Evangelical or Post-Evangelical

An Essay by Robert Brow   (web site - www.brow.on.ca)

 (Edited from postings on the CETA-L, April to May 1996) 

Evangelical is a great term that means pertaining to the good news, and I don't really want to dump that. I would prefer to distinguish Evangelical from Evangelicalism, which I view as the fossilized explanatory models of evangelical life.

 During the Reformation period there was a discovery of new life through reading the Bible in one's own language, but that got fossilized into various forms of explanation. These were each set in stone as confessions of faith to exclude all others. Later the new life of the Methodist and Evangelical revivals was soon fossilized into other other forms of evangelicalism. As was that of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements.

 I suggest that most of the people who want be viewed as post- evangelicals have felt the need to free themselves from the shackles of the form of evangelicalism they inherited from their own tradition. I slowly had to free myself from the evangelicalism of the Inter-Varsity group I was converted in. And I discovered that genuine evangelical good news was far bigger than the narrow explanation I had adopted.

 I find some of the positive aspects of postmodernism very helpful. The reason is that post-modernism refuses to allow any one model to be privileged, even the form of Evangelicalism we were stuck with. All models are hypothetical. That suggests that God allows his children the freeedom to look at, and try out if we insist, all sorts of ways of looking at the good news of what life is about.

 That means we need to allow each other to compare and contrast different models. And the first step is for genuine Evangelicals to agree that God is not bound to any one form of Evangelicalism. We are free to learn from Calvinistic and Wesleyan models, Greek Orthodox and Lutheran, Mennonite and Charismatic models, Anglicans and Baptists. In the Evangelicalism of the Cambridge University InterVarsity group where I was was nurtured from 1947 to 1950, C.S.Lewis was viewed as a dangerous Liberal who must never be invited to speak at any of our meetings. Romans Catholics of course all went to hell with the other heathen. And films were all forbidden in case they stirred up a hint of sexual feelings.

 That's why I wriggled out of Evangelicalism, but I hope I can remain an Evangelical. The trick is to avoid the Scylla rocks on one side and the Charybdis whirlpool on the other side, and sail right through the narrows between them. As Jesus said "Watch out, and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees" (Matt. 16:6).

 The Pharisees began with a love for God's Word. But by Jesus' day they had developed out a theological model which required people to accept their six hundred interpretations of the law of Moses. And if you doubted their evangelical statement of faith you were a liberal and unsaved. The Sadducees correctly steered away from the Pharisees rocks, and rejected that kind of legalism. But then having rejected the resurrection and life after death as unscientific they soon got sucked into the whirlpool of doubt even about God.

 In our modern Evangelical scene we have the same rocks and whirlpool. Some keep constructing detailed statements of faith and behaviour. They then assume that their interpretation is what the Bible obviously teaches, and soon brand all who question their interpretation as liberals. That makes it impossible to learn from others, or to be guided into all truth by the Holy Spirit. Others assume that the only way to escape that kind of legalism is to sail into models that leave out any possibility of a Trinitarian Theistic God who intervenes in his world. The outer ring of the whirlpool feels free and exciting, but they are inexorably sucked into narrowing circles of denying more and more of the Word of God.

 I assume that the Son of God wants His goodnewsers to beware of the rocks of legalism on the one hand and the liberal whirlpool on the other, and set our sails for the wind of the Spirit to take us right in between them. I like that kind of Evangelical.

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