Monday, June 12, 2006

Evangelicalism

What does evangelicalism mean to you? Everyone wants to be evangelical (just like we all want to be catholic, orthodox, liberal, pentecostal and so on), but what are your thoughts on the historical movement, on evangelicalism? Definitions or connotations, or even just the first thing that pops into your head: there are no right answers, so especially if you've been hanging back just reading (you know who you are), have a go at writing a comment.

35 comments:

Looney said...

An evangelical church preaches on John chapter 3 every Sunday.

Anonymous said...

what about into the bible, into the gospel, into the "Christ alone, faith alone, scripture alone" thing.

what about not "evangelism"... how many times does this get confused! I think to those who are not Christian evangelicalism often means evangelism - mission, preaching, conversion.

One Salient Oversight said...

Evangelicalism embraces Sola Scriptura - the Bible is the sole authority in matters of faith and practice.
Evangelicalism teaches Sola Gratia - that God's graciousness has provided a place for people in heaven, bought by the blood of Christ.

michael jensen said...

Well there is a group of people who always say at this point "I define evangelicalism theologically" and then pull some doctrinal rabits out of the hat... This seems to me bizarre...evangelicalism is a sociological and historical reality but not reducible to these.
I suppose the question is, when has someone (a charismatic say) stopped being an evangelical?

People also used to say to me that evangelicalism has no ecclesiology. I think this is actually not quite true: ecclesiology is a doctrine reduced in importance within evangelicalism and deliberately so...

byron said...

Thanks for all these comments. What do people think of Bebbington's famous fourfold criteria: activism, conversionism, biblicism and crucicentrism?

Bro. Bartleby said...

Well, they 'do' what most of us talk and think about, for most of us cannot 'do' what they do, for we are like the proverbial birds, we tend to flock together with others like us, and those like us are not in need of a good whacking side of the head with a leather-bound KJV.

Looney said...

Byron, I had to look up the "famous fourfold criteria", which I guess indicates how out-of-touch I am. Based on this definition, I would be complelled to conclude that Francis Xavier was an evangelical. It gives rather wide scope to things. Mormon's don't meet the criteria for crucicentrism.

byron said...

Looney, no offense to Mormons, but do many people consider them to be part of evangelicalism?

I am also unsure whether Xavier's absolute devotion to the Pope might problematise labelling him as 'biblicist', which isn't to deny that he loved the Bible dearly, but I am not sure that for him it was 'the sufficient source of all spiritual truth' as Bebbington puts it in his definition.

Mister Tim said...

What comes to mind for evangelicalism: the primacy of scripture and Christ's death and resurrection.

It seems to me that, evangelicalism is often defined by what it isn't - that it isn't catholicism, it isn't pentecostalism, it isn't liberalism. But I don't reallly think that's the most helpful definition.

On a tangent, I note that the word evangelical is used much more widely in the media these days - I heard a reporter last week say that when they think of evangelical, the first thing that comes to mind is George W. Bush and, by implication, the Christian right in America. Hillsong Church is often also referred to as 'evangelical' in the media.

Looney said...

While we are on exotic species of evangelicals, where would y'all like to rank Jimmy Carter? I didn't read his book, "Born Again", but he is a Southern Baptist, and definitely not of the right-wing wacko type.

byron said...

...the first thing that comes to mind is George W. Bush and, by implication, the Christian right in America

Jimmy Carter ... is a Southern Baptist, and definitely not of the right-wing wacko type

What is the connection between evangelicalism and the political Right? Is this predominantly an American phenomenon? And a recent one? I've love to hear more thoughts on this one...

Rob said...

Wright comments often on how evangelicalism and the political Right are connected in the states. To sum up his thoughts, he finds it funny that people assume that if you believe in the bodily resurrection, then you must be part of the political right and all that. That's why his views on the war in iraq shock americans (like they did me!) who don't realize that just because you are evangelical doesn't mean you ascribe to everything George Bush is doing.

So yeah, I'd say it's more of an American phenomenon, but all I know if it is from hearing Wright comment on it (he likes to talk about it).

byron said...

