Are you an evangelical reject? Apparently I am too.

I have to admit that I’m getting a bit tired of all the “evangelicalism” bashing that’s going on these days. Evangelicalism, however you define that term, is far from perfect and absolutely needs to be critiqued, challenged, and corrected on a regular basis. But, it doesn’t need any more unfair characterizations and unhelpful stereotyping. It already gets enough of that.

But, Kurt Willems posted a piece yesterday called “You Might Be an Evangelical Reject If….”  And, he went on to offer a lengthy list of things that might describe you if you’ve experienced the kind of rejection and marginalization that he apparently thinks is characteristic of mainstream evangelicalism. However, as I read through the list, I noticed two major problems.

First, almost everything on the list describes me! Here are just a few examples:

  • You’re uncomfortable calling other branches of Christianity “apostate.”
  • You read theologians from all across the spectrum.
  • You think that science and scripture both reveal God’s truth in complementary ways.
  • You think that what we believe about the so called “end times” actually matters for how we do missiontoday.
  • You endorse someone that has been deemed a heretic by apprising.org
  • You think that postmodern philosophy helps theology more than it hurts it.

I could go on, but you can read the rest of the list yourself. The list only has a couple of items that definitely wouldn’t describe me, though there are several that I’d word differently. So, according to Willems, I have really good reason to think that I’m an evangelical reject! Of course, that’s a bit of a problem given that I’m a professor of theology and academic dean at a major evangelical seminary, I’m a card-carrying member of the Evangelical Theological Society (well, not really since we don’t get cards), and I serve without problem at an evangelical (Baptist) church. So, it doesn’t really sound like I’ve been rejected by evangelicalism at all.

The reason I identify with so many of the things on his list is because he’s taken many of the features that have made evangelicalism so great throughout the years (e.g. theological creativity, interdenominational cooperation and dialog, social action, emphasis on mission, etc.) and he’s turned them into things that mark you out as an evangelical reject. But these aren’t what exclude you from being an evangelical. Historically speaking, many of them are the very things that make you an evangelical! (See also Don’t Give up on “Evangelical” Too Quickly.)

Second, the rhetoric of the list subtly paints evangelicalism in rather unfair terms. To see this, let’s read between the lines and reword a few items from the list a bit:

You might be an evangelical if…

  • You only read theologians with whom you agree.
  • You are never uncomfortable with theological “hot button” issues and/or you are unable to live with cognitive dissonance.
  • You think eschatology is irrelevant for mission today.
  • You use the word inerrancy because you like rigid definitions and modern categorical impositions.
  • You think women should be silent in the church.
  • You never drink alcohol.
  • You believe that the rapture means we don’t have to take care of the planet.
  • You would never even consider voting democratic.
  • You would never hang out with gay people.

That’s the flipside of Willem’s list. But, is that evangelicalism? No. That’s a caricature of one small slice of the evangelical pie. To take any movement, offer a negative caricature of it’s worst stereotypes, and use it to critique the entire movement is simply unfair.

So, it really seems that the target of Willem’s piece is particular branch of evangelicalism (probably the neo-Calvinists that he references in his second point), and he hasn’t even been entirely fair to that one small slice. There probably are legitimate criticisms to be leveled in that direction. But, let’s not paint with such a broad brush. The rest of us don’t like getting paint in our hair.

[Scientia et Sapientia is sponsored by the Master of Theology (Th.M.) program at Western Seminary. It’s an open forum, so please feel free to join the discussion.]

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About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on June 7, 2011, in The Church and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. This is why I commented saying, “I am beginning to think many of us evangelicals are not evangelical rejects, which brings up an interesting point: Why are [we] the rejects?!” In other words, I don’t think the majority of evangelicals thinks like Kurt described evangelicals. Rather, it would be the minority.

    If this is so, why does the minority dictate the terms?

    • I guess it depends on who “they” are. If we’re talking about the so-called neo-Calvinists, then they’re setting the agenda because they’re popular and they have quite a few good points. It’s exactly the same as when the “emergents” were setting the agenda a few years back, something that everyone seems to have quickly forgotten.

