Archive for the ‘Evangelicalism’ Category

Strangers in a Strange Land   Leave a comment

Today, a friend emailed me one of those frequently-forwarded notes detailing news I might have overlooked.  In this case, I had: the death of Anne Roche Muggeridge, wife of her far-better known husband Malcom Muggeridge.  Mrs. Muggeridge was author of The Desolate City: Revolution in the Catholic Church [HarperSanFrancisco 1990], which details the turmoil within post-Vatican II Catholicism, particularly in Canada.  The note on her death included a quote from the introduction to her book.

Several statements in that quote got me to thinking.  So, let me begin with those statements, for it turns out that Mrs. Muggeridge (a Roman Catholic) said some things that are pertinent to understanding modern evangelicalism.

First these things:

Catholicism is not just a religion: it is a country of the heart and of the mind. No matter how resolutely they turn their backs on it, people born within it never quite shed their accents.

and shortly thereafter she wrote this:
“I belong to the race of people,” wrote the great Catholic novelist Francois Mauriac, “who, born in Catholicism, realize in earliest manhood that they will never escape from it, never leave it. They were within it, they are within it, and they will be within it for ever and ever.”

Now, why did this get me to thinking about evangelicalism?  Well here’s why …
My wife’s paternal ancestors were Apostolic Christians who settled in Illinois in the middle of the 19th Century, immigrants — religious refugees, actually — from Switzerland.  Their ecclesiastical patriarch was a man named Samuel Heinrich Froelich, whose pacifist religion brought him and his followers into conflict with the civil authorities.  Hence, their immigration during the 19th Century from Switzerland to various parts of the world including Japan(!), as well as North America, Mexico, and Paraguay.  Barbara’s great-great-grandfather and his brother settled around Roanoke, Illinois, purchasing thousands of acres of swamp land for a pittance, draining it (they had learned their agricultural hydrology in Switzerland), leaving themselves owners of exceedingly rich farmland.  They bequeathed to their sons large prosperous farms and businesses in town.
What’s this got to do with Mrs. Muggeridge?  Well, hang with me a bit longer …
Some years ago, my wife Barbara was speaking in a church up in that area, and her host (a cardiac specialist) had been born and reared in the Apostolic Christian Church (same group as Barbara’s father’s family).  He married a lovely AC lass, and during their marriage they migrated outside the Apostolic Christian fold for less sectarian climes.  When my wife and her hostess met, they wondered if they might be related (ACs mostly marry only other ACs, and so everyone eventually gets related to everyone else). 
As the two women were comparing notes, the subject turned to “leaving the AC fold,” and the hostess remarked to Barbara “It’s like leaving the Roman Catholic Church for most of us.”
Intrigued, Barbara drew her out on what she meant.  It turns out that what she meant is pretty well captured by that French Catholic novelist Mrs. Muggeridge quoted in the introudction to her book.  And, even though a few born into the Apostolic Christian fold  eventually depart from it, it remains true that (to borrow Mrs. Muggeridge’s phrases) the AC Church is not just a religion: it is a country of the heart and of the mind. No matter how resolutely they turn their backs on it, people born within it never quite shed their accents.
Barbara’s father departed the AC church when he moved to Texas as a young man, seeking his agricultural fortune.  But, he never quite “shed the accent” he acquired in his AC cradle.  Indeed, he retained a pretty pronounced accent, even though educated at Wheaton in the 1930s.
Now, the point:  whatever else Mrs. Muggeridge is talking about in her book (I haven’t read it), I expect she’s discussing the comprehensive and coherent Roman Catholic culture that began to be trashed after Vatican II.  I know that many conservative contemporary Catholics whom I read complain about this more or less constantly when the subject comes up.  And, those discussions always remind me of that hostess and her observation of her and her husband’s migration from the AC church into evangelical Protestantism (which, in those days, was equivalent to or kissin’ cousin to fundamentalism). 

As near as I can tell from the outside, the Romans and the ACs were alike insofar as each religious community effected a comprehensive, coherent, soup to nuts, cradle to grave culture, a world-view that included everything.  No upper-story, lower-story notions of truth and reality for them.  And, the respective and comprehensive world-views each possessed was different from what one found out in the world, even the far more “Christian” world of 19th century America.
This sort of feature common to the Romans and the ACs can also be detected in the long-forgotten enclaves of simple Anglicans, to judge by what I read of Anglican history, though Anglican culture of the genuinely orthodox kind seems to have been concentrated in the sub-suburban and rural parts of England.  You can hear the same observation made about conservative Lutherans whose German roots are still sprouting shoots in many LCMS parishes to this day.  And, you can add to this group any number of ethnic enclaves of Eastern Orthodoxy which flourish mostly unobserved in religiously polyglott America. 

