пятница, 25 октября 2013 г.

Why would anyone want to distance themselves from the word 'evangelical'?

Why would anyone want to distance themselves from the word 'evangelical'? 

I think I know the answer to that question.

For some on the liberal end of the spectrum the word is synonymous with 'fundamentalist' and refers to Bible-bashing fanatics who don't share their 'broader' views of Scripture and life. Truth, so it is claimed, is much more nuanced that the black-and-white simplications of the evangelicals. The only certainties seem to be the contemporary dogmas of justice and equality. If there is one thing we can all agree on it is not the deity of Christ or his saving work, but the evil of the contemporary slave trade and the need to recycle the coffee cups after church.

But now there are conservative, Bible-believing Christians who are distancing themselves from the term 'evangelical'. They want to distance themselves from the excesses of the lunatic fringe of the charismatic movement (Benny Hinn, Todd Bentley and the lunacy of much of Christian television) or the vagaries of those (not all?) in the 'emerging/emergent' movement whose eagerness to identify with 21st century post-moderns hinders them from a clear statement of God's truth - the surgically healing sword of the Spirit is blunted lest it offend, hurt or repel. If they are evangelicals, so the logic goes, then I would rather not be.

But there is an historical aspect too. There are reformed Christians who want to distance themselves from (1) the Anabaptists and (2) Jonathan Edwards and the Evangelical Revival of the 18th century. These so-called aberrations are at odds with the reformed tradition which 'got it all right' in the 16th century. Quote: "There is a Reformed piety. It doesn’t need to be augmented or fixed. It needs to be attempted."

Let's start with the Anabaptists. Name some. Thomas Munzer? Jan of Leyden? Servetus? It should come as no surprise that these 'anabaptists' didn't quite follow the Bible. But the word 'Anabaptist' in the 16th century was a catch-all term to tar with the same brush all those who did not accept the Constantinian union of church and state, the equation of society with the church. Heretics? Well, some of them were, but not all. When you are engaging with Anabaptist thought, why not quote Hubmaier or Menno Simmons? You might differ with them on points of soteriology (Simons at least was Arminian in theology, if that isn't an anachronism), but these are mainstream, sound Christian pastors, who talked a lot of Biblical common sense and lived lives of discipleship in very difficult circumstances. I find Menno Simons 'marks of the true church' a helpful and necessary continuation of the 2-3 marks proposed by the Reformers. And actually you would be hard-pushed to find anyone today (even those who believe in the Establishment principle, and especially those loyal to the constitution of the USA), who denies that the Christian church is a voluntary counter-culture which cannot be identified with society. Is it not possible that the Anabaptists got some things right that the Reformers didn't? Are we too big to accept that?

What about the Evangelical revival? I really don't understand why reformed Christians would want to distance themselves from this movement. Traditionally, it began with the Communion seasons in Stewarton, Sixmilewater and Shotts (1630) at which God blessed the preaching of his Word with many conversions. Bishop John Ryle's work on the revival preachers of the 18th century describes the work of God through men such as Whitefield and Wesley, preaching the ruin of man (people) before God, the redemption of Christ and the regeneration of the Spirit. In particular the theme-verse of the Evangelical revival was from John's gospel: "You must be born again." Thanks to these man the stagnant, inward-looking reformed churches at the start of the 18th century were revived and able to reach out to the masses with the gospel and later to the whole world in missionary endeavour. Or was "all well in the kingdom of Denmark" before the Evangelical revival? Had we got it all right? 

Maybe my brethren are mistaking the later excesses of Cane Ridge and revivalism with the earlier revivals?
Or maybe there is another reason. There is something uncomfortable, isn't there, about the word evangelical? It is about the gospel, it is about being saved, it is about getting out there and reaching out to folk who are far from God. And those Anabaptists and revival preachers, they were hardly respectable, were they? The 'fools for Christ' of the 16th and 18th centuries. Might there not be something within us, in our hearts, which longs for the respectablity of a weekly encounter with God's word in the hallowed setting of a church building? Do we prefer the tame "use of the ordinary means" to God's Word as washing, fire, sword? Would we rather bathe in the tepid bath of our tradition and 'rightness' than expose ourselves to the torrent of God's Word and Spirit?   

No individual, movement or writing - apart from God's Word - can be accepted wholesale. Just as in Christ we are at once justified and sinners (simul iutus et peccator), so no one has 'got it all right'. Not even John Calvin. Not even John MacArthur. Not even your favourite Christian pastor or writer. As soon as we think we have 'got there' it is a sure sign we have a long way still to go. "And he gave... the shepherds and teachers,to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up sthe body of Christ, until we all attain to tthe unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God" (Ephesians 4:11-13).

And in the meantime, let's not give up the word 'evangelical'. 

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