Evangelicals at a Crossroad: A Dialogue

Over at Christianity Today’s history blog this week you’ll find Evangelicals at a Crossroad: A Dialogue, in which three Bethel University professors discuss the historic significance and present health of evangelicalism. I’ve clipped the beginning here, then provided the link to read the rest at the CH blog:

This past summer two professors at Bethel University, St Paul, Minnesota and one at sister institution Bethel Seminary (me!) were invited to participate in a recorded dialogue that would become a printed piece in the schools’ magazine. The three of us, guided by questions posed by a moderator, considered where evangelicalism is today and where it may be headed.

By necessity tentative and partial, our wide-ranging conversation nonetheless raised some important issues. When we were done, we had a meaty article, of which (for reasons of space) only a brief portion ended up being printed in the magazine.

Though somewhat longer than our typical blog posting, we offer the full edited article (“never before published,” as the marketing wallahs might say) in hopes that it will spark some conversation among our readers who care about the historical movement called evangelicalism:

Continue reading Evangelicals at a Crossroad: A Dialogue

One response to “Evangelicals at a Crossroad: A Dialogue

  1. The beginnings of a lively discussion about issues raised by this dialogue has ensued on Facebook. These are the comments so far:

    Sammy Wanyonyi

    Excellent! I especially appreciated your argument that we should rather describe ourselves as Christ followers rather than go on the mat in a quest to reclaim the term evangelical. In my observation of American evangelicalism as an African Christ-follower looking in, which you do well in discussing, there is alot that is a miss in terms of … See Moreunenlightened political and social passions dressed in scriptural garb. I think we should rather allow ourselves be led by scripture than presume and impose our cultural, social and political biases on it. But also of special interest is your quip and that of Dr. Walker on the voting parterns between white evangelicals and black evangelicals. I think you should have noted that the assumptions do not generally apply to black voters who were born outside of the United States, unless perhaps they are from South Africa where race politics is still a key focal point :). Enough of my two cents.

    Yesterday at 6:26pm

    Chris Armstrong

    Sammy–thanks for your kind comment. And absolutely right about the language I used. I should have said “African-Americans.” I know those from Africa and other countries, who don’t share in the history of the “peculiar institution” and all that followed, often diverge in their viewpoints from those who did. Good catch.

    Yesterday at 6:46pm

    Jay Blossom

    Really interesting interview. But I wonder about giving up on the word “evangelical.” Plain old “Christian” is, of course, what most evangelicals call themselves. Yet as someone who works with an ecumenical audience, “Christian” is useless to me, because that word describes Eastern Orthodox, Catholics, and mainline Protestants too. And please don’t say “Bible-believing.” That’s truly offensive.

    11 hours ago

    Chris Armstrong

    Jay, it’s always useful for _outsiders_ to have boxes in which to put groups of people. My point is that few evangelicals want to go to the mat to defend the label “evangelical.” And I don’t think this is just a move to co-opt the label “Christian,” as if no one who is not evangelical is truly Christian. Of course, some evangelicals believe that–but I believe fewer and fewer every year.

    I also don’t find “Bible-believing” offensive. You clearly read into that label an assumption that “we are the few, the remnant, who continue to believe the Bible. No one else does.” I don’t think that’s a necessary definition, nor (again) do I think that many who would wear that label proudly would assume this sort of exclusive interpretive privilege.

    Of course, plenty of evangelicals still think they are the only ones who read the “plain meaning of the Bible.” But plenty of Orthodox think they are the only ones in continuity with the early church, and plenty of Catholics think they are the only ones in the true church, HQ’ed at Rome. These are identity markers, and as usual with identity markers, they rule some folks out while ruling others in. … See More

    This, I think, is a bit of a bunny trail, though. Some Southerners still call themselves “Bible-believing,” but it seems to me that most in other regions would not pick that as a first choice. And the fact that they are willing even to do without the heretofore proud label “evangelical” says to me that many “believers formerly known as evangelical” now have tired of the business of strict boundary-drawing and the casting of anathemas.

    Just my four cents . . .

    9 hours ago

    Jay Blossom

    Don’t you think that evangelicals themselves feel a need to have a word that describes them vis-a-vis members of other churches? So they call themselves “Christians.” And if they need to clarify further, they call themselves “born-again Christians” or “Bible-believing Christians” or “real Christians” or “Jesus-followers” or “Christ-followers” or … See Moresome other label that not supposed to be a label, because like the Campbellites of yore, they want no label at all except what the Bible uses.

    Problem is, what is supposed to be an openness (i.e., we’re not “Presbyterians,” we’re just Christians who are in fellowship with all Christians!) quickly becomes exclusive (i.e., we’re in fellowship with all TRUE Christians, not Catholics or Episcopalians or gays or liberals).

    13 minutes ago

    Chris Armstrong

    Well Jay, there’s no doubt that many evangelicals still consider Catholics, Episcopalians, gays, liberals “less Christian” than themselves. I don’t deny that. However, I perceive a real broadening, which is not always a good thing. At least evangelicals used to have a sense of what separated themselves (the “in” group) from various “out” groups. There was some theological content to their faith. Now increasingly, there is both a broadening, an ecumenism (to me, a good thing) and a loss of any sense of distinctiveness (to me, a bad thing).

    None of this is to ignore your point that there is still a tendency of evangelicals to dismiss, in vaguer and vaguer terms, those groups that seem somehow “less biblical” than themselves.

    But I have to say I don’t mind the line-drawing. I just wish (1) that it would be done with more clarity and (2) that it would be done with more charity. … See More

    In other words, first, I wish evangelicals would know exactly WHY they don’t feel comfortable in the sorts of churches you describe (and that they would arrive at those conclusions through a theologically responsible and hermeneutically humble reflection on Scripture AND tradition). And second, i wish that they (really, we, as I still feel I am “of that ilk”) would then also acknowledge that they/we might still stand to LEARN from such churches, and might even benefit from WORSHIPING at such churches–at least on occasion.

    What gives me hope that at least some evangelicals might arrive at these appropriately informed, nuanced, and charitable points is that every day I meet seminary students (future evangelical leaders) who are headed in these directions–indeed pressing in with passion and excitement.

    about a minute ago

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