Frank Viola–the author of Beyond Evangelical is a fellow Patheos blogger. He blogs here on the Evangelical channel–is engaged in a “dia-blog” with me. I ask him a question. He replies. I respond. He asks me a question. I reply. He responds.
Here is a summary of the conversation so far. You can read the whole thing here.
Fr DL: … Frank, you represent a particular stream of Protestant Christianity which you describe as “post Evangelical” or “beyond Evangelical”. I’m still learning what this means, but among other things does it mean that you have moved beyond the old, assumed, “no question about it” anti-Catholicism of American Evangelicalism?
Yr brother in Christ,
…and here’s Franks’ reply:
David Livingston said, “I am prepared to go anywhere . . . provided it be forward.”
We are living in a day when modern evangelicalism is in ruins. The four notes of evangelicalism – being bible-centered, cross-centered, conversion-centered and evangelistic . . . have taken on meanings so diverse that Albert Mohler (on the right) and Rob Bell (on the left) call themselves evangelical. But the tide is turning.
Christians in their 20s, 30s, and 40s are tired of the shallowness of modern evangelicalism. They are tired of the self-righteousness, callousness, and judgmentalism that marks much of the movement. They are tired of the libertinism (grace=license to sin) that marks much of the movement. They are neither left nor right.
They are Christians who have a deep allegiance and devotion to Jesus Christ. They believe that Jesus alone is this world’s true Lord and He stands above all systems and personalities, even religious. They love, desire, and stand for the ekklesia, a local body of believers who are enthroning Christ as Head . . . and they believe that the church is Christ existing as a shared-life community, not two hours on Sunday and Wednesday.
They don’t advocate any particular church form or structure. They simply want to follow the Lord with others. This hearty band of Christians from every nation, tribe, kindred and tongue stand for the four notes of classic evangelicalism. But they have gone beyond them….
In answer to your specific questions, “beyond evangelicals” embrace all Christians who name the name of Jesus regardless of what denomination, movement, or Christian “tribe” to which they belong – whether Protestant, Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, Radical Reformed, etc. Whomever Christ has received we must also receive.
Fr DL: Thanks for your response. You’ve set out an attractive ideal, and I like the idea that “beyond Evangelical” evangelicals are open to Christians from the traditional churches, and I’m intrigued by the idea that you and they have set aside the old anti-Catholicism that has always been part of Evangelicalism.
I’d like to challenge your thesis however. What you’ve proposed isn’t really that fresh is it?
Here’s my story: I was brought up within a Bible church that was newly formed in the early 1960′s with virtually the same ideals you have set forth: a group of sincere, Bible believing Christians broke away from the corrupt, liberal and complacent mainstream denominations. They met in a rented store–much like I see community churches doing today. They were going to be simple, Bible believing followers of Jesus. Then they hired a pastor, built a church, wrote a constitution, joined a fellowship of like minded “independent” churches and formed a new denomination. Now they’re perceived as the “corrupt, quarreling, Evangelical establishment” and a new generation are being the “brave new pioneers” of yet another fresh movement.
When you read church history you come to realize that this is nothing new. This is a cycle within church life: a Spirit-led movement rises up. It becomes established. Quarrels and corruption develop. Then a renewal movement takes place which–within Protestantism–means another schism is established.
The ideals you’ve set out of a simple Christian faith that rises above all the denominational squabbles…a simple renewal movement that gets back to basics…that’s something called “Primitivism”–and it’s been around since about the second century. I’ve written an article here on the problems with primitivism.
Catholic Christians experience this same cycle of new movement, establishment, disenchantment and renewal. However, when this happens to us we don’t break away and form a new group. Instead we remain in communion with the ancient church and struggle to incorporate the renewal movement within the historic Body of Christ. We accept that the church will always be plagued with the problems you diagnose, and we realize that if we started a break away group it wouldn’t be long until the same problems cropped up again.
So how do we deal with the very real problems you assess? An interesting comparison in this respect is between St Francis of Assisi and Martin Luther. Both men longed to serve Christ completely. Both men faced corruption and bickering and disappointment with the established church. Both men experienced persecution, distrust and rejection by the established church leaders.
Martin Luther set out on his own and broke away from the historic, apostolic church. St Francis walked to Rome and stood barefoot in the snow with the beggars waiting in prayer for an appointment with the Pope. Eventually the Pope endorsed the renewal movement, and the rest is history.
So I applaud the desire to be simple followers of Jesus Christ and to move beyond what you perceive as hypocrisy, corruption, bickering and ego trips. I applaud the desire to belong to simple core communities who simply follow Jesus Christ. My question (which we might continue to discuss in other ways) is “why should we expect that your ‘beyond Evangelical’ movement will turn out to be any different from the hundreds or thousands of other ‘renewal’ movements that have come and gone down the ages?”
Frank Viola replies thus and clarifies nicely…and I offer my comments in red…
Dwight. Thanks for your reply. The scourage of exerpts and blog posts. Several points made in the book, Beyond Evangelical, which address your points:
1. what I’m calling beyond evangelical or post evangelical (which some have called it) is not a movement nor a monolith. Just a description for a trend among *some* Christians today. I think people like Roger Olson, Scot McKnight, N.T. Wright, and the late Michael Spencer articulated some of the same themes. We are evangelicals, but we don’t fit the Left or the Right and we emphasize certain themes neglected in Protestant Christianity today. Catholics like myself agree with much of what you say. We are also frustrated with the right-left divide. Catholics should be ‘right’ on family and moral issues, ‘orthodox’ on historical doctrinal issues, and ‘left’ on social and economic issues. We try to affirm the truth wherever we find it. That’s why we have so many enemies!
2. since it’s neither Left nor Right, the majority of Christians don’t resonate with it right now. so it’s not even large enough to call a movement, let alone the fact that it’s not organized and doesn’t have a leader. I understand. Thanks for clarifying. It sounds like you’re not a movement, but prophetic voices within Evangelicalism.
3. as I say in the book, “Beyond Evangelical,” the themes aren’t new. In fact, I don’t know anything that’s really “new” in Christianity right now. It’s all been said before. You can find many of what I articulated in writers like A.W. Tozer, T. Austin-Sparks, and Watchman Nee. What’s new is that these themes are coming together in a fresh way for a younger generation. I realize you are writing from a different perspective, but the title of your book reminds me of ‘Evangelical is Not Enough’ by my friend Tom Howard. It echoes my own book ‘More Christianity’ which explains how my own quest to go ‘beyond Evangelical’ took me to the Catholic Church.
The fact is: Many Christians, Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox, don’t know what it means to live by the indwelling life of Christ (by their own admission) nor is the understanding of God’s eternal purpose as the grand narrative of Scripture taught much in our time. So these aren’t new, but they are resurgining in a way that’s fresh among some Christians. Seeing a widespread longing for the encounter with God fills me with hope.
All told, those who have moved beyond evangelical aren’t anti-Catholic, which was your main question. Unfortunately, I’ve received criticism from some evangelicals (on the Right) because I quote Catholic writers in “Jesus Manifesto” and “Jesus: A Theography.” And this just underscores the fact that so many Christians are disaffected with the evangelical Right . . . as well as the Left for other reasons. I understand. There are not very many who hate Catholicism, but there are very many who hate what they think Catholicism is.
My post “Warning: The World is Watching How We Christians Treat One Another” underscores the problem. I think you and your readers may find it of encouragement.
I’ll be asking you my question in January. Thanks for your friendship! I look forward to it.