Evangelicalism has been a problematic term for a long time. It seems to evade all attempts to define it, at least over the last few decades. Part of the problem is that there are, in fact, several different “evangelicalisms.” Scot McKnight highlights a few, bouncing ideas off of Kenneth J. Stewart’s In Search of Ancient Roots: The Christian Past and the Evangelical Identity Crisis. McKnight suggests there are at least four kinds of evangelical:
- Pragmatic. (He sees this as characteristic of megachurches.)
- Belligerent. (Also known as fundamentalist.)
- Politicized. (McKnight’s category, not Stewart’s. Obviously very prevalent in the US these days.)
- Historic. (Rooted to the Great Awakening[s], the Reformation, and even earlier expressions of Christianity.)
This reminds me of a spiel I did years ago when I taught church history and proposed a typology of “Conservative Resurgences.” (I specifically chose the term “conservative resurgence” for reasons that may be obvious to anybody who was a Southern Baptist in the 1980s and 1990s.) I may have to see if I still have those notes.
So, have you left evangelicalism? Have you left one or more of McKnight’s categories but held firm to another?
Doug Chaplin has the hosting honors this month. Go visit his blog and see what’s worth reading about in biblical studies!
Scot McKnight is working through Stephen Chester’s Reading Paul with the Reformers at his JesusCreed blog. (Here’s part 1; here’s part 2.) In today’s blog post, he interacts in some detail with a passage from Chester that takes issue with the New Perspective’s assertion that the Reformers missed Paul’s point about justification by faith. I’m not sure that all NP supporters would agree that the Reformers were wrong so much as they placed the emphasis in the wrong place, but others are certainly deeper into this debate than I am. McKnight summarizes Chester’s questions thusly:
Chester begins with Luther and Erasmus and more importantly uses them for the hermeneutical dichotomy they created: Should we do “theological interpretation” (Luther) or historical critical work (Erasmus), and is the Bible clear in all it says (Luther) but difficult at times (Erasmus), and does the ambiguity of Scripture create problems (Erasmus) or is it a false approach (Luther)?
Chester elaborates on several key points of disagreement between Luther and Erasmus on the proper interpretation of Scripture. This leads, ultimately, to a threefold criterion for discerning the best interpretations, namely:
The conflict of interpretations is thus best addressed by a mixed hermeneutic. The goal of hearing the Spirit speak through Paul in his texts is served by applying the triple criteria of
and contemporary theological fruitfulness.
McKnight suggests Chester is “doing the newer new perspective, one that appreciates too the Reformers’ reading of Paul.”
Alan Brill reviews Yuval Harari’s recent book Jewish Magic before the Rise of Kabbalah and interacts with the author in a brief online interview. He argues that the practice of magic was very much a part of early Judaism (and Christianity), even though we’re predisposed not to see it. (What I do is “ritual”; what the people I don’t like do is “magic.”) Here’s one small snippet:
Magic is may be considered as pre-scientific technology, a scheme of technical practices founded on the belief in the way reality is run. Given the traditional premises concerning what forces that reality, magic behavior was rational.
Jewish magic is founded on a belief in human aptitude to affect the world by means of rituals, at the heart of which is execution of oral or written formulas. It is not different from Jewish normative religious view, which ascribes actual power to sacrifice, prayer, ritual, and the observance of law. Magic also does not differ from the normative views regarding God’s omnipotence or the involvement of angels and demons in mundane reality. It has elaborated as a system parallel to, and combined with the normative-religious one, a system that seeks to change reality for the benefit of the individual, commonly in order to remove a concrete pain or distress or to fulfill a certain wish or desire.
Books of magic recipes from antiquity as well as from later periods show that magic was pragmatically required in every aspect of life. Magic fantasy of the kind of One Thousand and One Nights or Harry Potter is missing almost all together from recipe books, which usually offers assistance in achieving targets that may be achieved also without magic. According to these Jewish books, magic power can be implemented personally or by an expert. Expert magicians offered their help in choosing and performing the right ritual and in preparing adjuration artifacts and other performative objects, such as amulets of roots and minerals.
Over at JesusCreed, Mitch East is arguing that “Doubt Is Overrated.” He has a point, if you hear him out:
A student in seminary once told me, “In this department, it’s not if you have a faith crisis, but when you have a faith crisis.” At the time, I laughed. He was right plenty of students had faith crises during the program. But since then, his words have stuck with me – but not for good reasons. He sounded proud about it, as if it were a badge of honor. A friend of mine calls this trendy doubt. Someone with trendy doubt rolls his eyes and says, “How cool is that we don’t have silly faith like we used to?” This is the kind of trendy doubt that led me to avoid people’s legitimate questions.
Sometimes, doubt is the only faith posture one can assume. But sometimes—maybe more often than we’re comfortable contemplating—we need to hear Jesus’ gentle rebuke, “O ye of little faith.”
Leader: This is not a litany.
People: This is a responsive reading.
Leader: A litany is an ancient prayer form in which the leader voices a petition and the people repeat a set response such as “Lord, have mercy.”
People: Or “Hear our prayer.”
Leader: A responsive reading is more of a creed. It’s a collection of sentences which, while probably true and praiseworthy, aren’t really talking to God.
People: We’re talking to each other, O Lord, about things we believe or affirm.
Leader: Therefore, responsive readings tend to be more didactic.
Leader: I mean, look at all these words, for crying out loud!
People: Simplify, simplify.
Leader: Instead of engaging the mind, all this verbiage might even foster laziness or mindless conformity.
People: But why in the world would you want to begin worship with a mental exercise? Why not begin with adoration, confession, or thanksgiving?
Leader: And since they change every week, you can’t even participate without a printed order of service.
People: But what about preschoolers, or foreigners, or the blind?
Leader: It might be better to begin with something that everyone could learn through frequent repetition.
People: Something less disposable.
Leader: Something the church has treasured for centuries. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel every week, you know.
People: Sometimes it’s a greater act of faith to trust the wisdom of the past.