Predictions on the ‘new evangelical’ movement

Read­ers over on Quak​erQuak​er​.org will know I’ve been inter­est­ed in the tem­pest sur­round­ing evan­gel­i­cal pas­tor Rob Bell. A pop­u­lar min­is­ter for the Youtube gen­er­a­tion, con­tro­ver­sy over his new book has revealed some deep fis­sures among younger Evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians. I’ve been fas­ci­nat­ed by this since 2003, when I start­ed real­iz­ing I had a lot of com­mon­al­i­ties with main­stream Chris­t­ian blog­gers who I would have nat­u­ral­ly dis­missed out of hand. When they wrote about the authen­tic­i­ty of wor­ship, decision-making in the church and the need to walk the talk and also to walk the line between truth and com­pas­sion, they spoke to my con­cerns (most of my read­ing since then has been blogs, pre-twentieth cen­tu­ry Quak­er writ­ings and the Bible).

Today Jaime John­son tweet­ed out a link to a new piece by Rachel Held Evans called “The Future of Evan­gel­i­cal­ism.” She does a nice job pars­ing out the dif­fer­ences between the two camps squar­ing off over Rob Bell. On the one side is a cen­tral­ized move­ment of neo-Calvinists she calls Young, Rest­less, Reformed after a 2006 Chris­tian­i­ty Today arti­cle. I have lit­tle to no inter­est in this crowd except for mild aca­d­e­m­ic curios­i­ty. But the oth­er side is what she’s dub­bing “the new evan­gel­i­cals”:

The sec­ond group — some­times referred to as “the new evan­gel­i­cals” or “emerg­ing evan­gel­i­cals” or “the evan­gel­i­cal left” is sig­nif­i­cant­ly less orga­nized than the first, but con­tin­ues to grow at a grass­roots lev­el. As Paul Markhan wrote in an excel­lent essay about the phe­nom­e­non, young peo­ple who iden­ti­fy with this move­ment have grown weary of evangelicalism’s alle­giance to Repub­li­can pol­i­tics, are inter­est­ed in pur­su­ing social reform and social jus­tice, believe that the gospel has as much to do with this life as the next, and are eager to be a part of inclu­sive, diverse, and authen­tic Chris­t­ian com­mu­ni­ties. “Their broad­en­ing sense of social respon­si­bil­i­ty is push­ing them to rethink many of the fun­da­men­tal the­o­log­i­cal pre­sup­po­si­tions char­ac­ter­is­tic of their evan­gel­i­cal tra­di­tions,” Markham not­ed.

This is the group that intrigues me. There’s a lot of cross-over here with some of what I’m see­ing with Quak­ers. In an ide­al world, the Reli­gious Soci­ety of Friends would open its arms to this new wave of seek­ers, espe­cial­ly as they hit the lim­its of denom­i­na­tion­al tol­er­ance. But in real­i­ty, many of the East Coast meet­ings I’m most famil­iar with wouldn’t know what to do with this crowd. In Philly if you’re inter­est­ed in this con­ver­sa­tion you go to Cir­cle of Hope (pre­vi­ous posts), not any of the estab­lished Quak­er meet­ings.

Evans makes some edu­cat­ed guess­es about the future of the “new evan­gel­i­cal” move­ment. She thinks there will be more dis­cus­sion about the role of the Bible, though I would say it’s more dis­cus­sion fo the var­i­ous Chris­t­ian inter­pre­ta­tions of it. She also fore­sees a loos­en­ing of labels and denom­i­na­tion­al affil­i­a­tions. I’m see­ing some of this hap­pen­ing among Friends, though it’s almost com­plete­ly on the indi­vid­ual lev­el, at least here on the East Coast. It will be inter­est­ing to see how this shakes out over the next few years and whether it will bypass, engage with or siphon off the Soci­ety of Friends. In the mean­time, Evans’ post and the links she embeds in it are well worth explor­ing.

  • Unfor­tu­nate­ly when these “emerg­ing evan­gel­i­cals” speak about being more “inclu­sive”, they are still exclud­ing gays and les­bians, which makes them still noth­ing more then hyp­ocrites.

    • Per­haps the more sexually-inclusive end of Friends could pro­vide a mod­el there. Free­dom Friends Church in Ore­gon (http://​www​.free​dom​friends​.org) has a “new evan­gel­i­cal” vibe to it but labels itself “pas­sion­ate­ly inclu­sive” and explic­it­ly states just what this means in their FAQ. I’d love to see more cross-over like this.

    • That’s a quick way to write off lots of peo­ple and it’s just not true. Yes, there are some who are still anti- but there are some that are very sup­port­ive. I think what’s hard for some Friends to accept is that peo­ple who pro­fess Jesus can actu­al­ly be more inclu­sive than peo­ple who reject him in the name of inclu­siv­i­ty.

  • Ethan R. Friend

    I’ve been active­ly involved in a Friends Meet­ing in Port­land OR the past two years, and soon return to the East Coast. I’m curi­ous to see how these dynam­ics play out in New Eng­land Quak­er groups. Part of the dif­fer­ence, I think, lies in the fact that East Coast Quak­erism tends to be all but entire­ly along the unpro­grammed end of the spec­trum, where­as here in Ore­gon, there’s quite a few pro­grammed Friends church­es as well. This has led to what is slow­ly becom­ing an impor­tant “con­ver­gence” move­ment between the two branch­es, and has I think helped to fos­ter a greater sense of wel­com­ing and inclu­sion for those who might be along these “new evan­gel­i­cal” lines…