This brings me to the fourth and final meaning of “an evangelical,” which is someone who is sympathetic to some degree with the Methodist experiential religion that is the earlier form of American civic religion. I need to begin this section biographically. The first of my Jordan ancestors to arrive on these shores was named Robert Jordan, and he came as a minister of the Church of England to what is now Maine in 1640. His son was a Church of England minister, and it continued such until the Jordans became Methodists.
My great-grandfather, for instance, was once “told by the Holy Spirit” to pick up and visit a rough town in the Dakota territories. He took his wife and put up placards announcing that he was going to preach the gospel. He rented a hall, and Monday night he announced a hymn that he and his wife sang, after which he preached the gospel – to nobody. The same thing happened Tuesday night, and then on Wednesday and Thursday. Friday night came, and at the saloon evidently one man said, “Have you heard about this crazy preacher? He’s been preaching to absolutely nobody night after night!” Someone else said, it seems, “Well, let’s go hear this nut.” So they all went down to hear my great-grandfather – and they were all converted. The next night they brought their friends and the girls from the upper floor of the saloon (if you take my meaning) and they were saved also. My great-grandfather stayed another week, founded a Methodist church, and shut down the saloon. Or so I’ve been told. Hey, I don’t doubt it. Our God reaches into the world and saves people.
My grandfather, also a Methodist minister, was once on a train from California to Minnesota, where he pastored. Some young men were playing cards, drinking, and swearing up a storm. My grandfather stopped as he walked through the car and put his hand on one young man: “Young man, do you know where you are going?” was all he said. Then he walked on. Years later my grandfather was at a Methodist meeting. A man stood up to speak. “Once, when I was a young man and living in sin, a man came by me on a railroad car while I was gambling. He said only this: Young man, do you know where you are going? Well, those words stuck in me, and I could not escape them. I’m here today to speak Christ to you because of that man.”
Now, I write these personal histories to say that I have no reservations about what God can and does do in history. I’m glad for what Catholics, Dispensationalists, Baptists, Methodists, and even Calvinists have done in history.