Which was an interesting question to ask someone like me - someone who takes evangelism seriously but would never EVER be welcomed among the ranks of 'Evangelicals' - but mostly because I don't think most Evangelicals themselves agree on what it means to be an Evangelical.
To my mind, it's a lot like being a member of a political party. For example, it's not enough, anymore, to call yourself a 'Republican'. The question becomes much more nuanced. Are you a 'conservative', 'moderate', 'Tea Party' ("Orthodox") or 'Tea Bagger' ("Right Wing Nut") Republican?
So, I'm going to go where not many Progressive Christians have dared to go and talk about what 'Evangelical' means to me.
I know there are lots of Evangelicals who read this blog. Sometimes, they can't stand it and send me really hateful comments. All signed "Anonymous". Of course. So, I suspect this will make its way round the Evangelical circles. I will try to post as many comments as I get. I won't, however, post gutter snipes and personal attacks.
You have been warned.
Okay - so a GREAT BIG disclaimer here, right off the bat - for all my Evangelical friends out there: I am not attempting to define or redefine what it means to be Evangelical. Only YOU can do that for yourselves.
This is only one perspective - my perspective as a Progressive Christian. Okay - one who is grounded in Anglo-Catholic theology but with Evangelical and Charismatic. . . um . . . tendencies.
In case you're wondering, this means that I do not speak for ALL Progressive Christians. I am only speaking as ONE Progressive Christian who is writing, in this instance, of her perspective of Evangelicals which has been informed more by experience than what I've read and studied and learned about Evangelicals over the years.
It's not that I haven't read and studied and learned stuff about Evangelicals. I have. I'm just choosing not to talk about it from that angle in this post.
Which automatically gets me forgiven by my fellow Progressive Christians and simultaneously in trouble right from Jump Street with most who have identified themselves to me as Evangelicals.
It's the first of many ironies and paradoxes, in my view, of my experience of Evangelicals.
Can you hear me being Very Careful here not to 'generalize'? Good. 'Cuz I'm trying really hard not to piss any of you off. Which, of course, I will just by daring to talk about this subject and not being a bone fide Evangelical myself - even though I was asked. Sigh!
I'll also piss you off because I choose to talk about my personal experience of Evangelicals. Why? Because I refuse to get into a 'Quote-Unquote Pissing Contest'.
Hear me clearly: I'm not going to get into a "John Stott" vs. "John Shelby Spong" or "John Macquarrie" quote contest or who can quote your most popular theologian.
No "Dueling Theologians" here.
In my experience, the only thing Evangelicals love more than quoting Stott or N.T. Wright or R.C. Sproul is quoting Aristole, Augustine or long passages from "Lord of the Rings." (What's up with THAT, anyway?)
Here's the thing about that. I don't mean to be disrespectful but, well: YAWN!
To be perfectly honest, I'd much rather hear about your own story of conversion and how you live your life than to watch you perform scriptural or theological gymnastics or regurgitate what you've been taught or memorized.
Why? Well, because it begins to feel just a tad narcissistic after a while you know? Like what you really, really, really want me to know is just how much you know about the faith you profess, and what others have said about the faith you profess, rather than share the stories of your life of faith.
An "experience" of a living God is very, very important to me. It's that whole Jeremiah "fire in the bones", Paul of Tarsus being knocked off his high horse thing that is part of the 'witness' and 'testimony' part of being Evangelical that I love.
In fact, one of the jokes my Evangelical friends tell on themselves is this:
"If someone tells you that you are “on fire,” and your first thought is not to stop, drop, and roll...you might be an evangelical."
So, for sake of discussion (I don't want to argue), let's start here: It seems to me that everyone has four "core doctrine" that are foundational to their faith. That does not mean that there aren't other doctrine that are essential. I'm talking about foundational - what everything else is built on and rests upon.
For me, as a Progressive Christian, they are Creation, Incarnation, Reconciliation and Grace.
For the Evangelical, what I see and hear leads me to believe they are, essentially: The Fall, Incarnation, Resurrection and Inerrancy of Scripture.
Part of the reason Progressives and Evangelical Christians talk past each other all the time is that we start from two very different perspectives and build on two very different foundations. Meanwhile, our assumptions are that we mean the same thing when we identify ourselves as "Christian". We don't.
I don't mind that you have a different perspective with very different foundational beliefs, but it seems to bother you a great deal. You always seem eager to argue with me and anxious to convert me.
I don't want to convert you. I just want you to leave me alone in my beliefs while I'll leave you alone to believe and worship God in the way that is most meaningful to you. See?
But, it gets a little more complicated than that. It seems to me that there are two basic types of Evangelicals, with nuanced members in each "camp".
There are Evangelicals who consider themselves "Born Again." What's really important to these Christians are two questions:
Have you confessed your sin?Everything else is just detail.
Have you made a profession of faith in Christ Jesus?
It seems to me that it gets a little more detailed for the more "main stream" Evangelical who wants to know whether or not you believe
The Bible is the inerrant Word of God (emphasis on inerrant)I think that pretty much sums up my experience of what I'm going to call 'The Evangelical Canon' as I have heard it over the years. I'm not claiming 100% inerrancy in my reporting of it and I am certainly willing to stand corrected.
God is omnipotent (All. Power. Full.)
God is absolute perfection
God is active in the world today
Satan is a real spiritual being and is also active in the world today
Jesus is perfect, without blemish, incapable of sin
You will get to heaven only if you are justified by works, not just faith
All Christians have a responsibility to bring others to the Christian faith and life
"The Fall" in the Garden defines the human condition and human enterprise
Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary (AKA: virgin birth, which is Very Important if you believe that Jesus is perfect, without blemish and incapable of sin.)
