October 21, 2014

What is a “Post Evangelical?” (Part 2)

0015-0408-1906-4052_SM.jpgWhat I mean by the name “post-evangelical” keeps coming up in discussions. Though I have addressed the meaning of the term in a previous post, I’d like to make some further contributions to the discussion.

I want to note, first of all, that the “Truly Reformed” blogosphere is now using the term without any explanation as well. For example, in this quote a well-known reformed apologist criticizes those who accept Roman Catholics as fellow Christians.

This kind of “spirituality” is quite popular across the spectrum today, and what truly showed through plainly last year when the Pope died was how post-evangelicals have completely lost all contact with historical doctrine and a meaningful understanding of things like “idolatry” or “the glory of God.” I was not at all shocked at how Roman Catholics responded to the Pope’s death last year; I was, however, deeply disturbed by how non-Catholics who proclaim themselves to be faithful to biblical truth were willing to close their eyes to the reality of the Pope’s teachings in light of Scripture itself.

It is quite predictable that the failure to denounce Roman Catholics will be seen as an absolute indication of apostasy among fundamentalists and truly reformed Calvinists. It is true that a “post-evangelical” perspective allows us to see true Christian faith in many non-evangelical Christians. That all our traditions contain errant practices- from viewing relics to Jabez praying to claiming that certain kinds of music are anointed- is a fact that crosses all traditions.

Several of my co-workers have also asked me about the term, and for them I would like to make another attempt at an explanation.

How you understand post-evangelical depends on how you understand the term “evangelical.”

Most persons who work alongside me would understand evangelical to mean “evangelistic,” and would be concerned that I am saying I’ve become a hyper-Calvinist who is against evangelism. That would make the majority of what I do with my day rather puzzling.

“Evangelical” should not ever be used as a synonym for evangelistic, but we can say that an evangelical is someone who believes in the “evangel” or the saving message of Christ as summarized in the Bible and as proclaimed by the church. In that sense, I am and always will be an evangelical.

Evangelical can also refer to a set of beliefs, though not to a particular creed. In different times and places, the word evangelical has been used to identify particular beliefs centered around the “good news” of Jesus. So Luther called his movement evangelical, and Lutherans continue to use the word today, including liberal Lutherans with a very different idea of that good news than Luther ever held!

Evangelicals in American often do hold similar, but not identically expressed, beliefs about the Bible, Jesus, salvation, the atonement, saving faith, the Christian life and the church, particularly its mission. Evangelicals have endlessly debated the correct, Biblical expressions of these doctrines, and while no one would deny there is great unity among evangelicals on these matters, there is also much serious division. Areas of division would include the exact language of the authority of the Bible, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the place of women, the nature of saving faith, the security of salvation, the role of the Holy Spirit, the continuance of spiritual gifts and the structure of the church itself.

In this sense, “post-evangelical” means that I have not identified completely with any of the attempts to “close” the evangelical conversation around a particular denomination, clique, team or tribe. I believe we are not “hunting heretics,” but listening to and waiting upon the Holy Spirit who is still at work in the church. I am not about the isolation of every strand of error, but about the continuation of the evangelical conversation that has been going on since, at least, the Reformation.

This is why my post-evangelicalism is often expressed in support for the inclusion of others in the conversation, even if I do not personally agree with all, or even most, of their positions on particular issues or doctrines. I often confuse those who read me because I will side with Piper, Driscoll, Wright and Mclaren at various times. This is entirely consistent within my understanding of “post-evangelicalism,” because I am rejecting the “team sport” approach to theology that has dominated the attempt to define evangelicalism down to the minutia.

There is nothing I resent more than the insistence that I cannot find Jesus genuinely present in other traditions or in the lives of Christians with whom I disagree. The attempt to “launder” and purify evangelicalism down to a “100%” error free expression of the true church is a project I want nothing to do with. I do not need a theo-babysitter to keep me away from Christians, books and expressions of the faith that might be tainted. This is, in my view, little more than human pride and the desire for power over others expressing itself in the denouncement of all who are not identical to our own current level of understanding.

