Idiotic Evangelicals (and some who aren’t)

The other day I was reading something online about the Manhattan Declaration, and saw a comment stating that many evangelicals are hesitant to sign the document because it has been endorsed by Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic leaders, and so they were concerned about the loss of the Gospel.

Idiots.   They haven’t stopped to consider that if it weren’t for the Orthodox and RCC churches, they’d have no gospel.  For example, fundamentalists (perhaps the most idiotic of the evangelicals) rely heavily on Augustinian concepts (that’s where Calvin got most of his stuff).  And, of course, the concept of the Trinity, our understanding of the dual nature of Jesus and the Biblical Canon all comes from the early Orthodox Church (before the RCC was the RCC).

In fact, many from liturgical churches question whether evangelicals really have the Gospel, or if they’re championing some “other gospel” (a la Galatians 1:8).  But, that’s a topic for another time.

In 1977, a group led by Robert E. Webber drafted a statement known as “The Chicago Call,” which pointed out some of the idiocies of popular evangelicalism.  This movement led to the formation of groups such as the Charismatic Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Orthodox Church (now a part of the Antiochian Orthodox Church), and to other movements within evangelicalism.  Eventually, another document, known simply as “The Call,” (I believe the long name is, “The Call for an Ancient Evangelical Future”) was developed.  Someday I plan to review both of these documents.

The Prologue to Chicago Call states:

In every age the Holy Spirit calls the church to examine its faithfulness to God’s revelation in Scripture. We recognize with gratitude God’s blessing through the evangelical resurgence in the church. Yet at such a time of growth we need to be especially sensitive to our weaknesses. We believe that today evangelicals are hindered from achieving full maturity by a reduction of the historic faith. There is, therefore, a pressing need to reflect upon the substance of the biblical and historic faith and to recover the fullness of this heritage. Without presuming to address all our needs, we have identified eight of the themes to which we as evangelical Christians must give careful theological consideration.

My favorite passage is in the following paragraph, in a section entitled, A Call to Historic Roots and Continuity:

We confess that we have often lost the fullness of our Christian heritage, too readily assuming that the Scriptures and the Spirit make us independent of the past. In so doing, we have become theologically shallow, spiritually weak, blind to the work of God in others and married to our cultures.

When I first read this in the early 80’s, it captivated me – and it still does.  It helped a great deal to keep me from becoming one of the Idiots (although I can tell myself that I am too smart to have ever become one).

I have tried to find a version of The Chicago Call online, but apparently it has been removed from it’s old site, and no one else to my knowledge has posted it.  So, I have decided to post the text on where it will remain as long as I keep paying the bills.


Do evangelicals really need a Manifesto?

I just read a post about the apparent failure of “The Evangelical Manifesto,” something I didn’t even know existed.  I guess that would support the idea that it failed.  I skimmed through the post and the Manifesto, and was left thinking, “why in the world do they think they need one?”

Everyone seems to need to define themselves, and these evangelicals are no exception.  This is not a confessional document, although it does make a poor attempt at this.  It doesn’t deal with any specific error.  Rather, it seems merely to attempt to define what makes one an evangelical, or perhaps more accurately, to define what is not an evangelical.  I still wonder why this is needed.

The document, which is needlessly wordy (obviously written by men who are used to taking 45 minutes to deliver a sermon that could have taken 10), identifies three evangelical mandates, the first of which is to reaffirm the evangelical identity:

Our first task is to reaffirm who we are. Evangelicals are Christians who define themselves, their faith, and their lives according to the Good News of Jesus of Nazareth. (Evangelical comes from the Greek word for good news, or gospel.) Believing that the Gospel of Jesus is God’s good news for the whole world, we affirm with the Apostle Paul that we are “not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation.” Contrary to widespread misunderstanding today, we Evangelicals should be defined theologically, and not politically, socially, or culturally.

I wonder who they think they are leaving out?   The Manifestites, as the document explains, believes that “right belief and right worship” was restored at the reformation.  They are, therefore, excluding the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics from their definition; they also exclude fundamentalists, liberals and by inference, much of the “emerging” movement.  They claim to want to be defined theologically rather than culturally, however they do not seem to be able to so.

