In Oxford, I heard the phrase “a fish doesn’t know it’s in water” referenced at least twice, and it came to mind again as I was reading our assignment for this week. Attributed to Chinese philosophy, this idea of a creature being unaware of their surroundings and somewhat oblivious to its idiosyncrasies strikes a chord for me in reference to this week’s discussion of Evangelicalism. Consequently, I desire more time to dig deeper into this topic. It ties directly into my NPO area of focus, and there is much to unpack. I find myself asking questions about movements that have shaped the forces that are at play in the faith community that I have been a part of my entire life. I want to be able to chart the influences of the churches I see in my travels, and the context in which they were formed. Finally, I want to know the interplay between the practice of faith and the political realities we are in today.
I believe that the better I understand these dynamics, the more effectively in my own faith I can separate what is contextualized to my culture as opposed to what is really getting me closer to a “friendship with God” or “zoe life” that Trevor Hudson investigates in his work: Seeking God: Finding Another Kind of Life with St. Ignatius and Dallas Willard. As a mother, it is compelling to me that with this better understanding, I can reflect that clarity to my family through the current culture wars we are facing. Furthermore, I can reflect it back to those In my sphere.
In essence, if I can successfully separate what is contextual about by faith from what is essential, then Christ will be at the focus, rather than my culture.
Early in his book, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain, David Bebbington goes to work in defining Evangelicalism:
“There are the four qualities that have been the special marks of Evangelical religion:
- Conversionism: the belief that lives need to be changed
- Activism: the expression of the gospel in effort
- Biblicism: a particular regard for the Bible
- may be called Crucicentrism: a stress on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross”
What is compelling to me about this list is that it indicates a set of shared values- which is what we heard Will Foster in our Oxford visit use to define culture. I want to be clear here that I am not challenging the theology of these values. I think they are good, solid, values. But perhaps they are not the only values? Following this thought, I then find myself asking if as a member of an evangelical community, have my values led me to a sort of tunnel vision that then is misapplied to defining a “friendship with God?” Are these qualities required for such a friendship to exist?
Bebbington sets the stage for a set of cultural values that will then flavor the way that we subconsciously approach God. Then, in reading Jason Clark’s dissertation we are moved to consider the inter-connectedness of our relating to God and how we as a church engage with the world. He highlights that this focus on a personal conversion creates a focus on the individual. This personal approach creates a doctrine: I am required to approach Christ directly (and no one gets to dictate to me how to do that), which makes me somewhat of an individual contributor. I don’t need you to connect to God… it’s all on me.
Obviously, I am overstating this a bit, and if I spoke to my Christian community, they would argue that it is not that simple. and I agree. But I am like the fish that is beginning to feel a bit of the water. Over the past few years, I have felt a niggling dissatisfaction with aspects of my church life. It has been disruptive, upsetting. As I type these words, I am struck with the fact that when I teach on culture, I use those same words- disruptive and upsetting- to talk about what happens when we mess with culture. Perhaps because of what I have personally experienced in this area, I appreciated reading Jason’s assertion in his dissertation: “I know that I do not want to end up within a post-ecclesial existence, a place that seemingly makes nothing of church and capitulates completely to anomic imaginations for life.” A fish needs her water, after all.
Finally, in my ramblings on this week’s study, I have come to how I might apply my learnings to my NPO. I believe that in scratching the surface of the Evangelical worldview, I am starting to craft a strategy for guiding my ability to help Christians who are seeking a “friendship with God” to have meaningful conversations with others in areas of disagreement. I am looking forward to uncovering more.
 Hudson, Trevor. Seeking God: Finding Another Kind of Life with St. Ignatius and Dallas Willard. 1st ed. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress Publishing Group, 2022. Special thanks to Pam Lau for connecting me to this work.
 Bebbington, David. Evangelicalism in Modern Britain : a History from the 1730s to the 1980s. London: Routledge, 1993, p3.
 Jason Paul Clark, “Evangelicalism and Capitalism: A Reparative Account and Diagnosis of Pathogeneses in the Relationship,” n.d., 65.
 Clark, 8.