john buckeridge suggests that the tide has gone out on the e-word in an editorial in christianity today.
to the unchurched and people of other faiths – evangelical is increasingly shorthand for: right-wing US politics, an arrogant loud mouth who refuses to listen to other people’s opinions, men in grey suits who attempt to crowbar authorised version scripture verses into every situation, or ‘happy-clappy’ simpletons who gullibly swallow whatever their tub thumping minister tells them to believe. Large parts of the British media seem happy to paint evangelicals into that stereotype. Today in the UK ‘evangelical’ is often linked with the ultimate 21st century swearword ‘fundamentalist’. The result is the name ‘evangelical’ which years ago, may have smelt of roses – now has the aroma of the manure that fertilises the bush.
evangelical is a brand and a brand in crisis at that. back 4-5 years ago I was happy to associate with the brand, because it brought a certain degree of, well I guess, respectability (historic faith and all that). now there is no way I would want to be associated with the evangelical brand in anything other than a very specific "in-house" sense.
to me the link to fundamentalism is not just about US politics. all too often evangelicals are fundamentalist in their localising outlook and focus on local debate and local church politics. with both the baptist and anglican camps, the evangelical push to collapse ideology and morality into territoriality runs counter to the kind of faith I want to be about. it is this anti-globalality (in any interconnected sense) and anti-otherness that mark the failure of the brand as much as the associations with conservative tubthumping in the US.
Posted by: Fernando Gros | April 27, 2006 at 10:41 AM
Its great to watch the evolution of vocabulary. Evangelical is a swear word in the U.S., and in many ways it should be. But, tomorrow words like missional and emergent may be swear words too. It shouldn't suprise us that all of our "new" endeavors get ugly at some point. We'll come up with something new.
Posted by: Matt | April 27, 2006 at 11:00 AM
Now that's a turn up for the books!
Terms only become 'swear words' in this context when they become symobilc of abuse, percieved or experienced!
Posted by: Mark Berry | April 27, 2006 at 12:22 PM
I'm currently writing something about whether words can ever be reedemed. I think that they can but need carefully re-enventing and re-imagining. I'm cautious to throw the 'e-word' out and think that i would want to see it redeemed by people who positivly affirm evangelicalism. I do not see myself as an evanglical but think that evangelicalism has something unique to offer to the church. However, it needs humility and must recognise that it is part of a far broader Chrsitian tradition.
Posted by: Ben Edson | April 27, 2006 at 03:01 PM
Great piece. Thanks for the link. We gotta keep wrestling.
Note, though, the article is not from Christianity Today magazine as sugegsted, but Christianity Magazine...a very different thing. They are not related. Christianity Today is THE voice of evangelicalism..founded by Billy Graham even..so wehn teh day comes they are ready to ditch the 'e' word(:...
keep up the great blogging
Posted by: fresno dave | April 27, 2006 at 03:14 PM
p.s. i should've said Christianity Today is the voice of evangelicalism IN AMERICA..
..although one could make the case that it is THE evangelical identifier for much of the world.
I'm guessing there's nothing like the equivalent in the UK?
Posted by: fresno dave | April 27, 2006 at 03:18 PM
dirty words are created by dirty people, it isn't the word that needs redeeming but the people who use it to "brand" (and I hate that word) their particular, narrow, limited and judgemental view . . . I'm sounding like one in this post, so I will stop now.
Posted by: Ali Campbell | April 27, 2006 at 04:06 PM
The question is, do we like to 'brand' ourselves because we've something positive to say about our identity, or to mark ourselves as different from all other hell-bound 'Christians' on the planet?
Why do any of us feel the need to qualify what kind of followers we are?
Posted by: Brian Draper | April 27, 2006 at 04:33 PM
I agree that the word Evangelical is often akin to a term of abuse. However we must remember that the term Christian was originally a term of abuse, a label put on the early followers of Christ - we haven't done too badly out of that term of abuse? We are going to face persecution - for evangelicals (and I am one based on the Evangelical Alliance statement of Faith)some of it is justified critisism, other critisism is media bias, the fact that we are being because we are being criticised by a worldly media doesn't neccessarily mean we are in the wrong! (although on occasion they do have a point).
