Once, shortly after seminary, when my wife and I had moved to an Episcopal church community, a former classmate asked me if I was still an "evangelical." I reluctantly answered "Yes." but wanted to clarify that answer with, "but not by your definition." Intoned in his question was a judgement about who was and was not evangelical. Often, I feel that from the conservative Baptist position, anyone outside of the local church and denomination are questioned because they dont play the party line on these doctrinal positions.
It becomes interesting to me when this gets mixed with politics.
Those of you who know me, know that I am not the most political person...I have deep convictions guided by my theological commitments. But often, my theological commitments do not line up with the traditional evangelical definitions of politics or...evangelicalism.
I just read this article by Jim Wallis who describes a shifting of the definition of who and what makes up evangelicals and their commitments, both theological and political. He says, ""Nov. 6 was an even deeper disaster for the religious right’s leaders, because they will no longer be able to control or easily co-opt the meaning of the term 'evangelical'...The biggest mistake the religious right made was to make the word 'evangelical' a political term. Evangelical is a theological commitment, not a political one."
This is music to my ears in one respect...and dread in my heart. Let me explain further...
Wallis continues, "It’s about the centrality of Christ and the authority of the Bible. It’s following Jesus and our obedience to the Scriptures that leads us to defend the poor, protect the most vulnerable, welcome the stranger, seek racial reconciliation and justice, be good stewards of the environment and peacemakers in a world of war.
This election signaled an important change in American public life and a transformation in the meaning of the word “evangelical.”
This transformation resonates so deeply within me...it, in one sense, brings me back from beyond the pail...the periphery of the right's delineation of evangelicalism. This new and emerging sort of definition is one that I will claim. One that I feel represents a majority of my Christian friends. One that we are not embarrassed by. And for that...I am thankful. Perhaps times and old definitions are changing.
But there is dread...these definitions will not easily change. They will not be loosed without a fight...and that one will continue to be an internal fight that not only will push many, both inside and outside the church, further away. While a more inclusive definition of evangelical is to be lauded, the process of getting there, I fear, will leave many behind in an uncomfortable wake of growing resistance, apathy, and
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