The Paradox of Evangelicalism
I am an evangelical. I am a minister of an evangelical church. I embrace evangelical theology. However, I am increasingly uncomfortable with the evangelical label. I am not referring to the narrow-minded, fundamentalist, right-leaning label given to us by the press; I am referring to the one that we have forged for ourselves.
What’s Evangelicalism Anyway?
We evangelicals are distinguished by four specific hallmarks: conversionism, the belief that lives need to be changed; activism, the expression of the gospel in effort; biblicism, a particular regard for the Bible; and crucicentrism, a stress on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
As I have reflected upon my discomfort with the evangelical term I realize that it has less to do with the values themselves as much as it is the order in which we prioritize them, specifically, the crowning of activism as our first priority. We have become a people who are so busy, so active—arguably at an unhealthy, unsustainable pace—that we fail to properly reflect theologically on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.
The tension within me comes as I recognize that as evangelicals we have compromised our biblicism because we are so busy. We have no time to think on God’s Word and spend time listening to the Christ we claim to be in a personal relationship with. The activism we have crowned as primary has undermined our evangelical commitment.
Part of the irony is that our tradition as evangelical Protestants owes its identity to a reflective biblicism that realized that we are saved by faith and not by works. Sometimes when I grow cynical late at night I think that by becoming more evangelical we are becoming less Christian; less like Jesus. This post is not at all intended to be critical of us being doers of the Word; it’s just that I don’t think that much of our activity is primarily birthed from reflection upon God’s Word as much as an addiction to activity.
What if the frenetic pace of activism that we have embraced is unattractive to those we desire to reach?
What if all of our evangelistic activism is ultimately undermining the goal of the activity by turning people away?
What if people really are looking for a life that is sustainable, and meditative, a life that is not so goal driven, that has time for people? This life is far less complicated: a life like Jesus lived.
Paul’s advice for an evangelistic strategy to the Thessalonians was to lead a quiet life so that they would win the respect of those who observed them (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12). Peter urged wives to use the apologetic of a quiet spirit to show the attractiveness of their faith (1 Peter 3:1-4).
As evangelicals we need to be active, but perhaps we need to be actively engaged in study, mediation, prayer, and listening to God and teaching others to do the same. We also need to embrace the refueling principles of Sabbath rest and Jubilee celebration. My hunch is that our pragmatic aspirations that justify and drive our busyness will be satisfied far more deeply as we realize a renewed strength and a power from on high as we wait upon the Lord and reflect upon His Word.