The first series of posts are up in Harold Heie’s Respectful Conversation project about “American Evangelicalism: Present Conditions, Future Possibilities.”
Here are the specific posts:
- Topic #1: Evangelicalism and the Broader Christian Tradition, by Harold Heie
- Evangelical Identity and the Broader Christian Tradition, by Peter Enns
- Evangelicalism – and the Renewal of Christianity, by Amos Yong
- Hoping for the Best, by Vincent Bacote
- Alternative Approaches to Defining Evangelicals, by Corwin E. Smidt
- Evangelicalism, Ecumenical Diversity, and the Unity of the Church, by John R. Franke
- Glimpses of Another Land, by John Wilson
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I thought I would highlight some quotes from these posts today to whet your appetite while encouraging you to follow this ongoing conversation.
This highlights an element of evangelicalism that is often overlooked and/or disregarded: its inherently ecumenical character. The North American evangelical tradition includes participants from the full spectrum of Protestantism representing many different theologies, hermeneutical trajectories, and ecclesial practices. Further, while the media often depict evangelicalism as a fairly monolithic right-wing movement, it is in fact characterized by considerable ideological diversity. In light of this, no particular group is in a position to define evangelicalism theologically, ideologically, or politically. It is a movement that crosses theological, denominational, confessional, and ideological boundaries. In so doing, it manifests a diversity that has been an inherent part of the North American evangelical movement since its beginnings.
However, while the evangelical movement has been characterized by a rich ecumenical diversity, this does not mean that evangelicals are comfortable with this plurality. For the most part they are not. Instead, they tend to be committed to establishing the one true faith over against other versions. They pursue the one true way to be a Christian, the one right way to read the Bible, the one true system of doctrine, the one right set of practices. In their collective search, different groups have come up with alternative and competing conclusions. This has spawned a seemingly endless series of contentious and ill-tempered debates concerning theology, hermeneutics, ethics, and church practices. These conflicts have produced a divisive and contentious spirit among many evangelicals that has significantly compromised our witness to the gospel. This divisiveness is often justified as a necessary consequence of articulating and defending Christian truth.
…Evangelicals should repent of divisive beliefs and behaviors and embrace the diversity of both the evangelical community as well as the broader Christian church as the blessing and intention of God.
- John R. Franke
I would suggest that the Evangelicalism of the twenty-first century will be increasingly pentecostalized and charismatized. This will reconfigure, not eliminate, the biblicism, crucicentrism, activism, and conversionism that has long featured in evangelical life. The embodied and affective pietism of renewal spirituality will become more predominant as the center of evangelical gravity continues to shift from the Euro- and Anglo-American West to the global South. The growth and expansion of Asian, African, and Latin American forms of evangelical faith will go hand-in-hand with the pentecostalization and charismatization of Christianity as a whole.
There will also be trends in the other direction – one might say an evangelicalization of Pentecostalism and of charismatic renewal movements. This is already being seen especially among classical pentecostal churches which are emerging as denominations. Such institutionalizing processes inevitably involve a certain degree of social (not to mention ecclesial) upward mobility and these bring with them a tempering of the charismata and of charismatic sensitivities and priorities. However, the genius of renewal is that whenever things begin to stagnate, and new movements emerge to counter anti-charismatic trends. I would insist that not all evangelicalizing processes are to be understood in negative terms. Oftentimes, pentecostal tendencies involve excesses and the evangelical witness in these cases serve as important correctives.
My point is to highlight the mutuality at work in the pentecostalization of Evangelicalism and the evangelization of Pentecostalism. This two-way exchange suggests to me that while distinctive in some respects, both are central to the Christian life. Neither is subservient to the other, although each left on its own can tend in unhealthy directions. Therefore, each needs the other in order that their gifts can be mutually complementary for a vigorous and revitalized Christianity for the twenty-first century. In that sense, an Evangelicalism without renewal ceases to be evangelical (i.e., a carrier of the good news) even as a robust evangelical identity always presumes pentecostal and charismatic renewal not as incidental but as essential to the Christian life.
- Amos Yong
As I see it, if evangelicals are people of the book who are willing to listen to Scripture and be open to God’s leading by the Holy Spirit, then more changes could happen than many currently anticipate. I realize this is a view based on a potential future, yet it is a potential future that always remains a possibility for evangelicalism at its best. At their best, evangelicals are people willing to be subject to all that Scripture commands, which would include ways of obeying the second greatest commandment that lead to repentance and renewal in ways that would pleasantly surprise those who have decided to move on. It is this hope for what is possible that compels me to see evangelicalism as an important tradition in the future of God’s mission in the world. Just imagine what it might look like if the evangelical tradition lives up to its commitment to Scripture: such a state of affairs would probably stun us all. We are not there yet, but I believe big changes can still happen in future. So I’ll hold on to the label.
- Vincent Bacote