Evangelical Rejects Meet Beyond Evangelicals (Guest Post: Frank Viola)

Evangelical Rejects Meet Beyond Evangelicals (Guest Post: Frank Viola) February 15, 2012

Kurt, I’m honored that you’ve invited me to write a guest post on your superb blog. If memory serves me, while I’ve done many interviews on various blogs and e-zines, this is the first guest post I’ve ever written.

So muchas gracias for the invitation. 🙂

Before I get to the subject at hand, your readers may be interested to know that we have at least four things in common:

  1. The age group of both of our blogs (mine is called Beyond Evangelical) are the same. The majority of my readers are Milleniallas/Gen Ys/ Mosaics/Busters – i.e., 20s, 30s, and some 40s. While I suspect you have readers who are older and younger (as do I), this is the core audience. God has given me a heart for this generation of believers.
  2. I read your recent post, I’m Done With Living Like a Christian (it brought me to my feet, giving it three cheers). And I happily noted that you met my friend Jan Johnson. One of the drums I’ve been banging on for the last decade is that the Christian life is impossible to live. Only Jesus Christ can live it. (He even said so, “Without me you can do nothing.”) But He has promised to live it in and through us . . . individually and corporately. Thus the Christian life is not WWJD (what would Jesus do?), but WIJD (what is Jesus doing in and through us?). For He’s still alive. Learning to live by the indwelling life of Christ is a missing note today among many evangelicals (in my experience and observation, anyway). So I’m thrilled that you’re exploring this subject. May your tribe increase!
  3. I proudly stand on the shoulders of the Anabaptists. They are partially responsible for the direction of my life and ministry. Particularly in the area of their views on church practice and leadership (which is often not talked about). John Howard Yoder’s book, The Fullness of Christ, is one of the best ecclesiological works ever written in my judgment.
  4. To my mind, there is a great deal of overlap between those who are “evangelical rejects” (as you put it) and those who are moving “beyond evangelical” (the name of the multi-series that I’m currently writing on my blog). More on that in a moment.Before his sad and untimely passing, Michael Spencer talked about the collapse of modern evangelicalism. His piece went viral. David Fitch recently wrote a book entitled The End of Evangelicalism.

In like manner, other authors and bloggers have been writing about the shifting sands of evangelicalism today. Most of what I write about these days, right or wrong, is directly tied to this subject in one way or another.

Many of the people I come across in conferences, on my blog, over email, and face-to-face don’t fit into either “the religious right” or “the Christian left.” This is true both theologically as well as politically.

For the last five years, I’ve paid close attention to my fellow sisters and brothers in Christ in their 20s and 30s who have shared their hearts on this score. What I’ve written in my books explores the particulates of what they are passionate about. (My books are all conversation starters, as I feel that’s one of the key roles of a book or a blog.)

In that regard, the following statements describe how scores of these Christians feel and where they’re headed (these are direct quotes in many cases. In others, paraphrases).

Perhaps some of your readers will resonate with some of their statements. If so, I want them to know: They are not alone.

Coming back to the front, I think that some of what they’ve articulated here will at least overlap with your “evangelical reject” description. Right or wrong, I throw my hat in with these folks and I stand with these statements:

***A Collective Confession of Those Who Are Moving Beyond Evangelical***

*We have grown tired of the media routinely characterizing “evangelicals” as if we were all part of “the religious right.”

*We are turned off by the left vs. right posturing and the left vs. right political/theological debates.

*We’ve looked to the right and do not wish to venture there. We’ve looked to the left and do not wish to venture there either. The direction we feel pulling our hearts is above and forward.

*We believe that both the religious right and the Christian left have vital truths to contribute. We also believe that they are both missing vital truths. We believe their focus is mainly “issues” rather than Jesus Christ.

*We want to see the Christian right and the Christian left learn from one another as well as learn from those of us who are not part of either stream. We feel that all Christians should be open to learn from one another, for we are all parts of the Body of Christ. None of us has the lock on all truth. Each member of the Body has a portion of the riches of Christ.

*We are sickened that so many evangelical Christians are either legalists or libertines. We want Christ’s lordship and we want His liberty as well. We wish to follow Jesus without being legalistic or libertine.

*We hold to the orthodox teachings of Scripture regarding the Person of Christ, His work on the cross, the inspiration and truth of the Bible, the Triune nature of God (the Godhead), but we are weary of Christians dividing over peripheral doctrines and their own private interpretations of Scripture on non-essentials. We passionately agree with Augustine’s sentiment: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.

*We’ve grown weary of the way that Christians routinely mistreat their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, being quick to judge their motives, thinking the worst of them, condemning them, slandering them, gossiping about them, etc. We believe that being a Christian means treating others the same way you want to be treated (Matt. 7:12)—the “forgotten words of Jesus.” With deep remorse, we empathize with the words of Gandhi: “If it weren’t for the Christians, I’d be a Christian.”

*We’ve grown tired of the shallowness that marks so much of evangelical Christianity today.  The same sermons, the same principles, the same teachings, etc. We are looking for depth in the Christian life. We know there’s more to Jesus Christ, more to His church, and more to the spiritual life than what’s been promoted in establishment Christianity. There is a cry in our hearts that says, “There’s got to be more than this.”

*We are saddened that the doers, feelers, and thinkers of the body of Christ have separated and isolated themselves from one another instead of learning from each other.