I still feel that evangelical or bible believing is a useful distinction to make as there are those who would self define as christian whilst not believing any of the truth's that I believe to be fundamental to the gospel - in some cases these 'christians' are actually opposed to and ridicule elements of the gospel - I can't pretend to be working towards the same purposes as people like that therefore some distinction is useful.
Posted by: John Settatree | April 27, 2006 at 05:33 PM
I know that "Right-wing Fundamentalist" has a nasty ring to it, but it is surprising that "Evangelical" is now the equivalent in many people's minds. One-word descriptions can cause assumptions and be so easily misunderstood. When we give people a label it is easier to dismiss them. Since my thinking is in process, I don't even know how to categorize myself: an eclectic Jesus-follower, a creative kingdom person, etc.?? We use descriptions in order to be understood, yet often the opposite happens. When a term brings such a negative reaction, something has caused it. Perhaps a little self-assessment is a good response for evengelicals (and the rest of us!)
Posted by: Jennifer | April 27, 2006 at 10:35 PM
This describes me. I never thought I sounded so good!!!!!
Posted by: Timothy Wright | April 27, 2006 at 10:43 PM
Yup, so true and also with the words evangelist/evangelism. i say chuck 'em!
Posted by: Existential Punk | April 28, 2006 at 01:31 AM
If you don't find the term evangelical helpful or if it doesn't apply to you then don't use it. I find it helpful and if people confuse it with some of the negative overtones then I try to explain about the original evangelicals from whom the name derives - at the end of the day any term is going to have some negative overtones. But we need imperfect words to communicate what we are about - therefore these terms are still useful.
Posted by: John Settatree | April 28, 2006 at 11:58 AM
John... going back to your earlier post... I don't have too much of a problem with Evangelical - it is part of my faith genes (My father is an Evangelical Minister and I grew up an evangelical - which means it is still part of me)... but terms like 'Bible believing' when used in that context are designed to exclude and to dismiss people... it reeks of arrogance and judgementalism!... what they really mean are "people who interpret/understand Scripture in exactly the same way I do"... There will be many people who believe in the Bible just as much and hold too it just as passionatly as you or anyone else... but they may have different beliefs about the nature of the text, or have a different interpretation of the teaching within it. By using terms in this way we are doing exacttly what they 'Orthodox' and 'Catholic' churches did when they chose their names... sayiong we have got it right you all are wrong! Lets entertain the possibility that God is bigger than any of our divisions and preocupations.
Posted by: Mark Berry | April 28, 2006 at 06:20 PM
I've been using "post-evangelical" for a couple of years now and its worked pretty well for me--I stress that I don't mean "anti" or pissed-of-at-evangelicalism (even though sometimes I am), simply that I conserve the best from her and have moved on culturally, and (in some cases) spiritually/theologically. I am sincere in my conservation, in that I cherish a personal connection to Jesus Christ grace-fully bestowed, and other such integrals as the Spirit-breathed nature of Holy Writ and the reality of the extranatural, from Jesus' virgin birth to resurrection to God's interspersed-with-reality vibrancy today.
But you know what? I don't describe myself as much of anything to the man-on-the-street or even people in my church (atlantasaints.com), who tend to have an adverse reaction to labels. To say "I'm evangelical" or "post-" anything sounds like so much posturing bull$#!t, and the average joe doesn't care. Sometimes I tell people I'm indwelt by God incarnate, or that I'm a Way-farer. Usually it takes more than a soundbite anyhow.
Posted by: Mike Morrell | April 29, 2006 at 04:56 AM
I apprectiate and respect the fact that other people will have different interpretations of the Bible than me. I am happy to acknowledge that my interpretation of the Bible may be wrong on certain points and in the past have changed my views when I realised they were wrong. My issue is not with Christians who interpret the Bible differently to me - it is with those that make a mockery of it's teachings. I think it is useful that there are certain distinctions made between different type of Christian. I cannot defend the beliefs of every type of Christian because I do not hold all their beliefs and many of them conflict with my own - this is just a fact. I will defend their right to their own beliefs and oppinions - even if I may try to persuade them to change them and accept that they may try to change mine!
Posted by: John Settatree | May 03, 2006 at 05:03 PM