Friday, November 11, 2005

The Confusing World of "Evangelicals"

This week I’ve read two articles on the word ‘Evangelical’.

The first is by Paul Trudinger On Reclaiming the Term ‘Evangelical’ for its Rightful Use in a recent Expository Times piece who states: “For ‘evangelical’ is a grand, large and liberating word, rightly understood and rightly used, descriptive of what is central to the life of all persons who put their trust in God and seeks to do what God requires of them in the words of Micah 6:8 …’ Of course Trudinger thinks that Martin Buber and Gandhi were evangelicals too! Trudinger accuses evangelicals of hypocrisy for going on their ‘March for Jesus’ parades when they should be doing acts of compassion and social justice instead. Let me make three quick responses: (1) The evangel of Trudinger sounds a lot like the kind of evangel that Karl Rahner warned us about: ‘A God without wrath, who takes men without sin, to a kingdom without judgment’. His evangel is theological impoverished and morally bankrupt – so he’s more than welcome to it. (2) As for liberals being concerned with justice and Evangelicals being obsessed exclusively with saving souls, well, I never ceased to be amazed by liberals, rather like Trudinger, who used to volunteer to come over to Australian colleges and seminaries from North America and to lecture us about social justice and ending poverty. Strangely enough, they always insisted on flying business class! Now there’s an illustration of hypocrisy. (3) In my experience (admittedly biased) there are more Evangelicals out there working with the marginalized, disempowered, abused and impoverished than liberals – in fact, I heard of a survey in the UK that made exactly this point (though I cannot confirm it at this point). If Trudinger thinks evangelicals have no concern for the poor he should read McKnight’s Jesus Creed. Game, Set, Match – Evangelicals!

In another article, John Armstrong writes a piece called Why I Am Not an Evangelical and he opines that those on the far right of evangelicalism (politically and theologically) have hijacked the meaning of the name so that “Evangelical” is almost synonymous with fundamentalist. I understand his concern, but outside the US we don’t really have the same problem of fundamentalists trying to use the term evangelical to describe themselves. Most fundamentalists I have met dislike Evangelicals with a passion.

In sum, we have a liberal who wants to be known as an ‘Evangelical’ and then we have an Evangelical who doesn’t want to be called an ‘Evangelical’ anymore.

Add to the mix Ben Witherington’s recent book The Problem with Evangelical Theologies featured in an article in Christianity Today and you have some interesting discussion.

Love them or hate them, Evangelicals make our world a more interesting place!


Chris Tilling said...

If Trudinger thinks evangelicals have no concern for the poor he should read McKnight’s Jesus Creed.
Amen. And he should read, above all, Sider's Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, a powerful, disturbing and prophetic book.

Joel said...

Don't forget Daryl G. Hart's book Deconstructing Evangelicalism that argues there isn't any such thing as evangelicalism to begin with.

Ben Myers said...

I don't know anything about John Armstrong, but I think I understand his point: if I were in the US, I probably wouldn't want to be associated with "evangelicalism" either. But I'd be very comfortable calling myself an "evangelical" in the UK or here in Australia (and even more so in Germany), where the term isn't associated with servile conservatism or right-wing political ideologies.

Of course I'm not suggesting that all "evangelicals" in the US actually fit this theological and political description; but perhaps, as John Armstrong says, in the US the term "evangelical" has been hijacked by people who do fit this description all too well.

TheBlueRaja said...

Mark Noll's book, "The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind" very interestingly narrates some of the developments which drive the criticism of men like John Armonstrong.

Great links, Mike. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I think the "God without wrath" quote originated with H. Richard Niebuhr: "A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross" (The Kingdom of God in America [New York: Harper & Row, 1937], 193).

Bob Buller