*We’ve grown sick of the entertainment-driven, duty-driven, guilt-driven message that’s laced in most Christian sermons and books today. Human-induced guilt and the conviction of the Holy Spirit are two very different things.

*We are tired of the tendency of some Christians to elevate certain sins that others commit while minimizing or justifying their own sins.

*We’ve grown tired of Christian leaders attacking and competing with one another, instead of networking together and supporting one another.

*We’re weary of the “good ole’ boy system” that’s present in much of establishment Christian today because it ends up elevating and protecting the status quo and silencing the voices of the prophets.

* We’ve grown sick of Christians saying nasty things about their fellow brethren whom they don’t know personally on social media networks. And then justifying it in the name of God.

*We are saddened that so many Christians will believe what they hear about other believers second or third-hand, instead of going to those believers themselves and simply asking them questions in good faith.

*We’ve grown weary of some Christians falsely branding their fellow sisters and brothers in Christ with the words “heretic” and “apostate” when those same believers actually uphold the orthodox creeds of the faith.

*We’ve grown tired of Christians trying to rope us into the liberal vs. conservative battles of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

*We abhor elitism and sectarianism. We are open to all Christians of all stripes, receiving all whom Christ has received (Rom. 15:7).

We stand for the unity of the Body of Christ. At the same time, we fiercely and passionately stand firm on our convictions regarding the absolute and unvarnished supremacy of Jesus, His indwelling life, God’s timeless purpose, and the church as a Christ-centered community.

There’s more, but that gives you an idea.

Kurt, I hope to meet you in person someday. God willing, I will be at the Wild Goose Festival in June. Maybe we can get some hang time then. 🙂

How do the various things on this list connect with your own spiritual journey?

*Also, check out my post “You Might Be and Evangelical Reject If…


FRANK VIOLA is the author of “Epic Jesus,” “Revise Us Again,” “From Eternity to Here,” “Jesus Manifesto” (co-authored with Leonard Sweet), “Reimagining Church,” and “Pagan Christianity?” (co-authored with George Barna).  He blogs at “Beyond Evangelical,” frankviola.org

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  •  If I have a preference, I would rather consider myself a “reject.” I am thankful to the people (Holiness and Pentecostal folks, mostly) who first shared the Gospel with me. I want to share the message of Christ with others. I don’t know how you can get more “evangelical” than that! but, my theology & my political views have changed over the years in the light of new information. Yes. But, it was never my intention to move “beyond evangelical” just because some people represent the movement poorly — or because I not longer agree with everything they say. If i am a Reject, so be it. Here I stand. I can do no other.

  • While I have since left the Christian circle- largely spurred on by these issues, then discovering others along the way- I have to say that I am really happy to hear this dialogue happening. 

  • I’ve definitely seen a lot of Heretic branding. Sometimes makes a Christian callous to the true nature of that word.

  • This is why we need to get away from the notion that we’re living at the climax of history as opposed to being very immature as a Church. Us followers all together have a lot of growing to do , there is much division. If we focus on Christ, get away from the baby milk, and start growing  up, we’ll start moving this world again. This stuff happens in movements. It’s starting to happen and I’m excited. 

  • Mike Ward

    There’s so much here I don’t know if I could even begin a comment. Every bullet point should be it’s own thread as every one of them can generate loads of discussison.

  • Wow!  It’s like someone found the words to express what I couldn’t for so long: the in-fighting, false dichotomies, the in-group vs. out-group battles.  How far we’ve strayed from Jesus and don’t even know it.  I think that at the root of it all we believe that we can do a better job being God than God can.  We use heaven and hell as whipping sticks, play with political systems that are completely opposite of what the Kingdom is, place country over God, condone violence to stop violence, and for the most part kicked the Holy Spirit out of everything and replaced Him with the methods of the day.  God forgive us!

  • Bob Freeman

    Thanks so much for this post. I’m more than 60 years old but find myself a.babe in Christ daily. Always do I seek greater knowledge of scripture and cherishing that nurturing and knowledge gained by interacting with other christians who’s perspectives and worldview differ from my own. I say I am a babe in Christ daily because I’ve learned over the years to reject traditional sermons and lectures in favor of the learning and guidance that can only be received by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

    I find myself in wholehearted agreement with those who Frank Viola writes as being in the “Collective confession of those moving beyond evangelicism”.

    Thanks so much Kurt for this and the many other thought provoking entries in your blog.

  • I guess I’m one of the “older” followers of both your blogs…being a Boomer and all. But I have a heart for the 20’s to 40’s. You see, I don’ t believe my generation is the “terminal generation” and any second now we’re all going to “fly away”. I believe all the great moves of God have been accompanied or preceded by turmoil in nature and unrest in political structures and that we are about to see the ekklesia rising and shining with radiant love for the bridegroom as never before. These younger people are going to hold fast to the real thing and He is going to give it to them! I particularly identify with “We’ve looked to the right and do not wish to venture there. We’ve looked to the left and do not wish to venture there either. The direction we feel pulling our hearts is above and forward.” Most people of my generation are having a difficult time right now getting their minds around the fact that God’s Kingdom is not a Republic…or a dictatorship…or a “religious” system. But hearts are turning in the direction of “above” and “forward”. Thanks, Frank, for sharing this with us. And thank you Kurt! As a charismatic-Methodist–unchurched–reimagining-rethinking—label-rejecting–beyond Evangelical–plain ol’ follower of the Way…you’ve helped me see that I was probably just an Anabaptist all along…and made for another world altogether. May Christ be All-in-All! He Reigns!