Tag Archives: progressive evangelicals

Fundamentalism and Post-Evangelical Culture

saved faye

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.  

 

African children are not your pawns: World Vision and Evangelical Imperialism

Can World Vision save Starvin Marvin?

(image provided by South Park Studios)

Post-Evangelicalism, White Saviorism, and PA$$ING FOR WHITE [EVANGELICAL]

I’ve noticed somewhat of a trend that’s pretty problematic that I wanted to draw out. You can call this my official response to the World Vision / White Evangelicalism drama that went on last week.  At the center of the storm, there lied a Christian charity organization that decided to, then reversed on the decision, to hire Christians from denominations that affirmed same sex marriages.  The narrative goes: on one side, there’s the conservative evangelical wing and their Calvinist Popes who farewelled WV and on the other side, there’s the evangelicals who were lead to believe that evangelicalism was a Big Tent camp filled with Progressives, Emergents, and Missional folks. Both sides (in their blog posts), were more than eager to press this story as one where we had to “save the children.”  At no one point were the problematic practices of World Vision, its advancement of White Saviorism  through its advertisements or its questionable method of “child-sponsorships” (but not really child-sponsorships) ever put under scrutiny.  In fact, White conservative evangelical bloggers and post-evangelical bloggers did not hesitate to add numerous images of brown-skinned children (probably with disabilities as well) in their blog posts.  BECAUSE YOU KNOW, THIS DEBATE WAS ALL ABOUT THEM. UM HUMMM!

If I may wax Propaganda in “Precious Puritans,” it reeks of privilege, wouldn’t you agree? In reality, the money for the sponsorships do not go to the child directly, but to the community where they live (indirectly). The promise of these sponsorships not only promise meeting the material needs of children overseas, but also to ensure that these kids get to learn American Standard English.  Isn’t that just wonderful? We can do charity so that we can shape you in our own image! Nope. Not imperialist at all.

African and other nations populated by darker skinned people are represented time and again as the passive recipients of white benevolence.  This “help” however, is just a re-hashing of old Western-style colonialism brought to those countries by missionaries. Instead of Soviet and capitalist governments directly influencing the futures of these places, what is happening instead is that corporations such as SHELL, which will work as “monitors” for these “developing” communities, to aid in things like guiding “the communities is setting priorities” [robbing agency and human dignity from people of Color a national past-time!].  The problem with representing wholesale countries as “Needy Others” by discussing poverty outside of history (that is, remaining silent on the various political histories, economics, and regional trends) objectifies these children as Things. This is one of the primary reasons why White Evangelicals as well White Emergent / Postevangelical/ Nuanced Missional Christians were able to make flesh and blood children pawns for their White National culture wars.

After all the declarations of “I’m done with Evangelicalism” and aspiring hopes for renewal  and quotes about following Jesus and not the Church of the Pharisees [oh, that bit is problematic too, taking the Pharisees out of history, and yeah, that anti-Semitism thing]. Honestly, I always get a little squeamish when even the most progressive and high-minded Christians compare their opponents to the Pharisees because of the history of CHRISTIAN anti-Semitism we believers are guilty of. And you know what Fanon said, behind anti-Semitism, there’s anti-Black racism right around the corner.

It’s interesting how cabals of White Evangelical and Post-evangelical bloggers can arrogantly think that they have the future of Christianity in their hands.  And let’s not kid ourselves with Emergent/Emergence Christianity,etc.; the same people who appropriate the language of “liberation” from Christians of color are the same exact folks who talk about “civility” and “objectivity” as means of silencing most notably Women of Color. Evangelicalism has a bad history when it comes to race relations. Heck, all of Christianity does.  Social Justice critiques from within contemporary Evangelicalism did not start with Brian McLaren and Rob Bell; it started with the work of people like John Perkins and Tom Skinner. Unfortunately in White Evangelical institutions, John Perkins and the Christian Community Development Association were denounced as “liberals” because they dare suggest that White ministers could not properly do urban ministry unless they were discipled by persons who came from urban populations. THE NERVE! THE AUDACITY!

So here we are, rather than exploring and listening the ACTUAL over-looked party of Evangelicalism (Evangelicals who are racial minorities), we have a group of now (I guess?) former evangelicals who use their privilege to rejecting the label of Evangelical.  While there are others who can articulate this idea better than I (I got this idea from a book club meeting this week), Evangelicalism comes not only as a theology but also a history and a culture.  The history of evangelicalism in the North American context is a tale of both the social justice minded-abolitionists and the slave-holding Confederates.  Not wanting to be implicated in the social sins of the latter, many Emergent / Post-Evangelical Christians tend to focus on the former, while well, for the most part, many Conservative Evangelicals continue to glorify the problematic history uncritically.  Evangelical culture in general comes with an accomodationist approach to laizze-faire economics where every brand and marketing trend just needs a little Jesus sprinkled on it.  This is also leads to evangelical culture making charity the norm rather than solidarity