Compared with these ecclesiastical communities all of which sustain a comprehensive and coherent world-view that is maintained in opposition to “the world,” the garden-variety evangelicalism one sees today is as stable as jello.  Maybe even less so, for jello remains … well, jello … while evangelicalism is continually reinventing itself into ever-novel iterations of worldliness, bereft of guideposts, paths, even lacking greater sorts of landmarks such as sudden valleys or distant mountains.   
The whole enterprise of modern evangelical religion is less like the City of God and far more like a rock concert and the fluid culture surrounding it, or the Jay Lenno show and the generation of TV fans who channel surf from one late-night one-man show to another.  In those rare times I stumble across pop-culture religion — religion that is “consumable” as any pop-culture is supposed to be — it’s as if I had wandered into the aisle at JoAnn’s or Hobby Lobby where you can find (as I did yesterday) displays of crosses in a bewildering variety of styles ahd shapes, all made of poly-resin, and as affordable as anything else that is made in China.
Perspective adds its own twist to these sorts of thoughts.  Mrs. Muggeridge appears to be lamenting the movements of the Catholicism she knew as liberal Catholic bishops strove (and still strive) to turn Roman religion into liberal Episcopalianism. On the other hand, Christians within the matrix of K-Mart  Protestanism who sense that the Church at worship ought to somehow look, sound, and feel different than the world, will view post-Vatican Catholicism as a treasure-trove of classical Christianity. 
When I’ve read the testimonies of evangelicals who have poped, many acknowledge up front that doctrine was NOT prompting their move into the Roman Church.  After all, evangelicalism these days doesn’t put much store in doctrine, right?.  No, it was this cultural dimension to things that persuaded them that the “evangelical” churches they inhabited were not really a Christian home, but rather something far, far off the reservation of anything that looked like, acted like, or sounded like the Church they encountered in the Bible or in the past 2,000 years of Western Christianity. 
And, so, these evangelicals — finding themselves homeless in their evangelical churches — went looking for something within professing Christendom, something that said “home” to them, rather than “the world.”  At a minimum, they sought a church that bore at least some resemblance to what they read about the church in the history books.

For those who had this fuzzy sense that they were off the reservation and who stumbled across the Christian Classics Ethereal Library online and got to reading the Fathers of the second, third, and fourth centuries — well! They sometimes turned into fervent evangelists for Catholicism or Orthodoxy.  And, just as often, they became fire-breathing opponents of Protestantism, equating the latter with the only expression of it they’d ever known (e.g. modern evangelicalism).

One aspect of a Christian’s life in this world is captured in the life of a pilgrim, a nomad, one who is passing through but not attaching to the environs he inhabits.  But, are Christians to feel themselves to be pilgrims within Christendom itself?  I confess to feeling like a stranger in a strange land when I walk through the doors of most of the kinds of churches that I ought to feel some kinship with.  Mrs. Muggeridge felt that way about Catholicism in Canada at the end of the 20th Century.  What she may not have realized is that others, Protestants, evangelicals (or, those who used to identify themselves with that term) — all these too lament the way “home” now feels more and more like a circus.


Posted October 12, 2010 by Fr. Bill in Anglican, Evangelicalism, Improper piety, Proper piety

Divorce Among Evangelicals   Leave a comment

Albert Mohler nails it with respect to divorce among evangelicals in this entry at his blog site,  Here’s the money quote, though I strongly recommend you read everything at Mohler’s blog:

Evangelical Christians are gravely concerned about the family, and this is good and necessary. But our credibility on the issue of marriage is significantly discounted by our acceptance of divorce. To our shame, the culture war is not the only place that an honest confrontation with the divorce culture is missing. Divorce is now the scandal of the evangelical conscience.

I think it’s really an understatement to say that evangelicals’ credibility is discounted by the way they turn their heads from the rampaging destruction of their own communities by divorce.  Homosexuals see heterosexual Christians marrying, divorcing, and remarrying at will.  But, the same Christians will deny homosexuals the same freedom of sexual/social congress that these Christians insist is paramount to healthy society.

“But, homosexuality is wrong!!  The Bible says so!!

[cough, cough]

It’s a hopeful sign that voices from the Southern Baptist camp are now heard on this topic.  See here for the text of a resolution adopted at the 2010 Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Orlando, Florida, entitled “On the Scandal of Southern Baptist Divorce.” 

