In or Out? Who decides the boundaries of Evangelicalism?

hulahoops4It’s a serious question.

Who decides the boundaries of Evangelicalism? Who decides who is ‘evangelical’ and who isn’t? Who decides who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’?

I ask this, because I have read a number of posts around the blogosphere over the last week or so that claim that so-and-so is no longer ‘evangelical’, or that someone should not call themselves ‘evangelical’ anymore.

Is the edge of what is considered acceptable evangelical behaviour being hardened – are the boundaries of the ‘evangelical’ set being fixed more firmly into position?

Whether you are ‘in’ or ‘out’ seems to be very important at the more ‘traditional’ end of the evangelical tent – I’ve recently read comment by Kevin Miller in Leadership Journal on Rob Bell, Brian Maclaren and Don Miller’s decision to ‘give up’ church (which has now been removed), and Brian Maclaren gracious response, Adrian Warnock’s pronouncement that Steve Chalke is “no longer an Evangelical by any realistic definition”, and now all the fuss over the World Vision decision to employ gay and lesbian Christians who are legally married – and then its decision to change its mind on the matter.

I can’t help but feel that lines are being drawn.

And not, it seems, lines drawn on the traditional theological areas of contention, such as the nature of the atonement, the centrality of the cross, methods of evangelism, the conversion experience and the ‘social gospel’, but on new issues that have become important within a wider post-modern cultural context, namely, the value of church structure and community, the role of women, LGBT rights and the ‘inerrancy’ of Scripture (what ever that actually means).

Benjamin L Corey on his Patheos blog yesterday made interesting comments and observations about the World Vision controversy, reflecting on what it means for the wider evangelical community:

“Although it may not have always felt this way, Evangelical Christianity was a relatively large bubble that had room for a range of perspectives. Fundamentalist Evangelicals, Mainstream Evangelicals, and Progressive/Emergent Evangelicals were able to all be in the same space – though there was usually friction in areas of overlap, for a time it was big enough for everyone.”

Over the last few years, evangelicalism has become more and more centre set rather than bounded set – with boundaries becoming more and more blurred around a main central point of agreement, namely the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, His atoning sacrifice on the cross, and His bodily resurrection.

But this now seems to be changing, as Corey explains:

“Yesterday however, we saw a merger between mainstream evangelicals and fundamentalist evangelicals. Together, they were able to merger to the point that it fractured the [evangelical] circle, sending the rest of us [progressive and emergent evangelicals] outside of what used to be a diverse evangelical tribe.

[….] What we saw the death of yesterday obviously wasn’t the theological category of “evangelical” but the culture of “evangelicalism”, it was a death of the tribe as we knew it. The fundamentalist and the formerly ‘main stream’ evangelicals drew hard lines in the sand, merged together, and made it clear that they are not interested in big tents or leaving room for the “other”.”

Interestingly, he drew parallels to Jewish Temple worship in New Testament times:

“Basically, if evangelicalism had a Court of the Gentiles, the other two groups [fundamentalist and mainstream evangelicals] just set up a bunch of tables and told us [progressive and emergent evangelicals] to go wait outside.”

In other words, the fundamentalist and mainstream evangelical ‘elites’ have decided that they want to control who is allowed ‘in’, and who should be left ‘out’, of the evangelical tent, and they are using cultural issues, rather than traditional theological issues, to draw the line.

As Corey concludes his reflection on the pressure put on World Vision to withdraw its diversity policy with regard to employing married gay and lesbian Christians:

“As a result, Evangelicalism as we knew it, died. Instead of affirming the trinity and the inspiration of scripture in order to be called an evangelical and leaving all other theological debates open for charitable disagreement, the New Evangelicals have now added neutrality on same sex marriage something that must be disavowed before signing on. When leaders wished World Vision “farewell” and declared this “apostasy“, they made the lines dark and clear: you can’t be an evangelical if you don’t agree with them.

It was a requirement that didn’t need to be added and has at best, created a “New Evangelicalism” with very little room for diversity, let alone outsiders.

It’s clear they’ll now go in their own direction– without us. Not by our choice, but by theirs. Not because we left, but because they left.”

