The first was The Young Evangelicals by Richard Quebedeaux. Then some years later came The Younger Evangelicals by Robert Webber. I connected and resonated with the kind of evangelical described in these books.
Here are a few characteristics of these young, younger, youthful, new, emerging evangelicals (no matter their actual age!).
Again, this post is longer, with more substantive content. From time to time, we need to wrestle with some more content than a few tweets and bytes.
First, they were just as interested in transformation as they were in information. The transformation of one’s life was just as vital as correct belief. Most of these new evangelicals believed that correct belief, even on the most important matters, without a corresponding change in life, was not worth much. They pointed out even demons can hold correct ideas. They also pointed out the problems of “dry or dead orthodoxy.” Living Word has always been about what you believe AND how you live.
Another way to say this is that personal and corporate piety and spirituality are just as important as creeds and confessions. I have spent the last 20 years developing processes and ways of spiritual formation.
Second, they were supremely interested in Jesus. And that we not only know ideas about Jesus, but that we have personal and transforming encounters with Jesus. For these evangelicals, the experience of relationship of love, grace, holiness, and wisdom is what makes Christianity distinct. Jesus is alive and Jesus is alive in us, along with the indwelling Holy Spirit. Christianity is experiential. Many of these evangelicals (like Living Word) were very comfortable with the charismatic streams of our faith.
Third, they had a generous orthodoxy. Orthodoxy is correct belief. But the new evangelicals understood there were a lot of very smart Christians who interpreted the Bible differently on things like the end times, church government, the work of the Holy Spirit, the role of women in the church, how to understand the relationship between faith and works, and the list becomes a long list. These new evangelicals were quite open to vigorous and open discussions with the great streams of Christian tradition.
This is why at Living Word we major on the majors. I have my own interpretation about every item in the previous paragraph. I have taught on many of them. But we allow Christians to have freedom in holding a variety of positions on these doctrines. We also guard against others being dogmatic on a theological theme that our church leadership is not dogmatic about.
It is also why we have Christians who have come out of many different church traditions.
On another personal note, for long decades I have leaned toward the theological way known as Reformed or Calvinist theology. I am moderate or even mild on many items that others in this group are intense about.
Fourth, they had a real concern for the social issues of our time. This one really sets the new evangelicals apart. We believe the Kingdom of God is concerned with all of society. Issues of racism, poverty, abortion, unethical conduct by the great corporations of the nation, injustice, the nuclear arms race, war in general, bio-medical ethical dilemmas, sexism and discrimination, and others were of interest to the new evangelicals. We often did not know what to say about these issues or how to be activists about them, but we all agreed they mattered a great deal to the heart of God.
Fifth, they had some tension about the role of politics in our social engagement. There were several main options before us. Those options ranged from a counter-cultural withdraw of protest and witness against the world, to a robust participation to change social systems and structures. Whether this was through political channels of our own making, through collaboration with existing groups, or through the creation of new organizations to address particular issues, there was a vigorous response.
Along with this tension is the temptation of politics and the lure for some (many) evangelicals to become too closely aligned with any particular party, especially around one or two issues. This is endemic today and it creates a lot of confusion and misunderstanding.
And now for the reason the label EVANGELICAL does not fit so comfortably for many of the new evangelicals.
Many of the new evangelicals are frustrated with the minimizing of evangelical theology and spirituality when EVANGELICAL is too equated with one particular race or one particular political party.
Many born-again black Christians feel uncomfortable with what the word EVANGELICAL now stands for. Many Christians of all colors and all political views feel the same.
The new evangelicals are also concerned that the rich and vibrant theology and spirituality of our faith is now dismissed by many non-Christians (the growing number of NONES or No Religion) because EVANGELICAL is too associated with a particular race and political party.
We must always remember that Jesus spoke against every existing political tradition of his first century world, and those traditions did NOT like Jesus doing so. It is not hard to imagine Jesus doing the same today and getting the same response (which was, “Crucify him!”).
We must always remember that Jesus’ love went to every ethnic and racial group, to every economic group, to men and women, to everyone. God so loved, and still loves, the whole world.
The Kingdom of God is considerably bigger than any political party’s attempt to claim exclusive rights to it.
But in the end, I remain a New Evangelical who is trying to faithfully follow Jesus and participate in his Kingdom. And I continue to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is heaven.”
May we all pray and work for that beautiful Kingdom.