Here is an outline from two talks I gave at the church where I am currently learning and serving. It is just an outline, so if you have questions or want clarifications on anything, ask away. My purpose was to describe my personal reasons for why I, as a Christian, have moved from the culture of evangelicalism to the Lutheran tradition. To do this, I felt it necessary to help my Lutheran brothers and sisters understand what we mean by “the culture of evangelicalism,” what its roots are, its characteristics, my opinion of its weaknesses, and how the Lutheran tradition answered many of my concerns when I became a “post-evangelical.”
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From Evangelicalism to the Lutheran Tradition
The word “evangelical” (Gk. for gospel) has a long tradition of use in different settings.
- In the OT, it is used in the prophets to announce the good news of the end of Israel’s exile.
- In the NT, it is used to describe the announcement of Jesus and the apostles of the good news that God’s promises are fulfilled in him and God’s Kingdom has been inaugurated through his life and ministry.
- In the 16th-17th centuries, it was used to describe the Reformation churches to distinguish them from Roman Catholicism.
- In the 18th-19th centuries, it was used in connection with the “Evangelical awakenings,” and thus became associated with Puritanism, Methodism, pietism, and revivalism. The emphasis was on a “religion of the heart” and conversion to Christ through personal decision.
- In the 19th and 20th centuries, evangelicals and fundamentalist churches took sides together against “modernism” and the higher critical approach to the Bible.
- In the 20th century, evangelicals began to separate from fundamentalists, believing that Christians should not abandon the world but remain involved in culture, education, and society. This was the period of “classic evangelicalism” with Wheaton College, Carl F.H. Henry, Billy Graham, Christianity Today, and student missions and parachurch organizations such as Youth for Christ.
- From the 1960’s forward, evangelicalism developed into a particularly prominent culture in the U.S. In reaction to social upheaval, various movements developed and grew– the Jesus People movement, charismatic movement, parachurch movements, church growth movement and megachurches, the move away from denominations, the development of Christian media, and the development of the Christian Right in the “culture wars.”
It is this “culture” of evangelicalism and the churches (many of them non-denominational), with its roots in the 18th-20th centuries that we are focusing on in this talk.
- Rooted in pietism and revivalism.
- Forged in defending the Bible.
- Related to but distinguished from fundamentalism.
- Characterized by missionary zeal, church growth ethos.
- Energized by culture wars and conservative moral issues.
- Biblicist, cross-centered, conversionist, activist, non-liturgical/sacramental.
- Lack of history, tradition.
- Lack of appreciation for worship.
- Naïve Biblicism.
- Inadequate ecclesiology.
- Culture war mentality.
- Functions better as a mission than a church tradition.
Streams Emerging from Evangelicalism
- Emerging Christians: reacting to institutionalism, conservatism, dogmatism of evangelicalism. Seeking creative, new forms of holding and practicing faith.
- Neo-reformed Christians: reacting to shallow doctrinal and theological culture of evangelicalism. Seeking intellectual rigor and disciplined practice.
- Ancient-Future Christians: reacting to absence of worship, liturgy, historical and sacramental perspective. Many returning to historic churches and denominations. Seeking life in community and communion with saints in all times and places.
- Nones: reacting to many aspects of evangelicalism as a culture. Seeking spirituality without religion, good life in secularized world.
- A creedal community that sees itself as part of the “one holy apostolic and catholic church.”
- The preeminence of Christ.
- The centrality of the Gospel and grace.
- The theology of distinguishing law and gospel.
- The practice of Word and Table worship.
- A sacramental theology and perspective on life.
- A proper emphasis on pastoral theology and practice.
- The doctrine of vocation.
- The theology of the cross.
- A robust musical tradition.