There is no Evangelical Orthodoxy

Roger Olson posted an excellent article by Mike Clawson on his blog last week. It was about the fundamentalist roots of evangelicalism and their contemporary implications. In the comments (and Roger always has tons of comments) Olson reminded everyone of an article he wrote 12 years ago for Christianity Today.  I subscribed to CT back then and remembered the article.  I went back and found it but what I did not remember was just how contentious things were.

In the article Olson is trying to fight off criticisms from the ultra-reformed, or rabbid-Calvinist wing of the Evangelical camp. Folks like MacArthur, Piper, Driscoll, and Mohler – besides being continuously contentious – are always throwing around words like heresy and orthodoxy at folks like Olson, Rob Bell, and Brian McLaren (all former pod guests).

 Here is the thing: there is no Evangelical Orthodoxy

 

I love reading books like Revisioning Evangelical Theology by Stanley Grenz, Discovering an Evangelical Heritage by Donald Dayton, History of Evangelical Theology by Roger Olson.  I was part of the the Lussane gathering of young leaders in Malaysia. I was very vocal last summer that Evangelical is not only a political term but has deep theological implications and is inherently and historically theological (I used Bebbington’s 4 indicators) .

 But there are two things I think need to be clear:

I got a book called the Evangelical Catechism. It is a compilation of consensus beliefs from 200 leaders, pastors, and thinkers that were surveyed. I like the book – but that is not the same as a catechism! We have no Pope, no ability to call a council, no catechism … so we need to knock it off with the “Orthodox” insistence and throwing around the word  “heresy”. LOOK: there actually is an ‘Orthodox’ church and they think that  the likes of Driscoll, MacArthur, and Piper (as well as the rest of us) have lost their way!  *

1) There is no evangelical catechism and there is no evangelical orthodoxy!  I proposed earlier this week that a dynamic conversation is the best we can hope for (I am partial to the Wesleyan quadrilateral). Can we have consensus? Ok. Can we have conversation? Absolutely. Is there a governing body to enforce your brand of ‘orthodoxy’? NO – so knock it off. Get some new words in your vocab. Think of some other ways to say what you want to say and stop pretending like you believe only what the early church believed. It fantasy at best and delusion at worst.

2) You can’t kick me out of the family. We all have siblings that think we are off and even wrong. Some brothers don’t talk to each other for years … but they are still family. That is not what determines if you are a part of a family! It is not how it works. So snuggle up sister! We are in this together, like it or not, we have the same parent, we were birthed through the same water, and we have the same blood. We don’t have to agree on everything – but stop trying to kick me out of the ‘fam’ bro! We are in this for eternity.

Now I know someone will come along and say “I told you its a meaningless term” … but I want to say

Hey Mr. Jones – if you don’t want to be evangelical that is fine. But some of us call this family and it means a lot to us. If you are done with the term, fine. But to us it has deep meaning we still use it as a family name. If you don’t count yourself as a member anymore – that is your call. But stop telling us who are inside the conversation that Evangelical doesn’t mean anything. It does to us. 

We may not have a catechism or an actual orthodoxy, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t a  living branch on the family tree.

 

I also shared some thoughts about Christian unity and conformity on a TNT episode. 

 

 

* I appreciate the real Orthodox and have learned much from them.

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8 comments
Bo Eberle
Bo Eberle

Mr. Sanders! OK ok, I misspoke with the breakfast thing. What I was trying to express, and failed, is not that the self identification of "christian" means nothing, but rather it does not identify ANY particular commonality between individuals. When I self identify as a Christian or invoke the name of Jesus, I am doing so in an affirmation of peace, love justice, the American way, cheap new iPads, etc. (ok may have gotten a little carried away there...), and that tells you something about me, not necessarily my actual attributes, but at least the things I take as normative, significant, or beautiful. When say, Mark Driscoll (who is now the counter-example to all of my points I make in life, even what to eat for breakfast) preaches "the gospel" and identifies as a Christian, what it tells you about him is that he values masculinity, coercive power, dominance, homophobia, misogyny, submission, etc. So yes, it does tell you EVERYTHING, in a sense, about a person, if they vehemently claim a label like that. So it is simply that a label SHOULD present a significant trait shared in common between two or more things in order for that label to be meaningful. I'm still not convinced that the label "Christian" performs that function. What I am NOT trying to do, however, in response to your last sentence, is create a new "who's in who's out" paradigm in which I'm scouring the theological world for more people like me, or going all Agent Smith from the Matrix and trying to turn everyone in to me. I'm not assigning a special status to a particular side in this fight in terms of who's God's favorite, salvation, or anything like that. My starting point is that God's love is universal, and that God is working within every tradition, redeeming the really bad ones and empowering the good ones. Yes, Mark Driscoll is a part of my 'family,' but he needn't call himself a Christian for that to be the reality! So anyway, I don't know if a lot is at stake for me defending this view, but the beautiful thing is we can have it out IN PERSON! Can't wait to get on the plane monday for beautiful, sunny, Processy Southern California! Lookin forward to seeing you guys! Cheers!

