imageSome lively and interesting conversations have been popping up on the blogosphere this past couple of weeks, many of them oriented to staking out an alternate imagination of the future. To me, it’s a rich and hopeful conversation. So many of us are tired of the stridency and (too often) arrogance of this movement which we inherit.

Much of this live discussion is in anticipation of the “Future of the Gospel” conference which is coming up in April. I wish there were a Canadian version of this: are you reading Gary? I’d love to see something in Toronto and Vancouver in 2014. And while we are less polarized than our friends to the south, we echo the same dynamics by virtue of our long rotation around the American evangelical center.

Ok, on to those mentioned blog posts. First is Rachel Held Evans with her post on The Scandal of the Evangelical Heart. She begins by quoting John Piper,

“It’s right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases. God gives life and he takes life. Everybody who dies, dies because God wills that they die.”

Rachel continues,

“The questions that have weighed most heavily on me these past ten years have been questions not of the mind but of the heart, questions of conscience and empathy. It was not the so-called “scandal of the evangelical mind” that rocked my faith; it was the scandal of the evangelical heart.

“If you’ve read Evolving in Monkey Town, you know that the public execution of a woman named Zarmina in Afghanistan marked a turning point in my faith journey. The injustice of the situation was troublesome enough, but when my friends insisted that Zarmina went to hell because she was a Muslim, I began wrestling with some serious questions about heaven, hell, predestination, free will, God’s goodness, and religious pluralism.

“Why would God fashion a person in her mother’ s womb, number the hairs on her head, and then leave her without any hope of salvation? Can salvation be boiled down to luck of the draw? How is that just? Shouldn’t God be more loving and compassionate than I?”

Next is Anderson Campbell and “Three Features of Future Evangelicalism.” Anderson writes, “here are three of the features that I think must shape its future:

“Non-white – Evangelicalism has been spreading around the globe over the past half-century, due in large part to the emphasis placed by evangelicals on missionary efforts. As a result, evangelical Christianity has taken root and grown in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia. As those regions ramp-up their own missionary sending efforts, they have their eyes set squarely on North America.

“Spirit-filled – Evangelicalism elsewhere in the world has a much more charismatic flavor than much of what passes for evangelicalism in North America. This is partly due to the way evangelicalism capitulated to modernity in the 20th century, stripping out anything that smacked of mystery. Instead, it did its level-best to incorporate the tools of scientific inquiry into developing methods of studying the Bible and defending its claims. The Holy Spirit became the red-headed step-child of the Trinity…

“Female – Evangelicalism in North America has been dominated by (mostly white) male voices. We need more women to lead evangelicalism. Fortunately, some are starting to be heard, despite forces that would attempt to drown them out.”

Finally, Zach Hoag reflects on Mark Driscoll and the Empty Politic of Evangelicalism.” He writes,

“We evangelicals have a problem. And the problem is, simply put, that we do not know how to tell the truth.

“If that sounds harsh, hear what I mean: it is not that we don’t think we are telling the truth (we do), it is that we have so constructed the “master signifiers” of our faith and life that we no longer know how to be really, deeply honest – with ourselves or with the world. And, unfortunately, it is the world that is the most painfully aware of this.

“Pastor Mark wants his audience to think, to know, and to live according to the prideful judgment that the President is bound for hell because of his political views, and, thus, that someone else ought to be in power. This is, essentially, dehumanization. Obama is declared to be the Church’s political enemy in this well-timed Inauguration Day tweet. As such, he is to be pitied and opposed, if not scorned; after all, God probably hates him, and will likely send him to hell.

“And the watching world knows one thing beyond the shadow of a doubt: that this is definitely not the thing that every evangelical, Driscoll included, claims to believe in, namely, love…”

Elsewhere, Zach expresses the need for a “third way,” where the first WAY is represented by neo-Reformed, and the second WAY is represented by the mainly deconstructive emergents (see also THIS post, though I suspect elsewhere this third way has already been named by people like Jens Zimmerman). Maybe these days reality IS that place “between the sea and the foam.” The kind of engagement we need in order to move forward creatively, both rooted in the past and anticipating an unknown future, is pictured here:

7 layers

See also this new book by Fitch and Holsclaw, “Prodigal Christianity,” which is essentially an argument for a third way.

And still elsewhere, and unrelated, do we need to “reframe spiritual gift inventories?” Yep!

5 Comments on the future of evangelicalism

  1. Len, Thanks so much for pulling these together. Honored to have my work stand here, alongside Rachel and Zach.

  2. Zach Hoag says:

    Len, I echo Anderson – thanks man, great roundup.

  3. Len,
    Thanks so much for pulling these post together. This is great.
    And I really appreciate you mentioning Dave and I’s new book.

    So I want to bounce something off of you; in our book we try and avoid “third way” language, partly b/c Jim Beltcher used it in his Deep Church book, which I felt was not much of a real third way. But also most “third way” uses just try and take the best of both world but end us usually keeping the worse of both.

    We think that Evangelicalism needs a more “radical way” beyond the third way mentality, a movement back to the more radical anabaptist roots of Evangelicalism as a way of propelling mission forward.

    So instead of “Third Way” might we talk about a “Radical Way” or the “Radical Middle”?

  4. Great post, Len! I agree! I’m planning to do a post on Evangelicalism in the next few days . . . stay tuned!

    Love your Canadian conference idea. I would definitely be interested!

    My recent work has been rethinking church and Christian community through the lens of theological anthropology (Being Human, Being Church). Different views of what it means to be human imply different models of community. And so many dualisms are created by a truncated understanding of what it means to be human, flowing right into our theologies of creation, salvation, mission, evangelism, church, etc. My leanings would similar to those of Zimmermann (both indebted to Bonhoeffer), who has done excellent work in reclaiming the Christian humanist tradition (incarnational humanism) .

  5. len says:

    thanks all 🙂

    Geoff, interesting – I vaguely recall Deep Church mentioning this. About twenty years ago Bill Jackson defined the Vineyard vision as “The Quest for the Radical Middle.” The book was quite good. But of course his vision was for that time and place and people. I’ve always loved the idea, and connected it personally with the need to hold the Word and the Spirit together.

    Patrick, as you know, I resonate with Jens call for a Christian Humanism. I was really intrigued when he brought out some of the history that I didn’t know, particularly the “Christian Humanist Manifesto” in the 1970’s. Good stuff!