This is hardly an echo of anything I wrote, but in November, I posted some thoughts regarding the viability of the word “Christian” in a Postmodern context. Because America largely sees itself as Christian culturally as much as spiritually, the label seems to be losing its vitality, and needed to either be reclaimed or replaced. I suggested “Disciples”, “Followers of Jesus”, even “Apostles”, all of which have limitations of their own. In the end, I’m not sure how much titles matter: “A rose by any other name…”
Anyway, this article made two salient points on the question, this time regarding Evangelicals specifically. Because of fracturing within Christianity and even within Evangelical circles, it is harder, if not impossible, for that term to define a core of beliefs. What is it that unites them? Scriptural inerrancy? The movement of the Spirit? Worship style? Global warming?
Yes, apparently global warming, as a “subset” of stewardship of creation, is a hot-button issue for some Evangelicals. These are environment-friendly conservatives who may agree with Al Gore that caring for the environment is now a “moral” issue. But is there more behind this recent embrace of environmentalism? I have a sneaking suspicion at least two major forces are driving this unlikely union, besides legitimate concern for stewardship of creation. (I personally do not equate stewardship of creation with massive economic regulation.)
First, Evangelicals are tired of being taken for granted by Republicans. As David Kuo points out very well in Tempting Faith, Evangelicals have been seen as guaranteed votes by the Bush administration, and it’s worked well for Bush. Spoken about in the same language that minority groups have been spoken of concerning voting for Democrats, Evangelicals will simply not go down that road. In other words, Evangelicals are too smart to just be pawns in a nasty political game; they want to carve out their own niche. Second, in true Postmodern form, Evangelicals are becoming more liberal at heart, which to my mind is not altogether a bad thing. Major divisions in Evangelical circles around the ordination of women and the accuracy of the Bible have already taken place. I would not be surprised if the homosexuality question isn’t next. Whereas that question has been debated for many years in mainline Protestant circles, Evangelicals to my mind have hardly entertained conversation. That may soon change.
So like the word “Christian”, the word “Evangelical” is quickly losing value. In the words of the author Paul Chesser, “One historical credo for traditional evangelicals is that they stand on the truth, first grounded in the Bible, and secondarily in measurable, incontrovertible evidence. Human-induced global warming doesn’t pass either test...If evangelical is allowed to go the way of Christian, we may need to develop yet another identifier. Conservagelical, anyone?”