Jesus died for our sins (Atonement for The Fall)
Jesus was fully resurrected, in the body
This is just my perspective. Remember: you asked. Well, a few of you did.
If I sound like I'm bending over backwards not to misrepresent or distance or insult anyone who is Evangelical, it's because I am. I cherish my friendships with my Evangelical friends and we have worked very hard, over the years, to find a place where we can continue to be friends despite our serious theological and political differences.
Here, I think, are the main points of our disagreement - not all, by any means, but the main ones. Okay, just the three main ones. Otherwise, this could become a book. A tome, actually.
I'll try to be brief.
1. The Fall. My Evangelical friends are all over this. Big time. I'm not. It's not a "real" story for me. It's a myth - a way ancient people tried to understand how their world works and why people are the way they are. It's not a bad beginning. It's just not reflective of how I see the world working and why people are the way they are today.
It is, nevertheless, an important story - indeed, a sacred story - because it marks an important point in our communal spiritual history and development.
It's not that I don't see that humans are flawed and faulted. We are. I just don't think we are "wretched" and "sin-sick". I have a higher doctrine of humanity than most of my Evangelical friends. I believe when God said, "It is good," God meant it about ALL of creation - including humankind. And, I believe in Jesus who shows us The Way to our redemption and salvation. More on this later.
2. The Atonement. Again, this is Very Big for my Evangelical friends. I wish I had a nickel for the number of times I heard "Jesus died for your sins." The Atonement makes absolute sense if you buy the story of the Fall. Otherwise, it's a real intellectual problem. Which it is, obviously, for me.
That doesn't mean that I don't believe that there was a man named Jesus who was fully human and fully divine who died a brutal and senseless and shameful death on the cross. I'm just not convinced that the God I know and love and worship and adore would require that kind of cruelty and brutality from "his only begotten son" - or anyone else, for that matter.
That feels an awful lot like human projection to me - not the qualities of the loving God of abundance who blessed me with life.
Besides, what really doesn't make sense to me is that, "if Jesus died for our sins, once and for all" then why do Evangelicals continue to harp on the wretchedness of the human condition? If we're saved, we're saved. If we've been redeemed, we've been redeemed.
Rejoice a little, wouldja? It's positively miraculous what we can accomplish for God and God's world when we work from an impulse of gratitude rather than guilt.
I know all about 'temptation' and 'sin' and 'the Devil'. But, Jesus is alive and is risen. There is a balance in the world. It's gonna be okay. We're all going to go to heaven.
Oops. I crossed the line again, didn't I? Okay. Disregard that last remark (Not to worry. A good Evangelical already has).
What I mean by this is that the most annoying part of having Evangelical friends is that they tend to speak with the kind of authority I knew in the RC church of my youth. We laughingly called this "truth by blatant assertion." What is true for them is Truth. Capital "T". Period, end of sentence.
Not only that, the Evangelicals I know an love tend not to question. Indeed, they don't even like questions, preferring answers, thank you very much - especially ones that have been provided for them by Very Important Theologians.
One of my Evangelical colleagues frequently reminds me that he is "praying for God to give me a word of truth" about my faith so I can be a "true believer" because he "just knows" that I have "the possibility".
Arrogance or conviction? Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference.
Here's the thing about having a Very Low Doctrine of Humanity: it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Some of the most mean-spirited, decidedly un-Christian comments I've ever heard or actions I've witnessed have come from people who profess to follow Jesus.
Say what you like about Progressive Christians - we're certainly far from perfect - but we tend to err on the side of inclusion and forgiveness - sometimes, to a fault. We can be fools that way. And, sometimes, it would be hard not to be found guilty by a jury of our peers.
Look, I'm quite sure that there are things about Progressive Christians that drive Evangelicals right round the bend. I'd love it if an Evangelical did a similar thing I've done here - tried to summarize the "Progressive Canon" as you understand it.
I'd love it even more if you let me know if I've fairly represented the "Evangelical Canon". If I haven't, I trust you'll correct me.
I'd also love it if you said, straight away, what drives you right 'round the bend about Progressive Christians. I think it would be highly illuminating to see myself from your perspective. I hope it has been helpful for Evangelicals who read this.
Tell me how you live what you believe and I'll tell you how I live what I believe.
I think conversations at this level will do more to move us along in our understanding of each other than a recitation of doctrine.
Don't you? I'm sure you'll let me know.
And, if you aren't sure whether or not you are an Evangelical, here are a few more "You Might Be an Evangelical" jokes:
If you believe that hell is going to be populated by Catholics (except for Mel Gibson), the Clintons, Mormons (with a special dispensation for Glen Beck), the staff of New York Times (all of them), Rosie Odonnell, all of the people from the East coast and West coast (with a special hot spot for Hollywood), Brian McLaren, and all Liberals, you might be an Evangelical.
If you think homoousios is the emphatic bill for same-sex marriage, you might be an Evangelical.
If your three cardinal sins are fornication, homosexuality, and voting Democrat, you might be an Evangelical.
If you see a Gold’s Gym t-shirt and then think that a “God’s Gym” t-shirt would be really cool…you might be an evangelical.If your personal library contains the Left Behind series, the Prayer of Jabez, the Purpose-Driven Life and Your Best Life Now….you might be an evangelical.
If you think the best place to buy quality artwork for your living room is a Christian “bookstore”…you might be an evangelical.
If someone says “guitar,” and you automatically think “worship”… you might be an evangelical.
If you say the word “just” more frequently than the word “Jesus” when you pray…you might be an evangelical.