According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, 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

Thursday, December 19, 2013

An Identity Crisis for the Postmodern Church Today - "Just What Is It?"




Today I thought I would include a review of David Fitch's book, Prodigal Christianity, by a neo-Reformed student who sees himself as sympathetic to, but caught in-between the arguments of, the Emergent Christian and neo-Anabaptist groups (this latter voice is thus represented by the Missio-Alliance organization). Since Relevancy22 was birthed in the hot cauldrons of Emergent Christianity it should be stated immediately that Emergent Christianity was first-and-foremost an ethos and not a movement. And when it did attempt to become a movement it became stillborne on the birthing table largely because of the diversity of its participants which included everything from the evangelical right to the liberal left (an encouraging sign to be sure when considering the reach of the Gospel across all spectrums of religious mankind). However, its ethos (or gospel ethos) lives on as can be seen in many of today's reawakening Christian groups - from the religious right to the religious left - where Jesus has become front-and-center again in doctrine and dogma, faith and belief, practice and piety. Rather than" fizzling out," as the student below suggests, Emergent Christianity has become incorporated into the very blood and veins of the postmodern living church.

Moreover, today's article reviews popular neo-Reformed criticism towards Emergent, and neo-Anabaptist, Christians, and mostly (since this is a Missio-Alliance article), how neo-Reformed Christians wish to see themselves as juxtaposed from their neo-Anabaptist brethren. As an aside, it should be noted that many an Emergent Christian would be sympathetic to the concerns of their close cousins, the Anabaptist's, especially in today's observations by the more traditional (but updated) neo-Reformed movement. You'll note this from the familiar overtones that are recited at length in today's posting:

  • What does God's love mean to us today? (relational theism)
  • How do we go about bearing a generous and compassionate gospel? (church mission)
  • How is our story and God's story meaningful to one another? (narrative theology)
  • How is God Sovereign? (open theism)
  • What about the problem of evil? (theodicy)
  • Is God's Salvation to one or to all? (the Barthian dilemma)
  • Can the Bible still be authoritative without being inerrant? (the problem of inerrancy)
  • Etc.

But there is nothing new in today's reading that any longtime reader of Relevancy22 hasn't read before, thus underscoring my observations that Emergent Christianity lives on in its Christian ethos amongst God's many churches, as evidenced by its renewed emphasis upon: (i) faith-works as versus correctness of belief; (ii) love, over purity of religious dogma; and, (iii) tolerance and compassion versus demarcated boundaries for "proper" Christian thought and lifestyle. For support, Emergent Christianity went to the Gospels (and not Paul where neo-Reformed doctrine lives) to hear afresh Jesus' Sermon on the Mount; His restatement of the Golden rule; His sundry commandments to love thy neighbour; and a plethora of examples showing personal generosity and compassion found in Jesus' many parables (sic, the good Samaritan, the adulteress woman, the prodigal son, and et cetera, many of them aimed squarely at the Jewish religious establishment of His day).

One final observation has been the consistent message here at Relevancy22 for the necessity of today's postmodern Christian (I occasionally prefer the added descriptor, post-evangelic Christian) to let go of unnecessary doctrines such as inerrancy (put forth in 1980 in Chicago at an Evangelical assemblage of schools and theologians) and the evangelical attitude of being anti-everything, as they posture and preen towards self-definition by defining themselves by what they "aren't"... mostly, sectarian cultural groups thinking to regain control of societal laws and mores through forcible indoctrinations by methods of fear, uncertainty, and doubt (the FUD factor, for short. And why not? It worked extremely well for the company Microsoft in its marketing heyday, so why not for modern Christianity as well?).

