Openness to the Other: A Challenging Necessity for the Future of American Evangelicalism

Openness to the Other: A Challenging Necessity for the Future of American Evangelicalism December 16, 2013

At, a project hosted by Harold Heie, is an 8-part series, with various participants, on American Evangelicalism. The final topic in the series is “The Future of American Evangelicalism” and I posted my thoughts today: Openness to the Other: A Challenging Necessity for the Future of American Evangelicalism.

The other entries there are all thought provoking and I’m glad to have my voice added to theirs.

In my post, I suggest 4 areas where Evangelicalism should adopt of true openness to the other, “where change is a two-way street, where the possibility of change is focused inward rather than simply outward.”

The 4 areas that I address are:

1. Openness to true developments in the intellectual drama of the human species.

2. Openness to different ecclesiastical traditions.

3. Openness to different expressions of the spiritual journey.

4. Openness to holding to Scripture in a different way.

Here is my closing paragraph:

No tradition is perfect, and I am not saying Evangelicalism alone has problems. I am only saying that, in my opinion, the future of American Evangelicalism requires that Evangelicalism be prepared to rethink some things, even reinvent itself, by proactively, seriously, and openly addressing issues such as these—not to participate in trends and fads to keep current, but simply to remain active and contributing players in the human drama, which will not sit still waiting for the next clever defense of the Evangelical status quo.

Hope you have moment to go to the site and check out my and the other posts.

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  • Julie Walsh

    I liked your post Dr Enns, though I did not read the others. Openness (or humility) is actually very early Church as well. I like this rather long but great quote from Raymond Brown about the way our NT canon itself came together through the early Christians’ openness to each other (which addresses your #2 and #4):
    “Finally by the late 4th century in the Greek East and the Latin West there was a wide (but not absolute) accord on a canon of twenty-seven works. This standardization involved churches accepting from other churches books about which they had some doubts, and such “ecumenism” reflected an increasing contact and communion between the East and the West. Origen went to Rome and learned the biblical views of the church where Peter and Paul had been martyred and which had struggled against Marcion. On the other hand, later Western thinkers like Ambrose and Augustine became familiar with the works of Origen and through him with the biblical views of the highly literate Alexandrian Christianity. The most learned Latin church father, Jerome, spent much of his life in Palestine and Syria. Thus, in a sense, the larger canon in the 4th century, like the shorter collection in the late 2nd century, testified to the experience of what Ignatius had earlier called “the catholic church.” (Brown, Raymond Edward. An Introduction to the New Testament, p. 15)

  • John W. Morehead

    Good stuff. To which I would humbly add in light of our pluralistic, post-9/11 world and the confrontational Evangelical faith identity, openness to the religious other.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Well I’m sure a common question from your detractors would be, what needs to stay for a church or person to remain calling themselves “evangelical?” If American evangelicalism is the offspring of a movement whose very essence revolved around rigidity of belief and not being open to ideas that differed from defined ‘core beliefs,’ (especially about the Bible), I struggle to see how what you are describing (which is great and necessary) stays under that term.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Well done Pete. As a biologist I couldn’t agree more. There are so many areas of established biological thought and evidence that cry out to be not only accepted by evangelicals, but integrated into a more reasonable evangelical theology and world view. After all, the world is the Lord’s. Such a thoughtfully integrated theology/worldview will strengthen faith – many Christian biologists who have already gone some way down this road in their own thinking will agree, I’m sure. But theologians themselves, especially the leading ones, are desperately needed to make further progress.

    To this end, please also read Amos Yong’s piece at the same site. Here is an evangelical theologian of the first order who represents the kind of leadership needed. His piece is certainly not written with the general reader in mind, but with a little work, you can see that he gets the kinds of things Pete is talking about. Here is part of his closing paragraph:

    “Our post-denominational climate allows for new confessions to emerge that capture and inspire human hearts, hopes, and aspirations (the orthopathic dimension) while engaging with and empowering effective ecclesial mission, evangelism, and social witness (the orthopraxis domain) in a complex and ever-shifting world. Anything less may result in the passing of evangelicalism en route to a new form of ecclesia as the people of God.”

    • Julie Walsh

      Thanks for pointing to the Yong piece, Bev. And because of one of your previous comments, I’m going to be getting “The Theology of Amos Yong” and working through it. (My daughter is an undergrad asst for one of the editors of it, who kindly offered it to me at half price!)

      • Bev Mitchell

        Hi Julie,

        I’m glad that you got that expensive book for half price – well done! For those who want an intro to Yong, who are inclined toward integrating the life sciences and evangelical theology, and who are not averse to a moderately challenging read, I also recommend “The Spirit of Creation: Modern Science and Divine Action”. I’ve put a brief review of this book on Amazon. Yong is also working on an introductory systematic theology textbook for renewal churches and seminaries that should be out soon. I had a chance to read a draft of his chapter on faith and science (the longest one in the book) a few months ago, and thought it was very good.

  • Gary

    Hey Dr. Enns,
    I would ask you to consider in future discussions addressing a fifth area: Political affiliation. There are so many that equate political party to Christian orthodoxy. I attended a meeting last night where a church member’s salvation was questioned because his views sounded socialistic. We got past the issue, but it wasn’t easy.

  • Brian Robinson

    Good stuff, especially the idea that openness to the Other requires that a person be open to personal reassessment and change. Levinas and Lacan are particularly helpful on these points. I wonder, have you considered the role that Queer Theory could play in this discussions? There appears to be a significant amount to be gained, both hermeneutically and ecclesiologically, from the real-yet-transitional nature of identity which exists in some forms of QT.