Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Understanding "Evangelical"

For a number of years, I've struggled with using the word "evangelical" to describe myself...
The biggest problem, of course, is that the word "evangelical" to describe a religious/political viewpoint is a bad use of a good word.
I am still an evangelical - though I believe that many of my "tribe" need to carefully examine the Scriptures to see where they have conflated it with nationalist leanings that run counter to Galatians 3:28 (Phillips): "Gone is the distinction between Jew and Greek, slave and free man, male and female—you are all one in Christ Jesus."
Choosing Not To Die (2020)
I am a conservative white evangelical - though, as many of you have read, not a supporter of the former President or the current lemming-like bent of the Republican Party. My prayer is that we who claim Christ would have "A Brand New Day" (sly reference to THE WIZ) where our primary loyalty is not to a political party, not to a media-driven narrative of fear; and not to a guy with a spray tan whose trail of failed marriages & businesses should have made clear (similar to the song he often quotes) what kind of snake we were electing. 
Musical Theater, White Evangelicals & Politics (2021)
So, when James Emery White recently published this series of deep-dive blog posts into the history & meaning of "evangelical", I immediately decided to share them with you, my faithful readers. Please follow the links and get more out of them than just the quote highlights that I'm sharing.

I am deeply concerned that the true history of evangelicalism is being lost, and the way it is being currently perceived – particularly by those outside of the Christian faith – is both confusing and unhelpful to what historic evangelicalism has attempted to achieve missionally as a movement. And, as someone who has self-identified as an evangelical in the past (more on that later in the series), I am invested in its meaning.  
The growing uneasiness of many Fundamentalists with the denominational separatism, social and cultural irresponsibility, and anti-intellectual stance that pervaded the years of controversy with the Modernists that would lead to the branching off and eventual formation of the movement known as contemporary American Evangelicalism.
Understanding “Evangelical” Part Three: The Birth of Contemporary American Evangelicalism
Rooted and shaped in the Reformation of the 16th century, the 18th century Evangelical Revivals and, most recently, in the controversy between Fundamentalists and Modernists, contemporary American Evangelicalism has a rich and varied history that has made definition problematic. It can be concluded from earlier installments in this series that contemporary American Evangelicalism has gained its theology from the Reformation, its spirituality and commitment to evangelism from 18th century revivalism, and its concern for orthodoxy and intellectual engagement from the clash between Fundamentalists and Modernists in the early part of the twentieth century.
Evangelicalism is much more than a network. David Bebbington captured the heart of its moorings: conversionism, activism, biblicism and crucicentrism. Big words, but simple ideas. Conversionism is the belief that individual lives must be transformed. Activism is the conviction that we must not be passive when it comes to the Gospel, but active in our expression, proclamation and application. Biblicism captures our high regard of the Bible—we go to the Bible and then we go with the Bible. And crucicentrism is the emphasis on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. “Together,” Bebbington concluded, we have “a quadrilateral of priorities [that form] the basis of Evangelicalism.” And, many would add, the basis of the Gospel.

Yet as firmly as Evangelicalism stood on these core ideas (or tried to) it still felt as sociocultural as it did theological. As Marsden has noted, more like a patchwork quilt of like-minded institutions and movements, ministries and personalities, conferences and camps. In reality, both are true. It has the ideas Bebbington delineates and the relational dynamic Marsden points out.
So I end this series wanting to say two things. First, I have been proud to consider myself a classic, historic Evangelical. And in that sense of the word, I continue to be. I only wish that the term, as understood and used in our world, was less political and more tied to those original moorings.

Which leads to the second thing I want to say. If the term “Evangelical” increasingly means in the minds of our world a certain set of politics instead of a certain set of theological and spiritual convictions that transcend politics, then I will have to find a new identifying label.

As in “biblical Christian who stands in the stream of historic Christian orthodoxy.”

And who really liked Billy Graham.
Like I said above, read it all.

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