After the World Vision drama that spread all over the interwebs, there have been a few posts on postevangelicals farewelling evangelicalism (well, sorta?). Over at Christ And Post Culture, Hannah Anderson wrote an excellent post putting post-evangelicalism in historical context, Farewell Evangelicalism?: Not So Fast. At Canon And Culture, Rob Schwarzwalder asked, Why Younger Evangelicals Are Leaving the Church: Some Arguments Against The Conventional Wisdom
Thirdly, Dianna E Anderson posted last week, Life In The Borderlands: A Taxonomical Analysis of Post-Evangelicalism
As a guy who really digs church history, and who has studied the history of evangelicalism, let me add these thoughts. Post-evangelicals are not leaving evangelicalism, vis-a-vis actual evangelical churches and its institutions for its faults, like its anti-intellectualism, its social conservativism, and stuffy institutions. These three features aforementioned are actually found in mainline Protestant churches as well. And well, basically, U.S. American Christianity. This reputation of Christianity being a tool of right-wing politics in media is what Post-Evangelicals are protesting against. They don’t want to be seen as “not liking” the Bible like those evil Mainliners, but they want to definitely be seen as not being one of those Republican Conservative FundieVangelicals.
By now, we all know the type, the Hilary Faye’s (Saved!) hypocritical White Blonde Aryan spokeswomen for Hollywood’s view of Christianity. Sure, there’s some truth to these tropes, but I think underlying both the protest of PostEvangelicals that they are indeed different, and the ignorance of media stereotypes is the lack of knowledge of evangelical religious history. Post-Evangelicalism/The Emergent church represents the rejection of an Evangelicalism that came out of fundamentalism. U.S. American fundamentalism was, according to George Marsden in Fundamentalism And American Culture, a movement that came from the North before the time of the Civil War. The fundamentalist movement was (and continues to be) interdenominational and includes Calvinist, revivalist, dispensationalist, holiness, pietist and Reformed religionists. The Civil War was seen as a millennial event where God’s kingdom, in the eyes of some, prevailed (12-13). This millennialism, perpetuated by middle class Victorian-lite Northerners served as one of the forerunners of fundamentalism (21-22).
At that time, America was viewed as a New Israel because Jeffersonianism placed a very optimistic view of humanity. However, pre-millenial dispensationalism first advanced by C.I. Scofield rejected modern notions of progress and instead suggested true Christians withdraw from society. Scofield’s approach indicated a change that happened in evangelicalism that showed a drop in political and social activism on the part of American evangelicals from 1900-1930. The evangelist D L Moody (1837-1899), for example, was deeply set against the social gospel movement (37). The fundamentalists concerns were primarily doctrinal purity (118-123). Right ideas and thinking would lead to right action. Not only were the first fundamentalists concerned with the purity of Protestant church teachings, they also were committed to racial purity. D.L. Moody was a believer in the Lost Cause and defending the violent institution of Jim & Jane Crow law by hosting and preaching at race-segregated revival events.
Fundamentalism had a particular view of history. While it said it was adverse to liberal notions of progress, dispensationalist theology still held that history was on Christians’ side, and that the Rapture would be a supernatural, disruptive event where God destroys the world in order to, um save it? In a similar vein, Marxists views revolution as a man-made event (as opposed to fundamentalist supernaturalism) that has a similar disruptive effect. In dispensationalism, these acts include the promotion of perpetual warfare in the Middle East to initiate God leashing hell on Earth. In other words, the way to transcend history is by way of acts of violence.
One of the hallmarks of post-evangelicalism as it has manifested itself online is the form of tone-policing that I have written about on a few occassions. Inherent to this fundamentalist-lite form of disciplining virtual behavior is the belief in authentic relationships yet without real risk of confrontation. A commitment to “genuine” relationships has replaced the commitment of doctrinal purity. Any variety of criticism geared toward post-evangelicals from the right or left is demonized as “vicious” or “aggressive” calling out culture. Take for example myself; if I write a post critiquing Rob Bell book when it comes to race, I can expect both the comment section and Twitter to be filled with questions like, “So, do you REALLY think Rob Bell (or Wm. Paul Young, or whoever) is a white supremacist?” Critiques aimed at institutional practices and social norms are taken personally because post-evangelicals, like fundamentalist icons D.L. Moody, Billy Sunday, and Billy Graham view sin as primarily an individual phenomenon. It is this brand of individualism that makes fundamentalism and post-evangelicalism incapable of addressing their own complicities in institutional racism.
“Angry” Social Justice bloggers break the great social taboo of not adhering to postevangelicals’ (misguided) definitions of relationality. Meanwhile, there exists a double-standard of Post-Evangelical bloggers remaining free to write speculative personal attacks about their least favorite celebrity mega-church pastors. Small-minded people talk about people.
I think that what is telling is that at the end of almost every post-evangelical post declaring the evacuation of a label they left years ago, is that there’s a sense they believe that history is on their side. Like the dispensationalists of old, it’s only a matter of time before progress (according to them) is made. Allusions to “resurrection” without any acknowledgement of the cross reveals nothing but bourgeoisie Emergent Christian theologies of glory. Frederick Douglass once said, without struggle, there is no progress. But Post-Evangelical leaders see themselves as Transcendent, Universal, & context-less, somehow beyond history, and so the focus is more on the story of progress itself, rather than concrete narratives of struggle.
When seen in this historical light, we see that indeed, post-evangelicals resemble their fundamentalist forebears more than they like to imagine. While the Calvinist variety of fundamentalism is owned by the TGKKK with their “farewells” to all heretics, post-evangelicals deploy shame versus dissidents with faux-gressive, hegemonic calls to Christian unity. Saying “farewell” and making passive-aggressive crocodile tears over “unity” are two sides of the same coin. Sometimes, old Fundamentalist habits die hard.