yes, i’m an evangelical.

mjkimpan  —  November 9, 2015 — 3 Comments



some who know me well may consider that claim inconceivable.

though i’ve previously outlined my rather vanilla set of ‘orthodox’ beliefs, the way i talk when i talk about God and the bible and jesus and the cosmos and just about everything else leads most folks to assume i’m not really an Evangelical Christian at all.

in fairness, the post linked above on ‘the basics of what i believe’ was written over three years ago – and the current version of my self might quibble with more than just a few of the details.

i’ve been on a slippery slope of attempting to both give and receive unmerited grace and unconditional love for years, and the road i’m walking seems increasingly generous toward others in my self-described ‘orthodoxy’  – even extending to folks from various beliefs and traditions and backgrounds, with everlasting implications – just as i believe jesus taught.

that path has led me to all kinds of new conclusions about not only how to live my own life, but how to think about the lives of others, as well as the mind-bending concept of eternal life as talked about by jesus, and then by his fan club in the centuries that followed.

2,000 years removed from the time of jesus, i suspect we’ve lost in translation much of the original proclamation of ‘good news’ – just look at what our bad theology has done to people who publicly claim to follow the guy, and you’ll see my point.

everyone, jesus said, would know we learn from and follow him by our love for one another (in spite of all of our differences). yet it seems – at least for those who identify as ‘evangelicals’ – the rest of the world knows us by some other things – and more than a few of the things we’re known for aren’t very good news at all – just a lot of infighting on who’s in and who’s out of this elite religious club of ‘Christianity.’

still, i can confidently say, ‘yes, i’m an evangelical.’

self-appointed gatekeepers within the broader evangelical community may declare that i’m not ‘evangelical’ enough because of my evolving views on matters of faith and life – everything from the narrative of the bible, the person and work of jesus, the doctrines of hell and salvation to what that all means about the way in which God has been presented in scripture and by the church and how all of that relates to the jesus story.

yet i must defer to what i see in the stories of the incarnation of jesus – something the original ‘good news’ proclamation in the second chapter of the gospel according to luke makes clear :: this good news is good news for everybody…and growing numbers of us believe that if it isn’t good news for everybody, it isn’t good news for anybody.

and here, many self-identified ‘Evangelicals’ may disagree with us…many declare this good news is available to everybody – so long as they subscribe to a particular set of beliefs and align all theological perspectives to their own; so long as they pray a particular prayer or live with a specific set of like-minded values; so long as they see each of the ancient documents collected in the biblical library as a divinely inspired sacred text, and view the modern day and future world within a strict and literal interpretation of that text; so long as they are never doubting, but maintain a laser-focused faith in all truths propagated by their own institutionalized religious system.

for some, these and other litmus tests make up what it means to be an ‘evangelical.’

i’m reminded of the words by inigo montoya in the princess bride ::

‘You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.’

in recent days, other friends have written about what they mean when they talk about being ‘evangelical’ – brandan robertson posted here, and ben irwin here.

what it means to be an evangelical – or a christian, for that matter – is not an altogether new conversation; in fact, years ago my friend tony jones, among others, asked if it was past time to hang up the boots on that term, including dropping the label ‘progressive’ and suggested ‘Incarnational Christian’ by popular vote of his readers and some theological musings of his own. i liked – and still like – the term, for various reasons.

yet i’ve been often asked if i identify as an evangelical – and it seems that question is becoming increasingly more common as i’ve partnered with a few friends around an effort we call OPEN  – a newly created network seeking to organize and optimize progressive evangelical and non-denominational churches, organizations and people.

while my response to that question somewhat depends on the person and circumstance, i quite often find myself summing up this post in which i admittedly acknowledge enjoying how rob bell once responded to that same question ::

‘What do you mean by that word?

Do you mean someone who believes the good news, the gospel, the open tomb – that there’s a whole new world bursting forth right here in the midst of this one?

Someone with a bouyant, hopeful vision of what’s possible because of the truth that God is up to something in the world and every one of us can be a part of it?

