Thursday, November 04, 2010


Here is a typical article from the Guardian about evangelicalism. Read it & come back to me.

I'm guessing that if you recognise in it all sorts of things that cause you to question evangelicalism in the church today, you pretty generally have questions about this side of the church, or perhaps just read too much of the Guardian... And if you want to dismiss it out of hand, you are a staunch evangelical who can't take any criticism at all.

I'd like to question some of this piece fairly robustly, but also push a few of its questions a little further. And I am a card-carrying evangelical - albeit one who always comes with his own critique of his own party, because I believe the Scriptures define the people of the book, not the party that would like to control the people of the book.

Some of the writer's problems are clearly cultural - and that culture may be national or ecclesiastical or a weird mixture of the two. That's what most of us who go to church end up with - a culture that is part church and part national and where one begins and the other ends is genuinely hard to tell. We have to be humble and recognise this, and then we have to be generous and enjoy it. And enjoy it in others as well, rather than be critical because others don't quite achieve the same bizarre mix we do! So she doesn't get the music, the atmosphere, the excitement, the anticipation of a pentecostal church in Paraguay. I don't think I would. But I'm used to a relaxed evangelical church in Wales...

She says there is no sacred symbol of any kind on display. Only a lectern and a Bible. Perhaps she has never been to Geneva either, where here too she might struggle with exactly the same kind of absence - or rather, presence - of exactly the same kind of symbolism. I'm afraid that (and she admits she has a Catholic experience) her own expectations are weighing heavily here. Pentecostal churches - and indeed most Protestant churches - simply don't use Catholic imagery; it doesn't make them unChristian or even unsymbolic. It makes them different. They are not going to use Catholic sacraments - it is simply not their tradition or theology, and to expect them to is to fail to respect them. As a writer she fails to see beneath the surface, and that's a pity; though (and here comes my first dig - I'm honest enough to point it out) in the Guardian, a certain kind of surface is all that is usually required.

There is a criticism of church texts imported from Europe (in a Spanish speaking nation) but then criticism of contemporary local music and suggestions that Gregorian chant and European classical music should be included. I'm just saying - that's blatant hypocrisy.

However, any thoughtful evangelical has to hear the words: "Evangelical Christianity has already opened wide its arms and its heart. I just hope that it will also open wide its mind" and know that here is a plea that we all desire to see fulfilled. Most of this paragraph contains words I can echo from my own heart (as I say, I think her last sentence perhaps misses the mark) and she repeatedly comments on the excellent work of this particular church in serving the poor, surely a mark of genuine discipleship, but asks that its teaching deepens further. All Bible teaching should seek to do this. That's not a request we fear, but one we all need to embrace.

Likewise, in the following paragraph, she hits upon one of the current fault-lines of evangelicalism as she says "women are individual leaders as well as complementary partners". The Telegraph yesterday posted a report about an evangelical English bishop comparing supporters of ordaining women as bishops to Nazis. Hmmm. He needs to get a life - or at least start leading his life in the real world. The Jesus I follow treats people as people. A woman at a well leads her whole community to faith. A woman is the first witness to the resurrection. Women are human beings. This is essential theology, please.

So I do not agree with the writer's conclusion that evangelical churches are a prelude to the church growing up! Goodness me, no. Though I do hope the evangelical church will continue to grow up. Hope & pray. For this is where I belong and want to continue to belong and want to draw others to belong too. It is a place of life and hope and glory - as long as it is a place where we are facing the life and hope and glory of Jesus.


TheMuddledMarketPlace said...

I'd always thought that the sacred symbols were the people

but then again, i have no theological training, so what do i know

Marcus Green said...

Goodness me - cutting to the core! I love it, and you are very, very right.