Being Post Evangelical

Saturday, July 26, 2008

I've been trying over the past few years to figure out how to describe my faith. It seems a lot of others are on that same journey through the "evangelical wilderness" not really feeling at home in the traditional molds, but not knowing exactly where they belong either. I'm not conservative, but I am equally not liberal, and in todays polarized culture where you are either one or the other, that puts me in the category of nowhere.

Many people have responded to this with a shift in terminology. They see that calling themselves evangelical and even Christian has a negative association that they want to distance themselves from and so they come up with new terms like "follower of Jesus" or even "follower in the way of Jesus" (that's FITWOJ for short, very catchy indeed). Others have left evangelicalism for the orthodox church, the mainline church, the catholic church, the emergent church, and so on. I never felt I could do that. As much as I struggled with it, I felt that this embarrassing family was, like it or not, my own family. It was my home, and I felt inauthentic anywhere else. Yet I did not feel at home in my dysfunctional evangelical family either, kind of like how many of us feel at our own biological families over the holidays when we cringe at the awful things uncle Larry says.

I have tried putting a good face on evangelicalism by my own witness, trying to broaden people's view of what it means to be evangelical, showing them that it can be thoughtful and compassionate. The basic line I took - and I think it is one an awful lot of people take - is that yes there are a few wackos out there that give us all a bad name, angry hurtful people with a pulpit and a TV camera, but the vast majority of us are really pretty loving people. "On the whole evangelicalism is good," I would argue, "it's just a few bad apples". I don't think I can get off that easy now. I think there are many things that are fundamentally wrong with my own evangelical faith, places where we have strayed from the Gospel and become idolatrous in adopting values of our country and culture that are diametrically opposed to the Gospel and what Jesus stood for. I could string out a laundry list of these, and I'm sure you could too. I don't want to defend that or even white wash it.

So I am post-evangelical. Not 'post' in the sense of being 'anti' evangelical or 'past' evangelical. I still very much affirm all the core beliefs of evangelicalism - I am an evangelical. But I think our faith needs to reform itself back into a faith that authentically arises directly out of the Gospel. A big part of that recovery of an authentic evangelicalism has been in looking at my own church heritage and history. Like most evangelicals my understanding of the last 2000 years of church history used to look something like this:

Book of Acts . . . . . . . . . Luther . . . . . . . . . now.

What I found though as I studied history is that my own evangelical faith has a rich tradition beginning with German pietism, continuing into Methodism and the First and Second Great Awakenings, and then into Pentecostalism - not only of stressing the importance of being transformed through a vibrant relationship with God, but also of a deep commitment to social justice and the poor. For hundreds of years loving Jesus and caring for the poor were inseparable. That's not to say that these 'golden years' of evangelicalism were without their own problems of course. I don't want to idealize the past. But I have found that understanding more about where we have come from can help us to figure out where we should be going now, and what authentically following Jesus might look like in our time.

For me being post-evangelical (or if you prefer new-evangelical) means that I affirm that I am an evangelical, and at the same time that my own evangelical faith has in many ways taken a major wrong turn and seriously needs to deeply seek out what radically loving and following Jesus might look like.

I remember when I first visited Germany we were at the Gedaechniskirche in the center of Berlin. This is a church that has been deliberately left as it was after the war - a huge gaping hole ripped into it by a bomb - as a remembrance of Germany's role in WWII. I remember speaking to the pastor of that church and him asking me to forgive him and his people for what they had done. I was taken aback at first since this pastor could not have been more than 4-years-old when it all happened. Yet there he was, taking responsibility for the deeds of his own people, and repenting in the midst of that war-torn cathedral. I hope I can be a bit like him now, because I am an evangelical, and I need to ask your forgiveness.

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At 5:45 PM, Blogger -blessed holy socks, the non-perishable-zealot said...

"Keep it pithy, son," God sed to Jesus before His descent; and, believe-it-or-not, Satan HAD to bow TO Christ after His Abyssfull journey in OUR humility --- I'm just a dude who loves Jesus. Que cera cera. Eye know where I'm going 'apres la mort', after this woeful, lifelong demise. Are you? If you ain't sure, due to the superSILLYous vanity which we all fall into, take the gorgeous, magnanimous invitation.

At 12:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i somehow want the freedom be as stupid as the people who made the rules, yet at the same time get some benefit from watching the game those rules created and learning from it.

i think you lose the chance to gain the benefit by labeling yourself "post".

what's weird for me is that we have the have a name for what we are. that way we don't have to actually listen to each other, we can use what little listening we have accidentally already done, over and over again. saves a lot of time i guess.

At 2:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a first-time reader, but I will be back. Ya gotta like someone who quotes both Alister McGrath and Jon Foreman from Switchfoot.

I think you've articulated here what a lot of people are feeling, but finding it hard to put into words. I think we who grew up Evangelical -- I'm adopting the recent encouragement to spell it with a capital E -- are grateful for a heritage that introduced us to the ways of God and the person of Jesus Christ.

