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.