October 20, 2014

Am I an Evangelical?

mikeprofileHow do I describe myself as a Christian?  Am I an Evangelical?   Can I call myself anything else?

Let me give you a bit of background.  I have attended seventeen different churches in my life.  Each for a period of at least one year.  Sixteen of them I attended since the age of eleven.  Fourteen of the moves were for reasons of change of address or church closings where the previous church was no longer practical to attend.  Only one the moves was for theological reasons.  One other was because I strongly felt thatGod was leading in a different direction.  Seven of these churches were Christian Brethren.  Five were Baptist. Four were Christian and Missionary Alliance.  One was Pentecostal.  All solidly in the Evangelical camp.  I am fifty now, and I have been attending my current church for six years.  That is twice as long as I have attended any other church.

What has always struck me about the churches I have attended, and many others of wider traditions that I have visited is that each have certain theological hills that they are willing to die on. (No pun intended – I think.)  For the Brethren it was, among other things, the pre-tribulation Rapture.  For the Baptists it was adult baptism by immersion.  For the Alliance it was sanctification.  For the Pentecostals it was speaking in tongues as initial evidence of being Spirit filled.  It has recently struck me that there is a bit of a paradox here.  For if a particular piece of dogma is so important to a church that they are not willing to budge on it, if it is so important to have this distinctive, then it must hold that the vast majority of believers do not hold this view with an elevated importance.  Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that there are Christian essentials.  I hold to the early Christian creeds.  Perhaps you could call me a creedal Christian, but that is probably too loose of a definition.   In my long dormant blog I call myself an “Eclectic Christian”:  One who is willing to consider the best from all streams of Christianity.

Am I an Evangelical though?  One commentator on Internet Monk last week commented that being Evangelical is now defined by James Dobson and the like.  To paraphrase him, the war for the word “Evangelical” was lost and was now defined by those much more right wing than I would consider myself.  In a sense he is right.  Evangelical are defined by many things that I am not.  I feel that tension even within the middle of the road Evangelical church I attend.  I don’t like the word “Inerrancy”, I believe in the theory of Evolution.  I recognize a wide mode and method of Baptism.  I support (with admitted tentativeness) gay marriage.  I believe in the equality of women (not an issue in my current church).  Politically I am neither strongly left or right.  (I was however once quite right wing, and was described in my youth as being slightly to the right of Attila the Hun.)

If I don’t hold to these things am I an Evangelical?  There are two streams of thought that are keeping me in the movement.  One, I belong to a very caring Evangelical church community, where, although I may disagree on a number of issues, they are doing a lot of things right.  As I mentioned, I have been there six years now.  While I have struggled with things at times, I don’t see myself moving on any time soon.  Quite honestly, it is wonderful to be a part of a church family where you can feel at home, and where I am usually in theological step with the teaching on Sunday morning.

Secondly, I don’t think that I have completely conceded the word “Evangelical” to Dr. Dobson.  There was a wonderful document came out a few years ago called the Evangelical Manifesto.  Please, please read it. It was produced by a large group of Evangelical leaders and theologians who gathered to define what the core beliefs and values were for Evangelicals. (I don’t believe James Dobson ever endorsed it!) It really represents what I love about being Evangelical as well. Did you notice that none of the “distinctives” mentioned above are part of the Manifesto?

So yes, based on these two things I still call myself an Evangelical. I would be very interested in reading your comments about the manifesto and if it resonates with you too.

Comments

  1. Yes! The Manifesto expresses classic Evangelicalism, both historic and timeless, equally at home in a broad range of ecclesial communities.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > classic Evangelicalism

      And an “evangelicalism” that is not in the minds of nearly any of the myriad people using that label every day when talking to their audience, partner, friends, co-workers, ….

      Remember when “gay” meant happy and care free, when “tweet’ referred to sound a bird made,… I can recall people use those words that way in my lifetime. Now nobody would, or only to be ironic. Because that is how language works, it drifts around; language is about communication, if one deliberately uses a term to mean something other than what it is accepted to mean [and thus needs to follow up with an explanation of what you *really* meant to say], that person is simply not communicating effectively. And most of the time listeners will not stick around for the i-really-meant-to-say clarification.

      Language is a tool. Clinging to an expired lingual construct is not useful.

      • By the way Adam, though I didn’t mention you by name in the post, I did want to thank you for your thoughts that inspired it. I have thought a lot about it over the last few days.

  2. Anonymously Yours says:

    Although I call myself Christian first, for the sake of labels, I would fall under the Pentecostal and charismatic flag(s). I believe:

    1. Baptism is for believers, by immersion, in the name of Jesus Christ (not in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).
    2. Baptism in the Holy Spirit in which everyone can (but may not, for one reason or another) speak in tongues (but really, exercise a prayer language, which is different from the gift of speaking in tongues).
    3. The gifts being for today: prophecy, healing, miracles, the fivefold office ministries, etc.

