“Post-evangelical” is a term that was coined some time ago by Dave Tomlinson, and in the years since he wrote a book by the same name, has come to mean a variety of different things to the different people who have adopted it.  In general, “post-evangelical” does not mean…

+ I am no longer an evangelical Christian.

+ I am no longer Protestant.

+ I have given up on the church.

+ My political views are too liberal to fit into mainstream Christianity.

There are three distinct streams of post-evangelical thought that I’ve discovered here and there.  One stream includes folks who grow frustrated with the state of cultural Christianity, and leave the church all together.  Some maintain faith, but don’t live in community with other believers.  Some adopt other belief systems outside of Christianity.  Others cease to have any faith at all, which I find to be most unfortunate.

A second stream includes individuals who became a part of the emerging church movement.  This group of individuals would likely (but not all) cling to a more politically and theologically liberal brand of Christianity.  For me, the emerging movement has some nice aspects, but far too often for my tastes, they ask theological questions, only to answer them with more questions.  Authors like Rob Bell and Brian McLaren fall into this stream.

Finally, the third stream is the group I found myself in…The individuals who seek out historical Christianity as an alternative to what they have experienced.  Robert Webber coined this as the ancient-future movement.  Some, like myself, became a classic “Evangelical on the Canterbury Trail”, and embraced Anglican traditions.  Others are neo-Calvinists, falling into Presbyterian or traditionalist Baptist camps.  Some remain in their denomination or church, but adopt ancient spiritual practices, such as praying the rosary or the daily office, pilgrimage, fasting, etc.  Still others have left Protestant movements altogether, becoming a part of Orthodox and Catholic churches in their faith journey.  Thomas Oden, the aforementioned Robert Webber,  Mark Galli, and Todd Hunter are significant writers who authored books that appeal to us in this stream.

Why would someone become “post-evangelical”?  For me, there were several aspects of  American Christianity that I was conflicted over…

+ The insistence of some evangelical denominations, or at least pastors within some denominations, that all Christian groups with sacramental traditions (Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, etc.) were heretical, and adherents were certainly hell-bound.  I call it fear of the unknown, and as a great friend once told me, “Fear is never a good counselor.”

+ The focus on infiltrating the our system of government by using faith rhetoric in the midst of political stumping.  This offends me greatly, no matter which side of the aisle does it…and both sides do it often.  It just feels hollow and empty to me.

+ The pulpit being used to promote agendas that are culturally, politically, morally, and even spiritually significant, but aren’t necessarily the Gospel.

+ The insistence by many that “The Bible is the sole authority…” for their faith movement, without regard for church tradition and reason.   Everything that happened in the 1500 years prior to the reformation wasn’t all wrong.  In fact, it baffles me how some folk can claim the Bible as their sole authority, then disregard the Church Fathers and ancient tradition, when it was those Fathers, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that put together the very Canon that us evangelicals hold so dear!  Yes, there were flawed people and policies amongst church leaders during the formative years of the church, and even some crazy theological ideas.  There are the same issues in evangelical Christianity today.  Prosperity Gospel, anyone?

+ The view that the traditional pattern of historical worship…reading of the word, recitation of creeds, corporate prayer, corporate confession, and receiving communion…is not as important as the Sunday sermon and an emotional response to music.  Hey, I love to hear myself  talk as much as any pastor, but there are other time-proven worship methods to help individuals grow in their faith.  The ancient patterns of worship tell the Gospel story multiple times in one church meeting, through creed, through prayer, through a sermon, and through the table.  It’s not about a music style; instead, it’s about a pattern of worship that has depth and meaning.

+ The fundamentalist view that legalism, meaning the things we don’t do, or sins we don’t commit, is more a mark of spiritual growth than how we practice our faith, living it out actively, publicly and privately.

+ Finally, the idea that salvation without a dramatic conversion experience isn’t legitimate.  I was a covenant child, and have had faith in Christ as my Savior for as long as I can remember.   Damascus Road conversions are real, for sure; but that isn’t the only method to knowing the Lord.  My parents “raised me in the way I should go”.

Michael Spencer, the Internetmonk, wrote that “Post-evangelicalism isn’t the rejection of the evangelical church.” It’s not fleeing from Protestant ideals.  It’s a different way of doing Christianity…ecumenically, cooperatively, looking back to ancient traditions as we move forward in faith as the Bride of Christ.

