Scot asked a good question last week: How come people who are clearly not evangelical keep getting upset about what evangelicals do? He asks this in response to the semi-furor around Rob Bell’s (seemingly off-handed) remark to a newspaper reporter about why he abjures the “Evangelical” label.
Like many others, Rob has felt disenfranchised from the term “evangelical” because of the political activity in that name, as well as the general cultural distrust of that word, detailed in the book, unChristian (and others).
What’s interesting right now is watching younger Christians alternatively embrace and shun the label “evangelical,” which has been happening a lot longer than people have been wrangling over “emergent/-ing.” In fact, there might be some parallels between the two.
Looking back now, I wish that those of us in the emergent movement would done some brand management about 5-7 years ago. We called it a conversation, because it was, and we held the name and even the logo with an open hand. No trademarks or copyrights — more of an open source mentality ruled.
But that didn’t serve us well. Our theological opponents outflanked us (to the right) — first the academic types, like Al Mohler and David Dockery, then the crazies, like Ken Silva and Lighthouse Trails — and, having outflanked us, they defined us. So now the popular definition of emergent among anyone right of center seems to be that emergent has forsaken truth, de-deified Jesus, and use pages of the Bible to line our bird cages. All lies, of course, but the internet noise around such things is now to loud to overcome. (Notably, Rob Bell has also repeatedly said that he’s not emergent, even though those listed earlier in this paragraph don’t believe him.)
So I can see why Scot and others fight for the term “evangelical,” against both the apathy towards that term of people like Rob and the popular use of the term in the media. Personally, I have never considered myself an evangelical, though many others do consider me one, but I can understand those who embrace that term and their loyalty to it.
Interestingly, Scot uses the following definition, taken from a book by evangelical scholars,
an evangelical is a Christian Protestant for whom the central ideas
are the leading authority of Scripture, the necessity of personal
conversion, the centrality of the death of Christ on the cross as a
substitutionary atonement, and the importance of a life of active
following Jesus, seen in such things as Bible reading, prayer, church
attendance, and deeds of compassion and justice.
I’ve added italics around what I consider the most curious phrase. I get every other point, but does one really need to submit to an Anselmic interpretation of the crucifixion event to be an evangelical? That seems odd to me, since I know lots of Weslyans and Anabaptists who are fiercely evangelical, but think of the atonement through other lenses.