    Other than this, I would consider myself a creedal Christian, I suppose, in the sense that I believe in the Trinity, the virgin birth of Christ, the death, resurrection, ascension, and return of Christ. I do believe a few other things with which some Christians would disagree with me:

    1. The practical priesthood of all believers. Any Christian may proselytize, baptize, and offer Communion. These practices are not limited to the “ordained.”
    2. The King James Bible is the best English translation, and likely always will be.
    3. Men, not women, are supposed to be the elders, bishops, and pastors of the Church. But they should be married with children, etc., as Paul laid out. However, older women should lead younger women. Therefore, in a sense, a church would have Pastor and Mrs. Pastor.
    4. Young earth creation.

    …each have certain theological hills that they are willing to die on…

    The only theological hill on which I would die is salvation. After all, without salvation, one is dead, anyway, right? I do not believe you need to be baptized by immersion, speak in tongues, believe the gifts are for today, accept the Trinity, dismiss evolution, read the King James Bible, refuse to let a woman pastor you, and so on…to be saved. You must believe Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation, that He died for your sins, and that He rose from the dead that you might have life…and that there is nothing you can do to merit your own salvation.

  3. Mike –

    Good to hear a bit about your journey. In the end, I think evangelical is to be based in the evangel, or the good news that the rule of God has come in Jesus. This is why I like books like Scot McKnight’s, King Jesus Gospel. Particularly, in that book, he says we’ve become so very soterian (salvation-focused) that we have lost our evangel-ical focus. We can discuss certain aspects of the 5 sola’s and other aspects. But evangelicalism needs to be based in the evangel. On that point, the good news, I stand in evangelicalism – though I steer clear of some of the stricter and ‘political’ perspectives.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > I think evangelical is to be based in the evangel, or the good news that the rule of God has come in Jesus.

      A definition that could just as easily be described as “Christian”! If Evangelical == Christian then what is the point? Just say you are “Christian”, that is more helpful to the person you are speaking to [Christians believe that Jesus Christ was the son of God, the messiah].

      Your definition would include Catholics [Roman and all other rites] and Orthodox – which most Evangelicals would [I have *ZERO* doubt] object to.

      • I agree. I read through the Manifesto and found it a little too agreeable. Finally, it got around to establishing that Evangelicals were an outgrowth of the Protestant Reformation, which helped anchor it somewhat. I didn’t read any of the ‘seven distinctives’ and find them to be something I wouldn’t agree with. Indeed, it is a very good description of a kind of ‘generic Christianity’ or a generous Free Church Latitudinarianism, which is evidently where a lot of people want to be.

        Please pay attention to what Adam says though. In the public mind, the term ‘Evangelical’ has been registered and the root servers don’t point where this manifesto wants them to. It’s a shame our lot has ‘Orthodoxy’ registered, because inasmuch as it is possible for Protestants to be so, that’s what you are. maybe we could agree to call ourselves retrograde or predenominational and free the term up. :)

      • Adam –

        I agree totally that Christian is a helpful term, as many terms are. It’s just that people want to claim all sorts of things for “evangelical”, but the root of the word is based in the good news. And that good news, at least as far as I can tell from Scripture, is based in the announcement that God has become King through his Messiah, Jesus. And because of this salvation-deliverance is available. Etc, etc.

        So let there be evangelical Catholics, evangelical Orthodox, evangelical Protestants.

        However, I’m beginning to be wary of the word evangelical, since it has more to do in many respects to young-earth creationism, concepts of inerrancy, etc, etc.

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          “I agree totally that Christian is a helpful term…”

          Not in answer to the question “to which Christian tradition to you belong?” The question asked in the title of this post is a narrower version of this question, asking about membership within one strain of Christian tradition.

          Many people, when asked this question, feel a pious necessity to ritualistically talk about Christianity in general, presumably thinking of Paul’s admonitions against division. That is fine, if that is all it is and they eventually get around to answering the question. Other people, when asked this question, sincerely believe that “Christian” is a full and complete answer, since their little group huddling together is the One True Church and no one else is actually Christian. It is good for this to come out quickly, as it informs the rest of the conversation, if any.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            >Not in answer to the question “to which Christian tradition to you belong?”

            No, but that question occurs deeper in the conversation.

            And “Evangelicalism” by no-one’s operating definition is a “tradition”. There are many traditions, branches of traditions, and various groups that appropriate that label to themselves [as there is no authority which appropriates it out - a big part of the problem - it is a truly 'free market' term], it does not inform the answer to the above question in a meaningful way.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > but the root of the word is based in the good news.

          I’ll give you that. But so? The etymology of a word is nothing more that historical trivia. If you say “evangelical” to anyone outside inner-sanctum evangelical circles I guarantee you they do not attempt to determine the meaning by breaking down its etymology. Language does not work that way; it may form that way, but once gestated words live long and storied lives often ending far where they were born.

          If I use the term “palpable” nobody thinks “ah, clearly that is from the Middle English ‘palpabilis’ in reference to something that can be touched”. As in “the tension in the room was palpable” – the hearer, if asked to translate would say: “it was so tense he could feel it, almost physically.”

          Etymology is fun and interesting, but it is not in operational in real-world discourse.

