What is a post-evangelical?: A personal reflection
I’m re-posting an old piece of mine entitled “A farewell to evangelism?” The reason for this was sparked off by a friend of mine who posted a comment by the well-respected evangelical, the late John Stott. Here is the comment:
Interviewer: Does it alarm you to hear people calling themselves “postevangelical”?
John Stott: Yes. I don’t know what they mean, but it does alarm me. If you are “post” anything, you are leaving something behind, and I want to know what it is. If it’s our many faults and failures, fine, but that’s not postevangelicalism, it’s post-twisted-evangelicalism.
Here is my reflection on why I left the evangelical tradition. A quick note: I written this piece in haste and passion without much reflection. The word evangelism denotes the evangelical tradition.
A farewell to evangelism?: A reflection on my own journey of faith
Reaching the halfway point on this journey of life and having just entered into the second decade as a Christian, I’ve decided to pause to take stock of my journey of faith. The purpose of this exercise is to see how far have I moved along in this journey of faith and to see the path forward.
My own journey of faith began some two decades back when I experienced a new birth through faith in Christ Jesus. This makes me an evangelical. Through this time, I’ve remained within this tradition with its emphasis on:
- Personal conversion to Christ Jesus;
- The emphasis on scriptures in the life of faith as well as that of life in general;
- The importance of evangelism;
- The centrality of the church in the life of the believer; and
Looking back at the tradition which I’ve have grown up in as a Christian, I was surprised by the fact that in spite of my voracious appetite for works of philosophy and the human sciences, I’ve never question the basic theological assumptions and worldview of the evangelical tradition. My theological staple was the works of popular conservative evangelical theologians while avoiding “dangerous” theologians (which was hard to digest anyway).
Nonetheless, it was inevitable – with my interest in philosophy and the human sciences – that I would turn my eyes to my own spiritual tradition in order to really understand it rather than having a pre-digested answer serve to me. Just a few years back, I decided to take seriously the slogan of the early reformers “ad fontes” (return to the sources). In this case, I started to take seriously the works of John Calvin and Martin Luther as well as to historical theology and church history. This exercise have made me more aware of the nuances of the pre-digested evangelical theology which I fed upon as dogma.
As a result, I found myself becoming uncomfortable with the tradition which I have grown up with. Let me be perfectly clear here … it is not I’ve abandoned my faith (as a matter of fact, it strengthen my faith) but rather (perhaps) the evangelical tradition itself. Perhaps the best way explain what I’m trying to say here is to use the imagery of a house.
The foundation which my faith is built upon is that of Christ Jesus as confessed by the Christians at all times and everywhere but the house which my faith was built is based on the evangelical blueprint. Now after two decades of living in this house, I feel myself no longer at home in this house ….
My discomfort stems from the way in which the evangelical faith is reflected in life. It would seem to me that evangelicals tend to be ahistorical about their faith which in turn affected the way which they (and I) read scriptures. The evangelical emphasis on personal piety and evangelism together with the life of the Christian revolving around the activities of the local church have created a ghetto mentality among evangelicals.
My discomfort have become especially acute in the past couple of years with the changes in the nation’s political and social environment where evangelicals offer no answers on how Christian should respond. Although there have been some calls for more engagement in society, yet many evangelicals are comfortable with the spiritual ghetto which they (we) have built for themselves (ourselves). I found myself not only uncomfortable with the evangelical expression of the faith but also its theological complacency which focus on the salvation of the soul without much thought to the corporeal body. It seem that evangelicals are only interested in heading towards heaven without much concern to what happen to here and now. Yet are we not body and soul? Are we not part of the world which we live in even if we are wayfarers on the way to the heavenly city? I find this idea of dualism deeply unsettling.
Am I saying that I’m leaving evangelism? No, at least not yet. Imagine inhabiting a house for more than two decades and now the time have come to leave the house which one have spend one’s whole live in. Yet, the time have come for me to contemplate on the road ahead. I do not see the road to liberalism as one that is open to me as I see it as a dead end.
On the other hand, the post-evangelism/emergent churches (or whatever label it goes by this day) seems like a live option. Although I’m sympathetic to this tradition, nonetheless I’m critical of some of its theological assumptions. I still consider myself, at least theologically, an evangelical albeit one who appreciates the nuances of the magisterial reformers, i.e. Calvin’s and Luther’s (sprinkled with Barth’s), theology.
So is this a farewell to evangelism? I’m now at the threshold looking for reasons as to why I should remain faithful to this tradition. Yet, I found none …