You can start to see what will happen in this ‘New Evangelicalism’.  Soon, progressives and emergents will not be welcome anymore – opinions will harden, the questioning of central dogma will no longer be allowed, those who disagree will be asked to leave, or asked to stop using the evangelical ‘brand’.

It also shows that these ‘New Evangelicals’ have missed the cultural move away from authoritarian and static structures to relational and fluid structures – they are mixing up holding to theological truth with maintaining a cultural expression – saying you can only be theologically true if you stick to our fixed cultural understanding – hold to our traditional position or you are can no longer identify yourself as evangelical.

I think this is a mistake – and once again shows that evangelicals are as influenced by the worldly culture as anyone else – it’s a power trip, a land grab, trying to put a wall around land that doesn’t belong to them.

Mainly because it belongs to Jesus.

It’s His church, not theirs, and they need to wake up to the fact that maybe, just maybe, He wants ‘in’ those that they want ‘out’.

Simon’s Cat: Cat and Mouse

Another new cartoon about Simon’s Cat – wonderful!  I always relate to these short cartoons, because they are so well observed.  Our cat, Trevor, does this all the time when I am working – and more than once he has turned off my computer by ‘accidentally’ hitting the off switch….

A Review: ‘With’ by Skye Jethani

With_240_360_book

If you have ever visited the ‘Out of Ur’ blog, then you should be familiar with the easy writing style of Skye Jethani.  For me, he writes with his reader in mind, making sure that he carefully walks the line between communicating facts and providing satisfaction, and as such, I always find his writing a joy to read, and his new book, ‘With’, is no exception.

His stated purpose for the book is to examine the reality of how we as Christians often approach God, and then to consider a better way that ‘brings life and freedom’.  He does this by distilling the essence of the Christian experience into a series of postures, described by using the prepositions ‘under’, ‘over’, ‘from’, ‘for’ and ‘with’ , explaining how they relate to one another, and ultimately, how they influence our relationship with and attitude towards God.

It is an easy to read, but challenging book, very much in the style of authors like Philip Yancey and John Ortberg, using illustration to good effect in order to communicate wisdom, insight and truth in a style that everyone can understand and enjoy.  However, I must confess that at times I found it hard going, with some repetition and maybe a little too much padding in places, especially in the first half, but thankfully, this didn’t spoil or reduce the impact of the book.

Overall, I think ‘With’ is a good book, and one that is well worth reading, but be aware, it will challenge your Christian worldview, and make you think deeply about how you relate to God. As for me, I found it inspiring, and at times felt like Jethani had written the book personally for me as it spoke clearly into my current condition.  My prayer is that it will do the same for you.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the US Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Carl Trueman: Consumerism and the church

I_want

There is an exert of an interview with Carl Trueman, professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, on the Q portal which I though interesting, so I have reproduced it in full below:

Q: You argue at great length about the negative impact of consumerism on the Church. How has it influenced us?

A: In economies that depend upon people buying things, there is a need on the one hand to instill the notion that, in some sense, the meaning of life is to be found in the acquisition of goods, or, perhaps to be more precise, the process by which one acquires goods; on the other hand, there is a need to constantly recreate markets or find new ones. The impact of this is huge and I cannot give an exhaustive account here, but the following would be examples, in no particular order.

In society in general:

First, it fuels the the infantilisation of society. Youth is a huge market, and the selling of goods to such a market not only appears to have fostered a view among young people that they are of central importance and much wiser than their elders, it has also created a situation where the desire to be young and trendy percolates through all age brackets. That flies in the face of biblical teaching, where a premium is generally placed on age and experience.

Second, it encourages huge levels of personal debt.  Economists know that a certain level of debt is good: it oils the wheels of the economy, fuels creativity, helps with social mobility, etc. But unsecured debt linked simply to purchasing can very quickly grow to a level where it is actually hindering all of those things. When the values of the culture link status to possessions, and when credit is easy to obtain, the recipe for bad debt is clear; and that, of course, is a large part of the economic problem, both macro and micro, with which we are facing today.