          • Adam –

            This is why we can explain in some sense what the word refers to/means. I’m not talking about some boring etymological history. Just simple stuff: evangelical comes from evangel, which points to the good news. So we focus on the good news.

            It’s quite like the term ‘Christian’ or ‘church’. At times, these words carry an appalling concept. They are perfectly good words. So we simply explain a bit about what they mean. Still, at times, I’ll use the terms ‘Christ-follower’ and ‘gathering’. I’m happy either way. The context determines what might be more helpful terms.

  4. Thanks for this Mike. I was just thinking earlier today, “With all these takes on evangelicalism at IM recently, I’d really like Mike Bell to chime in here.” Even found my way over to your blog via the side menu.

    I’m glad you did wrote in, and I resonate with much of what you say.

    • I second that. Since they managed to loose Jeff, the E-team needs to maintain representation in the authorship here if the rest of us are gonna keep learning and being challenged.

  5. To borrow a phrase from one of Mule’s favorite sites: You’ve spent your prime years riding the Alpha Church Carousel, but now that you want to settle down into a committed relationship with a Beta Church, instead you’re getting thrown off the ride, and face a future of loneliness. <– This is called "Evangelical Shaming."

  6. Mike –

    Also, I’m thinking about your statement where you say you are one who is willing to consider the best from all streams of Christianity. I think this is similar to many people today. I’m not sure if this is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, but there are many things I appreciate across varying streams. It’s not to dissimilar to what Brian McLaren argued in his book, A Generous Orthodoxy. Of course, McLaren is not completely out with most evangelicals. I believe he, like many other Emergents, have much to offer on the table of conversation. But his thesis in A Generous Orthodoxy struck a chord with me – and I believe it does with many Christians today.

  7. Ali Griffiths says:

    Thanks for your comments on this. Coming from the UK I have to constantly remind myself that the American definition of evangelical seems to be very different from the UK’s but I am now wondering if that is indeed the case as what you have described is pretty much where I and most of the Christians I know are coming from. My experience of evangelicals in the UK is that many would define people who believe in things such as new earth creationism not as evangelicals but fundamentalists and naturally the fundamentalists would call people like me liberals – but we all lay claim to the definition ‘evangelical’.

    Your comment that you are ‘one who is willing to consider the best from all streams of Christianity’ particularly resonates with me – the idea that one particular grouping of people have a monopoly on all that is good and true is to ignore Paul’s teaching in 1 Cor 12. For me, an essential part of being evangelical means taking scripture seriously so I have to take other expressions of Christianity seriously as well – which means I can happily mix up liturgical worship with lay celebration of the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper and ‘open’ prayer time etc. There is a freedom being evangelical that I enjoy and it’s a much broader camp than many seem willing to allow it to be.

    • The unfortunate thing, I think, is that when you describe how the definition of evangelical (or another term) is different in the UK or Europe, many will think it’s because Christians there are so liberal. But I love the relationships I have with my British and European friends. I’ve learned so much from them!

  8. Richard Hershberger says:

    “Seven of these churches were Christian Brethren.”

    Language is a wonderful thing. Where I live, “Brethren” means an Anabaptist church, usually descended from the Schwarzenau brethren. I am guessing that you are referring to one of the descendent churches of the Plymouth Brethren. Did I get that right?

    • That is correct Richard. As a side note, my Grandmother came from an Anabaptist heritage (Brethren in Christ). She ended up being shunned when she married my Grandfather (Christian Brethren)

  9. Mike, you and I see eye-to-eye on many things within Christianity. I think I would like attending your church even though I would have some of the same differences you do with some of the teachings.

  10. We go back a long way, Mike.

    I appreciate your piece. But you know that I am a freedom guy. Evangelicalism is just WAY too ‘religious’ for me.

    Puts the sinner at the center of everything. Puts him/her on an ascendancy ladder. There is always another rung to climb…another book to read…another seminar to attend.

    One never really arrives.

    Therefore one is never really free.

    Anywho, I pray God’s blessings for you in your journey, Mike.

    • Thank you Steve, blessings on you too.

    • “Evangelicalism is just WAY too ‘religious’ for me.”

      But, Steve, it’s not a religion, it’s a relationship! ;) You touched on something here, though, that is difficult for many evangelicals to grasp. There is plenty of tradition and ‘religion’ within evangelicalism. It’s the ism that Michael Spencer spoke of so often. When you point these things out, evangelicals can have a conniption. I once blogged a post about Protestant traditions not found in the bible. I listed a bunch of them, asked my readers for more, they complied, and we all had fun. Well, except for the elders of the church I was attending at the time. “Hey, WE do these things!” My point was not to say the traditions weren’t valid, just that we had traditions that weren’t spelled out in the bible, too, and shouldn’t be so harsh on Catholics. Didn’t fly.

      • Traditions can be ‘religious’, when they are done for the sake of ‘doing them’ (“we’ve always done it that way”).

        But sometimes traditions can be helpful, even when they are not found in the Bible, if they help us to stay focused on Christ and what He has done…instead of placing ourselves, and ‘what we do’, at the center of it all.