Thanks Rob,
I'm curious: do you (a) consider yourself an evangelical? and (b) support the war in Iraq?

Looney said...

Byron,

There is a misconception that the American Christian right is being attracted to Bush. The much bigger effect is the 'push' that is coming from the American left: Abortion being a key part, but the active promotion of homosexuality and hostility towards abstinence teaching is also a factor. We now have a government funded Islamic elementary school in my city of Fremont, but government funding of anything to do with Christianity would send out shock waves of hysteria. Then there is a year-by-year increase in Darwinism as the principal foudation to learning. I learned from my kids that Adam Smith has now been surpassed by Darwin as the greatest economics theoretician according to the public schools.

Some other factors: Much of the Christian right in the US is educated professionals who don't much care for unions and are afraid of predatory lawyers. My wife and I were just discussing loaning our van to the church for an upcoming mission trip, but the risk of losing our house if an accident occured was the focus of the discussion. The teachers unions and the predatory lawyers are core elements of the left, along with militant gays.

The immigration issue is also hot, but this tends to divide things up in a not so clean manner.

Then there are the courts, but I will skip this.

The heated rhetoric against Bush at the moment is generally viewed as simply reflecting the fanaticism with which the left intends to push the above agenda items. If Bush had never gone to war with Iraq, the screaming would be just as loud!

Christopher said...

Hmmm...
Not sure what I think evangelical means, I feel naughty discussing it after reading your reflection on the C.S. Lewis' sermon the 'Inner Circle'.

I am commenting because I felt 'sprung' by your "you know who you are" assertion. I am easily convinced, I almost filled out my details on the "giveusallyourmoney" link.

Drew said...

I'm reading a book by D.G. Hart called 'Deconstructing Evangelicalism'... picked it up for $5 somewhere.

He argues that we should throw away the concept. Admittedly, he is speaking specifically about an American definition of the word, but that doesn't invalidate the argument (and some might add that the confusion in what it refers to around the world is a help to his argument).

byron said...

Drew, I was chatting with a certain well-known high profile evangelical (I'll avoid giving you the name and the tenous circumstances so that you can all get the impression that I'm really in the loop), and he said in various contexts he thinks 'evangelical' is so misunderstood that he avoids the term and translates it into other terms. What do people think? How hard is it worth fighting for this term? Is there any reason not to also be fighting as hard to recover something of other great historical terms like 'catholic' or 'othodox' or 'liberal'? Or is all such fighting a misguided attempt to conquer sociology with theology, and we should just use the labels we've inherited without further muddying of the waters? Or is 'evangelical' worth saving from the 'evangelicals'? Hmmm, this might be worth a post of its own...

Looney, don't you also feel pushed away from the 'religious right' by equally strong motivating factors? Isn't it the case that God belongs to neither side and to claim him too easily for one's cause is in danger of ideology/idolatry?

byron said...

PS Hi Mister Tim! Only just worked out you're Tim Tim, not just any old Tim (apologies to all the any old Tims out there). A nod and a wink to you (and from J too!).

byron said...

Hi Christopher - hope your first experience wasn't too daunting and you'll be back to join the conversation again!

One of Freedom said...

As an evangelical I don't buy sola scriptura, at least not in the way that my fundie brothers and sisters do. Maybe I am a post-evangelical :-). Actually for me it is defined by who I am as an expressed Christian. My actions and my heart tell me that I am concerned that others also come into relationship with God - thus I am for the project of evangelism. However, I frequently shudder at the abominable ways in which this is done, especially in North America. In some ways I'd love to not be associated with them, but I think that there is value in being in with them so that maybe I can challenge their narrow ideas about evangelism (hopefully not just with my own narrow ideas). But then again in several of these efforts I've been written off as someone who is too liberal, too Catholic, too immoral and too academic.

Looney said...

"Looney, don't you also feel pushed away from the 'religious right' by equally strong motivating factors?"

If what you hear about the right is true, then I should feel a very big push. For example, the right is upset about illegal immigration. An illegal immigrant with the same scores as my children will have a 100X greater chance of getting admitted to a good university along with a guaranteed scholarship - and the scholarship will be paid for by my taxes. If I get angry (which I am not), then the left will say "Aha! Look at the racist bigot! See how he has such fascist, Hitler like tendencies? He wants to send everyone of a different race to the gas chambers!".

