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Shadows of Divine Things

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Location: Texas, United States

This site is devoted to theological and philosophical investigations of the spiritual meanings of life, current events, music, spiritual growth, nature, and learning to be attuned to listening to the 'language of God.' The name of this blog comes from one of Jonathan Edwards's journals which he called 'Shadows of Divine Things,' and later renamed 'Images of Divine Things.' As a Christian I am continously on a spiritual journey to grow more into the image of Christ, to understand what it means to be crucified with Christ. To seek the truths of the Christian Faith is of upmost importance, and to know that any truths that are found outside of Christianity are present there because they ultimately point to God. I have an M.A. in theology and apologetics and I completed one year of graduate studies in Philosophy at Marquette University.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Why I Don’t Call Myself An Evangelical (Part 2)

By choosing not to call myself “evangelical” does that mean I reject the essential teachings of Christianity, or that I prefer not to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ? By no means! As I explained in part one, I think the term “evangelical” has become synonymous with fundamentalism (at least here in the U.S.). Moreover, the term “fundamentalism” has gone through many changes in the last 75 years as well (especially here in the U.S.). My intent here is not to delineate a history of the terms evangelical and fundamentalism, you can do that on your own (and I think you will see, perhaps, what I am getting at in these posts) but it is to declare that these terms and their meanings, within the last several decades have become one (i.e. synonymous).

Ask yourself what comes to mind when someone uses the term fundamentalism. Nine times out of ten, I bet the word brings up several quite pejorative ideas, beliefs, types of “Christians,” possibly behaviors, etc. However, I will go a step further and declare that “evangelical” has a tendency to do the same thing. Let me illustrate, I was raised in an evangelical church (Southern Baptist), and educated at an evangelical seminary. In fact all my life I have spent my time with other evangelicals, or in evangelical churches of one kind or the other (i.e. from Baptist to Presbyterian). In this environment I was told that listening to certain styles of music was sinful, that drinking was sinful (of any kind), etc. While these are the more “cultural sins” on the list, the “theological sins” held the same tone and attitude; and all this was under the umbrella of “evangelical.” So, when I declared that I was an evangelical in the student room at Marquette University so many years ago, it does not surprise me that the others who were present responded the way they did. Moreover, in the arena of academia this merely highlights the difficulties and problems attached to the term, especially in light of current ecumenical changes.

So, if I choose not to “label” myself evangelical, what is the alternative? Avoiding the spill of “Oh, let’s just avoid labels” nonsense, is there a good alternative? I think so, and my answer would come from Thomas Oden. In his book The Rebirth of Orthodoxy he details how many young Christians (and I use the term young rather loosely, since I am middle aged) have moved away from their modernist and/or fundamentalist (i.e. evangelical) roots and shifted back to classical Christianity (the first seven centuries). The reason this is so appealing to me is the fact that that “stage” of Christianity, I believe, has the richest theology, and the most meaningful style of worship and livelihood, and was the most unified; so classical Christianity is what appeals most to me, “mere Christianity” if you will. A more inclusive Christianity that is not ready with their theological baseball bats to pound one for believing something “outside the box”, and I do not mean more inclusive at the expense of sound doctrine (and that remark was certainly geared to those who hold an “anti-Catholic” view with the notion that Catholic doctrine is wrong and should thus be rejected altogether).

The “evangelical box” of my upbringing simply frustrates and confounds me. So I decided to jump out of that box 4 or 5 years ago. To move away from the more “pharisaical Christianity” that frowns up questioning certain teachings or “doing” certain things (i.e. listening to certain styles of music, etc. - I do not mean the more obvious lifestyle sins) is my intent. And of course, this is much broader than I have made it seem here in these two small posts (i.e. there is here certainly more to unpack than I was able). Therefore, for these reasons (and a few others) I do not call myself an evangelical.

Lastly, I want to delineate, as briefly as I possibly can, what I do not mean by these posts. I am not declaring that those who call themselves evangelicals are necessarily fundamentalists. Moreover, I am not declaring that those who are evangelical and fundamentalists are, ipso facto, not Christian. As I declared earlier, evangelicalism covers a lot of ground, especially around the world. There are many brothers and sisters in Christ who are in fact evangelical, and have no qualms about calling themselves evangelical. This is great! I applaud them in their work for Christ and in their claim of being evangelical. I simply see more problems in the unpacking of the term here in the U.S. and thus choose to avoid it. These two posts are merely a very simple explanation of my plight.

14 Comments:

Blogger Gage Browning said...

On the album "Rattle and Hum" U2 covered the Beatles tune - "Helter Skelter". Introducing the song, Bono said, "Charles Manson stole this song from the Beatles, and were stealing it back." In the spirit of Bono- I'm stealing back the term "Evangelical" from the Fundamentalists.

On another note- is it necessarily a bad thing to be thought of as a fundamentalist? I'm sure most Roman Catholics would call me a fundamentalist. In that, I would not be ashamed, or concerned.

11:35 AM, March 31, 2006  
Blogger T.B. Vick said...