        The types of Evangelicalism that I have experienced first hand, don’t ‘look religious’, but there is so much going on that places the emphasis on us, that so often the finished work of Christ for the ungodly, take a back seat to the spiritual ascendancy project.

      • The question really ought not to be “should we be traditional or not?” because there is no such thing as non-traditional religion. The question ought to be, “which traditions are meet, right, and salutary?” Your tradition is how you hand the faith down. …oh, wait. Evangelicalism doesn’t do that anymore. Perhaps they really are non-traditional!

  11. Christiane says:

    Hi MIKE,

    wow, that is quite a ‘manifesto’ and I wasn’t too far into it when it occurred that Southern Baptists (whom I have attempted to study as a denomination for the last four years) would reject it.

    I suppose that Southern Baptists, being so numerous, feel that they can define who is and is not ‘evangelical’ according to their own viewpoint. I say this because they have no problem calling many people ‘lost’, themselves ‘saved’, and have on occasion defined who is and is not ‘Christian’. But I have always known that they did not represent evangelicals in the deep core of the term, because of grandmother of blessed memory was Southern Baptist and she was not judgmental, or mean-spirited, but was far more in line with the ‘manifesto’ in its core than many who lead in the Southern Baptist world today (not all, there are some spectacular Christian people in that denomination).

    So something happened. Likely it was their ‘conservative revolt’ about thirty years ago, setting up a far more fundamentalist group in control of the denomination, its seminaries, and other entities (missions).

    In reading the ‘manifesto’, I thought that it might be good to take it in parts and explore it in more detail on a number of posts because there is so much material that is included and a lot of it is deserving of a more focused study on this blog . . . just a thought.

    For me, being Catholic, if I had a ‘hill to die on’, it would be that the Mercy of God is greater than we can know, and that He gave all mankind consciences and calls to them through His Creation so that a person of good will who is trying to reach for God but has no chance to learn of Jesus Christ in his life might , through the workings of the Holy Spirit within his conscience, still be blessed by the Paschal Mystery in ways known only to God, and may therefore be ‘saved’. In short, I am willing to let God be God, and not to ‘assume’ the salvation of any person, or the damnation of any person, but instead trust in Jesus Christ and the great mercy of God completely for the sake of those who do not know Christ through no fault of their own.

    This alone prevents me from being a fundamentalist-evangelical. And in their world, even a ‘Christian’.
    But I’m wondering where the more moderate classic evangelical world stands on the plight of those who through no fault of their own never learn about Christ?

  12. Steve Newell says:

    One issue that I with “evangelical” is that they are all over the place from a theological stand point. It is much easier to define what it stands for, more often against, in terms of culture and politics.

    Would many of you consider Lutheranism to be “evangelical” since it defines it’s doctrine as “evangelical” in the preface to the Book of Concord?

    • Lutheranism is Evangelical, in the original sense of the word. It is not, however, Evangelical in the sense of Evangelicalism today. It is kind of Evangelical in the sense of the manifesto. Significant areas of affirmation and dissent.

  13. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    > One commentator on Internet Monk last week commented that being Evangelical is now
    > defined by James Dobson and the like. To paraphrase him, the war for the word “Evangelical” was lost

    I believe that was me.

    > I don’t think that I have completely conceded the word “Evangelical” to Dr. Dobson

    Ok, you can fight that battle from the corner as long as you like; but the war looks over.

    >There was a wonderful document came out a few years ago called the Evangelical
    > Manifesto.Please, please read it.

    That is entirely the point – nobody will. Well, those considering Evangelicals will read it, pretty much nobody else. They’ve already decided what Evangelical means. This document represents an entirely internal, and probably very internal internal, discussion. It is some luminaries in a movement that has lost control of its wider identity attempting to assert control over its identity; once a movement is trying to do that…. it is almost certainly too late. It has undergone schism without admitting it. It is curious how Evangelicals are comprised of a massive array of groups created by faction and schism [much of that historic footnotes at this point] – but they feel the need to cling together under this banner [groups that when they get their dander up sound very much like those others under their own tent in other groups are of suspect salvation]. This explains perhaps part of the siege mentality I felt when I lived under the Evangelical banner.

    Right in the beginning of the manifesto:
    START-QUOTE
    or those who are Evangelicals, the deepest purpose of the Manifesto is a serious call to reform—an urgent challenge to reaffirm Evangelical identity, to reform Evangelical behavior, to reposition Evangelicals in public life,
    END-QUIT

    If that was the goal of the document…. and the document is now years old…. when I turn to any of the four Chrisitian radio stations [one old fogie station, two self-declared evangelical, one Catholic, ] this week – the tenor of the two evangelical stations is immediately crystal clear. These stations are unabashedly political, they have a steady stream of those who talk not like ministers or priests but like political operatives. The old fogie station does not seem to react to politics much at all; it plays very soft ‘rock’, hymns, chorals, … and long infomercials about pro-biotics and cleansing agents [yea - it is a very weird station]. The Catholic station talks about politics but in a very different way – they are precise about the parts of the AHCA they do not like, but are clear they support basic health care as a universal right. The evangelical stations toss around terms like “socialist”, “godless”, “support for syrian dictators”. They are there on the dial, claiming your label, transmitting with mega-watt power 24/7. And they are on TV. And they are getting news coverage for the things they say. The manifesto sits on a website amid billions of websites.

