It seems that I’ve lived a very sheltered life, at least as far as life in the evangelical world goes. I thought that I had a pretty eclectic theological history, and understood evangelicals pretty well. I was raised Lutheran, as I’ve mentioned before, but was deeply influenced in high school and college by a variety of non-Lutheran folks, attended an Evangelical Covenant Bible school, and even served on the board of an Evangelical Free Church. I have hung around with both Southern and American Baptists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, holiness folks and Greek Orthodox. I’ve been traveling in Vineyard circles for over 20 years, and for the last 10 have been investigating what is now being called the “emerging” church. I’ve read Christianity Today, The Purpose-Driven Church/Life, and tons of other best-sellers. I have owned at least 3 systematic theologies. And, I often use the NIV (although I do prefer RSV).
So, I’ve “been around,” as they say. However, over the last few months I have been exploring the vast resources of the internet, only to find that I apparently haven’t a clue about what Evangelicalism is all about. I knew that I didn’t agree with fundamentalists of any stripe, John MacArther, Pat Robertson, Tim LaHaye or James Dobson (and still don’t). However, I really had no idea there were such strong and volatile groups of Calvinists, Baptists, Calvinist Baptists, Anabaptists, and other random evangelicals out there. I’ve discovered that I don’t understand Calvinists at all (and still don’t really care to) and that I’m getting tired of Baptists who think they understand Martin Luther. However, I’ve discovered that there are a number of really sharp Lutherans who really do understand Martin Luther.
I also didn’t know that orthodoxy was such a big deal (not just “who’s in and who’s out,” but what it is that makes you in or out). I didn’t know that the Nicene Creed was an issue for some people. And, I’m very glad that I have had no reason to know these things.
There are a few decent evangelical blogs that I have been reading (and occasionally commenting on), including Parchment and Pen, the blog of C. Michael Patton, a dispensational Calvinist. On that basis alone, I shouldn’t understand his point of view at all. However, he “reaches across the aisle,” as it were, and has started some very interesting discussions in the last couple of weeks concerning who is “emerging,” who is and is not “orthodox,” and who are the Eastern Orthodox. On the latter topic, he has invited Dr. Bradley Nassif, an Eastern Orthodox theology professor at North Park University, to write a series of posts to introduce the Orthodox to Patton’s mostly evangelical audience.
The resulting discussions on each of these three topics are quite interesting, as well as being very educational. If you are at all interested in the variety of theologies held by the large group(s) calling itself “Evangelical,” or if you just want to find out what a strange world evangelicalism can be, it’s well worth an hour or 2 of your time to read through these discussions. I have especially enjoyed the Eastern Orthodox discussions, and am impressed with Dr. Nassif, who exhibits much more grace and patience than I would in dealing with some of the comments.
I have not drawn any conclusions, per se, from these discussions, but I have a few hunches and perceptions:
- Evangelicalism appears to be half – perhaps more – Modernism.
- There is at least a very strong commitment to submitting theology to a rationalistic analysis
- There is also an ahistorical attitude that borders on arrogance.
- Evangelicals more often than not cannot properly understand Luther or the early church, as they can’t accept that modernism has changed the meanings of many words and concepts.
- I have never been “evangelical” in the sense that most people use the term.
- I am okay – actually, I am more than okay – with that.
- I tend to like many of these people, anyway.
- The more theology I study, the more Lutheran I get.
What I find really intriguing, as I read through Robert Webber and other books dealing with historical theology, is that much of today’s evangelical church probably would have been considered heretical (at least heterodox) by Luther and many of the other reformers, not to mention everyone’s favorite, Augustine. Oh well… the beat goes on.