Saturday, November 15, 2014

When You Say “Evangelical,” You’ve Said a Lot of Things So Many Others Say. (In other words, “You keep using that word. But I do not think it means what you think it means.”)

More than a few blurred distinctions.
When You Say “Evangelical,” You’ve Said a Lot of Things So Many Others Say. (In other words, “You keep using that word. But I do not think it means what you think it means.”)

What’s in a word? For those of us seeking to communicate clearly, too often the answer is “far too much.” For example, when the word is “Evangelical” the variety of definitions is so diverse as to make the word nearly meaningless. That has not always been the case, but today there needs to be some clarification.

"Assumes facts not in evidence."
Many confuse the term “Evangelical” as representing at least a portion of “the religious right,” those who crusade for a more comfortable and convenient social environment in which to pursue their narrow view of “Christian culture” amidst a “sanctified” society. Try as they might, however, the term does not fit, leaving the would-be Ecclesial Emperors without the clothes in which they would cloak beliefs and behaviors that are entirely incompatible with the Evangelical label.

You should know, though, that I do have a dog in this fight. Being “a theologically conservative Christian holding a high view of scripture and a subsequent insistence on salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone” (I believe that to be an acceptable definition of “Evangelical.”) requires me to reject two of the most prevalent practices of “the religious right.”

First, and worst, the politically-motivated are looking for such “Evangelicals” as will arrogantly augment, if not entirely eliminate Christians’ dependence upon answered prayer. They preach that we should pursue, in addition or instead, mass-market fund-raising approaches to accomplish our social-engineering goals through adversarial litigation and lobbying for legislation.

John Hancock did not sign The Gospel.
The methods are bad enough. But what if they were successful? I reject not only the prescribed means, but the ends toward which these efforts are directed. The politically conservative among us offer Evangelicals a false utopia. This paradise would be devoid of dissent against whatever they define as their distinctive doctrines. They would prohibit the disaster of allowing individual disobedience, lest it lead to social dysfunction. And they would suggest they could defeat the effects of depravity by destroying its source: the availability of temptation. But God did not send His Son into the world to eradicate the dissenters, the dysfunctional, the disobedient, or even the depraved. The Son’s calling, and ours, is to alleviate the suffering, illuminate the escape route, and welcome those who would join us in doing the same.

Why do I reject the utopia offered by the religious right? Because it’s the wrong goal, pursued along the wrong path. Religiously-enforced behavioral constraints (i.e., emphasizing moral behavior and ritual participations as the core elements of “Christianity”) are as ineffective an end as the means to establishing them are unbiblical. And for an Evangelical (so far as I understand what the term was intended to mean), that is inconceivable.

More to follow shortly.


Angie Johnston said...

I admire your bravery in identifying with being an evangelical given the negative gray varied deifinitions swirling about that Word. I appreciate so much someone trying to call us back to its true meaning and the truth we need that "evangelicalism" offers. Not so sure about the words "The Sons calling, and ours, is to alleviate the suffering". I mean I get that, but it almost suggests the very thing you are speaking against. I think Christ invites us to join with him IN His suffering verses seeking a way to just relieve or somehow get around suffering. The góspel is finding hope IN the suffering and him making something good out of it. I just think allieviate doesnt go far enough to what He calls us to in suffering.
Cant wait to read "the more" you have promised. I feel passionate about this issue; to the point where its really hard for me to admit I am an evangelical unless we take the time to define terms :).

Wm. Darius Myers said...

Thanks for the thoughtful comment, and the good-catch on "alleviate," as well as my omission of any clarification that I believe in seeking to "mitigate" the suffering "of others," providing, for example, for "the widow, the orphan, and the alien in their distress." Doing so frequently results in even greater personal participation in Christ's suffering. (e.g., Paul's sense of "continuation" in Colossians 1:24, among other references to it.) I'll look forward to hearing from you on the two subsequent posts as well (if you are so inclined). Thanks again!

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