Posted October 1, 2010 by Fr. Bill in Divorce, Evangelicalism

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Evangelical Is As Evangelical Does, I Suppose   Leave a comment

Evangelical used to mean something.  For years, I’ve watched the meaning of the term stretch to encompass any number of groups or personalities that weren’t really … well, evangelical, in the old sense of the term.  Evangelical used to be a sort of nice term for Christian fundamentalist, preferred after the term fendamentalist lost its original sense and became, instead, an epithet of scorn or ridicule. 

Then a couple of days ago, while grazing a note about a blog from a different blogger I follow, I noted that he used the term “evangelical left.”  For some reason, that phrase rang in my ear something like “capitalist communist” might have sounded.  You know, sort of oxymornonic.  Weren’t evangelicals supposed to be fundamentalists in shined shoes and freshly pressed pants?  No matter how you construe “leftist,” it shouldn’t fit with evangelical, righ?

I should get out more, I guess.  Millard Erickson’s book didn’t even float to the surface of my sheltered consciousness.  So, going to Mother Google, who knows a ton of stuff I don’t, I Goggled “evangelical left.” 

Oooops.  Boy was I sooooooooooooo wrong!

For starters, check out Wikipedia  for a short report on evangelical lefties that names names.

Or, go to this site that promotes a book entitled A Sinner’s Guide to the Evangelical Right, and you’ll find someone’s idea of who the evangelical right consists of — a collection of people and groups ranging from the Pope to Ted Haggard.  Now, if that isn’t an elastic sense of “evangelical” and “right” I don’t know what would qualify!

The Weekly Standard tells us megachurch pastor Greg Boyd is gunning for the Evangelical Right, for which he is styled a member of the Evangelical Left.  What, prithee, does “evangelical” mean in these contexts? 

Not much, I fear.  So what do we dinosaurs, who might have styled ourselves evangelical 50 years go, call ourselves today? 

Labels are handy things, you know.  When you want a particular tool, it’s nice to have a name for it.  Like “hammer.”  It keeps others from handing you a watermelon when you want to sink a nail. 

And, yes, I know that some terms are usefully vague, so that when you deploy them you might need to qualify them.  There is a difference between an Anglican pastor and a Oneness Pentecostal pastor — a whole lot of differences, even though it’s accurate to call both of them pastors. Pastor is a big-tent sort of word.

But, when it came into use, “evangelical” wasn’t a big-tent word.  It named Christians with common core convictions about Christian truth and Christian mission.  Those core convictions were shared by Christians who lived in Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, even Roman Catholic (!) communities, though Christians in the latter communion hated it when that term was applied to them. Evangelicals were Protestants, dontcha know!

No more.  You want an evangelical Roman Catholic?  Click here  and read about some. 

Let’s try an experiment, shall we?  How about “evangelical Communist?  Admitted, it only got me 300 or so hits when I Googled that phrase, but still … .

How about “evangelical gay?”  Whoa!  Over 8,300 hits!

Or what about “evangelical toaster?” (3 hits)

Or “evangelical monkey-wrench?” Finally!  A noun-phrase containing the word “evangelical” that did NOT get a single hit at Google!

Try that game when you’re bored.  You’ll amaze yourself at how elastic the term evangelical is these days.  Evangelical can mean anything, modify almost anything. 

Which means it doesn’t mean a thing, except (maybe) “vaguely religious in an American Protestant sense.”

I’m afraid to play this game with the term “Anglican.”  I might turn up an Anglican monkey-wrench somewhere, and then how would I get through the opening collect next Sunday morning without cracking up? Or, maybe, breaking down in sobs?

UPDATE: Just to show you that I really ought to get out more, I provide nere a quote supplied by my fellow-presbyter Ryan, from a book by David Wells entitled, No Place for Truth, page 134.  Like Mother Google, Wells shows us how elastic the term evangelical has become:

As evangelicalism has continued to grow numerically, it has seeped through its older structures and now spills out in all directions, producing a family of hybrids whose theological connections are quite baffling: evangelical Catholics, evangelicals who are Catholic, evangelical liberationalists, evangelical feminists, evangelical ecumenists, ecumenists who are evangelical, young evangelicals, orthodox evangelicals, radical evangelicals, liberal evangelicals, Liberals who are evangelical, and charismatic evangelicals. The word evangelical, precisely because it has lost is confessional dimension, has become descriptively anemic. To say that someone is an evangelical says little about what they are likely to believe . . . What is now primary is not what is evangelical but what is adjectivally distinctive, whether Catholic, liberationalist, feminist, ecumenist, young, orthodox, radical, liberal, or charismatic. It is, I believe, the dark prelude to death, when parasites have finally succeeded in bringing down their host. Amid the clamor of all these new models of evangelical faith there is the sound of a death rattle.

Posted September 28, 2010 by Fr. Bill in Evangelicalism

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