Rethinking Evangelicalism Pt. 4

I have been very blessed to have spent most of my life in the state of Minnesota. Minnesota is the epicenter, in my opinion, of Evangelicalism. We have what seems like hundreds of mega churches is a small dense area. We have four Evangelical universities. Within a 20-mile radius we have everybody from John Piper (Bethlehem Baptist), Greg Boyd (Woodland Hills), Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones (Solomon’s Porch), and Leith Anderson (President of the National Evangelical Association), all of which have been connected to some form of Evangelicalism. All of this to say, we have a wide tradition within our small area. It has been a blessing to me because it opened me to such a wide stream of not only what we call Evangelicalism, but Christianity in general.

One of my earliest memories of being an Evangelical was hearing James Dobson attacking Eminem after his release of his album The Marshal Mathers LP. Shortly after that, I remember hearing my local Christian radio station attacking the Harry Potter books. This March, I was reminded once again when Rob Bell released Love Wins, Evangelicals don’t like it when you stir the pot. We Evangelicals love our way, our history. But after all these years, these incidents have me questioning, “What do we love Truth or tradition?”

The Left Behind series reemphasized a current popular belief in a the rapture. The belief holds that in the last days, God is going to snatch all of the Christians away from the earth. When we understand the history of the theology of the rapture, we realized it wasn’t really conceptualized until the 1800s. This belief really gained steam in a 1970s movie called A Thief In The Night. For most living Evangelicals, the history and the culture has indoctrinated this into our beliefs. So when we have people like N.T Wright casting doubt upon this belief, we aren’t very pleased (deep down inside I don’t think we like it when they go after our man crush Kirk Cameron). The rapture is a perfect example of how we love our tradition. This belief is part of our modern belief structure.

Is tradition necessarily best? If we stuck to tradition, what would Christianity be if Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and Simons hadn’t broken away 500 years ago? What would have happened to Evangelicalism if Billy Graham hadn’t distanced himself from the angry fundamentalists of his day? What would have happened if Jesus would have stuck to the traditions as interpreted by the Pharisees and Rabbis? Our traditions are necessary for us to build our religious identity and worldview, but sometimes our traditions get it wrong. Having traditions is okay, even necessary, but one must realize that the tradition isn’t the journey, God is. This is why the wisest of teachers will teach us to unlearn as much as they teach us to learn. It is a matter of seeking and questioning. This is why faith doesn’t demand certainty.

Seeking God who is truth means asking God for the very thing he promises us in the book of James, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” God will give himself, which means we may have to step away from our tradition. Because sometimes our tradition looks more like us than him.


5 thoughts on “Rethinking Evangelicalism Pt. 4

  1. I think that we have to start looking at truth and move beyond tradition. Traditions are great but the have to evolve over time to keep the next generation’s interest. I think we are living in a great time of change and our traditional routes of Christianity are changing. For example we both have a blog, something that 10 years ago would have been unheard of. I think if we as Christians don’t continue to move forward then we will be lost. It will be our generation that starts the shift in tradition but it may be several generations before we see the shift become mainstream

  2. vickikendall says:

    Mike, there is a difference between tradition and heresy. When people like Luther and Wesley started stirring the pot, what they were doing was trying to get back to the roots of the faith that the interference of political and worldly gain had usurped. What originally determined when the faith became heresy is where it first began, in the early centuries of the religion, to oppose the teaching that could be directly traced back to the apostles and Christ. What I find so troubling now is that our ignorance of our faith roots has pushed us back until we are almost in some instances headed toward Gnosticism–where ultimate spiritual knowledge makes one equal with God–the ‘self’ becomes all important and God takes second place. What makes some of the new ‘theology’ so dangerous is that it sounds really good, it’s what we want to believe. But we have to compare it with what Christ and the apostles said.
    I’m as excited as anybody about the new way we have begun to re-examine our traditions. Some of them definitely need to be put aside in instances where they have taken the place of the message and love of Christ. But we have to look at the thoughts we are presented with using a critical eye. Not all of it is Truth.

    • Mike Friesen says:

      I agree with you vicki. I think it’s always a transition. As modernity didn’t get the whole thing, neither will post-modernity. I appreciate the words of Roger E. Olson, “refromed and always reforming.” There are plenty of troubling modern theologies like the prosperity gospel, or our level of nationalism.

  3. […] Rethinking Evangelicalism Pt. 4 ( […]

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