      But, if “they” refers to the caricature of evangelicalism that Willems presents, then I would deny that they’re setting the agenda at all.

  2. Marc,

    It’s back to biblical basics for me! And the reality of the so-called End Times has pressed me back there, oh yeah! As the Church goes deeper into apostasy, and the so-called New Evangelicals despise Modern Israel more and more! The “timing” of the “rapture” is an open question, but not the reality of Israel in her land! (Note Zech. 14) God is going to save a remnant from Israel..(Zech. 13: 8-9 / Rom. 11:25-29, etc.). But save them He will! Yep, I am a “Biblical” Zionist! 🙂

  3. I am definitely an Evangelical reject! “You think women should do anything BUT be silent in the church. (Can I get an AMEN from my sistas?)” – AMEN! : ) But I fall into a number of the other reasons for being rejected too.

    I am so glad I found your blog a few weeks ago now. I enjoy your thoughts and the links you post as well.

  4. I was a Roman Catholic before I became a Protestant at the age of 16. As a Roman Catholic, at least in the area where I lived, we were made to believe that “ours” was the true religion, and that all others were deceived and lost. I see that same spirit in evangelical groups today. There are some who love to identify with their founding fathers more than they do with Christ, and who seem drunk with the knowledge of their denominations “truth”. So from that perspective, I feel some of Kurt Willem’s pain. If we take Jesus Christ as our model, He did offend the “religious” in His day for living by the Spirit and not by the letter of the law.

    Having said that, there are evangelicals out there who are repackaging the gospel to make it more palatable for people who have absolutely no need for God. And that’s a terrible waste of time, not to mention sinful.

    On one of Willem’s notes, that an evangelical reject thinks post-modernism actually helps theology, I guess I’d be the evangelical. Post-modernism, as I understand it, essentially attempts to make all truths relative, and relativity is the best fuel for tolerance and tolerance is the best guise to accuse and silence those who maintain that the truth is an absolute. When Christians maintain that the gospel is the truth in that particular environment, they are seen as archaic and intolerant, so I’m not sure how postmodernism actually helps theology.

  5. Renee,

    I agree, that postmodernity cannot really be “Christianized”! Note, the Second Letter of Paul to Timothy here, especially chapter’s 2 and 3, with 4:1-4 also. We are seeing the Church apostatize right before our eyes! But do we have ‘eyes and hearts to see it’? That is the great question!

  6. I’ll have to be the odd one out here and say that I actually do find postmodern philosophy to be both valuable and helpful. That doesn’t mean that I think postmodern philosophers are always right (far from it!), but overall I do think that they’ve offered a helpful corrective in a variety of areas that’s worth engagin.

    We should also be careful to point out that there’s really no such thing as postmodern philosophy in the singular – only postmodern philosophers. The absolute rejection of truth and radical relativity would actually characterize only a very small portion of postmodern thought, though most definitely call into question the extent to which we can be confident that we actually know the truth.

  7. Marc,

    It all depends of course on how one defines postmodernism or postmodernity. Perhaps the only positive work close here (in my opinion) would be Stanley Grenz’s work & book: Renewing the Center, Evangelical Theology In A Post-Theological Era.

  8. Marc,

    Thanks for your thoughts on this. I had the same feeling that you did while reading the article – most of the evangelical bashing that I’m seeing in the blogosphere is not properly differentiating between historical evangelicalism and contemporary fundamentalism, which has hijacked the word. I think that George Marsden’s book “Fundamentalism and American Culture” provides a good history of the development of both groups through the late 19th to the late 20th c.

    I personally believe that it is helpful to continue to speak with people about these differences. When I first came out of fundamentalism, it took me awhile to realize that I was still an evangelical, though no longer a fundamentalist. I have had many friends who have walked a similar path over the past decade. Therefore, I have a feeling that there are more evangelical rejects out there who are actually fundamentalist rejects, and still quite welcome in evangelical circles.

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