Readers over on QuakerQuaker.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.