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Saturday, 23 August 2014

In Praise of Evangelicals

I've been hearing a lot recently about the "Evangelical Wing of the Church".

What with discussions about women as bishops in the C of E, sexuality, the Alpha Course and what have you; everyone's talking about the Evangelical Wing, of course. They're the ones who handle snakes, or make women wear berets. They're the ones who not only believe in Adam as a real historic person but claim to have Methuselah's mobile number. The men wear chinos and smug expressions, and the women look after their seven kids each and are terrifying in their devotion to being submissive. They keep people out of Church posts by the power of their monetary contributions, and teach Creationism in schools.

But is that the way it is? Are they really organised like the Brompton Taliban, ready to take over the world - or Surrey, at any rate - with their Alpha Courses and sweaters?

The problem with talking about an "Evangelical Wing" is it presupposes that they are an organised, coherent group. Whereas the English evangelicals, scattered as they are across a dozen denominations and a myriad of independent and federated churches as they are, couldn't organise a good night out in a brewery. Not least as they wouldn't be able to agree whether a brewery was really the right place for any kind of function.
Michael Saward in his book "Evangelicals on the Move" summarised the traits that identify Evangelicals as:
1) A belief in a conversion ("born again") experience
2) Activism
3) The centrality of the Cross in salvation
4) Something about the Bible

(I haven't actually got the book to to hand, to be honest. But it's roughly right).

And none of these, when all is said and done, directly translate into "believe in a 6-day Creation", or "oppress anybody who is not like us." 

Evangelicals are, after all, a broad church - or a broad part of the Church. And Evangelicals have done good stuff. Evangelicals campaigned to end the slave trade.Evangelical ministers are unlikely, on the whole, to be careerist in Church matters - being more concerned for the care of their flocks and their local communities. John Stott was an Evangelical.  Evangelicals write great hymns. They produce the best preachers. They take the Bible seriously. They stand for something more than  accommodation with the prevailing culture. They believe God can act. They are, on the whole, a good thing.

I like Evangelicals. 

Just thought I'd say it.

6 comments :

  1. I agree, it's just that some Evangelicals come across as reactionary, which is something that all Christians should be seen as. The trouble with Evangelical reactionary, it that it can be seen as discrimination, particularly the vehemence about male headship and human sexuality. And I stopped attending one Evanglical Church for those very reasons. When I hear words from the pulpit that are hurtful and judgmental, than I stop listening.

    There are no doubt, thousands of Evangelicals who are not so vehement about things and my experience is unusual. But it only takes one experience like that to turn people away.

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  2. I like them too, on the whole, just as I like Catholics on the whole. There are always exceptions.

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  3. Glad of that, Eileen. Not sure if I'm (still) an Evangelical ... but even if I'm not, they've been instrumental in many areas of my genuine Christian life & growth.
    P.S. It may have been Michael Saward where you read of the 4 "keys" to (British) Evcangelicalism; but the definitely originate with David Bebbington in his "Evangelicalism in Modern Britain":
    * Biblicism
    * Crucicentrism
    * Conversionism
    * Activism

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  4. Thanks Simon.

    Michael Saward also mentions in the same book that he once tried to book a meeting room for an Evangelical get-together and the person doing the booking was worried they'd be snake-handling.

    Michael Saward is fab.

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