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

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

What Evangelicalism Is and What It Isn't and Why It's Meaning is Being Mangled

By way of introduction, if I were asked whether I was "evangelical" or not I would need to consider the social context of the one asking this question. Historically I am, and always have been evangelical. However, with the rise of Trumpian Christianity my distance continues to grow rapidly apace from this secular form of religious expression. In my experience, those churches and brethren involved have been caught up in a movement that is very un-Christlike substituting statism and nationalism for Christ. This I cannot, and will not, submit too. It was one of the main reasons I began writing this blog ten years ago even before the idea of Trumpian Christianity was around. It's telltale signs and evidences lay everywhere around the churches I participated in, and identified with, before it all came to a head since the years of 2015-2016 requiring my departure from such unkind fellowships claiming the name of Christ I worship and honor.

So am I an "evangelical"? Yes! I say this with affirmation and definitiveness that I am an evangelical in the historic sense of the word. But do I claim such today in the social circles I interact? Especially when they leave no room for explanation? Nor wish to even try to understand that explanation? Then "no," I am not an evangelical unless I am allowed to tell the difference between being an evangelical Christ-follower versus an evangelical politicist more willing to decry nationalism in Christ's name than His love, mercy, and justice.

As example, I consider abhorrent the very actions of the US government under the auspices of ICE for making a crime of crossing the US borders, separating families, and jailing children. This is wickedness in the very meaning of the term. If the US policy must require such action than I cannot abide with it's policy and wish to remove its draconian laws from the lives of those suffering its insidious affects. I chose Christ over the my brethren's political obsessions of fear, security, and protectionism. Christianity sees the alien and refuge as those requiring great help - not greater persecution. And if my Trumpian Christian friends cannot distinguish this than I fault their understanding of Christ and for choosing the State over their Lord. My prayer for America and the American church is that it repent of its hard heart and work to create a US policy respecting grace, mercy and justice over fear and protectionism.

Below I have listed three articles by Roger Olson detailing the distinction between evangelicalism as an ethos (my kind of Christianity) versus evangelicalism as a movement (which favors either a heighten or lower Christian message to the world of Jesus as Lord). Moreover, today's Christianity must now require those of us choosing to follow Jesus to re-describe ourselves both to our brethren and to the world as Jesus followers over any other apostate gospel purporting to be from Christ but is not. And if we must reclaim the gospel of Christ under some other banner than "evangelicalism" than let us do  so at once because the usage of the older banner name has become apostate in every sense of the Trumpian word. Mr. Olson, to his credit, hopes to reclaim the original definition back to itself, but alas, I fear it is too late and thus have I spent so many recent years delineating why-and-what Jesus-based-Christianity is-and-isn't, and why it must reach beyond its past yesteryears to the years ahead of us that it might become meaningfully relevant again to the masses yearning for spiritual release and freedom from sin's spiritual and humanitarian bondage. So let the elders of the church say with us, Amen and amen, thus shall we do!

R.E. Slater
February 13, 2019

Evangelicalism Again:
Why Are They Not Using My Distinction
between “Movement” and “Ethos?”

by Roger Olson
February 8, 2019

This is my response to the following Religion News article:

I read it with real interest and was very disappointed. The subject is one I have discussed here and in some of my articles, book chapters, and books frequently. I expended great energy in trying to enlighten people about the difference between “evangelical movements” (which come and go) and the “evangelical ethos” which is world-wide and not tied to any one particular evangelical movement.

The article mentions my colleague David Bebbington’s “evangelical quadrilateral” which describes what I call the evangelical spiritual-theological ethos which transcends any denomination or movement. It can be found in individuals and congregations in almost every Christian denomination.

But the article slides back and forth between treating evangelicalism as a “white movement” and evangelicalism as something other than that. But the distinction between “movement” and “ethos” is not clearly grasped or articulated. I believe it would solve this whole ongoing debate.

*Sidebar: The opinions expressed here are my own (or those of the guest writer); I do not speak for any other person, group or organization; nor do I imply that the opinions expressed here reflect those of any other person, group or organization unless I say so specifically. Before commenting read the entire post and the “Note to commenters” at its end.*

Are many African-American Christians truly evangelical? Yes—in the ethos sense. Not many call themselves “evangelicals” because they are thinking of the mostly white post-WW2 American movement and the current media-driven political evangelicalism.

In the article one well-known religion writer objects to one of my colleagues categorizing a 19th century African-American woman as “evangelical.” I respect that well-known religion writer, but I am bewildered by his seeming ignorance of the difference between a particular evangelical movement and the evangelical spiritual-theological ethos!

What all the people referenced in this Religion News article seem to miss is that evangelicalism as an ethos (spiritual-theological) is world-wide! The vast majority of evangelical live outside of the United States! How in the world can “evangelicalism” be defined as “white” and “American” unless the people doing so are brainwashed by the media who love to identify being evangelical with being pro-Trump and probably racist?

I am almost certain that Ed Stetzer, Russell Moore, Anthea Butler and others referenced in this article (and especially David Bebbington) know the difference between being evangelical ethos-wise and being evangelical by self-identification to pollsters (or even being evangelical by belonging to a group that calls itself “evangelical”).

Neither the NAE (National Association of Evangelicals) nor the Gospel Coalition nor any organization owns the label “evangelical.” Any church historian knows this. So why do we continually run up against this confusion (viz., of “evangelical” with being “white” and “American nationalist” and “pro-Trump” or even of just having some connection with the (mostly white) post-WW2 American evangelical movement? Many evangelicals never joined that. According to historian of evangelicalism George Marsden that movement disintegrated around 1970 anyway!

