Don’t give up on “evangelical” too quickly

I’ve recently heard quite a few people explain why they no longer like to refer to themselves as “evangelicals.” The label has come to be associated with all sorts of things that people find objectionable or just plain bothersome. As TC explains in his recent post, he’s not excited about the term because he thinks that it has become a term of exclusion – determining who is “in” vs. who is “out.” Others object because of its association with biblical literalism, conservative (Republican) politics, a particular social agenda, middle-class white Christianity, and so on. Given all of this baggage, many people are ready to jettison the term and find some other way to describe themselves.

While I can understand the sentiment, I’m not about to give up yet. I think “evangelical” is a powerful word with a long history that accurately captures much of what I want to affirm. Here are just a few of my reasons for holding onto this word:

  • It contains in its very root an affirmation of the “evangel,” the Gospel. Thus, it has its center where it belongs.
  • It has a long and proud history dating back (at least) to the Reformation as a declaration of those who were rising in defense of the Gospel, into the 18th century Wesleyan revivals as a description of those who affirmed the life-transforming power of the Gospel, into the socially active evangelicalism of the 19th century and its affirmation that a Gospel-vision must include the whole world, and finally into the 20th century with the rise of neo-evangelicalism and its affirmation that you can be theologically conservative while remaining actively engaged in the world.
  • I know of no other term that can adequately pull together the unique combination of influences that make up evangelicalism: pietistic, puritanical (in both its best and worst senses), revivalistic (also in both its best and worse senses), activist, etc. There’s good and bad in all of these influences, but if you’re and evangelical (even if you prefer not to admit it in public), they’re all a part of your background. And, the term “evangelical” has long been used to describe people who stand within this broad stream of influence.
  • It has global significance. There are Christians around the world who openly affirm their “evangelical” identity. Even though the term has become problematic in certain Western, particularly American, contexts, it still accurately portrays the Christian identity of a wide swath of global Christianity. Indeed, a think many of the criticisms of “evangelical” reflect a historically and globally limited perspective on what the term actually means.

I’m sure I could come up with a few more if I really thought about it. But, those are the most important reasons for me. Sure, “evangelical” comes with quite a bit of baggage in many places. But, can you think of any religiously meaningful term that doesn’t? And, I’m not going to give up on a theologically meaningful, historically significant, and globally vibrant term, just because people today misconstrue, misunderstand, and misuse it. As Roger Olson recently said,

I don’t give up on good labels easily; I prefer to try to invest them with positive meaning rather than simply discard them because of misconceptions in the popular mind.

Shouldn’t Christian spirituality have something to do with the Gospel?

In a post over at Patheos today, Bruce Epperly suggests that the movie Eat, Pray, Love should serve as an invitation for moderate and progressive Christians to take the spiritual journeys of people more serious. (By the way, is there a more obnoxious label for any group than “progressive”? Is everyone else “regressive”?)

I believe the film and book upon which it is based present an invitation to moderate and progressive Christians to take the spiritual journeys of people more seriously in preaching, program, and outreach. We have not highlighted either our spirituality or theology in ways broadly accessible to the public.

Although I very much disagree that “the quest for self-awareness” depicted in this movie is the quest that “is at the heart of the human adventure,” I actually want to focus on the conclusions that he draws in the second half of the article. Contending that we need to make Christian spirituality more “broadly accessible,” he suggests that moderate and progressive Christians should do three things:

  1. Present a a vision of God that is more accessible. Apparently we’re only supposed to highlight the aspects of God’s character that people will like.
  2. Provide practices that that deepen people’s spirituality. And he leads off here with “easy-to-learn meditative techniques.” Really? Is what you want to highlight in fostering deeper Christian spirituality? No worship, sacraments, Word, Spirit, community, or any of the other things so important to Christian spirituality?
  3. Awaken persons to the connection between heart, hands, and mind. Apparently fluffy spirituality works as long as you help people at the same time.

