After my highly rhetorical post “No longer an evangelical,” I received some feedback from Facebook friends who are Wesleyan and orthodox as I am. Their point can be summarized this way: the type of evangelicalism I am leaving behind isn’t the brand of evangelicalism that they adhere to. I can understand where they are coming from, because I myself considered myself marginally attached to the evangelical label for a while. I have long wanted to maintain some connection to that identity.
In fact, that was part of the reason I became United Methodist in college, as I wanted to be evangelical but in a different way; I wanted to be faithful to what I know of God through the Scriptures, but I didn’t want to do it the way I had routinely witnessed with my Baptist heritage.1 Although I wouldn’t have it described it this way at the time, I saw in Wesleyan theology the resources to be faithful to the Scriptures but in a different way. However, paradoxically, it is the very same motivation that
My rationale for no longer being evangelical isn’t exactly the same as a lot of the other stories. Many people have left behind the evangelicals because they don’t like many of the ethical views commonly expressed by evangelicals, such as the exclusivity of sex to a marriage between a female and male, the way women are treated in churches, feelings of judgmentalism towards people, political and social positions, etc. As a consequence, many people who kissed evangelicalism goodbye but did not leave faith have identified themselves with the smorgasbord of other labels. They have gone to what others might label as liberal or progressive Christianity, although they might not self-identify that way.
I do share concerns that may be related to their concerns, such as the way LGBTQ persons have been mistreated, that women have been barred from serving where God has equipped them, a frustration for how evangelical doctrine of ‘sin’ leads to contempt and fear, how evangelicals have engaged in typically conservative politics, the anxiety that evangelicals have about science. However, I don’t share the same responses to this that many who have left evangelicalism have. While I eschew the wrongful treatment of LGBTQ persons, I don’t think there should be a change about how the Church views sex. While I think women can be just as equipped and qualified as a male to be a pastor, teacher, and leader in the Church and should be given the opportunities to demonstrate this, I don’t seek to promote what I call one-model egalitarianism.2 While I think the doctrine of sin in the evangelicalism is deficient if not at times dreadful, I do think a doctrine of sin is very important. While I disdain the political games and dreams of forming the nation into evangelical imagine, I share many of the stated concerns about social and political issues, such as abortion. I do think evangelicals can be a bit too trepidatious about science, I do think it is important to recognize there are real epistemic limitations to the sciences, both in terms of what science can study and what science can say about good and bad.
But here is the thing: so far as these views are simply considered an offshoot off of evangelical faith, as a different form but still under the same label, then these views will routinely be seen as some deviance from the prototypical form of evangelical faith. From evangelical insiders, my theology, ethics, and ecclesiology will always be judged against the standard evangelical form. In addition, if I call myself evangelical, many people who are outsiders to Christian faith and evangelicalism
If the label was simply stereotyped by outsiders, but my views would be considered mainstream to the inside of evangelicalism, I would consider keeping the label. If the label was considered of high regard by outsiders, but I
So, I have deep issues with how evangelicalism has become expressed in it’s social and political actions. Furthermore, as I stated in another post “Wesleyan orthodox instead of evangelical,” I think evangelical theology as it is typically understood doesn’t have the resources to remain orthodox while resist the social pressures that formed what the most visible form of evangelicalism has become. However, with this in tow, I would still consider myself according to the label if I didn’t leave me and other people like me who seek to follow Jesus and walk by the Spirit in the form of an authentic Wesleyan orthodoxy on the defensive on two fronts. I would even
Know that I don’t judge you personally if you are a Wesleyan orthodox or another theological branch of orthodoxy that seeks to avoid this mess but you still accept the label of evangelical. I get the reasons for it, as it’s original emphasis placed the focus upon doctrines such as personal faith and justification and the authority of the Scriptures. It has a long history with many great Christian teachers and leaders, including even John Wesley. But when I survey the social, political, cultural, and theological landscape, I find the reasons for breaking free from the identity far outweigh the reasons for keeping the identity.
Perhaps I am wrong, perhaps God will do something that will reestablish the original roots of evangelicalism. Or maybe I am not rightly understanding the social, political, cultural, and theological landscape. I am willing to be wrong on this; part of me wants to be wrong about this. But since I am unaware of where I am wrong about where things are in this present day and age in American, I act based upon what I see. And since I do not know God to be one who is concerned about keeping the labels and institutions as much as leading His people to reflect His light through Jesus Christ, I will make my judgment and decision based upon what I can see in the social, political, cultural, and theological landscape.
- This is not to denigrate by Southern Baptist background in its entirety; there are many things I appreciate from my guidance in faith, including the importance of personal faith and Scripture.
- To clarify, by this, I mean that one should consider men and women essentially the same and that *all* differences between them are solely due to socialization. I think more in terms of a “two-model” egalitarianism where it is recognized that women and men on average have different motivations, but that men and women are equally capable of doing the same things if they are motivated to do so and so should not be barred from positions based upon gender. If this is accurate, that means that many fields may be predisposed to having more of one gender than another, but this should not be due to the construction of artificial barriers prohibiting entry and promotion.