In Luke’s Gospel, a story is told that marks a turning point in the account of Jesus’ ministry. Up to this point, Jesus has dealt exclusively with the Jews. In chapter 7, when Jesus returns to Capernaum, he begins to include the Gentiles. You may recall the story of a Roman officer (also called a centurion), who was deeply troubled that his highly valued slave was sick and close to death. When the officer heard about Jesus, he sent respected Jewish elders pleading with Jesus to heal his slave, even stating that this particular officer deserved his help because he loves Jewish people. As Jesus heads toward the centurion’s house, the officer’s friends meet him on the road now begging him to not come; the officer says he’s not worthy of such an honor. And that’s when the centurion says something that amazes Jesus: “Just say the word from where you are and my servant will be healed. I know this because I am under the authority of my superior officers and I have authority over my soldiers.”  The Roman officer understood that if he can do things because of his authority, how much more could Jesus! Turning to the crowd in utter amazement, Jesus says, “ . . .I haven’t seen faith like this in all of Israel!”
This is not a story about slavery, military leadership or even healing. Rather, it’s a story about the power of the word of Jesus and the authority of the word of Jesus. It’s a story about faith in Jesus Christ as the very word of God. Reverend Fleming Rutledge notes, “Taking direction from the word of God is at the very heart and soul of the Christian faith . . “
Has the Christian faith deterred from its heart and soul?
In David Bebbington’s, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s, I found careful and extensive research of the evangelical’s history detailing how the Church has been molded by her environment. Establishing a close connection between context and the expression of evangelical faith, Bebbington argues that the origins of the movement are linked to the pivotal events of 1730s Spiritual Awakenings movements.
Bebbignton distinguishes what is now widely held as the marks of Evangelicalism:
Conversionism-the belief that lives need to be changed;
Activism-the expression of the Gospel as effort;
Biblicism– a particular regard for the Bible; and
Crucicentrism-a stress on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
No matter where you and I might land on what influenced evangelicalism’s identity, might we now ask what is at the heart and soul of Evangelicalism beyond Bebbington? What Evangelical identity now reflects our post Modern, Post Christian Era? I don’t have words for it yet but it seems like an entire generation of Christians broke up an “overly institutionalized Christianity” and like the Gentile Centurion, understand that taking direction from the word of God is at the heart and soul of Christian faith; everything else can be thrown away.
In 2008, Phyllis Tickle published her small but fascinating book, The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why. In it, she cites Anglican Priest Reverend Mark Dyer as observing how the only way to understand what is happening in 21st century North America Christianity is to first understand that about every 500 years, the Church feels driven to hold an enormous rummage sale. Bishop Dyer observes that about every 500 years, powerful, institutionalized structures of Christianity form an impenetrable defense that must be shattered. When the dramatic upheaval happens, renewal and new growth take place. I learned from this analogy that three consistent results happen after an overly institutionalized Christianity gets broken up:
- A more vital form of Christianity emerges
- A more pure expression of Christianity comes forth
- Christianity dramatically spreads both geographically and demographically
Tickle’s (and Dyer’s) point is clarifying in that any discussion of where the Church is going must start with a discussion of history. “As only history can expose the patterns and the confluences of the past in such a way as to help us identify the patterns and flow of our times and occupy them more faithfully.” In the final two chapters of The Great Emergence, Tickle eloquently lays out a suggested way forward for the Church. She notes that the four focuses (Liturgists, Renewalists, Social Justices, and Conservatives) have their role and that she hopes they will come together for a more holistic approach to the faith in the Great Emergence.
Here, too, I wonder about Christianity’s identity. Gathered around an expansive view of Bebbington’s quadrilaterals and Tickle’s four focuses, might we now move up higher and wider where the title, “Evangelical” is no longer our identity?
Rather, our identity could be solely formed on taking direction from the word of God, Jesus.
 Luke 7:7. NLT.
 Contributor, “Actors and Preachers.”
 Harris Brian, “Beyond Bebbington: The Quest for Evangelical Identity in a Postmodern Era.” Harris notes that this challenges the notion of Gospel successionism popularized by leading evangelicals such as Packer and Stott, who argue that evangelicalism is essentially New Testament Christianity.
 Tickle, “The Great Emergence.”