Friday, July 22, 2005


What's In A Label?

Pyromaniac is arguing that the term "evangelical" has lost its meaning.
What has changed? The answer is clear: the concept of evangelicalism has been expanded to become virtually all-inclusive. The word "evangelical" has lost its historic meaning. These days it means everything?and it therefore means nothing.

So while evangelicalism may seem to be gaining clout and respectability in the eyes of secular media like Time, the truth is that evangelicals themselves are actually less evangelical. The movement has collapsed on itself.
I think he is right about this -- The phenomena has historical precident. The so-called "mainline" denominations fell pray to the same thing years ago. Presbyterianism used to be tightly associated with calvinism and "order." My current Presbyterian pastor is not only not calvinist -- he has actively decried calvinism from the pulpit. Many ordained elders do not even know there is such a thing as "The Book of Order" (essentially the 'constitution' of the PCUSA) and almost all of those that do could not even begin to tell you what's in it. The denomination is shrinking, rapidly. Those of us that hold fast to the traditional associations are marginalized because we would "exclude" others and add to the "failure" of the denomination. Other denominations have similar stories.

It should be noted, there is a difference between learning from other traditions and including them. Adrian Warnock is actively looking for what he can learn from other traditions:
I am determined to learn the secret of seeking the good in all my Christian brothers and sisters.
This is wise on Adrian's part -- it reflects a necessary humility -- we must seek God with all of our faculties, spiritual, intellectual, and physcial. But at the same time, we must also know that we can never truly and wholly know God; He is beyond our comprehension.

Blogcorner Preacher had some interesting insights along these lines:
Anybody who reads the Bible should fear God in the sense of having a respectful dread of the future that is in His hands alone. We are to be judged, and that judgment will affect how we spend eternity. So "dread" and "fear" are not over the top. Anything less than this, when we worship God, is just not right.
I think we are beginning to zero in on some important distinctions here. It is important that we identify with a religious "movement" of some sort -- evangelical, Presbyterian, Vineyard,.... But is is more important, far more important, that we place ourselves in a properly humble position relative to the Lord God Almighty.

I am a Presbyterian, yes, but I am a servant of God more. I was on Young LIfe staff, yes, but I am saved by Christ and aided by the Holy Spirit more.

What I find most fascinating in this is that anything, anything, can become an idol. One way of examining the phenomena that Pyromanic is describing, is from the viewpoint that "evangelicalism" has become an idol -- a substitute for the true God. And what Adrian describes is a view that understands that our various labels are not more important than our God.

This is worthy of Screwtape himself. What better way to tempt the faithful, than with some object that is so intimate to the exercize of their faith?

There is a lot in our labels -- but we are not labels -- we are people, and we are people who are at our best when we find ourselves in a proper relation with the triune God. It's about us and Him. Everything else, churches, confessions, theologies, music, movements, programs, jobs, name it, everything else, is a tool to be used in the building of that relationship. When we count the tool as more important than the thing the tool is to build, we have a problem.


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