Wednesday, April 26, 2006

"Redefining the E-Word"

John Buckeridge over at Christianity offers some interesting thoughts on whether its time for evangelicals to come up with a different identification for themselves.
"I’m an evangelical – but sometimes I’m reluctant to own up. I’m not alone – in a survey conducted for Premier Radio and the Evangelical Alliance 87% of the sample describe themselves as evangelical but only 59% reveal their ‘evangelical’ identity to others (News page 8). Not that we’re ashamed of the gospel of the Lord Jesus or being identified as Christians, it’s just the ‘evangelical’ tag that we sometimes struggle with.

Half a century ago words like ‘gay’, ‘ecstasy’ and ‘wicked’ meant something very different than they do today. In the past ‘evangelical’ stood for four key values:
* a commitment to the authority and centrality of scripture,
* a call to personal faith and repentance,
* the centrality of Christ’s death as our substitute,
* putting faith into action through evangelism and social action.

Now to the unchurched and people of other faiths – evangelical is increasingly shorthand for: right-wing US politics, an arrogant loud mouth who refuses to listen to other people’s opinions, men in grey suits who attempt to crowbar authorised version scripture verses into every situation, or ‘happy-clappy’ simpletons who gullibly swallow whatever their tub thumping minister tells them to believe. Large parts of the British media seem happy to paint evangelicals into that stereotype. Today in the UK ‘evangelical’ is often linked with the ultimate 21st century swearword ‘fundamentalist’. The result is the name ‘evangelical’ which years ago, may have smelt of roses – now has the aroma of the manure that fertilises the bush.

What to do? I’ve spoken to Joel Edwards who heads up Evangelical Alliance, a man I really respect and admire. He argues that we need to rehabilitate the word, that ‘evangelical’ is too rich and precious a word to drop. But I worry that the tide has gone out on the ‘e’ word. I still stand by the historic values that evangelicalism was built on, I’m not going soft on the four ‘e’ principles listed earlier. But I’m tired of being tarred with the identities of men with megaphones who shout ‘hell’, ‘wrath’ and ‘damnation’ at passers-by and fail to say, ‘love’, ‘grace’ or ‘forgiveness’. I’m tired of being tarred with the identities of the ‘anti-everything’ brigade – who angrily list the things they are against and claim to speak for ‘evangelicals’, but actually have a tiny support base. And I’m tired of being tarred with US right wing foreign policy.

People within might understand, but what about those outside the church? Isn’t it time to choose a new word that sums up our e-identity and commitment to following Jesus but puts distance between us and the damaging negatives?"
What Buckeridge says is sadly true, not only in the UK but here in the USA. Regardless of the intentions of the parties noted above, the evangelical brand, if you will, has undergone a marked change in the last few decades. Theology has been upstaged by political agendas and the cause of Christ is often the loser.

Is it possible to rehabilitate the "E-Word" or do we need a different term? I'm not sure, but I am open to what some others are doing in "re-branding" the evangelical perspective. One of the best I have heard is Mark Driscoll.

Mark Driscoll the pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle has expanded on some work by Dr. Ed Stetzer and offers some new categories (which he has applied to the emerging church, but I think are useful to the question at hand) :

1) Relevants: theologically conservative, culturally innovative church forms.

2) Reformed Relevants: theologically conservative and reformed, culturally innovative church forms.

3) Reconstructionists: theologically conservative, reinventing church forms.

4) Revisionists: theologically liberal, reinventing church forms.

I think there is some merit in these distinctions. I would be more than happy to classify myself as a Reformed Relevant. And it gives one a handle by which to look at others who claim to be evangelical in the ever-changing landscape of modern Christianity.

So what do some of you think? Evangelical: worn-out or worth saving?

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