Another sense in which the word “evangelical” occurs is also useful to my use of “post-evangelical.” This is what I call “evangelical culture” and refers not to the essential doctrinal structure of evangelicalism, but to the culture that evangelicals create. We would see this in styles of doing things, preferences in non-essentials, ways of relating to the world, traditions in church, art, music, publishing, business, unspoken rules and assumed agreements.

In a typical church there is a mixture of doctrine and culture. The time/length of the service, the dress code of the congregation, the styles of music, the use of non-essential elements and the vocabulary of the preacher are all cultural aspects of evangelicalism. Evangelical culture is tremendously hard to define, map or distinguish from other kinds of culture, but I have four “poles” that cover much of evangelical culture.

1) A culture that relates to Billy Graham’s embodiment of evangelicalism.
2) A culture that is similar to the common practices of the Southern Baptists or independent Baptists.
3) A culture that is acceptable in mainstream charismatic/Pentecostal churches.
4) A culture that is marketable in a Family Christian Store.

Generally, what I consider to be evangelical culture will be found within these poles, but not exclusively of course.

To be post-evangelical is to consciously move beyond uncritical allegiance to and participation in this culture, choosing instead to return to sources, look to other traditions and radically critique all versions of religious culture by scripture and older, more “catholic” tradition. I believe that it is on the level of culture that we can see the true state of evangelicalism. This is, for me, the significance of Joel Osteen, his acceptance by so many Christians, his promotion by publishing and broadcasting interests and his authority by way of church growth rather than a proclamation and confession of the Gospel. Osteen is entirely a creature of evangelical culture minus the majority of evangelical beliefs.

My own journey has been away from evangelical culture to the more dependably Biblical culture in the ancient and Reformation churches. I am not at all alone on this journey, as many others are rejecting evangelical culture and arrogant innovation as well. I believe the post-evangelical commitment is to be aware of this “world” and to “come out of it,” as much as possible. This is why the liturgy, creeds, confessions, hymns and Lord’s Supper centered worship and life of the ancient and Reformation church are more spiritually interesting and nourishing to me. I highly recommend them.

So to be post-evangelical is to reject evangelical culture in favor of a more catholic, diverse and ancient expression of the Christian faith, while adhering to evangelical doctrine without becoming part of team or faction operating under the illusion of superiority to others and a closure of the Christian conversation.

Comments

  1. Theres a great old movie I recommend seeing it is
    The Passion Of Joan Of Arc,1927.It is a silent movie but its words are louder than anything I’ve ever heard.
    Religion is for those who think they are helping God
    and salvation is for those who know that only God can help them.
    God help us all!

  2. I finally found a label for the way I see the faith! Thanks for the definition. Some may toss back, “That’s only salad bar spirituality!” I can only reply, “If I can only eat iceberg lettuce, that’s no salad!”
    I suppose one can truly be post-evangelical if committed to a local confessing church. That saves you eating some funky mushrooms in the process.

  3. One of the things people should question themselves about before they do evangelism is, “what are my expectations for the receiver of my message of the gospel?” What if they come to the Lord and they want to be a Pentecostal and yet I am a Baptist? Will I feel myself succesful in orienting a person towards the Father but they did it wrong? Or will I celebrate their coming to Jesus in spite of the differences in our now two churches? If I share Christ with someone, is my horizon large enough for them to come to know Him more closely outside of my own tradition? And last, “am I selling my denomination as my priomary message or The Lord Jesus Christ, who perfected us in and through himself and his paschal mystery? Post-Evangelical sounds cool to me. Anything that moves us away from our petty divisions and towards the kind of unity that Paul begs for through his epistles. Maybe that’s what the itnernet is really for–it’s purpose. is it a new way for us as believers to leave our bumper stickers, t-shirts, wrist bands, fish emblems, and incense at home? I hope so…

  4. catholicguy1878 says:

    Greetings IM;

    I just found your site after posting the following rant on my blog http://bloggingcatholic.blogspot.com/2006/09/evangelical-christians-in-america.html#links

    Evangelical Christians in America Hijack Christianity

    Evangelical Christians are blindly becoming the same damaging influence to Christianity that the radical Islamic sects are to Islam. Evangelical Christians often project a “holier than thou” attitude. This attitude is directly against the teachings of Christ. Evangelical Christians perceive America as righteous beacon of Christianity. Yet, America’s actions on the world stage in response to 9/11, have been anything but Christian. Evangelical Christians the Bush administration as a Christian based government. The Bush administration, my have many good Christians in place, but is not involved in anyway with spreading the Kingdom of God.

