Post-Liberals & Post-Evangelicals?

Obser­va­tions on the first Philadel­phia Indie Allies Meet­up. “Just about each of us at the table were com­ing from dif­fer­ent the­o­log­i­cal start­ing points, but it’s safe to say we are all ‘post’ some­thing or oth­er. There was a shared sense that the stock answers our church­es have been pro­vid­ing aren’t work­ing for us. We are all try­ing to find new ways to relate to our faith, to Christ and to one anoth­er in our church communities.”

The infor­mal net­work of younger Evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians cen­tered around web­sites like theooze​.com and Jor​dan​Coop​er​.sk​.ca has start­ed spon­sor­ing a month­ly Indie Allies Meet­up of “Inde­pen­dent Chris­t­ian Thinkers.” Unlike pre­vi­ous months, there were enough peo­ple signed up for the Octo­ber meet­ing in the Philadel­phia area to hold a “meet­up,” so two days ago Julie & I found our­selves in a Cen­ter City piz­za shop with five oth­er “Indie Allies.”

Accord­ing to Robert E. Webber’s The Younger Evan­gel­i­cals, I fall pret­ty square­ly into the “Post Lib­er­al” cat­e­go­ry, à la Stan­ley Hauer­was. While it’s always dan­ger­ous label­ing oth­ers, I think at least some of the oth­er par­tic­i­pants would be com­fort­able enough with the “Post Evan­gel­i­cal” label (the one pas­tor among us said that if I read Webber’s book I’d know where he’s com­ing from). One par­tic­i­pant was from the Cir­cle church Julie & I attend­ed last First Day. 

Just about each of us at the table were com­ing from dif­fer­ent the­o­log­i­cal start­ing points, but it’s safe to say we are all “post” some­thing or oth­er. There was a shared sense that the stock answers our church­es have been pro­vid­ing aren’t work­ing for us. We are all try­ing to find new ways to relate to our faith, to Christ and to one anoth­er in our church com­mu­ni­ties. There’s some­thing about build­ing rela­tion­ships that are deep­er, more down-to-earth and real. Per­haps it’s find­ing a way to be less dog­mat­ic at the same time that we’re more dis­ci­plined. For Friends, that means ques­tion­ing the con­tem­po­rary cul­tur­al ortho­doxy of liberal-think (get­ting beyond the cliched catch phras­es bor­rowed from lib­er­al Protes­tantism and sixties-style activism) while being less afraid of being pec­u­lar­i­ly Quaker.

The con­ver­sa­tion was real­ly inter­est­ing. After all my Quak­er work, it’s always amaz­ing to find oth­er peo­ple my age who actu­al­ly think hard about faith and who are will­ing to build their life around it. There were times where I think we need­ed to trans­late our­selves and times where we tried to map out shared con­nec­tions (i.e., Richard Fos­ter was the known famous Quak­er, I should read him if only to be able to dis­cuss his rela­tion­ship to Con­ser­v­a­tive and Lib­er­al Friends).

It was real­ly good to get out­side of Quak­erism and to hear the lan­guage and issues of oth­ers. One impor­tant les­son is that some of the strong opin­ions I’ve devel­oped in response to Quak­er cul­ture need to be unlearned. The best exam­ple was social action. As I’ve writ­ten before on the web­site, I think the Friends peace tes­ti­mo­ny has become large­ly sec­u­lar­ized and that social action has become a sub­sti­tute for expressed and lived com­mu­nal faith. Yet my Meet­up cohorts were excit­ed to become involved in social action. Their Evan­gel­i­cal back­ground had dis­missed good works as unnec­es­sary – faith being the be-all – and now they want­ed to get involved in the world. But I very much sus­pect that their good works would be root­ed in faith to a degree that a lot of con­tem­po­rary Quak­er activist projects aren’t. I need to remind myself that social wit­ness (even my own) can be fine if tru­ly spirit-led.

Com­mit­ted reli­gious peo­ple switch­ing church­es often bring with them the bag­gage of their frus­tra­tions with the first church and this unre­solved anger often gets in the way of keep­ing true to God’s call. Even though I’m not leav­ing Quak­erism I have to iden­ti­fy and name my own frus­tra­tions so that they don’t get in the way. Hang­ing out with oth­er “Inde­pen­dent Chris­t­ian Thinkers” is a way of keep­ing some per­spec­tive, of remem­ber­ing that Post-Liberal is not exact­ly anti-Liberal. 

Rec­om­mend­ed I check out: N.T. Wright, at allelon​.net. I just saw him ref­er­enced as a per­son­al friend of some of the Repub­li­can par­ty lead­er­ship in Con­gress, so this should be interesting.

  • Con­tin­u­ing to prowl around your sites. Your men­tion of N.T. Wright prompts me to say that I’ve just fin­ished his short book _The Chal­lenge of Jesus_ which is cer­tain­ly nobody’s party-line tract, and which I found very helpful.
    Johan