And that's the nub of it, isn't it? We, as the church, are still attempting to force a modern day version of Christianity onto a post-modern, post-Christian world. What Emergent Christianity came along and did was to let go of this attitude. To accept where people are at in their cultures, thoughts, and beliefs. And to allow the sciences, technologies, and social medias, to guide and inform its evolving idea of what Christianity and the Christian faith means in this day and age. (Many will say you've got it backwards. It needs to be the other way around. But when done you get a deaf and dumb religion unable to communicate its message to the contemporary society around itself). To begin preaching Jesus in a pluralistic, multi-vocal voice into this world's variegated and global societies lost in its own ethos of sin and self-destruction. To admit that the church no longer runs society's political planks-and-platforms but must get on with the job of living out Jesus to a postmodern world in serious doubt and distress. To address the practical issues of injustice and discrimination, environmental rape and pollution, and to visibly declare the church's love for humanity by speech and by platform (think, racist discrimination against LGTBQ's; the injustices of the sex trade; and the discriminatory cultural wars against those cultures and societies different from our own Westernized view of the world) rather than to pound the air waves and church pulpits with self-righteous words of hate and exclusion.
If we are to become stakeholders in the gospel of Christ then let it be on the important issues of speaking in the vernacular to society's needs and wants, and not what we think those needs and wants should be. To become better listeners to our communities... perhaps by beginning with listening to the youth in our area as they speak out their insights and observations - from the elementary school child to the post-college graduate. To hear their concerns, their judgments, their ideas and reflections, laments and complaints, joys and satisfactions, hopes and dreams. Somewhere within the moiling cauldrons of the human heart beats a man, a woman, a child, trying to speak out to the Lord what they need to hear from Him, fail to see in Him, and don't understand about Him or the church.

As the Lord's emissary, the church is to become that mouthpiece for humanity - both to the Lord, and against the Lord - dependent upon the event, the turmoil, the suffering, the gladness, or commemoration. We have much to beseech and question the Lord about. And much to pray and lament about. And much to thank and praise the Lord about. Let us then get about the business of redeeming humanity... and while we are at it, re-teaching ourselves to write and speak better theology than the popular Christianized folklores and platitudes that we have been reading about all too frequently in the headlines. It's out-of-date, irrelevant, meaningless, and pretty much become like white static noise in the background of our heads. No one pays attention to it anymore. And no one cares. And when we do its mocked, criticised, and cursed. So let go of your dogmas and inflexibilities and learn to read, write, and speak, better post-evangelic theology both in word and by deed. Write profound poems. Write insightful prose. Create unnerving plays. Produce new oratorios, concerts, music, and liturgy. Create practical organizations for justice, support, health, healing, and wholeness. Let no one person speak for the whole of humanity anymore unless you and your church can make that speech your own. To assimilate it and adapt it into a post-modern, post-evangelic context for your community-at-large. It will take a global church to do that task and many global hands and hearts. So let us begin that task today in our meager lives, such as they are, and how they are placed, within the communities we live, and breathe, and have our being.

May the Lord's peace be with you this Christmas Advent season and the coming New Year.

R.E. Slater
December 19, 2013

*comments from myself in the article below will be 
highlighted and bracketed [ ].



A Neo-Reformed Review of Prodigal Christianity

by Derek Radney
December 18, 2013

[Review of David E. Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw, Prodigal Christianity: 10 Signposts into the Missional Frontier. Available on Amazon now.]

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Amazon Blurb

An engaging and thoughtful book that guides readers into the frontiers of being a missional Christian.

Prodigal Christianity offers a down-to-earth, accessible, and yet provocative understanding of God's mission of redemption in the world, and how followers of Christ can participate in this work. It speaks into the discontent of all those who have exhausted conservative, liberal, and even emergent ways of being Christian and are looking for a new way forward. It offers building blocks for missional theology and practice that moves Christians into a gospel-centered way of life for our culture and our times.
  • Offers a compelling and creative vision for North American Christians
  • Puts forth a theology and ten critical signposts that must be observed to follow a missional way of life: post-Christendom, missio Dei, incarnation, witness, scripture, gospel, church, sexuality, justice, pluralism
  • Asks questions and points to issues that trouble many leaders in the post-modern, post-denominational, post-Christendom church
This book can fill the gap for the average Christian left discontented with the current options "after evangelicalism."

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Since September 11th, 2001, the Emergent Church and the Neo-Reformed resurgence have come to dominate the theological discourse in the Evangelicalism of North American Christianity. These opposing movements could be characterized as reactions or responses to the problems of traditional and attractional models of church that have done nothing to prevent the decline of the church in a postmodern world. Along with, and in large part because of, the growth of the internet, these two Evangelical movements have grown rapidly and begun to replace the mainline denominations and seeker churches of the previous decades. David E. Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw, both professors at Northern Seminary, and pastors together in the northern suburbs of Chicago at Life on the Vine Christian Community, have been in the middle of the conversation between these two movements for over a decade.

