Archive for January, 2012

Yep.  Internet Monk was right: the end of evangelicalism as we know it.  It’s happening — at least the beginnings of an implosion.  According to Frank Viola, “the center of evangelicalism is collapsing.”  Collapsing.  Gone the way of civil discourse and the American attention span.

Apparently, evangelicals are so last century.

So what happened?  Apparently it was our factions and our total lack of a balanced approach to how to do church.

Viola’s solution is his blog title, “Beyond Evangelical.”

I would love some discussion on this.  What really is happening here?  Are these diagnoses and labels real?  Semantics?  Or are they a skewed product of writers and bloggers who seem to spend an inordinate amount of time in convention centers signing books and talking to other movement starters??

Read his propositions, first here and then here; tell us what you think.  I was intrigued and somewhat encouraged by the first post, which offers hope for those who object to either being forced toward an increasingly isolationist, neo-fundy stance, or else be labeled a flaming liberal.  (And unfortunately I do see that very polarization and labeling happening even in my own denomination).  Yes, it would be great to have another option.

But wait…is he right?  Are these becoming our only two options within evangelicalism, or does it just seem that way because unless a writer or blogger is throwing rocks at the people across the great collapsed center, he won’t get much audience?

If the only option is bugging out, casting off, re-inventing (and I’m not completely convinced that it is), then okay, let me hear what you’ve got.  Here Viola presents, in the second installment, his “beyond evangelical” alternative as it contrasts with the three trickling and poisoned streams that evangelicalism has devolved into.  The shining light of the “Beyonds” is presented in what I thought was rather elitist, self-promoting language, essentially saying “well, you have your all-doctriners, your social-gospelers, and your holy rollers, and then you have the really balanced, devoted people like us who have finally figured out how to do this church thing right!”  (I am paraphrasing and caricaturing… a little.)  His first three categories make me say “it was ever thus,” and his fourth category has me looking around for the free koozies.

I’m also wondering why he protests so much that he is NOT non-evangelical or post-evangelical, just beyond-evangelical…oh but he doesn’t mean to sound superior-to, just “beyond and above.”  Huh?

I think what’s up with me and my reaction is, while I really, really like and agree with much of what Viola has to say, I get a little uneasy when someone seems to be claiming that a new concept or model or wave is coming that will solve or transform what’s wrong with the church, avoid the historic pitfalls, and finally do things correctly.  After these couple thousand years, finally our generation gets it?  And this without a noticeably deep repentance for our own share in the divisiveness that we are all guilty of, or a deep gratitude to the saints who’ve (imperfectly) gone before?  (In fact, I’ve noticed that many of the followers of this fourth stream talk about the evangelical church they left as if it’s a trauma they have escaped…though I think Viola himself is a bit more respectful, at least most of the time.)

I, too, am casting about for solutions, hoping for a celebrating, gospel-centered community (“gospel” including not just the atoning part–which is core, and huge–but also the redemptive, restorative part),  where head and will and heart all knit together under the rule of God’s love and God’s word.  But as I look at that description, I truly don’t see much that’s different from the mid-century self-descriptions of classic evangelicalism.  So, I don’t think it’s the manifesto that’s broken.  We need soul-searching and radical re-commitment, for sure, and much repentance all around for the way we treat one another when we disagree.  But to say we are “beyond” the former way sounds as if modern Christians have finally evolved, and now will be doing what evangelicals missed doing:  “discovering and displaying Jesus Christ in authentic, deep, and profound ways” (this quote a descriptor of what the “Beyonds” are after).

Credit where credit is due:  I was led to this writer by way of Rachel Held Evans’ blog, which I monitor by RSS feed but don’t read a whole lot for fear of the toll it can sometimes take on my blood pressure.  She has some good things to say, and keeps me abreast of what’s kicking around the blogosphere, but I definitely have some areas of major disagreement.  It’s good practice in learning to disagree with grace.  But it’s also very time-consuming because of the rabbit holes (more like WORM holes) that blogs inevitably lead me down.  Oh, blogosphere, thou whirlpool of time-suck rivaled only by my DVR’d episodes of Downton Abbey.  But I digress.

If you have the time to read this writer’s propositions, let me know what you think!

By the way, I’m eagerly waiting for my son to get done with his Post-modern Christianity class so I can get my hands on his copy of Deep Church, which he says is a book of a similar topic and definitely a good ‘un.  I’ll try to post on it when I finish it.

Meanwhile, what do you think of / know of Viola?  And more importantly, now that the Mesozoic Age is doomed, is there really no future for non-fringe Evangelicasauruses? -saurusses? -sauri?


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