This is the level of dialogue in America.

Rob said...

I consider myself an evangelical. I realized a few months ago that I would be leaving fundamentalism but would definitely stay evangelical.

And about my support for the war in Iraq, I have not studied it enough to be sure what I think. This is to my shame, but I have been concerned with other things. When people are being shot at and killed overseas, I should take some more interest. But I dislike taking sides until I think I have enough knowledge about something.

meredith said...

Hi Byron and comment-readers - my two cents worth is that evangelicalism is best described historically, on the level of what a person in a particular time and place understands the term to mean. (this discussion is in fact a great window into the whole thing).

Instead of starting from the assumption that there is an evangelical tradition, and then setting out to describe it, we might start from the bottom up and work out what particular people who have identified as evangelicals have thought about themselves and their relationship to preceding people who have used the same term (ie their self-location in a tradition).

The advantage of this approach (ie of being descriptive rather than proscriptive) is that it leaves room to include other things - like the influence of the person's context, culture etc - in explaining what evangelicalism means. It also means that evangelicalism can have significance as a term, without it having to have a monopoly on certain characteristics (eg a commitment to scripture as the authoritative word of god - plenty of other christians who would not have seen themselves as evangelicals have shared that). So yeah, thats what i think...

Mister Tim said...

hey Byron (and J) too - wondering if you'd figure out the connection. I heard from a family member you now had a blog, so thought I'd look you up. And funnily enough, I just started re-reading Screwtape Proposes a Toast last week - needed something light to read on a plane :-)

byron said...

Thanks Meredith for bringing some history into the discussion!

Tim: needed something light to read on a plane = Weight of Glory?

byron said...

I dislike taking sides until I think I have enough knowledge about something.

I used to think this, but having read Exclusion and Embrace by Miroslav Volf, I've been persuaded that it's better to jump in on the side of the weaker, more vulnerable and voiceless party (while attempting to hold hands with the stronger party and be able to talk to them), and then to continually keep researching and updating your position than to stay neutral until persuaded of the rightness of one side beyond reasonable doubt. This is because (a) the information you receive will always be biased towards the stronger party, and (b) by doing nothing, you are already on the side of the stronger party. Passivity means supporting the status quo. Volf's whole discussion of this dynamic is very insightful and well worth a read.

Though I do appreciate the impossibility of adopting a position on every world event. The relative ease of information makes it possible to feel infinite responsibility. We have television, but not many forms of teleaction (basically: writing, visiting, giving and most importantly - prayer). I suspect that Volf's advice applies most directly to our local situations, and to each of us globally insofar as we play our small parts in it.

byron said...

Looney, I mourn the loss of intelligent and respectful public discussion. Indeed, one of the greatest tragedy's for political thought and action in the West is the loss of the category of respectful disagreement. But that is a thought for another day...

However, I was speaking less about immigration policy (though I wouldn't exclude that. I am largely ignorant of the US situation, but think that the Australian govt's treatment of refugees has been inhumane and immoral) than of some other less savory aspects of right-wing politics. And this is not intended as a defense of the left, I merely wonder whether there mightn't be strong repulsions (and attractions?) to aspects of both sides for a Christian.

byron said...

Frank - although it's always hard to tell at first glance, I feel that once again we probably have quite a bit in common.

If there are others who say that you're too conservative, then perhaps you're getting close!

Love to hear how you understand sola Scriptura at some stage. Have you blogged on this?

Looney said...

Byron, I feel quite strongly that we need to be as expansive as possible in joining together with other Christians, particularly with respect to the Evangelical agenda. An obsession with the other immediate political issues divides.

My theory is that when Jesus sent the disciples out 2x2, he paired up Simon the Zealot with Matthew the tax collector. It is good if polar opposites on politics can come together to proclaim Christ as Lord.

byron said...

Looney, I agree re being expansive: too much friendly fire going around.

What is the Evangelical agenda?

