“Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Note: The entire “Beyond Evangelical” series (including this post) has been compiled into an 80-page eBook with many new chapters added. Click here to learn more about the eBook.
My interview with N.T. Wright yesterday added some spice to our present series. Since the last post in this series, there have been some interesting reactions around the blogosphere. Consequently, I’d like to do two things in this post. First, highlight someone’s comment from last week. Second, interact with some of the other remarks I’ve received.
A Comment Worth Underscoring
I was encouraged to read so many insightful comments on the posts I’ve published since my return to blogging. So many of them were excellent and helpful. But there was one in particular that stood out. It was from Jonathan Cottrell. He wrote it in response to Beyond Evangelical: Part II. Here’s what he said:
Christ is all. My wife and I have been having a conversation of late that revolves around how people would summarize their faith in one word. That one word speaks more than a thousand words, if you ask me. I imagine that the groups would summarize as:
Group 1 [Systemtizers]: “Grace” or “Truth”
Group 2 [Activists]: “Love” or “Mission”
Group 3 [Emoters]: “Spirit” or “Power”
Group 4: [Beyond Evangelicals] “Jesus” or “Christ”
Is there any word that should summarize our common faith other than His Name? I think not.
Interacting With Other Comments
Certainly, one of the push-backs to what Jonathan said is, “Are you saying that the other streams don’t love Jesus? Or that they aren’t Christ-centered?”
I can’t speak for Jonathan, but I suspect he would say “absolutely, not.” The point of his comment is that other words and concepts often tend to be more dominant in one’s vocabulary and thinking than Jesus Himself. Here’s what I wrote to another person on another blog regarding this same question:
In my observation, all streams would say they are “Christ-o-centric.” And in reality, some of the leaders of the first, second, and third streams would definitely fit the bill – though *many* in stream 1 would better be described as “God-centered” over/against “Jesus-centered” by their own admission. And in stream 3, many would be better described as “Holy Spirit-centered” over/against “Jesus-centered.” Some (not all) in stream 2 are more “Mission-centered,” arguing that missiology comes before Christology (so they’ve said).
With stream 4, the centrality of the Lord Jesus Christ is front and center and permeates everything else, almost to the point of obsession. It comes to close to Larry Crabb’s immortal words: “Our passion for Jesus is the only passion that will not destroy us.” Or as I’ve put it elsewhere: Christ is All, everything else is commentary.
It’s all too easy to replace Christ Himself with a “thing” that’s related to Jesus. I know that from experience. And we are all subject to doing it without realizing it. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with my book Jesus Manifesto written with Leonard Sweet. But the overwhelming response to the book, which was hugely humbling to me, provoked some of the analysis in my series. Many readers said they believed that they were Christ-centered, but realized that they really weren’t. Everyone’s mileage may vary of course; but this response was eye-opening.
Jesus Manifesto is somewhat of a manifesto of sorts for people who have moved beyond evangelicalism . . . since that’s the best way I know how to describe such people (and we really do exist) . I hate labels myself, but shamelessly admitted in the beginning of Part II of the series that I don’t know how to communicate intelligibly about the divergent streams within evangelicalism without employing them.
The “eternal purpose of God” (how I believe Scripture unfolds it, at least) and “living by the *indwelling life* of Christ” are, in my experience and observation, missing notes in the others three streams. I say that speaking as one who has been part of all three streams myself before moving “beyond” (so to speak), and in dialoguing with some of the recognized “leaders” of these other streams in private conversations.
Anyways, that’s how the terrain looks from my hill. But I may be looking at the back of the rocks while others may be viewing their fronts.
- “Beyond Evangelicalism” isn’t a movement. Nor do we have a “leader.” And I don’t know anyone who is interested in the job. A number of people (myself included) have been articulating the four notes of beyond evangelicalism. But that doesn’t make them/us “leaders” of the tribe. Not in any formal sense anyway.
- With respect to Part II of the series, there is no better/worse . . . gooder/badder . . . among the four streams. Each stream represents a segment of the body of Christ that is just different from the others. Those who have read my work are well aware that elitism, exclusivism, and sectarianism are at the top of my “hate list.” Different doesn’t mean better or worse.
- Discussing the changing shifts within evangelicalism today encourages dialogue. Even though we are only two posts into the series, those posts have generated a great deal of conversation among Christians, the vast majority of which has been healthy and encouraging.
- As I stated in the introduction of Part II, labels and categories are necessary to communicate distinctions within a contemporary evangelicalism. There’s nothing inherently evil in using a label. The word “Christian” is a label. And so is “Asian,” “Italian,” “American,” “engineer,” “Democrat,” “Libertarian,” and “blogger.” Labels and categories don’t have to divide people. So whether you object to using (or hearing) “labels” or not, the fact remains: Scores of Christians in their 20s, 30s, and 40s (Mosaics and Busters) share something in common. They have grown tired of the state of modern evangelicalism and what it has produced. These followers of Jesus are evangelical Christians, but they don’t fit the template of either the Religious Right or the Religious Left. I’ve chosen to call this group people who are moving beyond evangelicalism. If you want to call them by another name, feel free. Call them “Christians” if it makes you happy. Or just say “those people” if that suits you better.
- As I pointed out in Part I, evangelicalism has become a hyphenated movement. Just the other day Zondervan mailed me their new book, Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism. In it, Kevin Bauder traces fundamentalism; Albert Mohler traces confessional evangelicalism; John Stackhouse traces generic evangelicalism; and Roger Olson traces postconservative evangelicalism. This book cuts the line of contemporary evangelicalism using theological viewpoints. By contrast, my series focuses on Mosaics and Busters who don’t fit into classic evangelicalism.
- Evangelicalism shouldn’t be confused with evangelism. The former is a classification of belief within Christianity. The latter is an activity. The two are different.
- I wish to repeat what I said at the front of Part II as a few people missed it (probably due to “scanning” the post): “Like anything else, there are always exceptions, overlaps, and sub-groups that don’t fit neatly into these four evangelical streams. So don’t regard this survey as an exact science. Yet based on my observation and experience, what follows are the four largest and most influential streams within evangelical Christianity today that are populated mostly by people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s . . . the labels I’m using are simply handles I created to communicate intelligibly about the subject. They are necessary for distinguishing each stream from one another. However, they do not represent any denomination or formal tribe. And they shouldn’t be used to denominate any particular individual.”
All of this clears the terrain and sets the stage for Part IV . . .