    I stand by my assertion: the war is over. The good Evangelicals lost. Take a holiday, make a new term, a new flag, and fly it. Put a new manifesto out front and center and create a group to hold those that want to be under your flag to that credo. Otherwise you will loose control of that new label too. The evangelicals [defined widely], with their seemingly pervasive strain of anti-institutionalism, refuse to deal with institutional issues – and deeply dysfunctional institutions will *always* just end up being the tools or pawns of highly functional institutions [often unfriendly ones]. So maybe step one is to somehow [and I have no idea how, it seems so ingrained] is to deal with the anti-institutionalism [which has created some very odd anti-institutional institutes (we are human, creating institutions is what we do, we cannot avoid it, we organize - *just embrace it*)]. Remember – the Articles of Confederation were a complete failure.

    I would really like to see Evangelicalism faction, breaking out the religious people from the political operatives. A clear delineation would be good. It could help clean-up the signal-to-noise ratio, raise the level of discussion, and allow the discussion to be much more honest.

    • Again thank you for your earlier and these comments Adam. I think you raise many valid points.

    • Adam, I saw your comment last week, and did not agree with it at the time. After reading some more of your thoughts, I may change my mind.

      On the one hand, I find it noxious to let the word “evangelical” be defined either by its cultured despisers or it’s own village idiots. On the other hand, as you say, that ship may have already sailed. I know Christians who still would call themselves “fundamentalists” because they affirm the The Fundamentals (a set of 90 articles finished in 1915 from which the movement derives it’s name). But now that the media speak freely of Islamic Fundamentalists, or Hindu Fundamentalist or even Communist Fundamentalists, it seems the word now is nothing more than a term of abuse. I don’t want to walk that path.

    • Apart from the Law/Gospel distinction, you will never create a Christianity free of politics. Everybody has political views. “How the world needs to be run” is an issue of law. If you can avoid confusing the two in your head, and preach the Gospel as the Kingdom of God and NOT freedom from Roman oppression [or insert contemporary political cause here], and make your preaching of law extremely rooted in the text of the NT so the morality doesn’t go beyond the confines of what God felt necessary, then you can have a Christianity that is not political. But as long as “obey!” is the message coming from pulpits, there will be no end to arguing over who’s version of “obey!” is better.

  14. I honestly can no longer get my head around the need for labels like these.

    Who would be asking us about ourselves that would not be willing instead to hear an actual explanation of our beliefs rather than our party affiliation?

    It seems to me that it would only be the people who want to manage us rather than know us who need to put us in a camp. I personally have no time for that any more.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      I do not think it is that harsh. People use labels because it is efficient. You get the condensed, and yes – over-simplified – edition of who someone is [everyone, wisely or foolishly, correctly or incorrectly, chooses the labels to apply to themselves - that tells you something about them, in itself]. Communication without [umbrella] labels would be nearly impossible, it would take forever.

      I meet someone at the pub, we exchange a few labels, that tells us allot about what type of relationship, if any, we want to pursue. If they’re labels overlap with mine then we banter, recite the cliches that build social cohesion in our groups, maybe buy each other another round. If their label set it unknown to me or the overlapping section seems unusual I’d make an expression indicating puzzlement, and they would follow-up with some reaction to that. Perhaps we would have a discussion concerning our mismatched label set. If their label set contains multiple labels in opposition to labels included in my set of labels then we stick to trivial conversation and quickly move on to other conversational partners. Efficient, often entertaining. And greatly ***facilitated*** by labels.

      This message brought to you by an ‘Urban’ ‘Christian’ ‘Socialist’ ‘Heterosexual’ ‘Married’ ‘Open Source Developer’. Wow, that sentence manages to communicate a *LOT*!!!

  15. For the Pentecostals it was speaking in tongues as initial evidence of being Spirit filled.

    Speaking from the perspective of a person who was in the AoG for a long time (I’m not now), I’d this was probably true 20 years ago, but it’s not so much anymore. I’m sure there are some churches who still harp on it, but I’ve got to say that in my later years in the AoG, I hardly ever heard about it. When I was going to a Vineyard church (also Pentecostal), I never heard about it…

    I really think that in all the traditions you mention in your list, there are fewer and fewer people who are willing to die on those hills. It probably has a lot to do with the fact the younger people in these churches don’t have the same sort of zeal that their parents did for these pet doctrines. Most of them grew up in a world that was less insular than their parents, and in doing so they were forced to deal with Christians from different traditions whether it be in person or online.

    • I agree Phil. My experience is that it only takes one or two people who are willing to die on the hill and everyone has to acquiesce or have a church split.

