Richard Kyle is professor of history and religion at Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kansas. He received theological training at both Baptist and Presbyterian divinity schools. His church membership has been a part of the Mennonite Brethren.
Kyle writes a brief history of popular evangelicalism in the United States, giving two chapters to 18th and 19th century evangelicalism. His main focus, however, is Twentieth-century evangelicalism, writing two chapters dealing with the first half of the century, and three chapters on the second half.
Kyle’s evaluation of popular American evangelicalism is, with rare exception, entirely negative. “There is only a fine line between being relevant to its surrounding culture and being absorbed by that culture. American evangelicalism has stepped over this line (2).” Much of Kyle’s critique regards the accommodation of evangelical faith to popular culture. He laments the loss of expository sermons, four-part harmony choirs, the organ, and the pastor as shepherd. He decries the use of guitars and drums, personal stories on relevant topics, and big screen monitors in worship. He praises high culture, with its focus on objectivity, the timeless, and the transcendent, and he decries popular culture as trivial, new, and spectacular.
Any missiologist will benefit from Kyle’s close look at the relation between church and culture in America. However, Kyle sees the relation of church and culture as a zero-sum game – more of one equals less of another – they are always at odds. From Andrew Walls, we know that one cannot have too much of either gospel or culture – just too little. Rather than abandon popular culture and embrace high culture as Kyle prefers, what American evangelicalism needs is more gospel.