According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Monday, May 23, 2011

Why I can't give up the label "Evangelical"

by Roger Olson
posted May 23, 2011

Friends and acquaintances on both the right and the left and nowhere on the theological spectrum (I don’t insist that everyone be somewhere on that spectrum) have asked me why I continue to call myself “evangelical”–given all the problems with that term today.

Well, I respond, what else would I call myself? Just Christian? That label has just as many problems and always gets the response “What kind of Christian?” Protestant? Again, too vague and inclusive. I am both of those, but if I use them alone or in tandem to identify my theological orientation people rightly ask “What kind of Christian and what kind of Protestant?’

All my life I’ve called myself an “evangelical Christian” or, when I was very young but old enough to be aware of these things, knew I was part of a wider Christian community called “evangelical.” To us, evangelical was synonymous with “authentically Christian” as opposed to “nominally Christian.” When I was a teenager deeply involved in Youth for Christ, for example, I knew which churches in our midwest city of about 100,000 people were evangelical in that sense and which were just (in our eyes, anyway) religious clubs. And we knew that some good Christians stayed in their nominally Christian churches which did not make their churches evangelical or them less than fully and authentically Christian. So, it was complicated, but not too complicated.

When did “evangelical” become a problem for me and many others who proudly wore that label for decades? First, when Jerry Falwell began calling himself an evangelical and, second, when the mass media began depicting Falwell and Pat Robertson and people associated with the Religious Right as “the” evangelical–i.e., as the leading spokesmen for the movement.

Again, as with the scandal about the “end of the world,” I blame the media for the good label “evangelical” becoming problematic. I talk to media people fairly often. Just last week, in the run up to the “end of the world” day (May 21) I was interviewed by a local reporter. I mentioned to her the Luther quote about planting a tree today (if he knew the world would end or Christ would return tomorrow). She thought Luther was sometime in the 1800s!

Most stories I see and hear in the media about “evangelicals” are so distorted and uninformed that I can hardly stand to watch them or read them. Most journalists (with a few notable exceptions) have come to use the term for anyone or group they consider religiously fanatical or theocratic.

So, I understand why some of my friends and acquaintances want me to give up the label.

However, I’m stubborn and don’t want to give the media (and fundamentalists) the privilege and power to define good religious labels wrongly. I also don’t know what label I would turn to to begin to define my particular kind of Christianity. Whatever label I use will need some explaining. And it’s just naive to think we can get away from all labeling.

Call me Don Quixote, but I think rescuing “evangelical” from the media and the fundamentalists is worth the attempt.

In the meantime, however, I do have to qualify my particular brand of evangelicalism. So I have used the qualifier “postconservative.” Occasionally, if I know I don’t have time to explain that (!), I’ll just use “progressive.”

All labels have their problems and, to be sure “evangelical” is fraught with them. But I am not giving it up. Instead, I will fight for it. To me, it is virtually synonymous with “God-fearing, Bible-believing, Jesus-loving” Christianity. Of course, that needs unpacking also.

One thing I find helpful when talking to someone or a group with time to listen is to distinguish between the evangelical ethos and the evangelical movement. I see myself as participating in both, but I am more comfortable claiming the evangelical ethos than I am identifying with the evangelical movement– at least as it is viewed by most people.

So, most of the time, when I say I am evangelical I mean I am a Protestant Christian who believes authentic Christianity requires a conversion experience of regeneration and that faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and repentance for sin are necessarily included in that. It cannot be merely an “enlightenment,” so to speak–a new way of thinking.

Of course, much more could be said about the true meaning of evangelical, but my point here is simply that, for me, it is still a good and useful label, but it needs qualifying–just like all one word labels do.

As an aside, I have lately written to Roger Olson and asked how he would understand the term "emergent Christian" or "emerging Christian" to which his reply is that of a "progressive or post-conservative" evangelical Christian, that is, and evangelical Christian who sees the need to update his church and faith and fellowship in line with the postmodernistic times that Christianity has entered into. As with any label, whether "progressive," "post-conservative," "emerging," or "emergent" we should balance those descriptors off with the writer, author, movement, church, association, etc that is utilizing (or abusing) it. Curiously, this can be as applicable to a movement's founder as to his (or her) critics.

For example, I like Rob Bell, but not all things Rob says are things I would be in agreement with. Perhaps I feel he strays a bit from an orthodoxy that doesn't support his statements biblically. Still, I find him very useful in enlightening myself and many others with the shortcomings of "evangelicalism" as much as the "benefits" of an emerging Christianity as he re-interprets the gospel of Jesus within a framework I deem to call "Inauguration Eschatology."

But like Roger says, too often we simply don't understand the content of the terms we freely banter about, and more-often-than-not, we usually misrepresent them. So it is necessary to study and discuss, dialogue and interact with each other over as many issues as is necessary to proper convey Jesus to a lost and sinful world, as much as to ourselves, lost in a wilderness of follies and ideas.

Thus this blog I've created on all things "emergent" (or emerging, or progressive, or post-conservative) as I try to sort things through the various postings I've read and have found helpful to the teaching and illumination of Scriptures. And not just from an "emergent vein," but in the faithful use of an historical orthodoxy from all church ages past, all church leaders, teachers, and preachers past, in the discernment of God's Word. In a word, I wish to "update" our foundational orthodoxy into this present age of man with all of its upheavals, discontents, disappointments, misunderstandings and shortsightedness.

And with that said, I pray that we continue to use our "good senses" praying for Spirit-filled illumination and discernment in the task of following Jesus as best as we can. For ultimately, it takes a fellowship of like-minded, good-hearted, discerning Christians to do this task together, as we examine and expound the truths of God's Word as best as we can understand it, apply it, live it, breath it, believe it, practice it, teach it, share it, testify of it, and be at peace with it in our heart-of-hearts.

- skinhead

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