While I have never met Fitch and Holsclaw, several of my fellow seminary students and conversation partners during my studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School were involved in the ministry at Life on the Vine. Just prior to the formation of The Gospel Coalition (TGC) in 2007, the Emergent (E) discussion was already in full swing, and those of us who were headed for what has now been labeled the Neo-Reformed (NR) resurgence (also “New Calvinism” or “the Young, Restless, and Reformed”) were eager to debate where the church was heading with our Emergent leaning classmates. I didn’t know it at the time, but we were all wrestling with our own spiritual formation growing up in the church and the dramatic cultural shift that had been taking place and that was accelerated by 9/11.

Since my time at Trinity, the heated debate between Emergents and the Neo-Reformed has died down, though not without an occasional flare up over Rob Bell (E) or Mark Driscoll (NR). This is due in large part to the fact that the Emergent church has largely fizzled out or become, as the authors put it, “another version of mainline Christianity” (xxiii). Since my time at Trinity, I have tried to keep up with some of my former classmates who formerly identified with the Emergent discussion but have shifted toward a Neo-Anabaptist theology (the authors prefer “radical evangelical” (RE) or “evangelical Anabaptist”). Recently in a blog post over at TGC, I encouraged those who have, like me, found a theological home in the Reformed tradition to continue reforming by listening to our brothers in the Neo-Anabaptist movement. This review is a further effort to encourage both camps to engage one another in fruitful theological dialogue. Therefore, I will be avoiding the books interaction with E and focus on its engagement with NR.

Purpose and Message

Prodigal Christianity proposes an alternative way of being Christian than the visions offered by the Neo-Reformed and Emergent camps. However, “the book does not seek to be a compromise middle ground between these two camps; it proposes a way beyond them that learns from both but defies the categories of each” (xvi). Borrowing from Karl Barth’s interpretation of Luke 15:11-32, Fitch and Holsclaw envision churches in mission that embrace and imitate the radical journey of the Son of God into our fallen world. They do this not by providing a step-by-step process but by attempting to shape what we are able to imagine regarding the way God is working in the world through ten signposts pointing us forward.

The authors begin the book with a brief history of the liberal-conservative controversies that shaped the past century and then offer a brief evaluation of the Emergent and Neo-Reformed. Regarding the first group, the authors say, “Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, Tony Jones, and others have helped us ask really important questions and contributed greatly to creating a generous and compassionate Christianity,…but their answers have often lacked the substance on which we could live” (xxiii). Regarding the latter group, “The Neo-Reformed have invigorated theological discussion and offered serious reflection on the mission we all face in North America,…but to us, they appear to be defensive. At times, they seem to revert to doctrinal entrenchment and the attractional habits of the churches from which we had come” (xxiii). On that point, they lament how the term missional has been stolen by the very churches and models of ministry that the term was coined to challenge (xxiii).

The argument throughout the book seeks to show that the two camps both fail to transcend the liberal-conservative controversies and the cultural context these arguments assume (xxiv). Therefore, the authors make a case for prodigal Christianity, a way of being disciples together determined by the extravagant, radical, and gracious Triune God. Only when we embrace the radical and scandalous love of the Father who sent his own Son into the “far country” of sin and death in the power of the Holy Spirit will we be capable of bearing witness where no cultural Christian consensus exists (xxv-xxvi).

The bulk of the book is made up of ten chapters, one for each signpost. In each chapter, we are presented with broad observations about how both the Emergents and Neo-Reformed movements have responded to or understood the topic of the chapter and then given a radical-evangelical alternative [(sic, neo-Anabaptist alternative - re slater)]. There is both appreciation for what each camps gets right, [as well as] concern over perceived shortcomings. I think the authors are very charitable in their interaction with both camps. As long as readers remember that they are painting with a broad brush, it will be difficult to argue that they have missed the general trend of each movement on the various topics.

Helpful Challenges to the Neo-Reformed

It seems to me that the underlying critique of the NR throughout the book is aimed at two problems that distort our ability to be faithful in mission. The first concern suggests that we have reduced the gospel to individual salvation through the forgiveness of sins (85-86). It is important to note that the authors make it very clear that they are not denying that the gospel is about individual forgiveness in any way: “Today this great truth is as true as ever before” (86). But they believe that the personal plan of salvation needs to be linked to the robust and communal story of salvation: “Jesus, the crucified and risen Messiah, is Lord” (84). The cross and the kingdom, atonement and the victory of Jesus, need a stronger connection than what is normal among us NR.