    Christianity is not a political movement. It is entirely about selfless Love. It requires the courage and faith to love and serve your enemies; even at the risk of death.

    Christianity is not the mamby pamby wimpy wanting be a good boy religion. It requires taking a stand for Love. It requires a complete rejection of worldly desires and the complete devotion to helping those that you can; the sick, addicted, abused, oppressed, poor, disadvantaged…Etc. It requires doing this at all cost. Not when your feeling flush with cash. Not when it is convenient for you. This complete focus on serving is the central focus of Christ’s message and must be a priority to any Christian life.

    Evangelical Christians have no right to judge others, especially their enemies. Yet, this is a very popular pastime of many a Christian discussion. Loving others without judgment is the only way to convert. It is the Christians duty to love and help those less fortunate; not to convince those less fortunate to profess Christ. By acting in love, the kingdom of God will spread.

    Are you ready to die for Christ by loving and serving your enemy? This is true faith, this is Christianity, this is what Christ died for and is the way to the Kingdom of God.

    Stop asking how we can take America back for God. Instead, how can we take save Christianity from America.

    I would be very interested in your thoughts and I look forward to learning more from your posts. Awesome site.

  5. Larry - KY says:

    Yes, what you have just set forth is anything but Christianity.

    Christianity is not a political movement NOR is it about eschewing “worldly desires” as revised medievalish Roman Catholicism would set forth. In fact ‘Evangelicals’ would agree ENTIRELY with “rejecting worldly desires”. This form of Gnosticism has plagued the church since day one and Paul called it as a doctrine of demons point blank. Christianity is about the Gospel, from start to finish Christ and Him crucified. Loose that and you have nothing but another man made religion. Christianity is NOT a move from vice to virtue, many would agree with this, but if you REALLY want to test yourself then you must certainly know that Christianity is a move from virtue to grace.

    As Luther said the standing and falling church is upon one central article justification by grace alone through faith alone in the finished work of Jesus Christ alone – and the “alones” are crucial. If you proffer forth a religion that is works driven, faith formed by love or something similar you have given fallen religion but you have certainly NOT given Christ nor Christianity. Christianity is Christ and Him crucified, His life of holiness for mine of sin and nothing else. Anything else is another Gospel and is NO Gospel, and stands cursed and damned by the Apostle Himself. There are only two religions in the world today no matter what external name one attaches to them, a religion of “do” and a religion of “done”. There are NO other religions.

    God may suffer a man to do no good works that the man may at last learn to trust in Christ alone and be saved. This statement is utterly incomprehensible to the false religions of glory.

    For Christ alone,

    Larry

  6. SkipChurch says:

    Ye are called to peace, therefore follow it…Friends everywhere, this I charge you, which is the word of the Lord God unto you all, “Live in peace, in Christ the way of peace;” therein seek the peace of all men and no man’s hurt.

    — George Fox, 1658

  7. Maybe I’m just too simple minded but when I hear the term, “post evangelical” or “post christian socieity” it sounds like Christians has thrown in the towel and given up evangelism. Seriously I hear this term bantered around a lot and it’s usually in reference to a culture of liberalism, etc.

  8. linkerpatrick: That is not my understanding of those terms, and certainly I reject out of hand any notion of abandoning the Great Commission.

    I don’t know what you mean by liberalism, so I can’t comment on that. In my county, people who don’t use the KJV are liberals.

  9. I stumbled onto your blog quite by accident, and this is the first I’ve heard of the term “post-evangelical.” So I have much to learn about the concept, but your explanations (parts 1 and 2) lead me to believe that I must be some kind of “post-evangelical” who is still wandering the halls of evangelical churches, primarily because that’s where I already am.