Maybe I’m being a little too harsh. It was, after all, a very brief article. But I’m picky. If you’re going to talk about how to deepen the spiritual life of God’s people, how to communicate the wonderful “adventure” that is the Christian life, how to communicate to the world what Christian spirituality is all about, you must begin with the Gospel. Apart from the Gospel, spirituality becomes just another “technique” for achieving “self-discovery.” Fortunately, there’s much more to being a Christian than that.

I really like a lot of what’s going on over at Patheos. They’ve had some great discussions recently on a number of interesting issues. This one, unfortunately, was not one of the highlights.

On learning to appreciate J.D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye

Image by Alberto Ollo via Flickr

John Mark Reynolds has a very interesting reflection today on the summer that he spent learning to appreciate J. D. Salinger. He confesses that he never really learned to enjoy Salinger as a young man (I’ve had a similar experience), but that things were different this time around.

Why? Partly it was because my childhood was too happy for me to enjoy the books. It is an unfortunate truth of my life that I loved my parents, my country, my school, most of my teachers, and enjoyed almost every minute of childhood. Seeing the troubles of the world and shouldering some well-earned shame, brought on by my own grievous fault, has cured me of that inability.

So, basically he’s learned to appreciate Salinger because he’s now seen enough of the world to understand the sorrow and longing that lie at the heart of Salinger’s writing.

There is a longing at the heart of all Salinger. The young men and women at the center of the book want to be good. They wish to save children from danger, the meaning of the “catcher in the rye” image, by snatching them from a decayed culture. But Salinger never, so far as I can see, tells us to what they will be saved.

Thus, Salinger exemplified a writer frustrated with life, desiring hope and meaning but unable to find it.

The whole post is well worth reading.

I think I’m having a bad influence on my daughter

My nine-year-old daughter just finished showing me the rather complex log house that she built on our family room floor. Halfway through the description, she tells me that one of the rooms is the jail that she built for the “bad people.” Somewhat surprised, I ask, “Why do you need a jail for bad people in your house?” Her answer: “To mock them.”

Flotsam and jetsam (8/25)

Yet another reason Portland is awesome = Mario Kart bike lanes

I wonder what happens if you run over one of the power ups with your car?


Flotsam and jetsam (8/24)

I’m off to a faculty retreat this morning, so just some quick links today.

Neo, meet Scott Pilgrim

Here’s the mashup of The Matrix and Scott Pilgrim that you’ve been waiting for even if you didn’t know it. Geeks everywhere should be very pleased.

Book giveway – Moo’s commentary on Romans

For some reason, I seem to have two copies of Douglas Moo’s The Epistle to the Romans from the NICNT series. At just over 1,000 pages, I can’t figure out how I managed to end up with two of them. But I did. And, being the cheapskate wise steward that I am, I was going to sell the extra copy. Then I realized that there might be some interest out there in a book like this and that it would be good for me to spread the wealth instead. So, I’m going to give it away. (But don’t tell God that I’m doing it publicly. I want to score some rewards in heaven for my generosity while I’m at it.)

As usual, the rules are simple. If you’d like a chance to win the book, here’s what you do (UPDATE – you only need to do one of the following, though you can do more if you choose):

  • Blog about it and link to this post
  • Link to the post from Twitter and let me know in the comments
  • Link to the post from Facebook and let me know in the comments
  • Comment on this post and indicate that you want the book
  • Make a video of yourself on a busy street, dressed like a Roman citizen, explaining to random pedestrians why the book of Romans is important. Post the video on YouTube and leave a comment here.

You can enter as many different ways as you’d like (bonus points for the YouTube video) and increase your odds of winning. I’ll accept entries through September 15, and then randomly select a winner.

Bad parenting tip of the day

From the NY Post, a Texas father has decided to punish his daughter for breaking her curfew by placing an ad in the paper offering her services as a free babysitter.

I don’t know about you, but this generally is not how my wife and I find people to babysit our daughters.