Hey Gage,
You declare,
"On another note- is it necessarily a bad thing to be thought of as a fundamentalist? I'm sure most Roman Catholics would call me a fundamentalist. In that, I would not be ashamed, or concerned."

I understand why you could make such a comment given your current opinion about the Roman Catholic Church (I base this response on our previous conversations regarding Roman Catholicism).

I don't think, as I stated, that it is necessarily a "bad thing" to be called a fundamentalist or evangelical for that matter, granting certain explanations/qualifications. Being "called" fundamentalist or evangelical is, in all reality, irrelevant, what is attached to one's definition of the term is the issue at stake.

11:58 AM, March 31, 2006  
Blogger David Wilkerson said...

Just go by your denominational affiliation. You know how Catholics will say "I'm not Christian, I'm Catholic". It used to drive me crazy now I sort of like it.

Simply stating your denomination, I have found, is non-threatening and strikes up tons of conversation. People are eager to learn Christian taxonomy. Sometimes they work out old scars with you from their own upbringing. 'Evangelical' currently connotes right wing politics and zealous sectarianism.

Many evangelicals I suppose hate to claim their identity through the church fearing it may communicate some lack of sincere faith or sort of "church-going" hypocrisy. I think you gain credibility for owning up to being an Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran (not Baptist). Because (to borrow a line from a movie) "Who would claim to be that, who was not?" (Untouchables, reference to Eliot Ness)

Howdy Gage,
You seen my kin at your church, Stephanie and Chris Rohloff?

See ya,
Dave
Prov 16:6

12:24 PM, March 31, 2006  
Blogger Gage Browning said...

Todd,
You said, "I understand why you could make such a comment given your current opinion about the Roman Catholic Church (I base this response on our previous conversations regarding Roman Catholicism)."

I'm sure you are aware, that the Roman Catholic Church also has a current opinion of evangelicals. The Roman Church has officially commented on evangelicals who hold to justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

Canon 9 and 12 of Trent anathemtizes, all who hold to the historic Protestant view of Justification. Canon 9 says, "If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema." Their pronouncement of "anathemas" on those who hold to sola fide, is a "fundamental" point of contention. In that, I am not ashamed.

12:28 PM, March 31, 2006  
Blogger Gage Browning said...

Hey Dave,
I've been out of town working for three weeks. Haven't met them yet.

Gage

12:30 PM, March 31, 2006  
Blogger T.B. Vick said...

Gage said: "I'm sure you are aware, that the Roman Catholic Church also has a current opinion of evangelicals. The Roman Church has officially commented on evangelicals who hold to justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone."

To a certain extent the above comment is correct - however, Vatican II certainly dealt with many of these same issues and re-established a different frame of mind from the Roman Catholic view regarding evangelicals (or other Christians from various backgrounds).

David,

I'm not so keen on your idea of "denominational affiliation," it seems to invoke the same type of baggage as the term "evangelical." I would have to contemplate on that suggestion a little further.

A very good friend of mine says he calls himself a minimalist -meaning he holds to the essentials that make him Christian and all else is subject to research/investigation.

1:28 PM, March 31, 2006  
Blogger Gage Browning said...

Todd,

You said, "To a certain extent the above comment is correct - however, Vatican II certainly dealt with many of these same issues and re-established a different frame of mind from the Roman Catholic view regarding evangelicals (or other Christians from various backgrounds)."

I'm not sure I agree with your assessment of Vatican II. Vatican II actually re-affirms Trent.

Vatican II says about itself, "This sacred council accepts loyally the venerable faith of our ancestors in the living communion which exists between us and our brothers who are in the glory of heaven or who are yet being purified after their death; and it proposes again the decrees of the Second Council of Nicea, of the Council of Florence, and of the Council of Trent."
-“Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents,” Volume 1, New Revised Edition, fourth printing. Northport, NY: Costello Publishing Company, 1998, page 412.

According to the “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” the Catholic doctrine of infallibility applies not only to the Pope, but also to Church Councils (including the Council of Trent).
“The Catechism of the Catholic Church,” Paragraph 891. Also can be found at- http://www.christusrex.org/www2/kerygma/ccc/searchcat.html

The documents of Vatican II contain only indirect references to justification. Post-Vatican II Roman Catholic theologians may irenically and zealously attempt to harmonise Vatican II with Trent, or reject Trent altogether, but they cannot speak on behalf of the church as long as Roman Catholicism is committed to the notion of infallible tradition and unerring councils.

Since Vatican II did not specifically deal with the issue, modern Catholicism is compelled to take the irrevocable teaching of Trent - "If anyone shall say that the sinner is justified by faith alone - let him be anathema"- as its starting point in contemporary dialogue because Trent remains Rome's official position on the reformational view of justification, including both its dogmatic declarations and its anathemas.

In other words, those who hold to the historic protestant view of justification by faith alone remain "anathema". As a result, the official statements of the Council of Trent are considered to be infallible. This means that they cannot be changed. Therefore, the anathemas of the Council of Trent cannot be revoked.

The Catholic Church may find it expedient not to call people’s attention to these anathemas, but it cannot revoke them.