To close, I would say this…I love the church.  I grieve for her at times, and sometimes wonder if she hasn’t lost her mind.  No matter what, though, I love her.  We must, because Christ loved her, and gave Himself for her.  That’s plenty enough reason for me to never give up on the old broad.

This is what being “post-evangelical” means to me: Loving the church enough to no longer settle for the status quo; looking back, so that she might move ahead.

(Please visit http://www.internetmonk.com/ for much more comprehensive thoughts on the label “post-evangelical”.)

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24 Responses to “What Does “Post-Evangelical” Mean?”

  1. ck Says:

    Enjoy reading your perspectives. Just don’t think all evangelicals are “prosperity, blab and grab” believers since this is the Christian movement I gravitate towards. I do believe that a portion of our gifts have to be returned to God in the form of our tithe, time, and talent. I also like “happy” Christians. Recently visiting “denominational” churches have shown me folks that love the Lord, give to the extreme, sing her praises, love on us, but they don’t seem joyful. They are quiet and respectful in church. I would rather than shout and sing out a little more! So maybe I am not looking to the historical except as a pattern. I believe in speaking from the heart in layman’s terms.

    1. Lee Says:

      I have to agree that a lot of Christians seem sullen, but I also believe that many of these aren’t experiencing the fullness of faith. I don’t intend to come across as a complete cynic, because there are so many loving, joyful believers out there in the Christian world.

      When I say “Prosperity Gospel”, I don’t necessarily think of your background…It’s more the pastors who promise that God will provide all sunshine and roses in exchange for our good behavior, and that if we get sick or experience tragedy, then we either don’t have enough faith, or we have a sin problem

      I believe in a healthy mix of liturgy and contemporary (but theologically sound) worship, and would love to see more churches latch on to the idea. I also love contemporary versions of hymns. Matthew Smith of Indelible Grace will be playing in Athens soon. We might have to check him out!

      1. Lee Says:

        I’ll follow up with this…for me, I needed more quiet reverence in my faith. That was a big reason I lean toward the historical patterns of worship. It’s not going to be everyone’s flavor, and I wouldn’t expect everyone to agree with my thoughts. It is, though, the place where I find depth and peace.

  2. Ted Says:

    Hi, Lee, I’m dropping by from internetmonk where I just left you a note on the Re-Baptism post.

    It looks like you have a good site started here. This page on post-evangelical is useful, and I may refer to it again.

    Your pilgrimage to Anglicanism is interesting, and I’m watching the Anglican divorce from the Episcopal Church in fascination, like a train wreck. I have a number of Episcopal?/Anglican? friends who have been trying to fight the good fight, remain within, but are finding themselves faced with tough choices.

    On your “about” page, your part of the country reminds me of Flannery O’Connor. Is she popular around there?

  3. Lee Says:

    Miss O’Connor grew up about 75 miles from where I am. She was an Atlanta girl, but her Atlanta was a much different burg from its current state. There were plenty of dirt roads within the city limits when she was a child.

    The Anglican/Episcopal troubles are quite a dilemma. I wish that the problems there could have been resolved more peacefully. It is a train wreck, but a slow, thirty year train wreck, you know? The metal twists a little louder and really captures our attention every once in a while. I was ordained in the ACNA, but was never involved in the Episcopal Church, except for an occasional visit.

    Thanks for stopping in! If my 7 month old cooperates, I may get a new post up today!

