Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Farewell Evangelicalism? Not So Fast

In the wake of World Vision’s reversal of their short-lived policy to hire employees who are in married gay relationships, many progressives are swearing off evangelicalism. Perhaps the most public of these vows was a piece that Rachel Held Evans wrote for CNN wherein she professes, “I, for one, am tired of arguing. I’m tired of trying to defend evangelicalism when its leaders behave indefensibly.” (In a later post on her blog, she seemed less certain of this decision.)

Evans is not the only progressive distancing herself from the evangelical label though. Some like Nish Weiseth and Micah J. Murray are resolving to quit evangelicalism altogether while others, like Zach Hoag, are committing to reinventing it (a “Newer New Evangelicalism” perhaps?). Despite these resolutions — and the accompanying slew of tweets, blog posts and Facebook updates –progressives may have a harder time leaving evangelicalism than they think. In fact, many are perpetuating the very things about evangelicalism that they profess to deplore. Post-evangelicals are still operating within evangelical paradigms.

A Brief History

Millennials tend to associate evangelicalism with an odd collection of American religiosity, traditional mores, and a “God-said-it-I-believe-it” reductionism. In many ways, their understanding has been shaped by growing up in the culture wars of the 1980s and 90s, and has been exacerbated by a religious consumerism unique to capitalism.

Step back a generation or two and you’ll find an evangelicalism less defined by politics and more defined by a commitment to the relevancy and authority of Scripture. Step back yet one more generation and evangelicalism is embodied in cross-denominational cooperation, the global missions movement, and social reform. Step back again and you’ll discover an evangelicalism that was birthed in the revivals of the Great Awakening.

Just as our DNA is the product of the generations before us, today’s evangelicals carry traits, not only of their mothers and fathers, but of their grandmothers and grandfathers and great-grandmothers and great-grandfathers. What many millennials understand to be evangelicalism—some kind of quasi-Protestant, flag-waving, gun-toting, ‘mericanism–simply isn’t.

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