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      There is also the long history of enthusiasm (in the strict religious sense of the word) dying down as a group ages. (Do any modern Quakers quake? I will have to ask my Quaker friends.) (When the enthusiasm is gone, what do you have left? Yet another advantage of a real liturgy.) (But I digress…) I don’t know why the Spirit operates this way, but it does. So if you understand the Spirit’s manifestation to be a defining characteristic of Christianity, then you have a real problem when it fades away. Discreetly not talking about it is an obvious response.

  16. I strongly felt that God was leading in a different direction

    You’re an Evangelical. :D

    • … And you ended up as a Lutheran how? :P

      • It certainly wasn’t the voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi in my head saying “…trust your feelings…”
        I CHOSE the Lutheran church, because I examined its teachings, along with the teachings of the other historic Protestant traditions, and found that Lutheran doctrine was the one which faithfully agreed with and restated the teaching of the Christian scriptures. I don’t blame God for causing me to chose certain things, but you could say he led me to the Lutheran church through the words of Scripture. But my feelings had nothing to do with it. I don’t believe God “leads” me to certain, specific decisions in my life in areas not specifically addressed in Scripture. Rather, I think he gives us freedom of choice. I don’t think he really cares if you go to First Baptist, Second Baptist, or Third Baptist. I’d like to think his “wonderful plan for our lives” is more like one giant series of contingencies.

        • ” I’d like to think his “wonderful plan for our lives” is more like one giant series of contingencies.”

          Hey, we agree on this!

          I have experienced what I would call the audible voice of God once in my fifty years. It just happened to be related to this one occassion.

          • I’ve met a small handful of people who claim to have literally heard from God once or twice in a lifetime. It’s a more credible claim, IMO, than those who hear from him on a regular and ongoing basis. It would be interesting to know a) what he said, and b) on what basis are you absolutely certain it was Him.

          • Christiane says:

            I suspect most of humanity ‘hears’ God at some point, perhaps not ‘audibly’ in the literal sense, but in an unmistakable spiritual sense . . .

            this non-auditory ‘hearing’ ranges from a ‘twinge’ of conscience to a full-blown incident where awareness of the Presence of God is heightened and undeniable (and memorable) as the ‘other end’ of conscience, where consciousness of His existence is the opposite of a ‘twinge’ or ‘being under conviction’
            . . . more of a sense of an experience of overwhelming awe, if you will.

            This is difficult to describe in words . . . not even sure there ARE words for it.

    • Or a Mormon! lol

  17. David Cornwell says:

    Mike, thank you very much for this piece. It is well written, with grace and love at its core. And you have not attempted to use shock and awe to draw responders. I think I could easily be an “evangelical” using your description.

    Although I believe in the catholicity of the church, in many ways the church in our age is local and congregational. This is where we live out our life in Christ. How we live it in relationship with each other says everything about us and about the church. It is more important than any formal statement of belief and theology. In worship together sharing the common liturgies (they are many) given to us down through the ages we worship together saying again the old words (sometimes written a little differently). How we love each other is more important than how we describe our confused attempts at understanding the faith.

    And many people are terribly confused about what they “believe.” They have been abused by “belief” and believers. Yet they deserve the love of Christ and the community of the Church just as much as those who have it all figured out. If they can sit in a pew next to me and say the same prayer the Lord has taught us to pray, we are sharing together one of the most potent and powerful confessions of faith available to anyone. And if we can hear the old words invite us to share at the Table, again we do not need to understand it all. And when an infant is brought before us to be presented to the congregation for baptism, our faith is expressed in words and actions both at that moment and for years beyond. And much of it s wrapped up in mystery, not intellect.

    Many years ago I had good friends who were CMA. One owned a house in the little village where I was pastor of a UMC Church. He lived in the south, but for some reason this home in Indiana had been passed to them through inheritance, and they would move in each summer. They were having a rough patch with their 14 year old boy, typical stuff that caused hurt and tears all around. So we spent time together talking, and they visiting us at home. The father was a semi driver, owning his own truck and doing contract hauling. Once he took me on a trip with him, for me quite an adventure.

    What is good about this is that I cannot remember ever discussing our theological differences. Whatever the “distinctiveness” might have been were never discussed. But we loved each other.

    • Brianthedad says:

      More of this please! David, your writing and point of view is dripping with wisdom. Please, Chap Mike and Jeff, please get David on the writing team.

      • David Cornwell says:

        Thanks very much Brianthedad, but I’m really better at writing in response to something than doing something original. The writers here inspire me to say something that sometimes seems a good to me. Other times it seems foolish later.

        • Brianthedad says:

          Nonetheless, I really appreciate what you have to say, and always perk up when I see your byline.

          • David Cornwell says:

            After I wrote this I realized that what I said has little to say about what the present state the “evangelical movement” is or should be. It’s more what my feelings are concerning what the church as a whole should be and in some ways has become for me.

            Many of those who responded today, however, do have very definite opinions about that movement, and did a good job of explanation.