  4. Chuck Braun Says:

    Hi,
    My wife and I have moved from the ELCA to the LCMS.I was Baptized Methodist, hooked up with evangelicals in college (Okay, that makes me an unintentional Anabaptist) then a member of an ex-EUB United Methodist Church. They believed the Bible, but used wine and wafers, being a congregation descended from Volga Germans, with a little Lutheranism mixed in. But they were still fast friends with evangelicals. There is nothing wrong with repeating the Creed or Lord’s Prayer every Sunday, because I say them from the heart, not as a rote repitition. Many evangelicals think infant baptism to be damnable heresy (John the Baptist was a believer in Christ before birth), but I’ve known Baptists who recited John 3:16, then talked about their latest sexual conquest 5 minutes later. Hmmm…
    The ELCA’s replacement of the Gospel of Salvation through faith in Christ with Social-Gospel-Only (Social “Gospel” is actually Law) and their denial that some sins people might be born inclined to aren’t sins just floors me. Yes, God made me. But as the product of a fallen creation, I am inclined to our own particular sins, and continually confess them and strive to turn from them, by God’s help. We’re all on the “island of misfit toys”, but “Santa” doesn’t always fix the toys before they go to their new home. And the LCMS doesn’t politicize to the Left, as evangelicals politicize to the Right. The LCMS does respect the sanctity of preborn human life, as do I, but they don’t spend half their time harping on two issues. Now the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist dates back to 118 AD, and infant Baptism to before 200AD, so we can’t say they are concoctions of Rome and its borderline syncretism. As I believed as a child, Christ is the only Way, Truth and Life. And my new church says that. As I now believe in the Real Presence in the Eucharist, in my Methodist days the Elements were given just as much reverence, even though they were called symbols of grace. I think all Christians subconsciously believe in the Real Presence. One last thought: Yes, Christ calls some through born-again experiences, others through Baptism and catechesis. The bottom line: I’m saved ’cause Jesus shed His blood to pay my sin debt to keep me from hell, and rose again to let me into Heaven. He did it all. And I’ve cherished this for the last 48 years, whether I was in a liberal UMC, a non-denom evangelical group, a conservative ex-EUB, an “E”LCA dissident or an LCMS’er. If liturgy leads you to the Lord in worship, it is good. The Agnus Dei comes right from the Good Book, after all. If liturgy has built a wall between you and the Lord, it is bad. Tear down that wall, and remake it as a bridge!

    1. Lee Says:

      Chuck, thanks so much for visiting my little blog, and for the comment. You express many ideas that I hold dear. I do believe that there are different pathways of faith, and they are good, as long as the object of our faith is Christ. I like your thought, “I think all Christians subconsciously believe in the Real Presence…”. I do lean that direction, making myself an unusual WesleyAnglican. Don’t you know, though, that we are all “lapsed Orthodox”, anyway? ;o) Hope you’ll visit again.

      Peace…

      Lee

      1. Rev. David Harstin Says:

        I would clarify something that Chuck said about the Methodist understanding of the Eucharist or Holy Communion. If you were taught that the elements are “symbols of grace” in a Methodist or Wesleyan tradition church, you were taught wrong. The Methodist teaching, as passed down from John Wesley, is that they are “means of grace.” That’s a big difference in understanding! To make it clear, Methodists have from the beginning of the Wesleyan Movement taught the Real Presence of Christ is in the elements. Holy Communion is a means (a real avenue) through which God really communicates his love and grace to people. Thus, Wesley and the people called Methodists have always taught that participation in Holy Communion is a partaking of God’s Grace through Christ. Because Christ is present and working through them, there is power to convert the soul of those who seek a relationship with God and the power to deepen believers’ devotion to God, i.e. it is a means of going on to perfection (a means of sanctification). That’s why the UMC’s celebration of Holy Communion is an open table: We believe the transformative power of God’s grace is present.

        1. Lee Adams Says:

          Yes on all points…


  5. This writing reminds me of what I love so much about people of any faith – the ability to seek, to transform, and relish in rich tradition. Thank You!

  6. gary Says:

    There is more evidence in the NT supporting infant baptism than there is condemning or prohibiting the practice:

    1. “Baptize all nations” does not include an age restriction in the Great Commission (GC).

    2. There is no mention in the GC of requiring an older child/adult “decision for Christ” prior to baptizing! Isn’t that really, really odd? If the only means of salvation is an adult “decision for Christ”, why would Christ not mention this in his final comments to his disciples before ascending to heaven? Why didn’t he say, “Go into all the world, and lead people to Christ by telling them to pray and ask me into their hearts. Then, teach them everything I have commanded you, including being baptized as a public profession of faith.”

    Nope. That isn’t what he said, is it?

    Baptize, baptize, baptize, baptize, baptize. It is repeated over 100 times in the NT. “Be born again” is mentioned twice, and “accept Christ/make a decision for Christ is NEVER mentioned in the NT!

    The simple, plain rendering of multiple passages of Scripture state the following:

    1. It is the power of God’s Word that saves.

    2. The Word saves only those who have been predestined by God to be saved. You will never understand how infant baptism/salvation is possible if you believe that sinners have a free will regarding spiritual matters and are required to make a “decision” before God is allowed to save them. You must believe in (Single, not Double) Predestination to understand Infant Baptism.

    3. When God quickens the spiritually dead souls of those he has predestined, at some point in their lives, they become spiritually alive and therefore believe and repent. There is NO decision on the part of the sinner.

    4. God is not limited to the “when” of salvation. God can save an adult by the preaching of his Word BEFORE baptism, and God can and does save sinners by the power of his Word spoken/pronounced during Baptism.