    My search for more “depth” (to use a simple term) than what evangelicalism offers led me first to John of the Cross and Thomas Merton, et al., then straight back to the church fathers and early monasticism. I’ve hardly exhausted that rich wellspring of Christian insight. I mention this mainly to say that these explorations (over the past several years) are beginning to lead me in the direction of Orthodoxy (as in Eastern Orthodoxy). It seems the Orthodox Church sidesteps and makes irrelevant so many of the controversies of denomination versus denomination, Protestant versus Catholic, and “post” movements versus the establishment. Seems this church also matches so many of the post-evangelical distinctives that you’ve described, except that it hasn’t needed to set itself apart by rejecting what came before it (Roman Catholicism also can make this claim, but it also added much since its split with the Eastern church). Orthodoxy appears to be encrusted in history, but closer inspection reveals a tradition that has remained quite vital for many centuries (despite succumbing to the follies of mankind from time to time, just like any other church).

    So I bring it up not to be an apologist for Orthodoxy, but to find out what a post-evangelical outlook might be on a church like this one, that takes very seriously the living traditions of Christianity informed in every age by the Holy Spirit in its midst. Also, I’m wondering whether, instead of plunging into “uncharted territory” and forging new labels that will certainly be outdated in a few centuries (or decades), it might be more appropriate and more in line with the notion of Christian unity for Christians who drift away from traditions that are historically separatist to avoid further separation and to find ways of integration with the Christian traditions of the longest standing. I have heard evangelicals who were dissatisfied with current evangelical conditions (budding “post-evangelicals” perhaps?) talk about returning to ancient sources and streams of thought in Christian history. To me, it seems odd to attempt to connect with those ancient sources by creating or joining new movements without first considering the oldest ones.

    It also seems that the desire to call oneself a “post-evangelical” or something similar differs little from the desire to start a new denomination. It’s just a new form of separation and a new kind of division in an already splintered church. After all, it’s just a new name, a new label, with a list of the beliefs that are distinct from the other groups. This is what a denomination is. Obviously, the need exists for a shorthand phrase to describe one’s beliefs to others, and “Christian” may not be sufficient in itself, because it means so many things to so many different people. But even if I were post-evangelical, I have an aversion to describing myself as such, simply because it seems to represent the notion that, hey, if you don’t like what the church you come from is doing, then just start a new church (or “movement”) that better fits your own understanding. It’s possible that this is necessary, but it seems difficult to square it with the idea of participating in the great streams of wisdom that the saints of old offer us.

    Please forgive me for the run-on sentences and long-windedness above and any tone in this post that might sound unduly combative. I’m really just trying to see how a post-evangelical might respond to some of the things that are kicking around in my head right now.

  10. Well, I’m about two months too late, but I can’t resist replying to Larry’s post above.

    The fact is, Biblical Christianity does insist upon works.

    When you quote Luther about grace alone through faith alone in the finished work of Jesus alone, you are talking about justification. Justification is not the whole Gospel, it is the Gospel’s starting point for us. The eternal Word of God, because of his love, came to earth to humble himself to the point of death, then he conquered death, thereby setting us free from the bonds of sin and death, and then, by grace alone through faith alone, he transfered us from the kingdom of darkness into his kingdom of light. What a marvelous gift!

    But is that where it ends? No. We respond. We act. We are exhorted to act throughout the Scripture. We are told to work out our salvation in fear and trembling. We are told that faith without works is dead (in a passage that made Luther squirm). We are told that if we love Jesus, we will keep his commandments. We are told to present our bodies as living sacrifices (how? by actions). We are told to be transformed in the renewing of our mind, which doesn’t happen without our participation. We’re told not to quench the Holy Spirit, which means avoiding action that cause us to ignore the Spirit’s action within us. We are told to discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness. We are told to repent from our sins and to sin no more. We are told to put on the full armor of God. We are told we will give an answer for all that we do, that we will be judged “as through fire” for our actions. We are told to imitate Christ. We are told to follow Jesus and be his disciples.

    We are told in 2 Peter that because “his divine power has given us everything pertaining to life and godliness” that we are to act in that power by “applying all diligence, in your faith, supply moral excellence (virtue), and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perserverance, and in your perserverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love.” This is how we become “partakers in the divine nature,” and “if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful …” But “he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins (justification). Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about his calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way, the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.”