  18. I am really trying, but reading all of this just makes me more weary. It feels like three decades of my life have been spent talking like this, fighting about this. My husband graduated from seminary in 1995 and most of the years since have been in “formal” ministry in an evangelical denomination. I feel like the past several years, for me, have been a “detox” of sorts from what “religion” and “evangelical” seem to mean. During an assessment to become church planters, we were in the “Evangelism” portion and I apparently wasn’t giving the right answer because I was told eventually I would have to “close the deal.” I still feel nauseated thinking about this. I thought God “closed the deal.” I also thought we had been given two commands – to love God and neighbor, not make people projects and shove them into programs. I often feel like I am Eustace as the dragon in “The Voyage of the Dawn reader” and the layers of the years of “playing dress up” in the land of religion and evangelism are still, painfully, being peeled off. I am sore and red and raw. I believe in Christ crucified and resurrected and all the stuff of the creeds. I desperately desire to love God and the people he puts in my life. I want to be the fragrance and aroma of life to the lost. Other than that … I don’t know. All this other stuff … Exhausting.

    • I was reading your comment and realized that I was on my way to saying almost the same thing. I’m a little more recent out of a church plant gone bad.

      Lately I was feeling more confident about maybe trying again on going to church somewhere, high on some of the beautiful things I’ve read on this site and others, but now I’m kind of back where I was before. I forgot about the bickering over theological minutiae, the gossip, the drama, the uber-pious, the gnostic, the legalist, the “Who’s in and who’s not in” finger pointers. I am exhausted again too.

      I think I will hide out at home with my books and my blogs and my family for a little longer (and selfishly savor my Sunday mornings with my baby.)

      • You can run, but you can’t hide. Church will find you, church will come to you. You think your precious little books and blogs and family are a safe haven? The Church will getcha, even there. You are doomed, my friend, doomed.

        :P

        …but until then, I hope you get some serious spiritual rest and recovery.

      • Umi – I understand … I do hope someday you find a home. We have a small house church – not perfect but a good community. I don’t think I could do anything else at this point. I would encourage you to step foot in maybe an Anglican or episcopal church – even just to hear the truth and beauty of the liturgy and take the life-giving Eucharistic. I will go with my daughter when I am feeling sucked dry and it is quiet and refreshing and I reminder that this is not about me, but about Christ – that He must be center.

    • ” I believe in Christ crucified and resurrected and all the stuff of the creeds. I desperately desire to love God and the people he puts in my life. I want to be the fragrance and aroma of life to the lost. Other than that … I don’t know. All this other stuff … Exhausting.”

      Amen.

  19. “I don’t like the word “Inerrancy””
    ————–
    If we don’t submit to the authority of scripture, then Christianity does become all about what we like, what we find best.

    • Edj,

      I still have a high view of scripture. Maybe not as high as some would like. I think though that the word “Inerrancy” makes the scripture out to be something that it is not.

    • Yeah, but “Inerrancy” in most EV circles means “Literal” or “Inerrant in OUR interpretations”.

    • See, I don’t necessarily find fault with the Chicago Statement, but neither do I see it as necessary or relevant. At the end of the day, “Inerrancy” reduces to a cultural shibboleth, and DEFINITELY shorthand for a particular fundamentalist understanding of it. …you won’d find any inerrantists defending the inerrancy of Jesus’ words when he said “This is my body…” :P

      But seriously, I believe the language of the Reformation confessions concerning the scriptures were totally sufficient for the challenges of our age. Inspiration and authority are the issues. I don’t give a rip if Jonah swallowed the whale. The book must have God as its author, truth as its substance, and Christ as it’s message. Otherwise, I think I could come up with a much better religion if it’s all about whatever I want to think is true.

      • Jonah swallowed a whale!!!! I must have misread the tale.

      • 1) The Chicago Statement has egregious philosophical and presuppositional errors that I plan on blogging some day, except the paper I wrote was 59 pages, and I’m not sure how to get it into blog format.

        2) If we don’t submit to the authority of scripture, then Christianity does become all about what we like, what we find best. Except, there are plenty of churches that do “submit to the authority of Scripture” who also have created a Christianity all about what we like (this is actually a classic logic fallacy known as “affirming the consequent”).

        3) Even where our written beliefs are thoughtful and true, that doesn’t mean we live them out, and I believe the Christian faith is meant to be lived. It is impossible to read Jesus’ endless ramblings on “fruit” and come to any other conclusion.

        4) As a confessional Lutheran, I like to think I have all my theological ducks in a row (and if you have ever seen a row of ducks, you know just how messy this really is); however, as a simul peccator I also think that I have got miles to go before I look anything like a Christian.

        • 1) What traumatic event has inspired such depths of masochism? I shall have to read this. Now, I didn’t say the CS had no errors in it. I just said I didn’t find any. …I read it once so far back I was a Calvinist at the time. :P
          2) Not buying this. Sure, scripture can be made to say anything, but you can still argue on the basis of scripture that errant interpretations are exactly that. There’s a world of difference between that and writing off convenient passages as merely the opinion of primitive Palestinians. Scripture is THE final appeal for a Protestant. This is kind of a natural consequence of the law of non-contradiction. Either we believe all of it, do our best to understand and harmonize it, or quit pretending it’s so sacred. This is what Lutherans call the “Analogy of Faith.”
          3) Jesus was indeed quite a fruity guy. Orthodoxy is what you are given, orthopraxy is what you do with it.
          4) I believe “herding cats” is a more appropriate metaphor for confessional Lutheranism, especially when it comes to synodical consistency. However, simul peccator does not necessarily mean orthodoxy is impossible, just because orthopraxy is limited.

