Post-Evangelicalism

There are about a dozen blogs that I read on an almost daily basis. One of them is Internet Monk, by Michael Spenser. Michael was interviewed for the November/December 2008 issue of Modern Reformation magazine on the topic of “post-Evangelicalism.” The idea of post-Evangelicalism is actually a return to the essentials of the Protestant Reformation. It is “post-Evangelical” in that it is a rejection of the theological drifting that is common within modern Evangelicalism. This wandering away from essential Biblical truths is evident in a number of ways: me-centered worship, self-help sermons and books, entertainment-centered youth ministry, and seeker-sensitive church marketing that takes the priority over discipleship. Modern Reformation magazine (and the associated White Horse Inn radio program) have been running a year-long series on this called “Christ-less Christianity.”

I prefer to identify myself as a “Reformation Christian” rather than “Post-Evangelical,” but the concept is the same. I identify deeply with what Michael Spenser says in this interview, entitled The Post-Evangelical Option. Here are some quotes:

By “post-evangelical” I do not mean a personal rejection or abandonment of these distinctives, but simply that many of us who have been born, shaped, and defined by this movement now find ourselves estranged by what evangelicalism has become. We sense that the gospel is in jeopardy, that the role of the Bible is greatly diminished, that a fully nurtured concept of the church and discipleship has been largely abandoned, and that the culture war has replaced a more constructive and compassionate engagement with society.

Post-evangelicalism then, for me and many of my readers/listeners, is a conscious step away from what evangelicalism has become and an intentional effort to find the spirit of evangelicalism again in the resources of the more ancient, deeper, broader, Christian tradition.

Thousands of evangelicals are discovering the Christian tradition through the Christian year, the creeds, and exploring liturgy in their own free-church traditions. Thousands of evangelicals have become Catholic and Orthodox [I’m not recommending this, nor does Spenser], but many thousand more are reading and learning about those traditions and the larger roots of their own.

I believe the Reformation was a tragic necessity in two ways: it is basically conservative of the gospel, and it adheres to the simplicity of the gospel. That stands in tremendous contrast to Catholicism, the contemporary charismatic scene, so-called “progressive” Christianity, and so on. Reformation Christianity today is the major voice in world Christianity calling for salvation by grace, through faith, by Christ, according to the authority of Scripture. All evangelicalism should be Reformation evangelicalism.

I believe evangelicalism itself always runs the risk of its own self-destruction, as Roman Catholic Louis Bouyer pointed out, by placing so much emphasis on “one man, God and a Bible.” There is the danger of rejecting the wisdom, depth, and connections of the broader Christian tradition and being consumed in a kind of radical individualism that leaves little place for the gathered church community. Our ahistorical, pragmatic temptations as evangelicals have been having their way and now the most visible pastor in America is a motivational speaker [Joel Osteen] with almost a hostile view of the gospel. Post-evangelicalism can apply the brakes to this race for the cliff and can help steer us back to the roads we foolishly abandoned.

I have been fortunate to have been a part of Evangelical Free Churches that I have been pretty happy with. The preaching has been centered on Christ and what he has done for us, and the worship leaders have had theological discernment in the lyrics of the songs they have chosen for Sunday mornings. I do, however, long for an expression of Christianity that is tied into the bigger picture of Christian history, while retaining the theological distinctives of the Reformation.

Grace and Peace

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