Tuesday, June 22, 2010

On being evangelical: a question of loyalty

The gospel is a critical agent in human hearts and history. To be evangelical (to be a gospel person) is to affirm God's good world through cross and resurrection: that is, not simply and straight-forwardly to say "yes" to everything as it is, but to see it through the double lens of cross and resurrection, in which human pride and culture and institutions and traditions and "evangelicalism" (and "post-evangelicalism" and "anti-evangelicalism") are judged and found wanting, but then also raised to God's new life. To be a gospel person is to be against the world, for the world. It will also sometimes mean being against "evangelicalism" for the sake of the gospel. The good news of Jesus doesn't let us sit comfortably where we presently are, but draws us forward into the future promised by the cross and resurrection of Christ. And so to be evangelical means being open to critique, open to new light breaking forth from God's good news, which remains good and remains new. To be evangelical is to accept and offer "critique from within" and to allow my own proud stance of wanting to view things critically from the outside to be itself crucified.

If we belong to God and his coming future, and to the future of this world, we groan at the inadequacies of this world and at the inadequacies of all attempts to anticipate the resurrection of the dead.

This conception of being evangelical is not defined by loyalty to particular cultural traditions or to one party on certain contested social and ethical disputes, far less by loyalty to a particular political movement. It is not even defined by loyalty to the Holy Scriptures, at least not directly. To be evangelical is to be loyal to the Christ who meets us in and with the good news of the kingdom of God and to allow that loyalty to shape all our affections and desires, our fears and hopes, our identity and destiny.


Anthony Douglas said...

I recall, in 4th yr, while working on the first chapter of my project on this very subject, hearing PFJ at the EU 75th shindig. This wasn't quite his topic, but nevertheless, his suggestion that an emphasis on the sovereignty of God was something we evangelicals contribute to the mix.

It led me to argue that 'sovereignty' was the quintessence missing from Bebbington's quadrilateral - it nuances all four of them, but picks up on other definitions as well (Stott's 'committed to the Bible in advance', any number of McGrath's different lists, etc).

Saying loyalty rather than commitment to sovereignty? Worth thinking on. More of a personal response, but does it push his lordship into the background? (As in, I can be loyal to a buffoon if I like.) (Relishing this new freedom, by the way.)

Quibble. 'Remains new'...or remains (ahem) newifying? It's about whether it's subjectively new or objectively new, I guess.

byron smith said...

Perhaps "remains fresh and refreshing"? But then the connection to "news" is lost.

byron smith said...

And I've just come across this, um, old answer from here:

What does it mean to say that Jesus' leadership is always new? Not that he is forever changing his mind, eternally indecisive, but that he is eternally renewing, that his good gifts never become stale. Like the mercies of God, which are new every morning (Lamentations 3.22-23), Jesus' rule never runs out (his kingdom will have no end - Luke 1.33). Ironically, the ever-new is an image of stability. Yet God's redemption is also always the 'new' thing promised in Isaiah 43.18-19. Life from the dead (both literally and metaphorically) is both restoration (continuity with the old) and novel transformation (discontinuity: new!). And so the message of Jesus is good news - it breaks through the dreary depressing sameness of sin with the promise of a new day. Every morning is a reminder of that coming new day, which is already dawning (Romans 13.12).

byron smith said...

Certainly better than this kind of "newness".

gbroughto said...

If you substitute 'the Word' for 'the gospel''Christian' for 'evangelical' and and 'Word' for 'gospel' in your original post it sounds like classic William Stringfellow... which is a complement from me.. but may not be from others ;)

byron smith said...

Yes, I'd affirm this same statement with those substitutions. I used evangelical given the present state of (ab)use of the word for all kinds of strange goals.