    This kind of exhortation is everywhere in the New Testament, and it’s obviously not passive. The difference between these biblical exhortations and man-made religion is this: We do not work for our justification; we work from it. Our faith is not “works-driven,” but our works are driven by our faith. We remember our justification and then apply diligence in obedience to our calling. True faith is inseparable from works. This doesn’t challenge the fact that we are saved by grace alone and cannot boast.

    We follow Christ and Christ’s ways, and we become like him as we do so. Thank him and his grace, we have the power to do so. This is the Gospel, that we live and act by grace in the Kingdom of Heaven.

    You’re right that Christianity is not a religion of “do.” But it’s also not just a religion of “done.” It’s a religion of “doing with God.” This is not a gospel of “God helps those who help themselves.” Rather, it is the Gospel of God’s power and Spirit given to us, working through us and transforming us, not by our works but in our works as they conform to his works. Grace is not just the gift that saves us from sin, it’s the gift that gives us the power to act in accordance with God’s will.

    Justification puts us in position for sanctification, a process in which we participate or in which refuse to participate. Those who participate through action become mature, fruitful, and godly. Those who expect God to do it all are sometimes brought to fruitfulness by God’s choice, but most often remain in a useless “fleshly” immaturity, which is where we find too many people in the American Evangelical church of today. One of the major reasons for this state of affairs in the Evangelical churches is precisely the notion that everything in Christianity is passive; because we are saved by grace through faith, that must mean that we pray the prayer, get our sins forgiven and just wait for God to make us godly. Sorry, but it doesn’t often work that way.

    As for Larry’s critique of “rejecting worldly desires” as a form of gnosticism, I think he misses the point, and he might misunderstand what gnosticism is, not to mention the fact that he misquotes the original blog post, which spoke of “being aware of this ‘world'” (in quotes) and “to come out of it” (also in quotes). When most Christians talk about the “world,” they are talking about sin and the patterns of sin that dominate in the relationships between human beings, in their societies, systems, institutions and organizations. The Bible tells us that we are “in the world, not of it,” so when most Christians I’ve listened to talk about coming out of the world, they are typically agreeing with this notion. They are not usually talking about divorcing themselves from human relationships, societies, systems, institutions, organizations, etc. They are talking about refusing to participate in the sinful patterns that undergird all of those things. The notion of “rejecting worldly desires” would also typically refer to rejecting the sinful desires within ourselves that often take their cues from phenomena in this sin-laden world.

    So, with all this in mind, it is not a “doctrine of demons” that the Christian should “come out of the world.” What Paul refers to as the “doctrines of demons” in 1 Timothy 4 are the doctrines that God’s good creation is somehow evil and to be rejected (which was a tenet of many gnostic sects). Of course, some Christians in history have come to believe this heresy about creation. But, anyone paying attention must acknowledge that “the world” in usual historical Christian usage refers to the sinful ways that dominate our current situation here on earth.

    Here is how John the Apostle talks about the world: “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.”

    Also, while Larry insists firmly that the teaching of “rejecting worldly desires” is a doctrine of demons, my Bible, in Titus, tells me that “… the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age …” So, is Paul telling us to believe a doctrine of demons?

    These verses, and many others like them, not only tell us that it is advisable to “come out of the world.” They also instruct us that we are to “do” something with our salvation, not just crow about faith alone while suggesting that sincere Christians are following doctrines of demons as they try to conform themselves to Christ Jesus our Lord and King.

    Thanks for your time.

  11. I have been experiencing a time of personal spiritual growth over the last 2-3 years. This has included the realisation that much of the evangelical practices and approach just did not add up any more. I began to seriously question the concept that God can only move amough certain types of Christians in a very limited way and have realised that much of the evangelical faith seeems to consist of stringing together certain Bible verses and buliding a faith around them, rather than looking at the Bible and personality of Christ as a whole. I have always felt uncomfortable with fundamentalist Christianity and have felt concerned about issues whcih other Christians have ignored, such as environmental issues. I am in my early 40s and have grown up through the evangelical ‘growth’ period of the 80s and early 90’s but now feel I have outgrown the spirituality I had then. Perhaps this is an age & development issue, when we reach the point of growing older & growing up in our faith in a new way? Are there others of a similar age who are feeling this?