2017 and the Non-evangelical Evangelical

December 29, 2017

Culture, New Evangelical, Uncategorized

I don't know where I'm going

Once again, Timothy Keller helps us see nuance and hope at year’s end.

I say that as thinkers dream up dubious this-was-the-year-of headlines. Events are rarely confined to a single year and underlying realities often belie appearances. Take evangelical Christianity’s grim 2017 story. The popularity of Donald Trump and Roy Moore among whites is often cited as evidence for the movement’s downfall, so maybe we’ll dub this “The Year Of The Evangelical Hypocrite” and bid it good riddance — especially since over half of self-identified white evangelicals trash the movement’s historic teachings.

No silver lines our clouds. Everything’s gloom.

Or maybe not.  Maybe 2017 was the “Year of the Non-Evangelical Evangelical.” Many who once embraced the label have ripped it off, since it no longer signals intellectually sophisticated back-to-the-Bible Protestants. They’re leery of political and cultural tribalism. What’s more, about a third of all American evangelicals are not white. Vast majorities deplore Trump.

The non-evangelical evangelicals are actually more evangelical than self-identified white evangelicals –and they’re more synced with their kin outside the US, who never wed themselves to manipulative politicians and never waged wars over biblical “inerrancy” verses “infallibility.”

It’s all so confusing until we learn from Keller, pastor emeritus of Manhattan’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church and author of a slew of books. He described the nuances in a recent New Yorker article. Keller abandoned the “e” word awhile back because it only befuddled his city’s residents. His article levied criticism but pin-pointed hope.

Finally, someone has explained evangelicalism in a widely-read secular publication. Keller addressed what it meant in the past, its present aberration, and where its thinking still thrives: among the poor, in US minority communities, and throughout the world. It turns out there are sprouts of honest-to-goodness, historic evangelicalism in the American rubble. It may again step into the limelight under a different name.

I’m already wondering how a theologically robust evangelicalism might return, even stronger than before. Perhaps a breeze stirs. It’s been softly blowing in the dim academic wings and waiting for its day in the sun. Theologians such as the late Thomas Oden, the late Robert Jenson, the late Stanley Grenz, and other living souls like Christopher Hall have been writing under the banner of paleo-orthodoxy, which looks back to the ancient creeds and church fathers. So far, no fundamentalists or neo-fundamentalists weigh it down.

Oden called this train of thinking Classical Christianity. Perhaps it will venture beyond the erudite academy with a spicier name. Maybe it’ll link up with like-minded Catholic and Eastern Orthodox souls. Evangelicalism has always been hampered by its neo-fundamentalist police force, which compelled its thinkers to write in an atmosphere of fear. Perhaps moving to a broader but still well-defined classical Christianity will rid us of those self-appointed cops and deliver us from dread. There’s an opportunity in every catastrophe.

So what distinguishes the world of American Protestantism in 2017? Give it a decade and we’ll know. Maybe.


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About Charles Redfern

Charles Redfern is a writer, activist, and clergyman living in Connecticut with his wife and family. He's currently writing two books, with more in his head.

View all posts by Charles Redfern


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