Posted on: July 31st, 2013 My Take on (American) Evangelicalism

Thanks to my friend Tish for posting this, I assume at least partly in response to this. And also one should see this, with which I heartily agree.

Of course “evangelicalism” is a slippery term b/c it is both a sociological descriptor and a theological tradition.

Question: where does Catholic Christianity figure in all this?

Reason I ask: I walked away from evangelicalism (at least in my own mind!) not so much b/c it was so militantly opposed to progressive culture (in terms of science, poverty, & liberal politics … the things cited in the title of Tish’s blog post), as Tish’s interlocutors (eg, Rachel Evans) seem to be saying and against which Tish seems to be protesting, but precisely for the opposite reason.

I see evangelicalism as being part and parcel with secular culture: individualistic, private, trend-obsessed, market based. (Example: show me a church planter’s vision statement [the mere fact that evangelicals use “vision statements” speaks volumes] that does not tacitly try to position itself in terms of the contemporary religious “market” in America.)

Which of course is why many, many of those who decry evangelicalism are themselves … evangelicals. It is now trendy in evangelical circles to be progressively anti-evangelical. (Witness the “emergent church” … as I throw up in my mouth a teency bit.)

Evangelicalism, as best I can discern, is not sacramental; it is not sacred; it is not other worldly; it is not mystical; it is not transcendent; it is not rooted in history (by and large). I say this as an ex-evangelical (said in the most wounded tone of voice I can muster, imagining myself to have gone through a painful “de-conversion” experience.)

I’ve been convinced for about a decade now that evangelicalism is actually the reverse face (the “kissing cousin” or the “other side of the coin”) of our distinctively American secular culture.



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8 Responses to “My Take on (American) Evangelicalism”

  1. Walt Says:
    July 31st, 2013 at 3:46 pm

    I disliked the article… (About millenials), what frustrates me is I can’t help but agreeing to thee conclusion, but I despise the article’s methodology… Her argument is essentially “this is what I want to believe why doesn’t the church adjust to us” she isn’t looking for an intellectual discourse on the subjects and unfortunately neither are the vangy’s (which hints at your theory that they are two sides of the same coin).

    The other thing i don’t like about the article is that I just don’t think this approach is particularly any different from boomers or X’rs at their age.

  2. Jonathan Says:
    July 31st, 2013 at 10:43 pm

    Appreciated your response. I think you are largely right concerning evangelicalism as a ‘sociological descriptor’ but not as a ‘theological tradition’, though you may be (qualifiedly) right as to ‘neo-evangelicalism’, i.e. Henry, Ockenga, Graham, et al. I’ve written my own critiques (and affirmations) of evangelicalism in conversation with Christian Smith back when I was blogging more frequently:

    The plasticity of evangelicalism as theological tradition is such that it includes voices as diverse as Edwards and Hodge, Schaff and Spurgeon, Boersma and Wells. It’s far too sweeping to classify all of them as sacramentarian, anti-mystical, and trend-obsessed. I will stand up for what’s best in that tradition and, when pressed, identify myself with it as well.

  3. Jason Hague Says:
    August 1st, 2013 at 12:40 am

    As an pastor in an evangelical church, I recognize our anemia in some of these areas. We bend over backwards to be seen as “relevant” to the culture because we lack an identity. That’s what happens when you jettison tradition and history. We need religion, but are afraid of it. So we try to be popular with the culture instead, but the culture will never be satisfied with our concessions. I’d rather we follow our Catholic brothers, who say “We know what we’re about. This is who we are. This is who we’ve always been. Say what you will.”

  4. matt Says:
    August 1st, 2013 at 9:57 pm

    Dear Walter, Jonathan, & Jason,

    What an honor that three such thoughtful & humble friends even read this blog.

    Walter, I agree with your reasons for disliking the Evans article.

    Jason, well said & I agree.

    Jonathan, my love and respect for you is utmost. As a matter of fact I had Spurgeon & Wells in my mind while I wrote the blog post. I will grant your point about those classical evangelicals on market dynamics. However … I really can’t concede on the issue of sacramentality. Luther: yes. So in that sense it is possible for an evangelical to be sacramental. However, surely it ends with Luther. Even Calvin does not hold that the Christian life is fundamentally sacramental.

    I think that trying to defend classical evangelicalism over and against the neo-evangelicals is a lost cause. Where I’m at in my journey is that a deeper measure is required.

  5. matt boulter Says:
    August 1st, 2013 at 10:31 pm

    And Jonathan,

    Thx for the links. I’ll check them out!

    Maybe I’m wrong & mistaken.



  6. Jonathan Says:
    August 2nd, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    Let me rephrase. When I said evangelicalism as sociological descriptor, I had in mind both neo-evangelicalism and baptistic and/or trend driven mega churches. I think you are correct about those phenomena, and their days are
    numbered. The theological tradition is much broader and in a sense more diffuse than that, including a presence in a number of confessional communions, including Lutherans, Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and others who gave preserved the threefold apostolic order and the liturgy. I intended with the three couplets (hodge v Edwards and so on) to wave a hand at the poles of evangelical theology, to talk in shorthand about its capaciousness. It is notoriously impossible to define the sine qua non of evangelicalism, but personally I like Hauerwas’ one word answer – ‘energy’. evangelicals are just impatient with theology and liturgy that is not animated, that does not breathe, which is not in some sense ‘enthusiastic’ and ‘affectionate’ to use those 18th century terms.
    and so in short, to my way of thinking, One can be an evangelical
    anywhere, and to my mind the happiest of unions is evangelical catholicism, as mercersberg hoped for.

  7. Daniel Rosales Says:
    August 3rd, 2013 at 3:32 am

    I’m sorry, but if you want “catholicity” & “sacramentology”, go to LATIN AMERICA…look at it’s fruit…poverty, corruption, indulgences, violence. My mother came to “AMERICA” fleeing not only the economic oppression by the civil magistrates(governments), but spiritual as well(roman catholic church). My mother is from El Salvador. Matt, I think you mentioned Leithart on the church being the center of the city(in some other posting, maybe facebook)..something to that effect…The church IS the center of almost every city in Latin America. Again…what is the fruit…processions of men carrying statues of Jesus or Mary down the city streets during Holy week and days…all empty, vain, and idolatrous displays of “religiocity”

  8. Jonathan Says:
    August 4th, 2013 at 2:22 pm

    With all due respect, that’s a one-sided presentation of religious life in Latin America, even if nominalism is an all too common reality there. If you read Bill Cavanaugh’s Torture and Eucharist on the faithful resistance of priests, and laity to the Pinochet regime in Chile or about Archbishop Bergoglio (now Francis I)’s efforts to protect political refugees in Argentina during military rule from 76-83 (e.g. here you will find that it was precisely catholicity, sacramental sensibility, and liturgical formation that prepared these Catholics for the time of sacrifice and martyrdom. Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism can in their own ways become boring and routine and do not have the richness of liturgy to sustain their members when that happens, and they do not have a grasp of tradition that penetrates and exposed the peculiar sins of our own time period.