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To Love God or Fight For Him? or What is Evangelicalism?

What is evangelicalism? It's a term that eludes clear definition and is something that some of my friends and I have tackled in our forthcoming book, Routes & Radishes and Other Things to Talk About at the Evangelical Crossroads.

The question is raised once again with the recent Christianity Today cover story on Al Mohler that unabashedly refers to him as a reformer, invoking thoughts of Luther and Zwingli. Mohler is the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He has been a chief architect of the conservative revolution of the Southern Baptist Convention and the primary promoter of the new Calvinism (note: a SBC church ordained me and my wife and i were SBC employees for 6 years).

Mohler has been undboutedly very influential (more so than many people would like!). Nevertheless the title "The Reformer" has to be considered exceptionally overblown. 

Scot McKnight wrote a post making some interesting observations on the CT article. His main point is that evangelicalism is changing and it could be changing in the direction of fundamentalism rather than then in a more inclusive direction befitting of the "big tent evangelism" of Billy Graham, et. al. who emphasized focus on core gospel issues rather that excluding people on the basis of theological particularism like the age of the earth, role of women in the church, etc...

McKnight rightly points out that the big tent evangelicals are not "fighters" but the new guard of folks like Mohler and others in the SBC are "fighters."

This raises what I think is a very key point. When one group fights and another group doesn't, will not the fighting group advance farther and faster? This is what appears to be happening and what furthered the conservative resurgence in the SBC and in the evangelical movement at large.

So, what should we do, if we feel comfortable being evangelical but uncomfortable with some of the direction it is moving?

First, I think it is helpful to remember that the first commandment is to love God, not fight for Him. I still scratch my head all the time at how under-discussed the topic of love is in evangelical circles and how quickly evangelicals rush into fight mode.The idea of fighting for God should be completely alien to us.

Second, evangelical is just a term or label. Who really cares what happens to it? I mean it has some value. But I have decided that I will be an evangelical as long as I get to say what it means. If it's up to others to decide what it means and if that means I have to be a Calvinist, complementarian, young earth creationist, I'll probably pass even though I would support having Calvinist, complementarian, young earth creationists as a pat of the evangelical fold.

Third, in lieu of the commands to love God and neighbor, we have to focus on that and not fighting or resisting the 'fighters.' God's way is always better.

Fourth, people tend to tire of the 'fighters' thus their influence while at times enormous is generally temporary. Jerry Falwell and James Dobson are examples of people who millions loved and followed but whose influence waned because everyone tired of their fighting ways. If fighting remains a central part of anyone's church/social engagement they too will become tiresome.

Evangelicalism is changing; that's for sure. Hopefully, the evangelical future will consist of more emphasis on loving and less on fighting.

What are your thoughts on the direction of evangelicalism? What about the tension between fighting for your beliefs and loving others?

Comments

Yeah I'm with you Mark.

I don't mind us being inclusive of many variations, but I don't want to have to fight someone for a label.

Bugger that!

In Oz its so diverse that I don't think anyone really speaks for the whole and that is probably a good thing.

" Jerry Falwell and James Dobson are examples of people who millions loved and followed but whose influence waned because everyone tired of their fighting ways."

I think it is important to point out that Dr. Falwell's influence did not wane but rather it changed. Toward the end of his life he spent more time close to his church and University which he declared would be his greatest legacy.

This weekend I spent a day on the campus of Liberty University. (I'm an Alum)
There is now a resident program approaching 12,000 students and an accredited online degree program of over 60,000 students. They have a fully accredited law school, aviation program, seminary and nursing program. Liberty is truly Dr. Falwell's legacy.

What most don't acknowledge (or know?) about Dr. Falwell is that he was emergent before it emerged. What I mean is that while today many people want to advocate for more of a 'serve the world' approach to the gospel, Dr. Falwell lived it. He spent his life starting a home for alcoholics and drug addicts, crisis pregnancy center, inner city ministry, schools, foreign mission posts around the world and helping thousands upon thousands of people throughout his life with the occasional electric bill or food to get by.

So in our effort to elevate our opinion about where the locus of Christian thinking should move, lets not overshadow the great contributions of others. Truth be told I believe a lot of modern day priest-types would be pretty impressed with the way Dr. Falwell exhibited his faith. Don't buy into the hype of sound bites and punch lines. God has been at work through great men of God in many ways, not just through their answers on CNN.

Tally,

You raise a great point about Dr. Falwell doing a lot of good work and immersing himself in the university setting which arguably could have a longer influence than political-media engagement.

Point taken.

There is always a danger of using a particular illustration to make a general point because there could be faults with some details of the particular illustration. That being said, I have not spent a lot of time focusing on Dr. Falwell (though I do know people who worked intimately with him and have said that he was a fighter of the cultural wars in the way I discussed), but I still think the general point that people tire of fighters is true. Thus, this is why there is no real reason to consistently fight the fighters.

Thanks for your perspective on Dr. Falwell. I always enjoy hearing/learning about followers of Christ who serve others...

Mark

There is a balance between fighting for your beliefs and just being annoying. I think many people don't realize that there is a quiet way to fight without creating a disturbance in your own self. church activities for youth

Also, people may be insecure about why they are truly fighting christian activities for youth

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