Am I Still an Evangelical?
Back on April 23, I reviewed the book, Still Evangelical?, a collection of essays by various evangelical leaders about why they remain evangelicals despite problems within this branch of Christianity.
Which brings up the question, am I still an evangelical? After all, I spend a fair bit of time critiquing evangelicalism. I'm an ardent egalitarian when many in evangelicalism are complementarian. I'm a feminist. I support the full inclusion of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters in the life of the church. I don't see much persecution of Christianity in our country. I believe the earth is millions of years old and that God used evolution to create the diversity of life.
I'm on the wrong side of a lot of evangelicalism's pet causes. I certainly didn't vote for Trump as 81% of evangelical voters did. But, I was raised as an evangelical and I go to an evangelical church. Am I still an evangelical?
What is an evangelical? Most people can't really define it. Some people would say that an evangelical is a white person who is against abortion, women's rights, and evolution and is politically conservative. That would describe lots of evangelicals. But, let's try a theological definition. Bebbington's quadrilateral is the most commonly used definition; he uses conversionism, crucicentrism, biblicism, and activism as the four characteristics that define evangelicals.
Evangelicals believe that people need to be converted. That is, you can't just be "born into" Christianity. At some point, you have to make it yours. This is called "soul freedom" and is a distinctive of evangelicalism. This says that we are free to believe or not to believe. Our faith isn't determined by what city we live in or who is king. We are called by God to faith in Jesus. Our choice is whether or not to step into that faith.
Next, I believe that the cross (i.e. Jesus death, burial, and resurrection) is a core belief in our faith. The whole atonement thing is what the Christian faith is based on. Jesus' death, in some way, paid the price for our sin. And we believe this was a literal moment in history. When this fails to be the basis for our faith, then we've stepped outside of Christianity.
Biblicism means that evangelicals give the Bible a prominent role in our faith. Other parts of Christianity may give tradition or special revelation prominence, but in evangelicalism, the Bible is it. This is how we know what God wants us to know. And I'm totally on board with that. But, many evangelicals have taken to a very wooden and literal reading of the Bible. The Bible, though, doesn't speak with one voice. It was written over hundreds of years by many different writers. Each section needs to be read and understood on the basis of its own author and audience. I really love and respect the Bible, but I'm not a young-earth creationist (i.e. I don't read the first part of Genesis literally) nor am I a dispensationalist (i.e. I don't believe in the upcoming "Rapture"). I love the Bible, but on its terms, not mine.
Evangelicalism believes in a faith that works, activism. Evangelicals should be the most active in social justice work in our communities because we understand that faith without works is dead. We also understand that working to eradicate poverty and disease must also be coupled with telling people about Jesus. Yes, I very much support an active faith!
Theologically, it's pretty clear that I'm still an evangelical. I'm also a definite part of our local EFCA (Evangelical Free Church in America) church and I'm not planning to change that anytime soon! But, socially, I don't track with lots of evangelicals. That's OK. There's no need for us to be homogeneous. And these differences give me a chance to talk about some important social/theological issues with friends and neighbors.
No matter what Christian denomination I fall into, I'll always be walking with Jesus, which is the most important thing!
What about you? Are you still in the religious tradition you grew up in? Have you felt the need to make a change? Feel free to comment!