postmodern evangelicals and emergents… theology is about community

October 2, 2009

I was having coffee with an old school friend yesterday. He was in the local Charismatic church back then, I was in the local Dutch Reformed church back then. He is still in the same congregation, but even back then they were slowly moving away from the charismatic label and rather adopting the label evangelical, and I have been moving closer to… I’m not always sure what, but I like much of the emerging conversation.

He bemoans the fact that Americans have annexed the evangelical terminology, and complains about the way people misunderstands evangelicalism. So I asked him what exactly evangelical means. Without any hesitation he went on to tell me that there is no central creed. Not Lausanne. Not the Westminster confession (although, according to him, that one is the most common in the world where he moves around).

He continues to tell me that being evangelical is mainly about shared relationships. It’s people who journey together.

Sound familiar? Same thing those who associate with emerging thoughts would say.

Maybe there is more of a realization that we don’t have a common theology than we might think. Maybe many continue in the tradition they are not because they agree, but because they find community, friendship, in this tradition. So they’d rather disagree and remain in community.

Evangelicals would probably consider my friend to be in line with evangelical theology, but he wouldn’t make that a prerequisite to be part of the evangelical community, if I understand him correctly.

I’ve been listening to the 2007 Emergent Theological Conversation with Jack Caputo and Richard Kearney over the past few days, and the story of Derrida and Riccoeur, and how their personal relationship impacted they way they talked philosophy really touched me. This provides for true ecumenical conversations, where the relationship gets priority over the idea.

Not so easy, I agree. Peter Rollins points to this in second paragraph of this post, but maybe what we should be looking for is the idea which would give relationships priority over ideology or theology. Caputo’s love of God in chapter 1 of On Religion maybe?

6 Responses to “postmodern evangelicals and emergents… theology is about community”


  1. Good one. Fruitful relationships are above theology or ideology. One should have friends that don’t share may of your ideas, but friends that you feel comfortable talking with and, without any fear, talk about their journeys on faith and religion.

  2. Cori Says:

    I think that’s the heart of where a lot of movement in churches and perhaps in society in general seems to be moving toward – an emphasis on relationship or developing theology/praxis etc in dialogue, or, as Tony Jones calls it, engaging in deep, intentional friendship. And then there is the counter movement that feels an emphasis on relationship would be a threat to ‘truth’ as if the two might be mutually exclusive…!

  3. Michael Says:

    As a further illustation of our discussion, check out http://www.creeds.net. You will find creeds associated with baptists, episcopals, lutherans, mennonites, methodists, orthodox, pentecostals, presbyterian, puritan, quaker, reformed, roman catholic, UCC, even the salvation army! But nothing for independent evangelicals.

    I was thinking about it though. I know I said that I’m not entirely happy with the postmodern association – it’s not one we knowingly chose. The more I think about it though, the more I realise that creeds are prescriptive definitions. These only serve to exclude people from our little group. Maybe we should be more interested in descriptions than definitions. For instance, I read a really interesting book recently – “Unchristian”. It’s a social sciences survey done in american universities to find out what people really believe about Christians. These revelations are probably more useful than any creedal definitions.

    I’m not happy that when people here I’m an evangelical they immediately think of bible-bashing, homophobic, politico-religious bigots. Still, this information may be more useful to me than any creed in terms of motivating me to BE something. Creeds tend to be statements of belief. What we need are descriptions of proper (or improper) lifestyles.

  4. Steve Says:

    Hmmm…

    I onve wrote to an Anglican bishop saying I was having a huge problem with people who thought it was all about relationships and dropped all theology. He wrote back and said he has solved that by becoming charismatic.

    Well, no, he didn’t put it quite like that but you can see where it leads to — a kind of vicious circle, first emphasising one thing and seeing it is unbalanced, so emphasising something else. So you go from theology to relationships to charismatic experiences, to theology to relationships to charismatic experiences, and by the time you’ve been round a few times you’re feeling giddy and want the whole thing to stop.

  5. Michael Says:

    I’m not sure I follow you. Why can’t we have clear theology, meaningful relationships, and charismatic (your word) experiences? Why do we have to choose? Are these mutually exclusive. My problem is not a lack of meaningful relationships or experiences, or even a lack of clear theology. It’s the problem of the definition (or lack thereof) of evangelical theology. I know what I believe, I just don’t know if what I believe fits the label “evangelical”, and I’m not convinced that labels are bad in themselves.


  6. Is it not mainly an American phenomenon? Minus what is left of Protestant churches in Europe. The Church of England seems to be the most respectable however.


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