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Tuesday, June 17, 2003

A Pan-Evangelical Zeitgeist?-Part I-An Outside Diagnosis-Via Connexions, I found this interesting post from Spivey at Something Understood
I've noticed that there are lots of Christian bloggers out there in the world, and cliques and rings to bring them together into community. I've read quite a few now, some with great design, some with great content, some with both. I've noticed that the bulk of these sites are from fairly young people, 16-24 years old, and from that particular profile... does it have a name? Non-denominational, Biblically literalist, listening to lots of CCM, attending huge Christian rallies, singing what one 60 year old Episcopalian friend calls "lots of 'I' hymns", fairly anti-sacramental, anti-catholic, anti-mainstream, and anti-homosexual. Anyone know about whom I'm talking? Of course, I'm drawing huge generalizations, and I should make it clear that I'm interested in finding out what makes this movement tick. Tick it certainly does, with these enormous megachurches filling up for "Praise Services". Their numbers are growing rapidly, and frankly they, of all Christiandom, they seem to have the edge on design, marketing, and tie-ins to pop culture.
There's a post-modern feel to this bunch, but it's not really pomo that he's talking about. Even though I'm two decades older than his core demographic, I feel like I resemble his remark. What I think he's running into is what I'll label a pan-evangelical zeitgeist. Sorry for pulling out the highbrow German, but "spirit of the age" seems better than "movement." Many, if not most, modern evangelicals see themselves as Christians first and members of a church and/or denomination second. There are certain doctrines that are non-negotiable to most evangelicals that I'll try to express in my own voice (1) God is a perfect, transcendent being, beyond space and time (2) Within God, there are three infinite subsets, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, a.k.a. the Trinity. (3) Jesus was/is the human incarnation of God, the Son become flesh, both fully human and fully God, a sinless perfect sacrifice. (4) Jesus died to take on the sins of the world, then rose again ~36 hours later (5) Those who believe in God that Jesus died for their sins and accept His as their Lord and Savior will have eternal life with God, while those that don't will not. (6) The Bible is God's accurate and true message to us and should taken at face value. Note that this list doesn't touch church polity, the Gifts of the Spirit, how and when to baptize, eschatology and whether someone can lose their salvation. Those six make up the evangelical non-negotiables that all evangelicals will agree to with a little tweaking of my phrasing. I almost added a seventh on Jesus' return, but there is an evangelical preterist camp that might beg to disagree. Fellowship with people who agree with those six points is fairly easy; fellowship with people who don't becomes problematic. Over my Christian life, I have typically been a part of some pan-evangelical group, be it a Bible study in Midland in the late 80s, InterVarsity chapters at Delta College, Saginaw Valley State, Michigan State and Kent State or the Evangelical Free-based (but with half non E-Freers) singles Bible study in Midland through which I met Eileen. While worshiping at a Vineyard church, I teach at a Church of God-Anderson college without having my charismatic or Reformed-ish theology questioned by the higher-ups. On the individual level, most evangelicals aren't overly dogmatic about some of the secondary theological debates. For instance, a Calvinist Baptist can make common cause with an Arminian-Wesleyan Nazarene guy and leave free will out of the loop for a bit. Likewise, they can work with a conservative Presbyterian or Methodist without squawking over infant baptism or denominational polity. They can even work with Pentecostals and charismatics; while a Baptist pastor may shy away from the Gifts of the Spirit, the rank-and-file parishioners are more open to the issue. There are numerous pan-evangelical parachurch organizations that help along the pan-evangelical meme. At the college level, you have pan-evangelical groups like Campus Crusade for Christ and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Pan-evangelical adult groups like Promise Keepers or Women of Virtue help incubate the meme as well, as does various day-of-prayer, pro-life and crisis-pregnancy groups. Many communities will have pan-evangelical poverty-fighting groups, like the Caregiving Network in my hometown of Midland, started by AoG people but supported by an array of local churches. I'd like to look at Spivey's list of adjectives. Non-denominational-That might not be fully true, for most of the churches I've attended were parts of denominations. There is a big caveat in that most evangelical churches are set up in a very congregation framework where the ties to the larger Body of Christ is more important than belonging to a particular denominations There is a tendency towards a pan-evangelical mind-set that is ecumenical to the extent that we agree on basic evangelical doctrine rather than the liberal version of ecumenical where sound theology goes out the window in the name of unity. Details of church governance, eschatological details and the timing and number of sacraments can be left aside for common praise, Bible study and fellowship in a pan-evangelical setting. Biblically literalist-This movement takes the Bible at face value. There is some room for alegory, but not too much. Listening to lots of CCM-That's common among younger Christians; such concerts draw people from accrost the evangelical spectrum and even a few Catholics and mainliners, promoting futher pan-evangelicalness. Attending huge Christian rallies-Another manifestation of the pan-evangelical zeitgeist. Big Christian music festivals bring youth groups from a variety of Christian churches. Weekend youth rallies like Acquire the Fire will find comparable pan-evangelical mixes. For the adults, groups like Promise Keepers and Women of Virtue draw pan-evangelical crowds and local Christian radio stations can often serve as an ad-hoc pan-evangelical nexus. Singing lots of 'I' hymns-One of the things that struck me about the graduation service at a Presbyterian seminary earlier this month was the We-ness of the hymns compared to what I'm used to in Baptist or charismatic circles. Evangelicals stress a personal faith and thus create a more personal hymnody (if you can call the ad-hoc collection of praise songs a hymnody). Fairly anti-sacramental-Most evangelical churches have two sacraments (or ordinances): baptism and communion. Also, since there is less of a line between the pastorate and laity, there is less emphasis on the minister's role in those sacraments. Other things that are in older denomination's sacrament list, such as marriage and funerals, don't show up on most evangelical's list, even if there are services performed for both. Anti-catholic-This group is catholic with a small-c; the pan-evangelical spirit looks at a capital-C church that covers all believers and a small-C church where they go on Sunday mornings and other times. Small-c catholic means universal, the Church. Large-C Catholic refers to Roman Catholics, who's core theology has some traditions that are extra-biblical at best (no Chick-ian food fights today, please); evangelicals will tend to look down their noses at the extra-biblical theology while extending open arms to individual Catholics who have found their way to a born-again faith in Christ despite (our Catholic buddies would say thanks to) their traditional Catholic baggage. Anti-mainstream-This could be taken two ways, referring to mainstream culture and its sex and materialism and moral relativism, or to drier, more liturgical, less personal mainline churches. Anti-homosexual.- Our pan-evangelicals are anti-extramarital sex in general, but homosexuality gets a couple extra rounds fired at it. They seem to have the edge on design, marketing, and tie-ins to pop culture-Being non-traditional, they can think outside the box with more ease than more historic denominations. Some of that marketing and pop culture links can make the churches a sub-culture rather that a counter-culture. Some of the worst of the breed are T-shirts that give a Christian tweak to retailers logos, such as the Solid Rock Cafe, A Bread Crumb and Fish, God's Gym or (in 80s Coke script) Jesus-the Real Thing. However, using marketing techniques to bring people to church can be helpful to reach the unchurched. Also, using modern musical styles and casual dress gives a sense of belonging to someone who may not be comfortable in their "Sunday best" or with the traditional hymnal. Paul worked on being "all things to all people;" the modern church, especially those in this pan-evangelical milieu, seem to be reaching the under-thirty crowd better than either mainline or traditional Baptist or Pentecostal churches.

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