Third, and more subtly, it produces notions of truth and ethics that are as malleable as the market place.  By placing individual purchasing power at the heart of the system, public morals are made dangerously vulnerable to all manner of transformation. The right of private choice, the centrality of consent, and the need to avoid hindering the economy are all related to consumerism. We see this in the arguments in California about how anti-gay marriage legislation is bad because it impacts the economy by discouraging gay tourism; similar arguments can be, and have been, made about abortion. If it makes my life better and does not hurt anybody else, how can it be wrong (see the current debate about the Columbia professor who had an incestuous relationship with his adult daughter)? And if it helps the economy as well, surely it must be right?

In the church all this is evident in a number of phenomena: the obsession with youth culture; a model of ministry that judges success in terms of numbers, not faithfulness; a culture which disregards the past; a dislike of anything approaching discipline, as the church is there for my needs, to scratch where I am itching. When church is just one more product to buy or leave on the shelf, then marketing, not theology, become the driving forces in her life.

Any thoughts or comments?

Read the original article here.

Reading In Progress: August 2011

Just in case you wondered, here is the list of books that I am reading at the moment:

With_cover

I am in the middle of reading Skye Jethani’s new book ‘With’ as part of the Nelson Book Sneeze programme – so watch out for a full review in the next couple of weeks.

Surprised_by_hope_cover

There always seem to be one or other of Tom Wright’s (or NT Wright’s) books in my reading list – and I am currently working my way through ‘Surprised by Hope’ again, having read it once before.  This is a brilliant book, easy to read and full of revelation and Spirit-filled reflection on the subject of heaven and our future hope.  Highly recommended.

Darwins_pious_idea

I am also slowing working my way through Conor Cunningham’s recent published academic work ‘Darwin’s Pious Idea’.  This is not an easy book to read – very technical and aimed at the academic community – but it is worth the effort, since Cunningham, whilst carefully walking the delicate line between science and theology, puts together a well reasoned argument for looking at the evolution versus creation debate from a completely different angle.  Hard going but worth it!

Progressive_patriot_cover

Billy Bragg’s ‘The Progressive Patriot’ was recommended to me by a friend, and am really enjoying Bragg’s reflection on his life and politics.  I am only a few chapters into the book so far – but the man talks a lot of sense for me – especially in light of the recent riots across the UK.  This book is literary ‘Marmite’ – depending on your policital leanings you will love it or hate it. 

A Surprise Call from an Old Friend

Circle_of_friends

I had a lovely surprise yesterday in combination with a really weird coincidence.  I have an old friend, as in one that I have known for a long time, although admittedly, he is getting on a bit.  I met him at church when I was at University in Leeds in the early 1980’s and up until the last few years, I have kept in touch with him and seen him reasonably regularly.  But since moving up here to Northumberland, I have sort of lost touch.  We send Christmas cards, and he visited us once about 5 years ago, but other than that we haven’t really had much contact with him, much to my shame.

However, over the last few weeks, I’ve been feeling that I should contact him and get him to visit us.  As it happens, I am on business in Leeds next week, and am staying over for the night in a hotel not that far away from where my friend lives.  So I decided I would ring him and see if he was available to go for a meal and catch up.

The thing is, and this is what is really weird, I was going to ring him last night, but he rang me before I actually got round to it.  I haven’t spoken to him for years, and he rings me on the same evening I was going to ring him – how about that for a strange coincidence!

But wait, it gets even stranger…..

The reason he rang was because at his church in Leeds the day before he’d had the opportunity to talk with a visitor who was just moving into Leeds to start a new job.  It turns out that this visitor had previously been in the youth group at our church in Morpeth when I was leader a number of years ago.

So my friend rang me to tell me that he had met someone who knew me. I know it can be a bit of a cliche, but sometimes it really does feel like we live in a ‘small world’.

Anyway, the good news is that my old friend is coming to visit us in Northumberland in a few weekends time.  How good is that?  It will be great to see him and catch up on what has been happening in our lives since we were last together. Life is busy for all of us and it’s so easy to lose contact with people – but isn’t it great when you get back in touch with a friend that maybe you haven’t heard from for a while?

How about you?  Do you have any old friends that you haven’t seen for a while?  Maybe you should contact them, because you never know what blessing might come with it.