelical Christianity in response to “unhealthy masculinity”. Were any of their examples meaningful to you? Do you see hints or examples of ways forward for understanding masculinity or gender in the church?
    3. Having listened to this conversation, is there something you feel challenged to do in order to more faithfully follow Jesus? If the church were to more faithfully represent Christ, what would that look like? How can we contribute to shifts within our church communities for this to happen?

Session 5: Engaging Evangelicalism, Critically & Constructively

    • Podcast: Kathy Khang, Conversing, available on Apple or Spotify
    • Podcast: Dan Stringer, Holy Post (interview starts at 54:43!) on Apple or Spotify 
    1. Has this session (or this larger series) helped you see how evangelicalism or evangelical culture has shaped you? If so, how? Are there things you’ve come to appreciate? Are there things you are (or want to be) reflecting on more critically?
    2. What difference, if any, do you think it makes to wrestle with evangelicalism (or a tradition that’s shaped your faith) in community? What’s hard about this? What’s helpful? Do you have this kind of support yourself, and/or how might you offer it to others?
    3. Having listened to this conversation, is there something you feel challenged to do in order to more faithfully follow Christ? If the church were to more faithfully represent Christ in the way it engages evangelicalism (positively and critically), what do you think that could look like? 

Session 6: Faith, Politics, & Evangelicalism

    1. How has this conversation with D. Brooks and J. Wallis informed your understanding of faith and politics? What’s one thing you found challenging? What was most helpful to you?
    2. How does your faith connect to your public life (politics, social commitments, etc.)? What’s one way you’d like to grow in this area?
    3. W. Kim asked the guests about what community and faithfulness look like when dealing with divisive topics. Can you think of an example of a divisive topic in your own life? What do you see as the role of (healthy) compromise here? Are there boundaries for you? Take note of the different responses in your group.

Session 7: Gender, Race, & Evangelicalism

    1. What’s one thing you learned, found challenging, or found helpful in this conversation on gender and race within evangelicalism with Profs. Beth Allison Barr and Kellie Carter Jackson?
    2. How has your faith community addressed questions of gender and race What’s one way that you and/or your community could grow in this area?
    3. Drawing on the conversation with our guests, where do you see connections between gender and race dynamics, either outside or inside the church? How do you think understanding connections like these can give us a shared sense of justice and help us respond to our call to work for God’s justice in the world together?
    4. Our guests shared about how knowing history can shape who we are and what we do. What might this movement from knowing to being and doing might look like for you? How can it help shape you as a follower of Christ?

Session 8: Evangelicalism: Panel Discussion

  • (No materials for this session.)

    1. What’s something you’ve either enjoyed learning about evangelicalism this year or appreciated about this year’s Theology Lab discussions?
    2. Among other things, the panelists discussed the following topics related to this year’s conversations: grappling with the good and the bad, the ugly and the beautiful of evangelicalism; the role of institutions; how to read the Bible; and the nature of the gospel (i.e. what “is” the gospel?). Which of these are most relevant to you/your contexts? What would it look like for you to continue to engage this topic (or topics) yourself, with others, or in your faith community?
    3. Consider these Next Steps. What’s one thing that you can do following this year’s conversations?