          • To flesh number two out a little bit; it may be true to say that abandoning the Bible (or marginalizing it) allows us to remake Christianity as we see fit. I would agree with that assessment. The problem is when we assume that just because we do claim to take the Bible seriously in no way guarantees that we won’t do just that. As centuries of Christianity has proven. Inerrancy or some other paper doctrine is no protective barrier to running off the rails. If you don’t believe me, ask your local mega-church salesman what his stand on the Bible is, and then tell me if that church hasn’t re-made Christianity exactly as they see fit.

  20. Brianthedad says:

    This piece by Michael Bell has been great. It brings out the best in commenters. Adam Tauno Williams, with whom I’d probably disagree on many issues were we to chat at the pub he mentions above, is a thoughtful and engaging commenter. David Cornwell is an incredibly wise voice here at the iMonastery. Both are pithy, with wit to spare. This is what keeps me coming to iMonk.

    Keep up the great work.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > with whom I’d probably disagree on many issues were we to chat at the pub

      Eh, I’d still buy you a round; I’m a sucker. Though I’d mock you if you drink girly beer.

  21. This lecture by Scott McKnight is worth listening to;

    http://edge.baylor.edu/media/155456/155456-audio.mp3

    The essential element of “Evangelicalism” is “The Decision”.

    • Tom, good link to McKnight’s critique of Evangelicalism. He really gets swamped down in the middle with names and titles but gives a nice focused summary at the end.

      Do you know if the remainder of this series is available?

  22. This may have already been covered in the comments, but…

    The document is fine as far as it goes. The problem I see is that large swathes of evangelicals who could agree with this document would still get the fundamental question wrong: “what is the Gospel?” (Or, “who do you say that I am?” if you want to put it in verbatim Biblical terms).

    The Evangelical Manifesto gets to things like imputation, personal salvation by grace alone, and the authority of the Bible before it gets to the Kingdom of God. When it does mention the Kingdom of God, it mentions it in reference to Jesus second coming.

    Scot McKnight for example, has pointed out that the Together For The Gospel website misses the mark pretty widely on that very question, and these are the guys that have their noses in books and Bible-commentaries all the time.

    What does Joe Christian at “Bible Christian Fellowship,” who’s nodding his head in affirmation of the document, actually think the Gospel is? Penal substitution? Imptutation? His personal trip to heaven by grace alone, with a approving nod for decent, conservative sexual mores along the way? The document isn’t that simplistic by any means, but it doesn’t exactly challenge that kind of simplistic definition either.

    It seems like it’s goal is more to correct misunderstandings about what the word evangelical means than it does to fleshing out the Gospel and the content of Scripture, of what Jesus actually said and did. That’s really where our efforts need to be concentrated, I believe.

    Also, I’m wondering what folks in the older traditions- EO in particular- think when something like this shows up. Does it appear like we’re merely re-packaging the same faith-statements of old, just with an updated, hipper language, because we’re so afraid of seeming old-fashioned? Did the Creeds and the Councils already cover this stuff, or at least its core, governing aspects?

  23. David Morris says:

    Richard Mouw has a very helpful post on why he wants to keep the term evangelical.

    http://www.netbloghost.com/mouw/?p=218

    “For me evangelical identity points to such things as a firm belief in the supreme authority of the Bible and the unique atoning work of Jesus Christ, as well as to the obligation to work actively in inviting people to enter into a personal relationship with the Savior. And furthermore, it means continuing to plead with others who own the label not to pile onto those important convictions a lot of additional baggage that does not do honor to a label that I continue to love.”

    I am from the UK, work at a Mennonite college and am a member of a Southern Baptist Church, so I see a lot of these struggles first hand. I think it’s worth maintaining the label because it stands for so much that is good (see David Bebbington’s quadrilateral). It’s not my fault if the media can’t understand that evangelicals are not merely some supposedly homogeneous political block, but it is my task to gently set the record straight every chance I get.

  24. In Transition says:

    I don’t know if anyone is still looking at this thread. I’m a few days late. But maybe so.

    For some reason I have always been completely uninterested in titles. I don’t consider myself protestant or catholic (referring to the institution, not the definition of the word). During the few years I have attended institutional churches I did not take any of the names of their denominations and attach them to myself. I don’t ask what Christian sub-title someone attaches to his/her self before offering fellowship. I do not have any interest in doing the research to find out which theological label represents a collection of beliefs that is a “best fit” for what I have come to believe. I actually do not have the ability to pigeon whole myself for you (honestly). You would have to get to know me in order to decide which box to put me in I think.

    So, help me. Why do Christians spend so much time/energy/thought/conversation concerning labels and categories for themselves, others and the assemblies of believers that they and others attach themselves to?