I saw two interesting bits of controversy this past week. I wasn’t necessarily surprised by either of them but I was disturbed by the way they overlapped. The first item was a post as part of a series at Pangea (on Patheos). This one was reeling over the evangelical credibility of C.S. Lewis. Apparently his views on the subject of hell were a little too open-ended and remind some self-proclaimed watchdogs of the views in a recent controversy surrounding you know who and his book.
Over the past decades there has been an increasingly contentious debate about the invisible boundary of evangelicalism. Apparently some have become so concerned that even historical figures who were previously safe (even adored) are in danger if their views are found to be too loose for the contemporary conservative backlash.
I was only mildly concerned by this whole line of reasoning. Then, I found out that this past Sunday, the NY Times called Michelle Bachman the evangelical candidate in the Republican primary pool.
So my question is:
- what are the criteria that we are using for this public label of evangelical whereby the quintessential embodiment from the past century (C.S. Lewis) is out and tea-party candidate Michelle Bachmann is in?
- who is in change of making these determinations?
- what are the demarcations that signify whether someone is “in” or “out”?
This is something that I care deeply about as a Methodist minister (UMC) who is the son of a Methodist minister (Free Methodist) we are both proudly Wesleyan in theology. I think that whatever definition we use it should at least be inclusive of our most historical marquee figures and flagship franchises.
I like to use the definition from British Historian David Bebbington as a starting point. We should at least establish a historical framework. [here is an interview with evangelical scholar Mark Noll where he talks about it]
The four keys are:
conversionism: new birth and a new life with God
biblicism: reliance on the Bible as ultimate religious authority
activism: concern for sharing the faith
crucentrism: focus on Christ’s redeeming work on the cross
Admittedly, those four emphasis take on a different tone and tenor in each generation. They take on different manifestations in each generation. The presence of these four however is a stabilizing theme that runs through the many historical maturations through the centuries and around the globe. These four themes also hold together whether ones utilizes a bounded-set mentality for marking boundaries or a center-set framework to encourage a shared focus.
I celebrate these four themes and find them even amongst my more progressive friends. They could say these four things with confidence:
- Relationship with God changes you personally internal and your relationships (external) .
- The Bible is central as the Christian Scripture and sets both the agenda and the example.
- One’s faith should both be shared (relationally) and will consequently impact the world around you.
- God’s work in Christ is what illuminates and inspires the life of the Christian – Christ revealed God is a unique and significant way. Jesus’ way is to be our way.
This kind of faith is something that I am inspired by and find deep fulfillment by participating in. I am nervous that a reactionary period of retrenchment by the religious right , moral majority, or other politicized conservative groups would see evangelicals like myself and C.S. Lewis pushed out and figures like Michelle Bachmann made central.