Generous Orthodoxy  

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Eight Evangelical Affirmations

Now that the "25 most influential evangelicals" are on the cover of Time magazine, it is urgent that the definition of "evangelical" be examined more carefully by those of us who claim it and also broadened more intentionally to include "left" as well as "right." The sharp divisions among evangelicals is a grave problem threatening our witness. A recent letter by retired Episcopal bishop Frank Vest and published in The Living Church states the problem clearly:

Somehow [the word] "evangelical" has been co-opted to connote a Christian who is anti-abortion, pro-Iraq war, pro-capital punishment, anti-gay rights, anti-stem-cell research, anti-gun control and a Biblical fundamentalist. I am an evangelical Christian and I, against the war in Iraq, against capital punishment, for gay rights, for stem-cell research, for gun control...I believe that the word of God is inerrant, but I don’t believe that the words of Scripture are inerrant...

Our English word "evangelical" is derived from the Greek euanggelion which [in the New Testament] means "to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ"....There are many right wingers, Republicans and fundamentalists who are devout Christians. On the other hand, there are legions of equally devout Christians who are none of the above, but who are fervent in their commitment to be Christian evangelists. I am one of them [1]

This letter makes a number of useful points. It arises out of unhappiness about division and hostility among Christians. It defines evangelicalism in precisely the way it is currently being defined in the media. It correctly explains the root of the word "evangelical." And it stakes a claim: I, too, am an evangelical. The writer of this letter does not wish to be pushed out of the circle. His unabashed faith is central to who he is. I would like to hold on to that fervent claim as we proceed. In saying this I wish to make a pitch to the evangelical right to be more inclusive.

I am proposing a tentative list of eight affirmations that seem to me to define "evangelical" as I understand and use the word myself. I call myself either a "liberal evangelical" or, more accurately, a "postliberal."

I will be presenting these proposed affirmations on my speaking tours this Lent and Eastertide, and I welcome responses and reactions to them.

Eight evangelical affirmations (proposed):

  • Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God.

  • His Crucifixion and Resurrection were the definitive act of God to overcome Sin, conquer Death, defeat the Evil One on his own turf, and inaugurate the new reality called the Kingdom of God.

  • The Holy Scriptures are the true revelation of God's own self, and the Bible is therefore unique among writings and can be trusted as the living and active Word of God.
  • We are incorporated into the new life of God—for now and for all eternity—through baptism, justified by grace alone, through the gift of faith.

  • The Holy Spirit is actively at work in the world shaping both events and people to bring his ultimate redemptive purpose to pass.

  • God in Christ is gathering disciples, the saints of God, who embody his purposes through the ministry of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

  • It is the very essence of Christian faith to bear witness to this story of God, and therefore to make his gospel known to all nations.

  • We look to the future of God, when Jesus Christ will come again in great glory to rectify all things and bring all things to their appointed consummation.

[1] The Rt. Rev. Frank Vest, letter to The Living Church, 1/16/05.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

General Jackson, Prayer for enemies

The example of Stonewall Jackson
I have recently been reading biographical material about Stonewall Jackson. The great Confederate general was certainly one of the most devout Christians that the Lord ever made. His whole adult life was devoted to constant prayer, worship and Bible reading, and he started a Christian education program for a group of slaves. One of the most touching details of his life was his friendship with the young daughter of a family with whom some of the Confederate officers were billeted during the war. When she died of one of the many illnesses that killed people in those days before modern medicine, the general was overwhelmed with grief.

The point of this is that it is possible to be a sincerely devout Christian and a warmly loving human being and still be on the wrong side of a war or an issue. This does not seem to be well understood in the midst of the acrimony that colors our disputes today.