Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Am I An Evangelical?

Back in January I said I was going to write about a few topics, one of which was my struggle with evangelicalism. What does it mean to be an evangelical and am I still one? Aside from all of the coverage in the media in the wake of George W’s re-election, it was a personal incident that first raised the question. Let me ‘splain…

My wife was on reception at our church when she received a call inquiring if our church was evangelical. She assumed the answer would be yes, but went to check with one of the pastoral staff just to make sure. It turns out that no; the Mennonite Brethren Church does not consider itself evangelical because it grew out of the Anabaptist tradition. Even though all of our core beliefs and practices are the same as any evangelical tradition, I suddenly found myself NOT attending an evangelical church. On one hand, I thought about all of the people who would be concerned about my eternal salvation. On the other hand I thought, “Hmm…cool.”

Since that time I’ve done a lot of thinking and even some praying over what it means to be an evangelical and does it even matter, especially when that term has been hijacked by right-wing power brokers in the U.S. and misused by uninformed media types in Canada. In addition to my own thinking, I’ve been reading a lot about postmodernism and what the postmodern church will look like (notice my two latest books read on the sidebar) which has influenced my thinking too. We’ve had some great discussions at work as well about postmodernism and the “emerging church” that is such a hot topic in some circles. My conclusions, of which there are many, can be summarized in a few points:

1) Terms like Evangelical, Baptist, Pentecostal, Lutheran, Catholic, Missionary, Free Methodist, Mennonite Brethren, etc. that we use as identifiers to segregate ourselves from mainstream society and from other believers are becoming less and less relevant as we head into the postmodern era. As Christians, we spent a good portion of the last 100 years removing ourselves from the populace around us. We’ve been so successful that we are now on the same level as sideshow freaks or ancient pottery in a museum. The Christian subculture we’ve created may be safe but it sure doesn’t help us accomplish our mission of being the hands and feet of Christ in the world.
2) We have been so concerned with having correct doctrine, theology, and practices that we have forgotten the importance of being in right relationship with God, with friends and neighbours, and with the world at large. In the words of Paul the apostle, “I count myself the chief of sinners” in this area. I know that I’ve hurt people and made some harsh comments because I put correct doctrine ahead of loving relationship. Jesus built loving relationships with everyone, regardless of their worldview, with one exception…the Pharisees…the religious leaders who were more concerned with proper practice than with the heart.
3) There is much to be learned from other Christian traditions outside of conventional evangelicalism about worship. As we begin to identify ourselves simply as believers rather by our denominational distinctives I believe we will enter more fully into a true spirit of worship as the united body of Christ. Worship is more than intellectual ascent; it involves the whole person – all five senses, the intellect, the emotions. What can we learn from the more liturgical traditions about the quiet reverence of God? How can the spiritual disciplines of the early church fathers impact my walk with God today? Do icons, candles, and Taize services have a role to play in postmodern worship? I believe they do, right alongside some of the evangelical traditions that we hold so dear.

I recognize that in some respects these points are sweeping generalizations, but this is a new journey for me; somewhat of a personal reformation that I am still working through and expect to do so for a very long time. This is a lifelong journey that will not end on this side of heaven’s door and I have much to learn.

There is so much more I could write but I think I should stop for now. Please leave me comments as I’d welcome dialogue with anyone who is on the same journey.

1 comment:

James said...

Well said. I've been on the same journey for a long long time. I discovered the "emergent church" movement about six months ago and McLaren's book was like a drink of cool water in the desert for me. I really want to read his latest, "A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I Am a Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant, Liberal/Conservative, Mystical/Poetic, Biblical, Charismatic/Contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, Incarnational, Depressed-yet-Hopeful, Emergent, Unfinished CHRISTIAN" (love that title!).

Also, check out www.resonate.ca and join the mailing list. I've been on it for a while but mostly lurk and don't post, but it's been thought-provoking.

I expect I'll have more to say/post about this in time.

Great post!