The reduction of the gospel impacts our understanding of witness and ecclesiology. Because the gospel is merely about personal forgiveness, witness becomes the same as evangelism rather than encompassing proclamation and demonstration of the kingdom in the life of the church (51, 58-60). They give numerous examples of NR leaders who seem to think that merely stating the Christian position on an issue is the same as witnessing faithfully to the world. They argue that witness “happens socially as reconciliation, righteousness, and new creation taking place horizontally (in lived relationships) and vertically (with God). We cannot reduce witness to mere proclamation” (62). How can it be that so many NR churches seem to be little more than preaching centers much like the attractional churches so many of us NR sought to leave behind (99)? I have to admit that these concerns are concerns I have had with our tribe for some time. The celebrity pastor, the multi-site church, and the mega-church are all phenomena that simply do not comport with a robust Reformed understanding of the gospel (which is not merely about personal forgiveness), church, and witness. So I embrace this critique, but I don’t think this problem is related to our theological convictions so much as our failure to apply them properly.

The second major concern that runs throughout the book suggests that the NR are stuck in Christendom and the mindset of cultural dominance. This is most clearly manifested in the defensive, insecure, and smug proclamations made from a distance regarding various issues or leaders. One example of this comes in the chapter on the journey into sexual redemption where the authors assess one NR leader’s engagement with homosexuality:
He outlines his biblical position…yet what has he accomplished? Perhaps he has made those who already agree with him feel better about their own positions. But has he entered into the world of those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender/queer (LGBTQ)?…He approaches the question from a culture war point of view. He acts as if the church is still in charge of the culture when plainly we are not. He acts as if expert analysis of the Bible can help win the church’s war with culture…He is not a missionary: he has not crossed the boundaries into the very lives of LGTBQ people…Information might win an argument, but it seldom draws a person into the kingdom all on its own. (121)
In short, our engagement with the world confuses proclamations from a distance with faithful witness. They observe in us a Christendom mindset that fails to account for the cultural shift and that inappropriately embraces (desires, seeks, and clings to) the powers and privileges of this world. Here, I think, is perhaps the biggest problem we have in the NR camp, and it’s possible that our failure to address this latent Constantinianism is responsible for our failure to escape the problems of wider evangelical culture.

Concerns and Areas for Further Discussion

Prodigal Christianity has many helpful challenges that we need to consider, but the longstanding differences between Anabaptists and the Reformed seem to show up in a number of places that leave me with some concerns and some possible challenges for the authors.

In the chapter on Scripture, I found myself fluctuating between agreement and concern with the direction the authors were heading. I think those in NR camp who have read thoroughly on the issue of inerrancy and hold to a critical rather than naïve view will appreciate the affirmation and the nuance the authors give to the subject. For instance, Fitch writes about his affirmation of inerrancy, “So I believe the Bible is without error, but I need more than that” (70). The authors note that inerrantists have often tried to defend the Bible using science and historiography such that “we inadvertently end up basing the authority of Scripture on an authority outside of (extrinsic to) scripture” (70).

But after the authors affirm that “Scripture is a dramatic unfolding of the story of God’s redemptive work in and for the world” (69), the bulk of the chapter argues that the NR have wrongly sought to control the text rather than proclaim it (72-74). While this isn’t a completely unfounded charge and while we do need to avoid trying to master the text instead of letting it master us, some of the practices the authors provide as signposts toward a more faithful reading of Scripture seem problematic to me. It is true that we must “come to embrace the Bible as our own story, as the story of the kingdom” (80) and “approach Scripture first not to analyze it or subject it to study as an object” (80), but what the authors share about how this plays out in their own congregation doesn’t go far enough. [(This is the idea of narrative theology and what it means for us today. - re slater)]. The example the authors share involves discerning what position the church should take regarding the leadership of women, and instead of declaring the church’s view from a position of pastoral authority, they held open discussions accompanied with prayer to practice mutual submission to one another and to discern together what God was commanding them to do (81). While this approach seeks to avoid the dangers of power and control that silence opposition, and while it hopes to truly listen to God through the work of the Spirit among the congregation, I wonder if this has a hidden power dynamic to it as well [(lest I am mistaken, the Anabaptist tradition has always allowed equality of leadership between the sexes. - re slater)]. Could this potentially silence the voices of Christians elsewhere and at different times in the church’s history because those who want to bring that testimony to bear on the local decision are considered too dogmatic? While it is good and right for pastors to be open to being challenged before the congregation, I wonder if this approach undercuts one of the roles pastors have to protect the sheep from false teaching that can destroy kingdom faithfulness.

