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?
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.”
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.”
Pete Enns has delineated “5 Modern Insights about the Old Testament that Aren’t Going Anywhere.” They are as follows:
- The Old Testament is an ancient Near Eastern phenomenon
- “Myth” is an inescapable category for describing portions of the Old Testament
- Israelites did not write their history “objectively”
- The Old Testament does not contain one systematic and consistent body of “truth” but various, and even conflicting, perspectives.
- The Old Testament “evolved” over time until it came to its final expression.
Each point is elaborated in just a few paragraphs, which are well worth your time. He concludes, and I concur:
There is much more to the Old Testament than these 5 points, of course. And accepting the Old Testament as scripture doesn’t depend on fully working out these 5 points. In fact, whosoever wishes can safely ignore all of this and move on with their lives of faith. I mean that.
But when we want to dig into why the Bible “behaves” as it does, and especially if we are curious about engaging the Bible on a historical level, these 5 factors simply can’t be brushed aside.
Do read the whole thing.
I like the way John Frye explains how a lot of Christians reduce the gospel to much less than it actually is:
What if I said to you that the story of the movie The Sound of Music was about guitars? Would you disagree? What if I said the story of the movie Ben Hur is about chariot wheels? What if I said the story about the movie Titanic is about the north Atlantic ocean? You would think I was a little (or maybe hugely) short-sighted about these magnificent films. Why reduce the story of the von Trapp family to the topic of guitars? Are there, in fact, guitars in The Sound of Music? Is not the scene with Captain Georg von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) entering the room with a guitar singing a major turning point in the story? What about those Ben Hur chariot wheels? Aren’t those very wheels the source of incredible tension in the (1959 film) chariot race scene? Where did the Titanic sink? I rest my case. But I know you’re not convinced. Why? Because each of “my” views is a horrible reduction of those tremendous, expansive stories.
How you feel about my reductions of great stories is, I think, how Jesus and Paul would react to the contemporary reductions of the New Testament Gospel….
Do read the whole thing over at JesusCreed.
Both are in evidence over at the Jesus Blog, where Rafael Rodríguez has shared some correspondence he’s recently had with one of his students. The student writes,
I have a question that has been on my mind. It might be somewhat obvious, but nonetheless it has intrigued me. What would Paul say to a Jew who believed in Jesus as the Messiah and wanted to stop adhering to the Law? At first I think this would be fine due to salvation through Jesus is open to all, but what about the disruption it would have possibly caused in said Jew’s family, who may or may not believe in Jesus? I immediately think of Romans 14:13-23, but Paul is writing that to the Gentiles. Does the same principle apply to the Jew who has already been living out a Law abiding lifestyle?
I think Rafael’s answer is worth thoughtful consideration.
Over at JesusCreed, Jonathan Storment has written an intriguing review of Reviving Old Scratch by Richard Beck. This is a book about spiritual warfare—but Storment urges us not to roll our eyes just yet.
I want you to know this isn’t like the other spiritual warfare books out there. It is written specifically for the kinds of Christians who stopped believing in the Devil/Demons a long time ago, by someone who went down that same road.
The best way I could summarize Beck’s work is that he quotes the Canadian Philosopher Charles Taylor, lots of Scripture, lots of theologians, and talks often about Scooby Doo.
After providing some necessary philosophical background based on Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, Storment sums up Beck’s train of thought with these words:
…Scooby Doo is a perfect example of what it looks like to live in a disenchantedabout every Scooby Doo episode you’ve ever seen. It starts out with an enchanted world. They’re in some haunted mansion, chasing down a ghost or goblin of some kind. All of them are terrified because they are vulnerable to the spiritual forces of the universe and at some point Shaggy runs away screaming and Scooby says “ruhroh.”
But then the turn comes. And the ghost trips over some chair or accidentally overplays its hand, and these detective kids suddenly realize that this isn’t a ghost at all.
Then there is the great unmasking, where they pull back the disguise and sure enough…there are no demons in the world, this is just Old Mr. Dickerson, the greedy banker trying to get rich.
When the downward pressure of skepticism win and the enchanted world is emptied out, all that is left is the flat, horizontal drama of human action and interaction. This is the trajectory of a Scooby-Doo episode, the journey to discover that, in the end, there are no ghosts or gods or devils. In the final analysis, at the end of the thirty-minute adventure, there are only human beings.
Which sounds fine to a lot of progressive Christians. We really want to focus on human beings, we want Christianity to be good for human beings, we love humanity…until we don’t.
And here is Beck’s sweet spot, because I know him well, I really appreciated this section, because I’ve seen him live it out. What happens when progressive, disenchanted Christians try to follow Jesus into the messy places of the world without a robust theology of Spiritual warfare?
The battle becomes precisely against flesh and blood.
No purportedly biblical position on any issue is served by sloppy exegesis. Especially when the exegete implies, or downright states, that the possible interpretation he or she proposes is, in fact, the only possible interpretation.
Thus, I commend to you Ian Paul’s “Did Jesus Heal the Centurion’s Gay Lover?” (Spoiler: Maybe, but even if he did, it doesn’t mean what some people want it to mean.)
John Pavlovitz, “5 Things I Wish Christians Would Admit about the Bible”
Michael Byrd, “7 Things I Wish Christians Knew about the Bible“