Evangelicals and Neo-evangelicals

Having exited evangelicalism, I can, I admit, find it easy to point and to ruminate in ill-considered ways, about a tradition to which I in fact owe much. I hope yesterday’s post was not ill-considered.

hatch3fixEvangelicals, old and new, as a rule far more than an exception, are generous and good-hearted and kind. If there is kindness in me it is largely because of my dear old German Baptist mother. If there is generosity in me, it is because of my late, low-key Evangelical-Mennonite-Baptist Russian father. And if I’m occasionally found riding a goodwill curve, it is because of the good-natured self-critique, church-critique, pretension-piercing ability of the quiet agile mind of my father and the gentle hands of my mother, as well as the mimetic spill-over from my siblings.

But I am left wondering what my father would have thought of my "exiting." Still, I’m confident that if he were alive today he would have embraced today’s neo-evangelical thrust. And so I could have at least had an interesting discussion with him. I would have loved the opportunity with fear and trembling.

Chick049Neo-evangelicals (using the term in its broadest sense, not merely post-fundamentalist) as a body, are proof that evangelicals are often enough their own best critics. The "Emergent Church" in all its amorphousness, the open-mindedness of "Red-letter" Christians, and "Progressive Evangelicals," are all responses to an evangelicalism whose shelf-life is up. The old Evangelicalism’s stress on a highly individualistic understanding of salvation, the absence of environmental concern, the stress on the soul to the lamentable determent of the social, are the larger issues that these newer strains are correcting.

For this, I thank God.

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  1. You really thought there was a possibility of your comments being ill-considered? Really? Then I have to say this: you are the most thoughtful, considerate, kind, careful writer I know. You want ill-considered, just for some perspective? (This is not from me, but from someone close.) Evangelical Christianity, the brand I was raised with, is responsible for all the heartbreak in my life, the decade of denial and pain and anger and suicidal struggle, and the current and now-probably-permanent grand canyon between me and everyone in my family (you know, because I’m gay and I don’t fit theologically and am going to hell and can hardly bear to be around that message any more). And this is from me: it is responsible for my character—responsible and empathetic and strong in many ways, but also dependant, inferior-feeling, needy, lacking confidence, subservient on the surface, angry underneath, depressed and disillusioned. How’s that for blunt and ill-considered? But then, Scott Peck has thanked the Church for providing him with clientele unlimited; maybe it’s time we all spoke up.

  2. Leslie, Thank you so much for your comment. And for the comment from your friend.

    Perhaps, part of my desire for always appearing considerate is in fact a dark hang-over from evangelical-pietism’s mode of containment. That is, because “holiness” doesn’t allow open wounds or even blemishes, these must be skirted or covered over. Not spoken about. Or spoken about gingerly.

    Your comment lifts a corner of me that I don’t much like, but need to reckon with. I do want to be more human.

    And you’re right. There is an underside of Evangelicalism that stunts human growth. And people warped by it can be unconscionably cruel.

  3. But I think you are very human – I didn’t mean to imply your thoughtfulness and consideration of others is bad, not at all. Just that you are the last person who needs to worry about speaking rashly or carelessly; it doesn’t seem to be in your nature to do so. But thanks for your acknowledgement of the potential to damage in the name of religion, of piety, of Christianity – though I don’t believe true Christianity damages; I just believe most of us are more familiar with a distorted Christianity than a true one.

  4. i’m moved by Leslie’s confession – that she’s “dependant, inferior-feeling, needy, lacking confidence, subservient on the surface.” I think she’d find strength for the journey in just about any page of Joel Osteen’s #1 New York Times Bestseller – “Your best life now – seven steps to living at your full potential.’

    I’ve come to call them “my devosteens.” Let’s see … on page 188: “Don’t give up! Keep standing. Keep praying; keep believing; keep hoping in faith.”

    There, don’t you feel better now, Leslie? I’m always amazed that we Christians don’t avail ourselves of the valuable helps God provides.

  5. I’m thankful for my Baptist upbringing and overall the absolutes and teachings I learned and internallized have kept me happy and out of trouble. I did not have a rebellious adolescence nor experimented very much with any vices. But what I’m more interested nowadays is what I should do and say in order to glorify God rather than merely observing the “thou shalt nots”. Your blog here is a helpful reminder of why!

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