The problem, in my opinion, is that are trying to define a generic term in a specific way.  Martin Luther was the first to use the term to identify himself, but most contemporary evangelicals would not accept his broad definition (Lutherans aren’t usually considered protestant enough for these folks).  The Manifestites claim “Amazing Grace” as their own, which means that they accept some Anglicans as evangelical.  But then again, those they would define as liberal or fundamentalist are out.  Their intent to be restrictive is even clearer in their claim to be “the narrow way.”

Without dealing with the whole 20-page document, here are a few of my thoughts:

  1. There is a sense in the document that contemporary evangelicalism is dead or dying, and this is a last-ditch effort to preserve an ideology.
  2. They cherry-pick historic church teaching by claiming a commitment to “the central axioms of Christian faith expressed in the Trinitarian and Christological consensus of the early church” while disdaining the context in which these arose.
  3. They confess a litany of failures, and “call humbly but clearly for a restoration of the Evangelical reforming principle,” without having really defined it.
  4. They do claim not to represent all evangelicals, just themselves.  In that case, it would seem somewhat arrogant to try to define evangelicalism for everyone; perhaps they should come up with some new term, like the “emergents” did.
  5. The document is incredibly wordy, lacking specificity.

Overall, it seems like this manifesto is a shot in the dark, and looking back it seems to have missed anything worth shooting at; again, I have a sense that this was written with a sense of desperation as Western Christianity becomes more and more post-evangelical.

I remain much more impressed by The Call, a 2006 document spearheaded by the late Robert Webber, which calls the evangelical church back to more historical faith and practice.

Evangelical Modernism

Perhaps I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself here, as I’m taking topics discussed by Webber out of order; however, I was reading a blog post this morning that got me thinking along these lines, and it seemed fitting to comment while my thoughts were fresh (their shelf-life isn’t that long anymore). I am thinking out loud, for the most part, so take that into consideration as you read.

It seems to me that one of the major issues with the Evangelical church (“Evangelical” in this sense referring to post-reformation churches, even though Luther used the term to refer to his movement) is that it is completely and solidly rooted in Modernism. One of the most irritating qualities of Modernism is the almost essential arrogance that comes from the belief in progress; that is, that “new” is better than “old.” Evangelicalism seems to exhibit the same tendency to believe in theological “progress,” as well as the resulting sense of arrogance in how they deal with past theological positions. While many would argue, especially in the case of fundamentalists, that this is absurd, I think in the “big picture” it makes sense.

With Evangelicalism, there are some basic presumptions that may not be true. One such presumption is that it is an advancement to think of theology almost as a science, being able to break large concepts down into minute detail and argue over the fine points. This scientific approach has, as Webber points out, reduced theology to a set of facts or propositions which can – and must – be believed. This systematic approach appears to have a goal of eradicating any sort of mystery from theology, believing that we can reason our way through our faith. Our faith (as Webber also points out) can then conceivably be conveyed to others in a logical, reasoned way, what we think of a “apologetics.” Evangelicals reason their way to truth, whereas the reformers simply proclaimed it.

Years ago I had a friend who was a Greek Orthodox priest, born and raised in Greece. One day a few of us were dialogging on matters of faith, and another friend of mind tried to get Father Nick to explain the Orthodox position on some hot theolgical topic. I was intrigued so much by Father Nick’s response that I have never forgotten it. He was somewhat frustrated with the conversation, and merely said, “We don’t think that way.” When my friend couldn’t believe that the Orthodox Church had no position on Biblical inerrancy, he replied, “we’ve just never questioned it.” He went on to try to explain his frustration with the Western way of picking things apart into little pieces, and how he felt more in common with a Muslim raised in the East than with a Christian from the West, because of the extreme differences in worldview. Who is more correct? What’s your criteria for deciding?

The Church of the West, especially the Evangelical church, presupposes that the Modern approach to theology and spirituality is necessarily better than what came before, that our perspective has been able to identify errors of the past and better refine the issues. It’s progress. Now, I won’t dispute that some discoveries of earlier manuscripts have allowed for a bit of Biblical fine-tuning, however, these things have been fairly minor. However, I think I am correct when I say that people like Augustine and Martin Luther would consider most if not all of the Evangelical church to be heretical. Is it progress, or simply a 200-year deviation?