A huge, huge problem lurking in the background of all this confusion is that “being evangelical” has both advantages and disadvantages. In some contexts it has advantages such as in getting hired in many Christian institutions. In other contexts it has disadvantages such as not getting hired in many Christian institutions! I don’t know any way to solve that problem except to get everyone to recognize the difference between “movement evangelicalism” and “ethos evangelicalism”—a difference I have talked about here many times.

Let me end with an open comment to all the people quoted in the article: Please embrace and use my distinction between ethos evangelicalism and movement evangelicalism. Let it solve these confusing conversations, debates, even conflicts over the meaning of “evangelical.”

*Note to commenters: This blog is not a discussion board; please respond with a question or comment only to me. If you do not share my evangelical Christian perspective (very broadly defined), feel free to ask a question for clarification, but know that this is not a space for debating incommensurate perspectives/worldviews. In any case, know that there is no guarantee that your question or comment will be posted by the moderator or answered by the writer. If you hope for your question or comment to appear here and be answered or responded to, make sure it is civil, respectful, and “on topic.” Do not comment if you have not read the entire post and do not misrepresent what it says. Keep any comment (including questions) to minimal length; do not post essays, sermons or testimonies here. Do not post links to internet sites here. This is a space for expressions of the blogger’s (or guest writers’) opinions and constructive dialogue among evangelical Christians (very broadly defined).

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Roger Olson, Board of Contributors:
Evangelicalism simply not a political movement

by Roger Olson, Board of Contributors 
November 22, 2017

Once again, in a column published here, a political pundit predicted something about “evangelicals” that treats all of us as political conservatives. According to Philip Bump [“Religion, politics awkward mix,” Nov. 12] “evangelicals” will rally to support arch-conservative Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore in spite of accusations of sexual misconduct.

Repeatedly in recent years sociologists, political commentators and pollsters have treated American evangelicals as the Republican Party at prayer. While it is true that many Americans who identify as evangelical support politically conservative policies, platforms and politicians, it is most certainly not true that “evangelical Christianity” is itself tied to any particular ideology.

I recently contributed to a book and then participated on a panel about “The Future of Evangelicalism in America” (Columbia University Press, 2017). During the panel and following discussion at the annual meeting of the Society of Church Historians (Denver, January 2017) I discovered many American sociologists and those influenced by them (journalists, commentators and poll-takers) automatically exclude African Americans from being evangelicals.

As a theologian and church historian I consider this a travesty. “Evangelical” is a spiritual-theological category, not a political one. By excluding African Americans and by tying it inextricably to a passing political fad sociologists and the media have distorted it.

David Bebbington, distinguished visiting professor of history at Baylor University, is nearly universally recognized as a world class historian of the evangelical movement — going back to the Great Awakenings of the early 17th century. Bebbington’s “quadrilateral” of evangelical hallmarks is widely recognized and frequently used by scholars to identify the evangelical ethos.

According to Bebbington, the evangelical brand of Christianity crosses denominational boundaries and is marked by biblicism, conversionism, crucicentrism and activism:

  • The Bible is considered by all evangelical Christians to be God’s inspired Word written.
  • All evangelicals have always believed authentic Christian existence necessarily includes a personal decision of faith called conversion.
  • The cross of Jesus Christ is believed by evangelicals to be humanity’s only basis and hope for salvation.
  • And, all evangelicals support evangelism, world missions and social action to change the world for the better.

Throughout evangelicalism’s history, however, evangelical Christians have never all adopted a particular social, political or economic ideology.

And evangelicalism is a global movement, with the vast majority of evangelicals living and worshiping outside the United States. Most have no connection with U.S. political ideologies or parties.

African-American Protestant Christians have often shied away from using the label “evangelical” because “evangelicalism” has been considered a white spiritual movement. Recently, well-known, influential African-American rap artist Lecrae “resigned” from “white evangelicalism” because of the pushback he received from white conservative evangelical leaders (whom I would probably consider more fundamentalist than truly evangelical) after he sided with the protests of the Black Lives Matter movement against police shootings of unarmed African Americans.

A few years ago I was asked by an African-American seminary professor (at a mostly white Baptist seminary) if I considered black American Protestants “evangelicals.” I said yes, I do, and I still stand by that. Spiritually and theologically most African-American Protestants believe, worship and live as disciples of Jesus Christ in complete accord with the historical evangelical ethos. While they may not use the label “evangelical” for themselves, once I explain its true meaning as a spiritual and theological ethos, most African-American Protestant students and ministers respond affirmatively — that they fit that mold.

My most recent research project involved revising the Handbook of Denominations in the United States for its 14th edition. (The Handbook is a widely used and respected reference book published by the United Methodist Publishing House/Abingdon Press.) I scrutinized the web sites of all major and many newer, smaller, predominantly African-American denominations and found their statements of beliefs and practices to be perfectly in line with historic evangelicalism even if not with the current American “religious right.”

I am calling out sociologists, journalists, and commentators who exclude African-American Christians, most of whom claim to have a “born again experience” (the main test often used for determining whether someone is evangelical), from being considered evangelical. Evangelical Christianity, properly understood, is not exclusively white, American or politically conservative, even if some individuals and churches are.

*Roger Olson is Foy Valentine Professor of Christian Theology and Ethics at Baylor University’s Truett Seminary. His recent books include “The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform” and “Who Needs Theology?”

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