    The Church has always believed this. Baptism IS necessary for salvation, in that if one rejects or neglects to be baptized, he demonstrates he does not have true faith, and very likely will go to hell when he dies. But, baptism is NOT mandatory, in that God can and does save outside of baptism as was the case with all the OT saints, the thief on the cross, and many martyrs over the last 2,000 years.

    It is the lack of faith/belief that damns, not the lack of baptism.

    In conclusion, Christ did not give any age restrictions for baptism. Christ did not require a “decision for Christ” prior to being baptized. Christ did not require believing PRIOR to baptism. More than five entire households, filled with servants and slaves, were baptized. It is mathematically virtually impossible that none of these households had infants or toddlers, and Scripture says that the ENTIRE household was baptized. There is no mention of an exception for the infants and toddlers.

    The explicit mention of the baptism of infants is not mentioned in these household conversions for the same reason that the baptism of teenagers in the households is not explicitly mentioned; or the baptism of the household’s servants, their wives, and their teenagers; or the baptism of the household’s slaves, their wives, and their teenagers. These subcategories of the “household” are not mentioned because everyone in the middle east, in the first century AD, knew and expected that these subgroups are ALWAYS included in a household conversion when the head of the household converts.

    The Baptist worldview of only allowing persons who can make a conscious decision to believe prior to being baptized is a sixteenth century, industrialized western European mind set. First century Jews and other Mediterranean peoples would have NEVER left their children in a spiritual state of “limbo”, outside of the parents’ new religion, to make a “decision” for themselves when they grew up. Such a practice would have been unheard of and outrageous!

    In the post-Resurrection period of the NT, there are only TWO explicit examples of INDIVIDUAL conversions: Saul/Paul and the Ethiopian eunuch. Neither one had families: Saul/Paul probably by choice; the eunuch for obvious reasons. Household conversion was the norm in the NT, NOT individual conversion.

  7. gary Says:

    Interesting article but…why no mention of the original Evangelicals, the original Protestants??

    If post-evangelicals are looking for a blend of the ancient (catholic) Church and yet wish to remain Protestant…they need look no further than their neighborhood orthodox/confessional/liturgical Lutheran church! I personally would recommend the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod.

    1. Lee Adams Says:

      Good point. I was actually drawn to Anglicanism, and was a transitional deacon preparing for Holy Orders, but the demands of life and two new babies slowed that process down. We currently are a part of the local UMC that I grew up in. I do miss the liturgies, weekly communion, and smells and bells, though!

      1. gary Says:

        I’m not sure if it was on this blog or on another Methodist blog, but I saw someone say that Methodists do believe that Baptism, The Lord’s Supper and the Word are means of grace.

        Is that true, and if so, could you explain how Methodists view the term “means of grace”. We orthodox Lutherans believe that God gives salvation and the forgiveness of sins through the means of grace alone. We do not believe that sinners have a free will to choose righteousness, to choose God.

        We believe that GOD makes the decision for salvation, not the sinner. What do Methodists teach?

        1. Lee Adams Says:

          Wesleyan theology holds that the sacraments (Baptism and Communion) are channels of grace…physical elements (water, bread, wine) that contain spiritual benefits. In infant baptism, we believe that the stain of original sin is washed away, and the Holy Spirit begins its work in the life of the child. This work is accomplished through the carrying out of the covenant promises made by parents and participants in the baptism liturgy, promises to raise the child in the knowledge of the Lord, and to surround the child with a community of love. Being baptized would make a child a member of the local church, and the responsibility of the larger Church.

          We don’t believe that the sacraments have a salvific effect, though. One should make a profession of faith (or at least have faith…we don’t think there are any magic words, like many of our Baptist brethren…) in order to be saved. Of course, we also practice believer’s baptism for individuals who come to know Christ at a later age.

          As far as Communion, we do believe that forgiveness of sins and spiritual nourishment are available in the bread and wine, but again, partaking does not have a salvific effect.

          Wesleyan theology holds that Christ is present in the Eucharist, although the meaning of “presence” is up for debate. I personally believe in the Real Presence, because that’s what Church tradition taught.

          There are many Methodists who are of the Whitefield/reformed theology camp (God chooses us), but most are of the Wesleyan/Arminian persuasion (We choose God). Wow, that’s a really simplistic explanation of a really complex matter, isn’t it? I lean more toward Whitefield theologically, though I’m a bit soft on total depravity. Maybe it’s because it’s hard for me to consider my little girls and believe that God sees pure evil when He looks at them. It’s funny, I like Whitefield for theology, but would rather read Wesley any day of the week, particularly in regard to the Sacraments.