Perhaps the underlying concern I had with the book that is most like responsible for other reservation were the subtle statements that showed up several times along the lines that “God comes not to destroy or even impose his will on us” (39). This by itself is not problematic when referring to the incarnation (to which the above quote does), but other statements along these lines suggest that the authors believe that God’s posture to the world is always an embrace and never one of judgment. This comes out strongly in the chapter on the gospel where the authors describe different ways of proclaiming the gospel, most of which speak of Jesus’ salvation as something already true of each person but not yet entered into by everyone (92-95). For example: “We must therefore proclaim into people’s lives…that God is at work reconciling all relationships, including our relationships, in Jesus Christ” (93), “this person needs to hear that Jesus has saved and is saving him or her from (drowning in) sin” (88). I may be mistaken here, or the authors may need to be more clear, but it sounds like Fitch and Holsclaw have a Barthian view of Jesus’ saving work. It seems like they believe that the world, in its entirety with each and every person included, has already been reconciled in Christ and that the church is the community that recognizes that reconciliation, lives in it, and invites others to live in it. In other words, everyone has Jesus, but only the church is living in the reality. Furthermore, it suggests that God has already judged all sin on the cross. So I wonder if the authors believe that Jesus will come again to destroy and impose his righteous will on the world. Perhaps this could be clarified or further explored by the authors.

Recommendation

Overall, I found the book helpful and challenging but ultimately something I cannot wholeheartedly embrace. The Anabaptist theology that permeates the approach to Scripture, the gospel, the kingdom, the church, and so forth can only go so far for those of us convinced that Reformed theology best reflects the Bible’s teachings on these matters. Furthermore, there does seem to be a number of Barthian critiques present in the book that the Reformed camp has long listened to, received in part, and then ultimately rejected.

I do recommend the book, however, to those in the NR camp who are able to read charitably and receive humbly those insights that our brothers and sisters in the RE camp are noticing about our disposition, tone, and approach to mission in the world today. While we might not embrace every signpost, we can certainly appreciate the Trinitarian theology of mission, the invitation to embrace and imitate the incarnation, the advice on how we need to understand our witness more broadly, and the challenge to our church structures, leadership, fellowship, and practices.


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Addendum
Added - December 20, 2013

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Four Areas That Will Challenge American Evangelicalsim

1. Openness to true developments in the intellectual drama of the human species.

2. Openness to different ecclesiastical traditions.

3. Openness to different expressions of the spiritual journey.

 
4. Openness to holding to Scripture in a different way.


Openness to the Other: A Challenging
Necessity for the Future for American Evangelicalism
http://www.respectfulconversation.net/ae-conversation/2013/12/16/openness-to-the-other-a-challenging-necessity-for-the-future.html

by Peter Enns

Let me lay out two preliminary points. First, this is a blog post, not a treatise. I am expressing my opinions, formed over roughly twenty years, on a matter that has occupied my thoughts.

Second, I realize full well the perils of speaking of “Evangelicalism” (even when modified as American) as anything other than a fairly diverse movement, especially in recent decades. I restrict my thoughts below to what I see as institutional, or systemic, issues. I realize, quite happily, in fact, that scores of individuals exist on the Evangelical spectrum who would do not reflect the “system.”

That being said, I see “openness to the other” as a pressing challenge and a pressing need for the future of Evangelicalism.

The challenge is that the kind of openness I am calling for would likely threaten Evangelicalism’s raison-d’etre, i.e., a largely defensive posture assumed for the purpose of protecting and defending what is seen as the most biblical iteration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The need is that without some adaptation or transformation, Evangelicalism will shrivel and die the death of a thousand qualifications and slink off into irrelevancy.