Because if that’s what you mean, I’m in…’

just before the weekend, rob released this brilliantly done 5 minute video (embedded below for those who’ve not yet viewed it)

upon watching this video, i must confess :: i wholeheartedly agree with rob’s deduction. the term ‘evangelical’ – which has been hijacked and taken hostage by a very narrow voting block with a few very narrow policies and perspectives – needs to be reclaimed, repostured and reoriented toward its original meaning as a declaration of ‘good news’ – not the false good news of empire (whether secular or religious); but instead reframed as the good news of a new creation being made possible, right here and now – in and through and amidst and among and from each and every one of us. in the words of the video ::

‘i say we take the word back – evangelical means good news – and it’s good news for everybody who doesn’t fit in; it’s good news for everybody who’s hungry and needs food, everybody’s who thirsty, everybody who just needs a home; it’s everybody who needs a helping hand to get them up out of the dust and to brush off that dirt so they can have some worth and dignity.’

i too believe the good news of God’s love for everybody – and am convinced as a bearer of this good news – as an evangelical – i have an opportunity to extend the good news of that love in both word and deed – as personified in the person, teachings, work and life of jesus of nazareth – to every single person.

‘i’m an evangelical. and i believe in good news…for everybody.’

what do you think?

  • Rich Gutowski

    A bad seed can not bear good fruit….do we all agree?…I am replying on November 9, 2015,,,the 395th anniversary of the “Puritans” landing on Plymouth Rock. Since the God I know doesn’t make mistakes I assume he sent our European “Calvinist” forefathers to mix with the local “charismatics” in the indigenous people of the time. I contend they knew a Jesus of sorts (google Sweet Medicine) and could see and know and HEAR God in nature and in spirit….a sensitivity many of us have lost. Of course they didn’t have it all right either so maybe God wanted to create a super race of Calvanist Charismatics and truly found a new nation based on radical love and religious tolerance… great renewed minds with huge hearts and eyes to see and ears to hear……of course something went terribly wrong and instead of a country bourne of love and tolerance which would yield the fruit of love and tolerance, celebrating dependence on God and willingly sacrificiing our Independence for interdependence in healthy communities where our highest individual gifts can be developed, we have a country founded on rebellion over taxes (mammon) birth by the power of a Gun (the shot heard round the world Ralph Waldo Emerson 1837) and a country where we celebrate Our Declaration of Independence with gun powder explosions. Is it any wonder that the fruit of the birth of our nation is guns, murder, the exportation of war as a means to resolve conflict and that one of the most powerful political organizations in our country is the NRA and the gap between rich and poor has skyrocketed. Just becasue desperte people will work for a minimum wage it doesn’t mean it is just and yet my praying rich white friends don’t trust their God enough to arbitrarily raise it…even though Henry Ford did so with great success in his day. My dear white wealthy Calvanist brothers at the country club scold me with the federalist papers but just because our calvanist ( i love Tim Keller!) forefathers (many slave owners and a notable pedophile, sorry Thomas) “prayed”…. it doesn’t mean they were able to Hear the Father….heck they cut their spiritual ears off and hardened their hearts by leaving the indigenous people of North America, central and South America and of Asia and Africa out of the prayer meeting that resulted in the “Declaration of Independence” (seriously christian Brothers am i the only one sickened and ashamed on the 4th of July?) and the constitution….may i suggest that Open and Convergence are a step in the right direction but unless the goals are repenting for the declaration of independence and rewriting it with an internationally group sourced document from people around the world creating a third political party based on radical tolerance and love with full inclusion that we will be part of the luke warm problem not part of a radical upside down solution. Lets rebirth our nation in love and tolerance on the 400th anniversary of the Landing of the Mayflower on Plymouth Rock….The Lion party in November 2020? Keep the word “evangelical” but lets radically change what that means by the way we “preach” that the Kingdom HAS come….by living it radically and fighting fiercely with the bullets of truth and the power of love and radical tolerance….the small sample of Gay friends i have (had) are (were) so much more innately “Christian” (loving and Tolerant) than the small sample of folks i know/knew teaching bible studies who are/were intolerant and sometimes down right mean. (no wonder kids don’t want to go to church?!) This is not a time for milk toast Christians accepting of the status quo and afraid of “christian” cultural mores. We need warriors and bold leadership….i think the ground is fertile..come on young folks with energy where are you?