The present preference for a gentler approach to people who disagree with Catholic doctrine may explain the apparent discrepancy between the Council of Trent and the ecumenical movement.

The Catholic Church is engaging in ecumenical dialog with Protestants calling them “separated brethren,” and speaking as if it respects their beliefs. But at the same time, behind the scenes, it still officially declares that they are damned to hell because of their beliefs.

According to the 1913 edition of the “Catholic Encyclopedia,” when the Catholic Church anathematizes someone, the Pope ritually puts curses on them. There is a solemn written ritual for doing this. The “Catholic Encyclopedia” article describes the ritual in detail, including extensive quotations from it. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01455e.htm

3:57 PM, April 01, 2006  
Blogger T.B. Vick said...

Gage,

While I certainly do not agree with everything you posted in the above comment - I think it is a bit too simplistic, bordering on beig a cariacature - Trent is subject to interpretation (Trent was written within an historical context) - every Catholic I have ever read or spoken with agrees to this - however, what does all this have to do with the article it's attached too - calling myself "evangelical?"

Is this in relation to my remark in the article about the anti-catholic mentality?

5:21 PM, April 01, 2006  
Blogger Gage Browning said...

Todd,
you said, "Is this in relation to my remark in the article about the anti-catholic mentality?"

Yes...I think it's unfair to only point out an "anti-catholic" mentality when the Roman Catholic Church is anti protestant in its official position.

My point was that the Roman Catholic Church is officially anti-protestant. (IE.. Canon 9 of Trent)- The Roman Catholic Church has officially said, that I am "anathema" (if anyone says...- let him be anathema).
As far as the Historical Context is concerned- I agree there was a historical context. The context was that the Roman Catholic Church wanted to respond to the Reformation. Thus- the anathema's.

I'm not sure how else to interpret Canon 9 and 12 of Trent. It seems easy to say, "it's up for interpretation." How else do you interpret Canon 9? I'm also not sure how I'm using a caricature of the R.C. Church. You said, Vatican II "reframed" Trent. I simply pointed out that Vatican II itself says it re-affirms Trent. If the Roman Church is trying to bridge the gap between Protestants and Catholics then it has to ignore Trent (Which it can't do- in light of their position on infallible councils.)


Still Protesting-

9:38 AM, April 03, 2006  
Blogger T.B. Vick said...

Well Gage,

You are actually touching on some of the points that keeps me Protestant, so I will not defend the Catholic Church at this point since I tend to agree with some of what you are declaring in these comments.

However, if you are interested, here are some links to posts by a good friend of mine who was raised Protestant, graduated from SES after I did (that is where we met) and then he and his family converted to Catholicism. He has posted in these links the issues occurring between Trent and Vatican II - if you are interested here are the links:

Light of the Nations: From Heretics to Separated Brethren: Reconciling the Church's View of Protestants from Trent to Vatican II (Part I)

Light of the Nations: From Heretics to Separated Brethren (Part II)

These will give a Catholic view point on the issues we have been commenting about here. Food for thought for you.

2:57 PM, April 03, 2006  
Blogger Gage Browning said...

Thanks Todd. I've been thinking about your post and "what to call myself". I think I'm going to stick to the term "protestant". I think it most accurately defines me, and is easy to explain, to both Catholics and Protestants alike. It also fits my personality better...;)

2:35 PM, April 04, 2006  
Blogger Dave said...

I've felt the same discomfort with the handle, "evangelical." Not as if it's a bad word, but precisely because, as David W. pointed out, it has become associated with right-wing politics, sectarianism, and often anti-intellectualism.

Whatever you do though, please - PLEASE - do not call yourself "post"-anything! Not postmodern; not post-protestant. And for the love of God, not post-evangelical. Something can truly only be "post-something" once history has moved far enough along past the "something" and the thing that replaced it, in order to allow a long view of the transition from one to another.

In the meantime, I think to use the term (especially "post-evangelical") is arrogant and self-congratulatory. It's saying to the "something" to which you presume to be "post": "you're time is over, and ours has come; you'd better just get used to it." Unkind, but also presumptuous, considering the unexpected turns of history. Also, it's as if the person who identifies herself as "post"-something is saying to outsiders: "Please don't look down on me like you do with those stupid, hick right-winger Christians who embarrass me too."

Let's be honest with each other about where we disagree with one another, and why. Let's be forthright with outsiders, too, about how we differ with others who claim Christian identity. Let's even seek to employ more useful labels. But may we all avoid the temptation to throw our "evangelical" or "fundamentalist" brethren (some of them) under the bus with our un-Christian friends simply to win credibility in their eyes.

6:45 PM, April 04, 2006  
Blogger C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

T.B.,

I really wanted to talk about this but then I started writing and realized that I would have to tell a story several decades long ... and I just wasn't up to it. So I went back to posting photos.

Clay

12:09 AM, April 05, 2006  
Blogger T.B. Vick said...

Clay,
aaahhhh! I would have wanted to hear the story - can you condense it a bit and post it here?

8:27 AM, April 05, 2006  

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