Critiques and Possibilities: Evangelicalism Part IV

This is the continuation of a larger discussion I am working on, here is part I, part II, and part III.

Spiritually Transformed Life
#5 – The spiritually transformed life has become for many the end all be all of Christian existence. Of course again there is nothing unbiblical about a spiritually transformed life, and I believe that it’s God’s will to radically transform our spirits. However, with this understanding many other things have been pushed to the wayside. Conversionism, or the importance of getting people to “believe in Jesus??? is one major practices within the Evangelical church. Unfortunately this has focused almost completely on converting from one belief system to another, without focusing on the changes of behaviors and vocations that need to take place within a Christian’s life. Christianity is a way to live not a way to believe. As a sidenote I would say that there appear to be a number of examples including Peter himself who don’t always believe but continue to live and follow the way of Christ. Its in this living out the ways of Christ that people become believers.


Spirituality and conversion have been intricately tied together, so much so that slave-holders during the early years of this country could believe in Jesus and yet keep human beings enslaved. Further those same (white) men, felt nothing wrong with baptizing their slaves, while expecting that their slaves would continue to serve them as their masters.

Now of course this is an extreme example, or is it? Out of this kind of one-sided christianity wars have been birthed, rich and educated Evangelical followers of Christ have fled from the places where need is greatest in order to protect themselves (white flight), and ministers and other Christians beat their fellow brothers and sisters in attempts to sqwelch their desire for equal rights for all people. This was all done under the guise of saving people’s souls and done by people who were “transformed spiritually.???

This one sided-Christianity allows for men like Pat Robertson to call for the assassination of real people without raising disgust from the wider Evangelical community. It is this one-sided Christianity that believes that “everything is going to burn (expect for me) anyways so why care???? This spiritualism of Christianity has lead countless men and women to “navel gaze??? in attempts of becoming spiritually transformed while at work, in public and even in the steeple-house they are rude, gossips and care little for others.
With so much focus on getting people to change their minds and be “spiritual??? we have forgot to make real disciples out of people in a way that they actually look like and live like Jesus. If the Christian community lived out the Beatitudes or the Lord’s Prayer and took seriously God’s command to love the poor, love our enemies, and be a people of forgiveness there would be a radically different looking church.

Those one-sided Christians must begin to move from the clouds to everyday life, and live like Jesus lived.

What I’ve said so far has been critical, maybe overly critical. I don’t expect to do away with Evangelicalism, this isn’t a possible task nor is it a desirable one. But whether we are or are not Evangelicals we must be aware of those values that we hold so dearly to that we become blind to its ill-sided effects. We should be willing to renegotitate the way we do church. Simply put too much focus on Spirituality and Conversion, leaves believers’ heads floating in the clouds, focused on ourselves, our problems, and creates our own personal jesus to do whatever we want him to do. When we live this way, the Gospels become only an ideal too hard for anyone to really live, and we strip Christ of his prophetic power. On the other hand though we must not lose site of the fact that Jesus did in fact challenge people to change not only their spiritual beliefs but also their allegiances, in other words people converted to Jesus’ way but this meant that they radically changed they way they lived in order to follow him.

To a more positive aspect:

Simon commented the other day and quoted Rufus Jones says,

“…If we mean by ???evangelicalism“ a body of doctrines, a system of theological conceptions, we shall find it difficult to maintain the position that these doctrines, and these alone, contain the eternal truth of Christianity. If we mean by it a spirit of living faith, a quickened, vivified religion, a first-hand experience of transformation and salvation by the power of Christ, we shall follow its movement with awe and reverence and we shall thank God for its prolific effects. In other words, there are in brief two main types of religion, however disguised under names and forms. There is (1) religion in its intensified, dynamic quality, and (2) there is a religion which consists of a deposit or survival of conceptions or of practice, carried along because they have become sacred habits, traditions and customs, or because they are believed to have a utilitarian value…???

Jones’ point should be well-taken because some of the best things about Evangelicalism are locked up in its vividness, or at McLaren’s says “its enthusiasm.??? As of late there have been a number of amazing social things done by Evangelical leaders including Rick Warren, Bono, and Jim Wallis. But maybe its time to drop the big ‘E’ and revert back to a small ‘e’ type religion instead. What I mean by this is it would be wise on our part to accept these five major points that Marsden recognizes as historical precedent for what Evangelicals have believed but it should not be understood as a dogmatic treatment for a belief system. Let’s take what is good and add to it, and let remove what doesn’t work and substitute it for something that works better.
Whatever Christian tradition or narrative we come out of we should be evangelical about it, in other words as Jones says, we should live in the reality of the living Spirit of faith, with a first-hand transformed and salvific experience of Jesus. We should be eager to share the good news, not in a dogmatic apologetic way but in a way that excersizes the way of Christ. We must be willing to both save or reject any movement that keeps us from doing these things. And within the Evangelical movement there are things that must be treasured and some things that have only hindred the Spirit of God.
There is much about big ‘E’ Evangelicalism that is wedded to modernity and much that must be shaved away but if in the end the core movement is held together, with all of its vigor and Spiritual vitality than so be, the church will be stronger for it. With any movement or tradition we must continue to translate and re-translate Christianity and the whole narrative within our own culture, whether Evangelicalism comes or is “left behind.???
Next on the agenda I am considering a short discussion on Fundamentalism and its subculture along with a discussion about the practices of Jesus and what it means to live his “way.???

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

Published by

Wess

...is the William R. Rogers Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.