But there's no denying that there was a certain simplicity to those times; so many things were either black or white; there were so many superficialities. Thankfully, we are moving forward. I like the Church -- another capital letter -- the way it is today. I prefer local churches run by 20-somethings than those that are locked in tradition. I wouldn't turn back the hands of time for anything.

So like you, I'm definitely post-something!

At 9:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michael Toy you old salt! We were just speaking about you and wondering what you were up to. I heard "Muse" by Picture Atlantic and was blown away. They are amazing! I'm guessing that Undignified Labs had its fingers in that soup...

I could agree with you about not wanting to reduce others to a label, but I think that when one is speaking of themselves as I was, this changes everything. It is of vital importance to understand who we are in our context and history. Labeling others is bad, but labeling oneself is vitally important. To divorce our own self-understanding from that context would greatly inhibit self-awareness.

I also do still embrace all of those "rules" I think. I embrace the fundamental core doctrines of evangelicalism, but at the same time see that they have been applied without grace making them null and void from a biblical perspective (1 Cor 13, 1 Jn, etc... note that like a true dyed in the wool evangelical I unapologetically quote the Bible here to prove my point). So that puts me in the awkward place of being an Evangelical, but also seeing that there is a lot of need for reform here.

I think it is very similar to how I felt living abroad. From the distance gained from living overseas I could see a lot of the problems with my own country. I could see how we looked from the outside, and it was not pretty. But I also found that like it or not, I was an American and always will be. That puts me in the funny position of being not quite at home anywhere. In the same way I am an "expatriate Evangelical".

At 11:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi Paul,

Yeah I think my theology has been just as influenced by musicians like Switchfoot, Charlie Peacock, and the Alter Boys as it has been by McGrath or Moltmann, if not more!

I like the idea of spelling Evangelical with a big E since it recognizes it as something specifically rooted, which seems more humble.

At 5:53 AM, Anonymous Esra the Ranter said...

One of the tenants of the Reformation was that that Reformed Christianity was always REFORMING..........

At 10:46 AM, Blogger Dimitri said...

Hi Derek,

I grew up with a similar evangelical background. Recently, I have decided to go one step further and become ex-evangelical. No, I have not denied the Messiah. But this group of evangelical churches has proven both in history and present day that it is NOT representative of the true faith of the Sacred Scriptures. Indeed, it seems we have done the very OPPOSITE of Yahweh´s commands to love Him wholeheartedly and love our neighbours.

For example, the Catholics persecuted the Protestants when they broke off from the main flock. Then the Protestants persecuted the Anabaptists. And they all came over to the New World and slaughtered millions of indigenous peoples. After, they/we marginalised these same people until this day, taking the best land and leaving the table scraps (which are now being sought for the ground´s oil and minerals a la Avatar-style). Then, we kidnapped aboriginal kids from their families and communities and placed them in residential schools where their culture, language and humanity was beaten out of them.

And recently, the US has put up with 8 years of rule under the godless and cruel taskmaster Dick Cheney with his puppet spokesman George Bush Jr. And Canada is suffering under years of Stephen Harper and the Conservatives now. Both Republicans and Conservatives in the respective countries were largely supported by evangelicals, many of whom blindly follow their leaders who decided that ruling churches, denominations and parachurch organisations is not enough: they want the country.

Well, their Christ is not the Messiah of the Bible. They have turned the Prince of Peace into the Prince of War. Militarism, oppression of the poor, fanatical nationalism, discrimination against Muslims, atheists and other groups, the worship of Mammon, all these things are proof that this religion has turned into one non-stop Woodstock festival of godlessness. We fulfill Romans 1 and especially Romans 2. Jeremiah, Isaiah, Amos, Peter, Jude, John on Patmos Island, etc. are all pointing their fingers at us. The name of Yahweh is blasphemed among the nations because of us.

What we need to do is drop out of this corrupt system, and first purge ourselves from the deceit of the Matrix. Then form groups in homes, restaurants, coffee shops, office buildings and parks where we can seek the true God of the Scriptures, and love the widow and orphan in their distress. Love the single parents in our communities. Love the bullied homosexual students. Love the dropouts of society. Love Muslims and tell them that we don´t believe the hype that they are all terrorists.

Love First Nations/Native Americans and restore justice in this land, getting out of their way so that they can rebuild healthy communities, families and individuals. Love atheists and thank them for pointing out where we´ve gone wrong, especially on the social and political plain. Love even the misguided corporate hacks who desperately need an alternative to the love of money and power. Love our neighbours as ourselves . . .

Don´t ever think you can reform this beast of evangelicalism. But dropping out completely is not the answer. You need to reform your own hearts first, then build new communities of faith outside the bounds of Christendom. We need a new brand of Messiah-followers who will stand against injustice. We need multiple communities of Scripture-doers all over Turtle Island (an aboriginal term for North America; just look at the map). Drop out and re-form. What will this new religion that is de-Constantine-ised look like? Only you can tell us the answer.

Check out Isaiah 61!

Cheers, Dimitri;

At 1:32 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Amen Dimitri!! That was beautiful.


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