I have to admit that I’m getting a bit tired of all the “evangelicalism” bashing that’s going on these days. Evangelicalism, however you define that term, is far from perfect and absolutely needs to be critiqued, challenged, and corrected on a regular basis. But, it doesn’t need any more unfair characterizations and unhelpful stereotyping. It already gets enough of that.
But, Kurt Willems posted a piece yesterday called “You Might Be an Evangelical Reject If….” And, he went on to offer a lengthy list of things that might describe you if you’ve experienced the kind of rejection and marginalization that he apparently thinks is characteristic of mainstream evangelicalism. However, as I read through the list, I noticed two major problems.
First, almost everything on the list describes me! Here are just a few examples:
- You’re uncomfortable calling other branches of Christianity “apostate.”
- You read theologians from all across the spectrum.
- You think that science and scripture both reveal God’s truth in complementary ways.
- You think that what we believe about the so called “end times” actually matters for how we do missiontoday.
- You endorse someone that has been deemed a heretic by apprising.org
- You think that postmodern philosophy helps theology more than it hurts it.
I could go on, but you can read the rest of the list yourself. The list only has a couple of items that definitely wouldn’t describe me, though there are several that I’d word differently. So, according to Willems, I have really good reason to think that I’m an evangelical reject! Of course, that’s a bit of a problem given that I’m a professor of theology and academic dean at a major evangelical seminary, I’m a card-carrying member of the Evangelical Theological Society (well, not really since we don’t get cards), and I serve without problem at an evangelical (Baptist) church. So, it doesn’t really sound like I’ve been rejected by evangelicalism at all.
The reason I identify with so many of the things on his list is because he’s taken many of the features that have made evangelicalism so great throughout the years (e.g. theological creativity, interdenominational cooperation and dialog, social action, emphasis on mission, etc.) and he’s turned them into things that mark you out as an evangelical reject. But these aren’t what exclude you from being an evangelical. Historically speaking, many of them are the very things that make you an evangelical! (See also Don’t Give up on “Evangelical” Too Quickly.)
Second, the rhetoric of the list subtly paints evangelicalism in rather unfair terms. To see this, let’s read between the lines and reword a few items from the list a bit:
You might be an evangelical if…
- You only read theologians with whom you agree.
- You are never uncomfortable with theological “hot button” issues and/or you are unable to live with cognitive dissonance.
- You think eschatology is irrelevant for mission today.
- You use the word inerrancy because you like rigid definitions and modern categorical impositions.
- You think women should be silent in the church.
- You never drink alcohol.
- You believe that the rapture means we don’t have to take care of the planet.
- You would never even consider voting democratic.
- You would never hang out with gay people.
That’s the flipside of Willem’s list. But, is that evangelicalism? No. That’s a caricature of one small slice of the evangelical pie. To take any movement, offer a negative caricature of it’s worst stereotypes, and use it to critique the entire movement is simply unfair.
So, it really seems that the target of Willem’s piece is particular branch of evangelicalism (probably the neo-Calvinists that he references in his second point), and he hasn’t even been entirely fair to that one small slice. There probably are legitimate criticisms to be leveled in that direction. But, let’s not paint with such a broad brush. The rest of us don’t like getting paint in our hair.