Another issue with the Evangelical church today, which is in part a result of that “progressive arrogance,” is its lack of knowledge – or even interest – of anything outside of Evangelicalism. Some have a very loose understanding of the Roman Catholic Church, and Calvin’s been updated to fit some modern Reformed theology, but very few have even a mediocre grasp of what I will call Liturgical Christianity – the Lutherans, Anglicans and Orthodox. Infant baptism, for example, is argued against by people who really have no clue as to its theological and anthropological basis. Consequently, the resulting discussion is meaningless from a pre-Evangelical point of view.

Part of the problem is that Evangelicalism is largely an experience-based religion, and most Evangelicals have never experienced – or felt it necessary to experience – anything else. They were raised or converted in Evangelical Churches, and were also born and raised (for the most part) into Modernism, or converted from liturgical churches into Evangelical churches as having a more “modern” theology (more on this in another post). There are no catechism or church history classes, the creeds are not taught, and it’s lucky if these people even know the Lord’s Prayer. There’s a big emphasis on “Bible,” but only as interpreted by their own pastor or group.

The result is a perpetuation of a movement which may, in fact, be heretical. (As I mentioned, it is, by pre-Evangelical thinking.) Those indoctrinated into Modernism and Evangelicalism may now be reacting with some incredulity at this comment; that would be the arrogance I mentioned, that sense of needing to be “right.” It’s okay, it’s natural. I know, as I experience it myself; but, I’m trying to get over it.

This was not, by the way, a summary of Webber, just some of my thoughts as I’m reading a variety of things. I will outline some of Webber’s thoughts in the next few days.

Everybody Wants to Rule the World

The other day I once again read through The Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future, which in my opinion overuses the term narrative. For those unfamiliar with postmodernist lingo, the narrative is our worldview, our belief about the world and our place in it, the story in which we are “merely players.” Postmodernism says that there is no meta-narrative, no all-encompassing story in which we live; all such propositions are merely attempts at control.

The Call states:

Today, as in the ancient era, the Church is confronted by a host of master narratives that contradict and compete with the gospel. The pressing question is: who gets to narrate the world?

This is an interesting question, especially in light of postmodern suspicions about the control aspect of narration. Who indeed “gets to” narrate the world?

Lately I’ve been spending a considerable amount of time reading and blogging about the various issues of theism vs. philosophical materialism; obviously, both present meta-narratives which are mutually exclusive. Personally, I think the pressing question is not “who gets to” narrate the world, but rather, who does narrate it. If either worldview is correct, then obviously that narrative controls, whether we acknowledge it or not. But, if the concern isn’t ultimate truth, but rather is merely present power, then the question truly is, “who gets to control the world” and the postmodernists raise a valid concern. Philosophical materialists, by the way, hate postmodernism even more than theists.

Within Christendom, there are various factors with their own take on the narrative; in America, the most notable (with regard to this discussion, anyway) are those known as the Religious Right. My personal opinion is that many of these folks have lost sight of any grand narrative and have opted for control; I can only presume that this somehow justifies or explains their use of political clout to try to achieve their goals, which I again presume involves some sort of enforced morality and/or legalism.

The philosophical materialists, on the other hand (including the New Atheists, neo-Darwinists and self-proclaimed pagans), are resorting to the same forms of political and informational manipulation to attempt to enforce their proposed narrative. The philosophical materialist narrative completely disallows any non-material factor, including any non-material aspect of the mind or emotions, resulting in nothing more than biological determinism. We, including our psyches, are merely the product of natural selection. It has even been proposed that we cannot be held accountable for our “sins” as we are only acting according to our genetic mandate. We, therefore, have less free will than the machines of The Matrix.

Many philosophical materialists are content to live according to their story, and let others believe in whatever story they wish. The majority of Christians, specifically excluding the “radical right” wing, hold to a meta-narrative that says God is in control, and therefore there is not only no need for us to control the story, we couldn’t if we tried. However, as these people are not in the fight to control the story, they are largely ignored.

When you get into the fray, the place where ideologies collide, the issue has little or nothing to do with the Big Picture. In the Fray, the issue is who gets to narrate the world; it’s not about the real narrative, its about control vs. the right to not be controlled. I personally resent the notion of being controlled by a philosophical materialist narrative; on the other hand, I have no desire to force my worldview on others. I’ve no need to narrate the world. It doesn’t matter to me personally whether others believe what I believe or not; as Morpheus said, “what I believe doesn’t require them to.” The Meta-Narrative stands on its own.

In the meantime, however, I’d rather not be controlled by anyone else’s narrative.