After having an interesting conversation with a friend of mine and reading some articles on the topic, I have recently found myself thinking greatly about the ‘labels’ we seem to have awarded ourselves within the Christian Church.
Random as it may seem for a first blog post, the ‘label’ (although I hate to refer to wings or denominations of the Church in this way) seems to be a necessary means for one to divide and understand the different ideas and beliefs of each ‘wing’ of the Church.
One particular area of Christian thinking labelled under the ‘evangelical church’ ; the wing of the church that I would place myself in (if we have to classify ourselves under labels!) seems to be a hot topic for discussion among Christians and non-Christians alike, over what exactly constitutes an ‘evangelical Christian.’ Are there typical, fundamental doctrines that all who hold to the title ‘evangelical’ must agree un-falteringly on, or can we be evengelicals with a few ‘grey’ areas?
After reading some reviews on the popular book by Dave Tomlinson the ‘Post Evangelical’ I can see that this is something causing debate in our wing of the Church; an obvious divide seeming to have been created between those who feel that some ideas expressed in the ‘Post Evangelical’ are too liberal and unworkable for a “true evangelical”, as opposed to those who are “sighing with relief that somebody has spoken up”.
I have been wondering about this more since having some interesting discussions in different ‘Christian group’ situations, where a chance has been offered by those hosting the meetings for Q&A’s and “open discussion”. Yet, I have to admit that, often, this does not seem to be what then occurs – the invitation is issued, and I listen, ready to receive everyone’s ideas on the ‘hot potato’ subject we are supposed to be free to begin discussing, but what continues is a sense of awkwardness, with no-one wanting to admit to their own ideas but waiting for the ‘approved leader’ – the one everyone wants to agree with – to express their opinion so that everyone else can agree and nod enthusiastically, relieved that what they ‘should’ believe on this topic has now been handed to them in a non-heretical, appropriate for an evangelical, mould.
And then, shock horror, just as I thought that this event, advertised as a chance for ‘debate’ was going to be an utter flop with everyone agreeing with the outspoken leaders, one brave girl dared to offer an ‘alternative thesis’ – she disagreed. The response to her ideas, sadly, was one of total disrespect. It was as if her ideas, because they were generally disagreed with, were, therefore, not worth further discussion, she was told that what she believed was ‘just not right’ and that she ought to change her ideas – sharpish – because they were “wrong”.
The group concerned operates and testifies under the ‘label’ of Evangelical. I see in it the sub-culture of evangelicalism that so many have expressed a discontent with; it was ‘right’ anything else was ‘wrong’.
This experience, as well as reading more about the subject of labels, has made me think twice about the group headings that I place myself under, and the way I think and respond to those who disagree with me.
I don’t believe we should leave obviously dangerous heresy unaddressed – there are some areas of theological understanding that seem almost universally clear for the Christian Church, however, this exclusivity of theology that seems to have taken root within some areas of the church worries me. The Bible, far from being clear, on many issues, is subject to many different ‘schools of thought’, and I have found that, the more it is studied, the more the Bible seems to have many grey areas, to be studied and expanded on, I am unable to apply the same rigid exclusive understanding on some topics that this sub-culture seems to command. I love my Bible, but in loving it, I want to understand what it really is saying, not just what it says.
So, what do others think? Should there be a number of conditions to be met which make someone ‘in’ or ‘out’ of the evango’ inner circle, or should we steer away from trying to define other people’s theologies into our own categories?