Is Evangelicalism? (James)

Right now this blog has three contributors; to get things going, each will present his assessment of the current state of Evangelicalism. Here’s James’ take:

I remember, in my first weekend at Flagship Evangelical College, assessing potential friends by their criticisms of the typically Evangelical Sunday service at the local Bible church. This one didn’t appreciate the worship team’s high production values. Another had issues with the crypto-Republicanism. A third—well, you understand. A heightened version of this game revolved around church camp horror stories.

My fellow students had inherited and adapted the trope of speaking of their denomination in the manner “I was raised this or that.” Unless, perhaps, you were attending an Anglican church, the statement of being raised in a certain denomination was not followed by an affirmation of one’s present denominational affiliation. If not affiliations outright, named affiliations were passé. I’m not entirely sure why.

Given its universality, many must have assumed this manner of speaking unthinkingly. For most, save a number of Baptists and Pentecostals, the coyness was not due to shame of their upbringing (though few students I knew felt the need to remain in churches of their home denomination). Most did seem to be averse to denominational commitment, either desiring to stay light on their feet during these years of intellectual and spiritual growth, or simply following the script of finding oneself and making one’s own decisions as a young adult, this script of course modified so that the answers found remained within Christianity.

The chief reason a change in denomination was desired was that no one seemed to think their church had it all. Integrity was sought by joining one’s low church experience to liturgy, or escaping one’s parents’ cessationism in a charismatic setting. It was never thought that one’s denomination could be alright. And, apart from the orthopractical woe of holding to a statement of belief—apparently a problem obvious to any young Evangelical, it was inconceivable that one would assent to another’s prescribed beliefs. In our theological youth, we expected perfection and had little taste for the scandal of denominational particularity.

Were we Evangelicals? In spite of our shirking denominational labels, and whatever our cleverly obscure Facebook “religious views” were listed as, and however much we may have wished to be post-Evangelical, none of us would doubt the term’s accuracy and helpfulness in describing our common faith. (Once, when discussing Evangelicalism with a group of visiting Catholics, given our knowledge of our churches’ flaws [in this encounter with the Other, we finally learned to call them “our” churches], we Evangelical students were amused with the Catholics’ eagerness to be counted as Evangelical, but ultimately glad for their company.)

I believe ‘Evangelical’ serves as more than a snapshot of a group at one point in time. For me, it describes a certain people, now moving in a particular manner. Though we were all dissatisfied with our ecclesial lives (perhaps the appropriate Protestant disposition), my classmates and I were all remedying them in a similar range of ways, in close social proximity, judging by similar commitments.

I will discuss what I see as our similar means, stomping grounds and values in (a) future post(s).

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  • Blake  On August 8, 2010 at 8:12 pm

    It’s interesting that you mention the Franciscans. I only reconciled myself with being an evangelical Protestant through that ‘encounter with the Other’.



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