 It seems a little suspicious to me that on one hand, a number Post-Evangelicals want to keep the evangelical label, to retain the brand, the capitalist success, and access to higher social positions that it comes with, but on the other, now want to simply leave it when its convenient. In the United States of America context, in which a watered-down Protestantism turned deism has basically been the civil religion, White Evangelicalism means that a Protestantism that’s above other Protestantisms (this includes mainline churches, historically black churches, Chinese, Korean and other Protestant bodies worldwide).  These other communities are only found acceptable if they believe like, worship like, and vote like White Evangelicals.  Rather than take responsibility for their own history, the blogging bishophoric is now leading the way into a new kind of evangelical hegemony.  Indeed it would seem that the label of post-evangelical / emergent was nothing more than a way for Generation X’ers and Millenials to pa$$ as white [evangelicals], profiting while persuading others to join them on their journey into mainline Protestantism.

So what do you think? Are African, Indian, South American children being used as pawns in the White Culture Wars?

 

Wonder Woman saves the day: On Being An Open Theist

There’s a saying among comic book fans who like DC Comics. If you need someone to save the world, call Superman. If there is a mystery to be solved, call Batman. And if you need to end a war, call Wonder Woman.

When it comes to religion and politics, there are always going to be factions. With persons who identify as Open Theists, things aren’t going to be any different. First of all, let me be upfront. I believe in the freedom of the Triune God who freely decides to give humanity free will so that we can have genuine relationships. I have for the most part always believed in this with the exception of the 3 or 4 years I was a 4 point Calvinist. Even when I was Calvinist, I got into arguments with liberals and evangelicals and postevangelicals IRL and online on Facebook. The worst arguments happened in Calvinist groups themselves. I couldn’t believe there were so many different varieties of Calvinism. Come on, someone claimed to be both an anabaptist and Calvinist! That was ridiculous (I thought in my mind).

When I left Calvinism, it was not any of my Arminian, liberal, or emerging church friends who convinced me to eventually leave Calvinist theology. It was one of the Five Point Hardliners who sent me a 20 page paper (I kid you not) via a Facebook message explaining to me why I was not a REAL Calvinist (and therefore not a real Christian) since I didn’t affirm ALL FIVE POINTS. I was so angry, I first started re-reading the Bible without Calvinist interpretation, learning historical contexts for things like the story of Jacob and Esau. It was around that time I transitioned to identifying as an outspoken Trinitarian and Open Theist.

When I first learned of Open Theism, I was unimpressed. In Baptist Theology class, the teacher abused his authority, using polemics and demonization to demonstrate his fauxgressive take on Open Theism. He would regularly cite C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle and the story of the servant of Tash. Not. Impressed. It’s not as if the Tash story doesn’t have problems, like Orientalism, which is one of the three stools of White Supremacy’s throne. Plus, C.S. Lewis does not equal the Christian Canon or Tradition. So there was that too.

It took a combination of prayerful reflection on the Scriptures, familiarizing myself with continental philosophy, as well as forging friendships with people like T.C. Moore to help me grow as an Open Theist. What other theology dared begin with Jesus’ call to repentance as the start of theological introspection? Whose the politician outside George W. Bush that actually made Jesus the number one philosopher? Much like John Howard Yoder [whose silence and embodiment of male supremacy is problematic] who is said to have brought back Jesus’ teachings as central to Christian ethics, Open theists made free will theology anew, grounded in Jesus, contemporary hermeneutics and traditional evangelical theology such as God’s triunity and the trustworthiness of Scripture. At Brite Divinity School, I could have followed suit with everyone else and hopped on the process theology bandwagon, but I chose not to.

Instead, I wanted to take the risk of being different. Open Theism is some of the best that Evangelicalism has to offer. Honestly, part of my goal at trying to be the best theologian and preacher I can be, I wanted to dialogue with evangelicals, and the Openness of God movement was, and is a good way to do so. The Open Theist community has folks who are also Pentecostal, Baptist, Mennonite, heretical political libertarians, six-day Young Earth Creationists, theistic-evolutionists, inerrantists, proponents of cruciformity, Anglicans. As with any theological movement, it is going to have its various factions. Yes I [personally] believe Open Theism is necessarily Trinitarian, but I respect other’s approaches to seeing the future as partially open. This isn’t relativism or being “overwhelmed” with diversity; this is me working in the hopes of persuading others to my side. That side does include a commitment to traditional creedal Christianity, Charismatic traditions, and open theology, much like Tom Belt offers.

One caveat. A unified voice for renewal must not be hegemonic, and it must match the gender inclusive vision of Pentecost, women and men preaching the Good News. Any renewal movement must also look to pay attention to the margins. Yes formally, open theism was made a systematic alternative to calvinist evangelicalism in 1994, but there have been persons who wrote and preached about God sovereignly choosing divine self-limitation and the partial openness of the future for centuries. Major J. Jones in the 1970’s (a classmate of Rev. Dr. MLK Jr.) wrote about a personal, holy Triune God and he had Openness leanings. Open Theism cannot be a Small Tent Revival kind of movement. It needs the biblical model of Pentecost if it is to open up space for a Spirit-led renewal.