          I’m betting our baptism and Eucharistic liturgies are very similar, if not the same, in many regards.

          Thanks for the comments, and for visiting the page! I enjoy the rapport!

          1. gary Says:

            Very interesting.

            You said: “In infant baptism, we believe that the stain of original sin is washed away, and the Holy Spirit begins its work in the life of the child.”

            Can you help me understand what exactly then is happening in a Methodist infant baptism? If God’s forgives/washes away original sin…isn’t that salvific? Maybe its only partially salvific because you don’t believe that ALL sins are washed away, but it doesn’t sound like the Presbyterians, who believe that the only thing that happens in infant baptism is that the child is brought into a covenant promise with God and the Church (whatever that means).

            If God removes the stain of original sin in your child’s baptism, then your child is sinless before God, which would make him or her justified, which would mean that they are saved, which would mean that IN or AT THE TIME OF their Baptism, a salvific act of God occurred.

            And how does the Holy Spirit work in someone who is not saved? Do non-believing infants receive the Holy Spirit?

            That’s sounding pretty Lutheran, my Methodist brother!

            We orthodox Lutherans believe that God “gifts” salvation and faith in Holy Baptism. Faith is planted in the soul of the man, woman, or child being baptized. He or she receives the Holy Ghost, the forgiveness of all sins, and eternal life by the power of God’s Word, not by magical baptismal water. “The Word speaks, and it is so.”

            So is everyone who is baptized going to be in heaven? Sadly not. Lutherans do not believe in “once saved, always saved”. God gives you the gift of faith, but it is your responsibility to nourish that faith by reading the Word, listening to the preaching of the Word, and partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Neglecting or abandoning your faith may result in the loss of faith, and without faith, there is no salvation, there is no eternal life…only eternal damnation.

            1. gary Says:

              When I said “that sounds Lutheran” I meant the part about God removing the stain of original sin in infants, NOT the next paragraph.

  8. gary Says:

    My last 2 comments are out of curiosity, not to debate you. I have a Lutheran blog and I have posted your explanation of the Methodist view on the Sacraments on my blog. My readers are finding it very interesting. We really only know about Methodism from non-Methodists, it is good to hear it from the mouth of an actual Methodist!

    1. Lee Adams Says:

      Not taking it as a debate at all…I’m enjoying the conversation!

      To respond to the question about the Holy Spirit working in the life of someone who hasn’t been “saved”…I’m certainly not a trained theologian, but I’ll offer an example and a clarification…Luke 1:41…”And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit”…Just being in the presence of the expectant Mary was enough for John the Baptist to go charismatic (said tongue-in-cheek), and for Elizabeth to be filled with the Spirit. Now the clarification…The Spirit works in the life of the child through the believers who enter into the covenant agreements of the baptism liturgy.

      I think that our traditional practices and theologies are probably similar in many ways.

      Hey, what’s an address for your blog? I would love to check it out!

      1. gary Says:

        I tried to leave it, but your website must block URL’s. The name of the blog is Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals. Google it and it will pop up. Look for my post entitled, “The Methodist view of the Sacraments and Grace”. I would be honored if you would post more statements about Methodism, especially more on the issue of how God washes away the stain of original sin in infants but doesn’t save them outright.

        In the case of John the Baptist, the Gospel of Luke states that God gave him the Holy Spirit at birth. We Lutherans believe that this is an example of how God can and does give the Holy Spirit regardless of the age, maturity, and decision-making capabilities of the sinner. God decides salvation. He has told us to baptize everyone (all nations). He didn’t exclude infants in the Great Commission.

        1. Lee Adams Says:

          Absolutely agree. I make that same point in a post on infant baptism here on the blog.

        2. Lee Adams Says:

          I’ve browsed your blog…Loving it, man. Good stuff.

          1. gary Says:

            Please leave more comments about Methodism under the post that you commented on.

            I think Methodists and Lutherans are typically ignored when many people discuss Protestant beliefs. The Baptists, evangelicals, and Presbyterians “hog” all the attention! 🙂


  9. […] an exodus of evangelicals from Evangelicalism. It is described quite succinctly by Lee Adams in this old blog post. Basically he identifies three streams of post-evangelicalism, namely 1) those who have left the […]

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