First of all, a brief definition: Post-evangelicalism is a way of relating to the present seriously compromised, perhaps terminal, condition of evangelicalism by accessing the resources of the broader, deeper, more ancient Christian traditions that contemporary evangelicalism, in its pragmatic idolatry, has largely abandoned as sources and influences.
Please note that post-evangelicalism isn’t a rejection of evangelicalism, but a rejection of the current way of doing evangelicalism and being evangelical.
It will surprise- and probably offend- some of my Southern Baptist Founder’s movement influenced, reformed Baptist brothers to know that I consider them to be first class post-evangelicals. They remain evangelicals, but they have turned back to sources deeper in Baptist and church history to rediscover and repractice that evangelicalism. Like me, their approach to contemporary evangelicalism is highly suspicious and critical. Their openness to other traditions regularly earns them the ire of those who have defined being Baptist as narrowly as possible, and are incapable of taking a critical look at their own fundamentalism and dispensationalism.
So when certain truly reformed brothers refer to “post-evangelical” as synonymous with apostasy, I think they are deeply mistaken. I understand that they are responding to any approach that moves toward Catholicism with anything less than guns drawn. So we agree and we disagree.
Many readers have asked me to have more to say about post-evangelicalism. What needs to be said, however, has been said by some of the best writers in evangelicalism. Here is my first attempt at a basic post-evangelical bookshelf. I won’t be reviewing these books or even summarizing their content as much as I will simply relate them to the post-evangelical conversation and journey. In the interests of time, no links today. You can easily find all these books through Amazon and most are plentiful at used prices.
All post-evangelicals are in deep debt to the life’s work of Robert Webber. All of Webber’s books relate to post-evangelicalism, but in his Ancient-Future Series, he unpacks the entire post-evangelical vision under his own preferred rubric. Essential reading: Ancient Future Faith, Ancient Future Worship, Ancient Future Time.
Webber’s rather dated Evangelicals On The Canterbury Trail is still a good post-evangelical introduction. I was brought on board by The Majestic Tapestry, which is out of print and survives in the Ancient Future books.
Obviously influenced deeply by Webber is Mark Galli’s Beyond Smells and Bells. This is an introduction to liturgy for evangelicals. It is short, but the writing is passionate and communicates the sense many of us feel for what is at stake in returning to the more ancient Church.
D.H. Williams from Baylor Univerity is the scholarly point man for the recovery of the early church fathers by evangelicals. William’s contribution is only now beginning to get the attention it deserves. Three books are essential: Retrieving the Tradition and Renewing Evangelicalism: A Primer for Suspicious Protestants, Evangelicals and Tradition: The Formative Influence of the Early Church, and Tradition, Scripture and Interpretation: A Sourcebook.
There are a myriad of books where evangelicals go all weak in the knees for monasticism or Catholic spirituality. Post-evangelicalism isn’t a fan club, and most of these books lack any read critical engagement. Two recent books, however, are more useful.
Jon M. Sweeney’s Almost Catholic could be about as purely a post-evangelical book as I could recommend, but it is almost entirely about personal spirituality and not the church. Subtitled An Appreciation of the History, Practice and Mystery of Ancient Faith, it’s a good popular survey, with a balance of appreciation and creative, critical engagement. Sweeney is less critical toward Catholicism than I would recommend, but the book is still extremely helpful for those who like to wade in, but not swim across, the Tiber. (You will note that I do not recommend books by converts to Roman Catholicism or Orthodoxy. Many of these are excellent and contain very important insights, but I haven’t heard the order to abandon ship yet, so I’m not going to recommend books by people who found the lifeboats and left anyway.)
Sweeney has also written about the good things he received from the fundamentalism he abandoned. Born Again and Again: The Surprising Gifts of a Fundamentalist Childhood is worth your time. (Today’s he’s an Anglican.)
Brian Mclaren’s current book on ancient spiritual practices is called Finding Our Way Again. In many ways, Mclaren is an effective and provocative thinker. I do not view future evangelicalism in anything similar to his extremely mainline-liberal vision, but this appreciation of the resources of the ancient church is also a fine introduction.
My own post-evangelicalism has a strong Lutheran/reformation solas bias, and I got this from Michael Horton. His questioning of the state of compromised evangelicalism in Made in America was seminal in my own journey, and serves as a good introduction to other assessments of evangelicalism, such as D.G. Hart’s Deconstructing Evangelicalism. (There are many good critiques of evangelicalism that have a post-evangelical bent, but which resort to an endorsement of one theological approach as “THE ANSWER.” I understand the value of these- David Wells is an example- but they simply don’t engage the broader, non-Protestant tradition in the way I personally believe we must do. And I say that as a thorough Protestant. I just don’t believe you can even understand Luther until you understand his catholicism.)
Horton has written two books that are must-reads for post-evangelicals. Both deal with worship and Christian spirituality, and both dig deep in the wells of a Biblical/Reformation understanding of these troubled waters. Read A Better Way on worship, and absolutely stop whatever you are doing and read In The Face of God for a thorough going corrective to evangelicalism’s vapid and hollow attempts at spirituality. Both are silver bullets to the Osteenization of evangelicalism.
There are other books that should be mentioned in particular contexts, such as David Fitch’s The Great Giveaway and the superb work by Os Guinness, The Call. What I looking for in this list is a strong balance between contemporary evangelicalism and the broader, deeper, more ancient sources of Christianity. There are good critiques of evangelicalism everywhere, and writing that is rooted in the better Christianity of other eras, but this is an introductory list of books to get you started in what post-evangelicalism means, how it approaches evangelicalism in your context and instructs you in a hopeful path to walk with others on the same journey.