And to be clear, by “openness” I do not mean open to superficial exchanges that leave things as they are. I mean true openness, where change is a two-way street, where the possibility of change is focused inward rather than simply outward.

So where would the Evangelical system need to be open to the other in ways it traditionally has not? For better or worse, as an academic, I live in the world of ideas, so I want to restrict my thoughts here to that familiar world and mention just four interrelated areas. I am not suggesting that all the pressing challenges reside in my universe of discourse, and I am counting on others to add their own voice from their own experience.

1. Openness to true developments in the intellectual drama of the human species.

Other posts in this series have addressed this issue, which often falls under the umbrella of genuine significant advances in various scientific fields that tell us of the past.

We simply know more than past centuries of Christians, even more than the early decades of the Evangelical movement, about evolving humanity, our ancient planet, and the inconceivably large and complex universe around us.

I am not suggesting—I hope this doesn't to be said—that science “dictates” faith, the truth of the Gospel, or whether God exists. These sorts of accusations are often first lines of defense in maintaining the system; they are obscurantist and ultimately destructive of true faith in God.

I am saying, however, that genuine, widely agreed upon, scientific developments need to be accepted for what they are—and not at a distance, but brought into theological and hermeneutical discussions of our faith. To do otherwise is to concede that God himself is outmoded.

2. Openness to different ecclesiastical traditions.

A common characteristic of Evangelical ecclesiology is the view, either explicit or implicit, that Evangelicalism is in some meaningful sense the clearest and most faithful expression of the Christian faith—which implies it is the version God most approves of. Other traditions are often looked down upon as either compromising “the clear teaching of Scripture” or lacking in some other crucial way.

The challenge to maintain some sort of Evangelical identity amid ecumenical discussions is a real one, but not necessarily impossible to pull off. How that might work itself out is not for me to say, but, in our ever-shrinking world, Evangelicalism cannot afford to be seen as anything other than in serious dialogue with other Christians communions. The global Christian faith must work toward a deep unity in basics amid diversity of various local and ecclesiastical traditions.

3. Openness to different expressions of the spiritual journey.

Most global citizens claim to adhere to some sort of religious/spiritual practice and faith, and most of them are not American Evangelicals. Evangelicalism must be willing to listen as much as speak, and be willing to have its own traditions examined, and even to learn from those of other faiths and to take their expression of faith seriously.

Rather than seeing such openness as a denial of the Gospel, it is actually an expression of deep faith in God to acknowledge that our own very local view of ultimate reality is deeply conditioned by the American drama—often far more so than by the biblical story. Few things are as unsettling to Evangelicalism system than to consider that Israel’s God, in Christ, and in Spirit—who, like the wind, goes where and how he pleases—may be on the move across the world in ways the Evangelical system cannot understand or control.

4. Openness to holding to Scripture in a different way.

The core intellectual foundation of Evangelicalism is biblical inerrancy, however defined (whether literalistically or its more recent progressive iterations). Inerrancy is rooted in a priori commitments to the nature of God and how that God would necessarily communicate in a written document—namely, in a manner that is essentially historically accurate and internally consistent (without contradictions of true theological diversity).

The modern study of Scripture and the events behind it study has yielded numerous insights that are in irreconcilable tension with inerrancy but are also widely accepted among scholars, and in some cases are pillars of the academic field (such as the long compositional history of the Bible and the presence of myth and political ideology in the Bible).

Though these insights form the content of most any high-level academic program in the study of the Bible and the biblical world, they have rested uncomfortably with the Evangelical commitment to inerrancy. As I see it, the recurring tensions over inerrancy within Evangelicalism are fueled by the distance between a priori theological expectations about God and how his book should behave, and the non-cooperative details of biblical interpretation.

The nature of Scripture is not a closed question, and within Evangelicalism, an invitation to open and safe discussions is sorely needed.

No tradition is perfect, and I am not saying Evangelicalism alone has problems. I am only saying that, in my opinion, the future of American Evangelicalism requires that Evangelicalism be prepared to rethink some things, even reinvent itself, by proactively, seriously, and openly addressing issues such as these—not to participate in trends and fads to keep current, but simply to remain active and contributing players in the human drama, which will not sit still waiting for the next clever defense of the Evangelical status quo.



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