  • Emily

    Ultimately I don’t think we’re going to be the ones who define whether we’re “in” or “out” of the evangelical camp, no matter how much context we give the term or how much we can prove we have the purer claim to the historical label. I appreciate you trying to reclaim and maintain and transform the word evangelical, but in the broader culture the meaning is already set and has picked up too much baggage for us to change the meaning – especially for people who could care less about the inter-evangelical arguing about what it is or who can claim the label. Ultimately that’s what this has become – an arguement within evangelicalism about what it is, and no one else cares. I’ve shed the label and moved on to practice faith as I feel led by Jesus, and stopped arguing. History will decide who was what.

    • thanks for your comment, emily – and i certainly understand the desire to shed the label and simply practice christian faith as you understand it, regardless of what others say about it, or about you.

      that’s courage.

      a good deal of that approach is appealing to me as well, and in some ways that’s what i do – go on living my life as best i can, in my neighborhood and in my community, regardless of the national conversation surrounding the words ‘evangelical’ or ‘christian.’

      yet i believe the two distinct terms ‘evangelical’ and ‘christian’ have nearly become erroneously synonymous in 21st century american cultural understanding – and the version of ‘evangelicalism’ which is seen as legitimate (proclaimed and protected as such by their self-proclaimed and appointed gatekeepers) is the one also known as ant-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-science, et cetera.

      i suspect in order to affect greater change within our culture (and even in the broader cultural conversations influencing proposed legislation and our political leadership), those with a desire to live into a just and generous expression of christian faith have an opportunity – even an obligation – to show that there are growing numbers of individuals and organizations and communities of faith who believe jesus has good news for the world, *live* that good news in new and creative ways which are increasingly leaving behind the trappings of exclusion and elitism so present and prevalent in institutionalized religion.

      as we’ve seen in mass and social media over recent months and years (take just the dialogue surrounding LGBTQ equality and inclusion, or even equality and inclusion of women or people of color within white, conservative religious communities as examples), much of the hullabaloo and forces fighting against moving *forward* in our collective christian understanding and progressing into a world where peace through non-violence, love, justice, compassion, standing in solidarity with the vulnerable and the marginalized and celebration of diversity reign (all of which, in my opinion, are explicit teachings of jesus) stem from those who self-identify as ‘conservative’ or ‘traditional’ evangelicals.

      like it or not, the term ‘evangelical’ – and the churches, organizations, institutions and spokespeople it has created – still hold a lot of cultural capital.

      less than they did in the 80s during the time of jerry falwell’s ‘moral majority’ or the boom of the 700 club or focus on the family in the 90s- yet there’s no doubt they are at the front lines on a number of efforts that concern me :: propagating as normative and orthodox fundamentalist positions on matters of immigration, women’s rights, LGBTQ equality and non-discrimination, climate change, poverty as it relates to our gluttonous consumerism in north america, our propensity to ignore the teachings of jesus about peace while we fight wars to protect what is ‘ours’ or even out of fear of ‘losing’ it, et cetera.

      i believe in many ways, this comes down to our approach, interpretation and application of the christian sacred text – the ‘authority of scripture’ (mclaren has some brilliant things to say on this topic in his book ‘a new kind of christianity – ten questions that are transforming the faith’).

      i’m beginning to believe the best story wins – and i am convinced that the open, inclusive, progressive churches, organizations and individuals have an opportunity to gather and organize together to do three things ::

      • make visible what is often invisible – the progressive christian expression of faith in the united states;

      • to resource the groundswell of churches, leaders, organizations and people who are expressing a just and generous expression of christian faith;

      • to create pathways of connection and belonging amongst existing and emerging churches, individuals, organizations and networks of those who represent progressive evangelicals, post-evangelicals, non-denominational and free-church traditions… and all who wish to live in progressive christian ways.

      that’s really what OPEN as an organization is all about – and i’m excited to be a part of that effort. i hope you, and others, will consider being a part of what we’re doing and proclaim that not only are God’s arms open to all, but ours are too.

      check it out if you’re interested in learning more ::