Love the idea about Simon and Levi slugging it out as they pounded the pavement, or lack of it. Tying terms like 'Evangelical' to a particular political agenda is indeed a risky business. But, then again, if we remain only on generalities, do we miss out on any chance of being right at all? Specificity is dangerous: you might be wrong. Generality is deadly: you'll never be right. Merold Westphal has a great discussion of this in the final chapters of Suspicion and Faith.

Does the proclamation of Jesus as Lord sometimes necessitate certain political outcomes? Indeed, can the claim be coherent without this? If Jesus is Lord, then Caesar (or any of his contemporary incarnations) isn't. The early Christians were not simply 'good Roman citizens', their preaching was taken to be claiming what it actually was: a subversive counter-empire. Rome was right to fear Christ.

But have I digressed?

Looney said...

"what is the Evangelical agenda?"

perhaps the "famous fourfold criteria"?

"Does the proclamation of Jesus as Lord sometimes necessitate certain political outcomes?"

Peter and John replied, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard."

Beyond this, I think there are many passionately held political views that need to be let go of (at least temporarily) for the sake of unity. For example, many Christians are compelled by their conscience to speak out against torture by the US. Others are equally compelled by their conscience to speak out about the trashing of the US government as it tries to bring order to a civil war situation. How can we possibly put a stop to the genocide in Darfur and elsewhere if every attempt to stop civil wars is condemned by our brothers and sisters?

Perhaps the first step is recognizing that Christians can sometimes be driven in opposite directions by their conscience. Anyway, I hope to learn much more about this by looking at blogs like yours.

byron said...

Looney, are you suggesting that the US govt be allowed to torture people in order to 'bring order to a civil war'? When has torture ever been able to do such a thing? Isn't it precisely Christians who know that Jesus is Lord who are free from having to either worship or condemn their government, but who can both criticse the idolatry of patriotism/nationalism and suggest more humane and creative ways forward? Unless the efforts, even the best efforts, of governments are lovingly criticised by Christians, we are failing to proclaim Christ as Lord, to bear testimony to the victory of life over death.

I agree that consciences can be picked by different aspects of an issue, that is part of what being a body means: thank God we are not all left hands, or right hands! The solution is not to put aside those differences in order to proclaim Christ, but to learn from each other's insight into the mind of Christ as we search the Scriptures - in order that we might continue to proclaim Christ's victory over all powers, including our own governments!

Looney said...

No, I am not suggesting torture. What I am suggesting is that there are standards that are so high regarding making sure the US never commits a crime against humanity that it effectively precludes the US from ever stopping a terrorist or a genocidal maniac. Given the amount of false data pumped into the media by all sides, there is going to be some very large gaps in how people view things.

Regarding drugs, we are at the point where the constitutional standards for proof in the US are so high that we can only fight the drug war in south America - or else legalize drugs and face a hyperepidemic of addiction. Good intentions sometimes have nasty consequences.

We should remember that Churchhill was considered a maniac in the 1930's for opposing disarmament. By 1939, he was considered a genius. Stalin was considered a nice guy by the large majority of the western elite until Solzhenitsyn spoiled the fun.

byron said...

Good intentions sometimes have nasty consequences.
Precisely - and so the grander the utopian vision for a new world order, the more suspicious we (as Christians who believe in God's coming new order) should be. We should aim for penultimate, partial solutions lest we indeed make a 'brave new world'.

there are standards that are so high regarding making sure the US never commits a crime against humanity that it effectively precludes the US from ever stopping a terrorist or a genocidal maniac.
Do you really think that is the case? Does the Geneva Convention hamstring governments from doing their duty?

Given the amount of false data pumped into the media by all sides, there is going to be some very large gaps in how people view things.
Yes, this is why it is important to access a range of media, and for Christians to dialogue across partisan lines. Thanks for continuing this conversation!

I agree that Churchhill had remarkable foresight and that a wimpy toleration/isolationist policy is both myopic and uncaring. All I suggest is that there are other ways of pursuing justice than torture and unilateral preemptive strikes. Seeking justice requires more than the barrel of a gun.

Looney said...

And the Christian Right needs to learn this:

'Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the LORD Almighty.