Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The evangelical fissure is good news

There was an interesting article in yesterday's Seattle Times about the political fragmentation of evangelicals. Gone are the days when the word evangelical was synonymous with Republican. In part, this is because the Republican party used evangelicals to gain votes and then consistently failed to deliver on the social issues they heralded.

A second reason has to do with the entrenchment of the old school evangelicals like Dobson, who can't get over the conspiracy theorist notions that environmentalists are intent on the destruction of our democracy, and that the only issues worth caring about are low taxes, abortion, and the definition of marriage. People in this school are incensed that McCain is doing so well, and some of them, including Dobson, have vowed to not vote at all if McCain wins.

But perhaps the biggest reason of all, and certainly the most heartening, is the theological shifts among evangelicals, illustrated by the likes of Rick Warren and Bill Hybels. These two pastors of American mega-churches have embraced critical social issues, especially in the realms of addressing global poverty and the AIDS crisis. They're mobilizing their congregations to make an enormous difference in Africa and other places across the globe and are even beginning to talk about environmental responsibility. It's as if all of the sudden the messages of the Old Testaments prophets, and James in the New Testament have risen to a place of prominence unknown throughout the modern evangelical movement.

This rise, I believe, has to do with new notions of salvation. Appropriately, this month's Leadership magazine, a journal for those in ministry, is themed around the question: "Is the Gospel too Small?" For many years the answer was yes, but it appears that things are changing.

So this year people who love Christ, claim the Bible to be the words of the God and the true source of authority, and believe in heaven and hell, will be voting across the board, because no single party embodies the ethic of Christ. This is a good thing, because these past two decades of sleeping with one party has not only created arrogance and complacency, but worse: it's created a theological blindness that has morphed the gospel into something other than what Jesus claimed it to be.



At 9/2/08 17:08, Blogger Jeremy said...

I too have been immensely encouraged by this year's political ambiguity with regards to evangelicals. At last comes a year when we (Christian evangelicals as a community) are forced to think carefully through how to exercise our citizenship and how it relates to our Christian convictions rather than just consult a terse checklist from the Christian coalition!

With that said, I am also concerned that this new surge of nuanced Christian political involvement may reflect a return to the "Social Gospel" which was wonderful at mobilizing Christians to act on their convictions and move away from "pietistic" isolation, but also enabled activism that was unmoored from (or at least unconcerned with) working out the spiritual, biblical, and theological sources of those convictions, leading to the significant disillusion of formerly Christian movements into secularism (Charles Marsh has some interesting comments on this transition in "the Beloved Community"). It is important that we (as you so wonderfully model) carefully wrestle with and work out the biblical impetus for our social action and anchor our activities it in the church...


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