Friday, March 08, 2013

Why I'm No Longer an Evangelical

Christianity Today recently tweeted about their sticking to the word "evangelical" as a self-identifying descriptor. I tweeted back that the problem with the word "evangelical" is that it lacks any objective content. Too many groups use it that have vastly divergent theologies (I'm thinking conservative Reformed groups and Rob Bell-types here) for it to actually be a meaningful descriptor. Certainly, it is not necessarily meant to be an exclusive modifier, but using it for "Christians in every tradition and communion who seek to love God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength" is the same as saying "evangelical = Christian." In that case, why not just say "Christian"? They might (and I'm guessing here, I haven't had the pleasure of meeting either author of the piece, although Mr. Galli did speak at my recent seminary graduation) say that "Christian" is too broad of a label itself, including anyone within the liberal-conservative orbit, whereas "evangelical" comprises those more centrist (how else will we fit in the Sojourners with the Moral Majority?). What, in the end, it reduces Christianity to, since it is such a broad, all-encompassing label, is a movement, whereas Jesus came to found a Church. There is, as they note implicitly in the quote above, no institutional unity to be found among evangelicals. In fact, you can be evangelical whilst not recognizing the baptisms of those in other groups of ostensible evangelicals. It is, then, a superficial and overly rationalistic (since it is based on some form of doctrinal communality -- but not unity) movement that will be more destructive of institutional unity (Christ came, we must insist, to found One Church, not many, often warring branches, denominations, or sects) than healing.

This was brought to my attention somewhat obliquely a couple of weeks ago by a colleague at Geneva College when I griped on Facebook about the lack of engagement and interest evangelical students brought to the study of the Scriptures (after all, if sola Scriptura is true, then oughtn't we to be fully engaged in learning what those infallible Scriptures say?). He said that he was uncomfortable with the term, preferring to qualify it with "non-confessional" and "confessional" evangelicals (if I remember the proposed nomenclature correctly). If we need that sort of definitional differentiation, though, it seems more fitting to abandon the label altogether. That was confirmed by the CT article: it just doesn't work anymore.

So, I propose we either adequately qualify the label so that it doesn't mean all things to everyone, or we drop it all together. Really, in the end, it seems to mean just Christian anyway, with a decidedly weak ecumenical bent ("oh, you're a Catholic Pentecostal Reformed too, even though I'm also a Calvinist Orthodox Organic Church Emergent!") that glosses over the tough issues we are supposed to be hammering out.

I'm not an evangelical, then. I'm a Christian. Often confused and rarely right.

1 comment:

Seretha Curry said...

I always thought evangelical was more of a social descriptor than a confessional one. It always seemed like something that described a common set of experiences and values that had more to do with being socialized in a particular common experience of church life, often associated with growing up a particular way, in the church or in Christian family or culture. I never personally experienced much of that as I grew up mostly among Catholic Christians, although I jumped ship to Protestantism at an early age. But I keep growing more and more uncomfortable with the label "evangelical" mostly because it seems more about a cultural than a theological legacy . . . and not very ecclesiologically savvy either. I would rather use theological and ecclesiological terms and invest in the church's identity either ecclesiologically or theologically . . . but I don't have a terrible lot of interest in just protecting or perpetuating modern American evangelical culture . . . which is what most people seemed to be concerned with when they're talking about evangelicalism anyway.