Shawn
Shawn

Where to begin... I love that you are unwilling to relegate the term "evangelical"to the refuse pile...and I agree that it is freakishly difficult to leave space at the table for people who,in my opinion, actively lead people in the wrong direction. On the other hand, to exclude (refuse to dialogue with) someone who professes a relationship with Jesus is dangerous business. "Calling people out" lovingly and with integrity is rarely a straight forward endeavor. It would be I interesting to flesh this out a bit. If we sit at the table facing one another, there is going to be interaction. How do we behave when it gets awkward (or when someone we leave space for tells US we are not welcome)?

Eric Adams
Eric Adams

Sir, I completely disagree with everything in this post, but I appreciate the frankness of your presentation. I am assuming your motives for declaring there is no orthodoxy in Evangelicalism is genuine. But to insist there are no boundaries is not exactly true. We have at least three Ecumenical Creeds that can be called upon to establish those boundaries. We have every right to call those who don't affirm those basic principles as heretical. Time will tell if we need to convene an Evangelical Council. I would actually prefer it. It would settle who's in and who's out, one way or the other. Please do not think that by homesteading the Evangelical name, or by committing identity theft to appear as siblings, that you can completely delete most of Christian and Evangelical history. For those of us committed to doctrinal purity, and the veracity of the Scriptures, you must understand it is a struggle for the future souls of men, and we don't take it lightly. By the way, you can be orthodox as far as being Reformationally aligned, without being Greek Orthodox. Again, I do appreciate your forthrightness. May you repent of your sins and trust completely in the loving, atoning sacrifice of the Eternal Son of God, Jesus Christ, if you have not already.

Bo Eberle
Bo Eberle

Two thoughts: First, you're absolutely right, "orthodoxy" is now simply a term for groups who place value on that sort of thing, i.e. proper intellectual belief has some kind of soteriological significance and thus needs to be enforced. It's like the toy that no one really wants to play with and ignores, except a few people worship it and think the rest of us are insane. They define it because they enforce it. Second, I'm not sure about the whole "family" thing. Am I really a part of the same faith-based or religious family as Mrk Driscoll? Sure we both worship a man named Jesus, but after that, the commonalities stop almost completely, our Jesus's are absolutely nothing a like, our beliefs about Jesus have very little overlap (about as much overlap as my idea of Jesus and religious figures of OTHER religions), and out ecclesial practices are also foreign. I would accept us as part of the same human family, and call him brother, but the sentiment would not be reciprocated by Driscoll. I agree we can't be kicked out of the family, but my intuition is that the particular "Christian" family that they might kick me out of never existed in the first place. Saying that the Pope, Mark Driscoll, and John Shelby Spong are all part of this "family" seems to make the qualifying requirements of inclusion in this family quite arbitrary and unrelated, except again, the word "Jesus." Identifying with this family seems to tell you as much about a person as what they had for breakfast that morning! A great discussion to have, hopefully our friends on the other side of the aisle want to participate!

Bo Sanders
Bo Sanders

Mr. Eric Adams - I appreciate you sincerity and clarity more than you will know! Thank you for the fantastic response!! However, we disagree on several points: - I did not say that there was no boundary. Error #1. When one moves from a bounded set to a center set the criteria for inclusion change. That is not the same as having no standard. But I get what you are saying will attempt to be more clear in the future! - When you say that time will tell if you need to call an Evangelical Council you commit Error #2. It is impossible. Not even every Evangelical group belongs to the National Association of Evangelicals. This is the most loosely based affiliation and what ever impression you are under about a unified anything being recognized and enforced is pure fantasy. - of COURSE you would prefer a council to settle who is in and who is out!! Error #3 is that kind of thinking. Wake up MAn! This is not 17th century Europe. The bloated of carcass of Christendom is a stench in the global community's nose. You want to return to something that never was and should have never been! -Error #4 is thinking that I commit identity theft by claiming to be a part of the family. But you prove my very point. It is not identify theft: I was born and raised in this camp. I am ordained in this camp. My education is with this camp. I self identify as such. I am through and through a part of this family. Just because I am thinking outside the box does not disqualify me. You are in error about how one comes to be IN the fam. - Whatever verbal gymnastic you have done to pat yourself on the back for being Reformed and thus orthodox is to make the same claim on the creeds that you would scoff at me for doing :) Error #5 is saying "well, we do what the Creeds were trying to do , not what the Orthodox have become." of course I could be wrong - I look forward to any thoughts that you might have -the Rev. Bo C. Sanders

Bo Sanders
Bo Sanders

Mr. Eberle, thank you for your note. I loved how it began - you had a great take on modern orthodoxy It would, however, be more difficult for me to disagree with how you ended more any more strongly than I do. That someone desired to identify themselves as such should tell you everything! what they had for breakfast??? You are missing the point! The fact that somebody cares enough to self-idenitfy a certain way does not tell you nothing - it tells you EVERYthing. Lastly, I believe that We ARE part of the same family as Marc Driscoll, The Pope and Bishop Spong! Start THERE with your theology and then work out the rest. Don't start with what you believe and then ask 'who's in ?' at least, that is my 2 cents :) - BoDaddy

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