Friday, September 1, 2017

"Post-Evangelical" Evangelicals

For a long time there has been a trend among North American evangelicals who grow up in conservative evangelical culture, and then at some point leave "traditional" evangelicalism for some flavor of progressive Christianity. On the popular level,  I'm thinking here of people like Rachel Held Evans or Rob Bell. Usually, these "post-evangelicals/ex-evangelicals" claim to have cut ties with evangelicalism and they no longer identify as evangelical; they disavow evangelicalism.

Ironically, it seems to me that far from being outside of evangelicalism these progressive Christians represent the epitome of evangelicalism.

Evangelical culture emphasizes a personal relationship with Jesus and the priesthood of all believers. As products of Luther's Protestant Reformation, evangelicals feel they have a right to read and interpret the Bible for themselves, and they are skeptical of church authority and tradition. At its worst this is the "It's just me and Jesus" mentality that is completely removed from the community of faith. All I need is my Bible and the Holy Spirit without having any regard for the history of the Church as it has existed all around the world for two thousand years. We hear expressions like, "This is what this verse means to me...," "I trust God's Spirit to guide me...," In other words, truth is found as I read the Bible by myself and through my own interpretive abilities. It is very individualistic, very subjective, and very self-oriented. Unfortunately, many evangelicals are unwilling to do the long, difficult exegetical task, and prefer to choose trite, over-simplistic, feel-good answers.

As I watch believers leave evangelicalism for progressive Christianity, they do so for precisely these evangelical principles. They borrow evangelical ideals and take them to the extreme. Their faith has become so subjectivized - me and and my personal relationship with Jesus, me and my Scripture reading - to the point of making room for no one else. Progressive Christians are happy to stand against the traditions of the Church around the world for two thousand years, and instead embrace a nonconformist attitude led by their own intuitions and instincts about what is true. Indeed, the pick and choose approach to faith until I come with a flavor that fits best for me is a very Western, modern, individualistic, expression.

So, however progressive Christians identify it can't be as "ex-evangelical." On the contrary, they might be the most evangelical of all.

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