DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Identity

Written by: on April 12, 2015

I’d like to introduce you to my friend. So begins the right of introduction. Depending upon the circumstances and situation a handshake may be exchanged; depending upon the culture the handshake may be replaced with a bow. Names become known and inferably the question is asked, “What do you do?” This is not only a question of vocation but also often a reflection of purpose. Purpose uncovered reveals identity. Donald Lewis and Richard Pierard offer the dilemma of evangelicalism’s identity, purpose and vocation. “Evangelicalism and its history have been effectively marginalized in the academy in spite of the fact that a case can be made that alongside popular Islam, evangelical Christianity is the most dynamic and expanding religious expression in the world today.”[1] It may or may not be the fault of the academy for this distance.

 

The challenge is found in association with a political agenda.[2] We have only to look at the announced and upcoming announcements for U.S. Presidential candidates to see the linkage. The editors ask us to consider the significance of evangelicalism lack of a global voice (“global religious entity”[3]) and its role in further marginalizing expression. Perhaps the Laussanne Movement limits its impact by not convening more often. Perhaps it is simply that we have grown too independent of one another. The common thread I found was not so much what evangelicalism provides or even what it has done, though both are extremely vital and necessary. The common thread was identity. “For many evangelicals around the world, questions of identity are uppermost.”[4] What evangelicals have been, what we have believed and followed has in some measure been exposed and hidden.

 

Sometimes I begin to understand things not in what I have read but through correlation. The Masters golf tournament is taking place this week. This is a tournament steeped in tradition and memory, the past, present and future are all honored here. It is the one sport where those that play in the present know they hold the tradition of golf’s past. There is a reverence that is placed upon certain tournaments every year, whether it is the Masters or the British Open. You do not play these tournaments without knowing the course, without knowing the history of the place and those that have preceded them. History and tradition merge through the present skill and innovation that has emerged.

 

Mark Noll reminds us that evangelical is one that is gospel based, focused on the good news of Jesus Christ, one that “at its very core is a faith with a global vision.”[5] The challenge has been and continues to be how we understand what that global vision entails, as well as from which perspective we envision it. I could not help but read this book and see the connections to how my faith was informed and experienced. Raised in the church in the 1950’s and 1960’s the framework may have reflected evangelical expression, but it was solidly anchored in fundamentalism. Do I regret this? The answer is surprisingly both “yes” and “no.” My faith and what I was taught about that faith is deeply connected to a solid evangelical foundation.[6]

 

Our reading reminds us that without evangelicalism many of the very good acts of justice and mercy would have lacked in our world. At our Cape Town Advance we were reminded during our presentations that global (and even glocal) missions still has much to learn from those we desire to serve. Missions have often been at its best when it has evolved and responded. William Carey is a prime example (and one might also add Amy Carmichael and even Mother Teresa).[7] When an indigenous principle has been embraced that empowers locally both spiritual and social good has resulted. Our “identity” within the evangelical framework suffers without this comprehension. What is taken for granted in mission?

 

Yet the perspective from which we understand evangelicalism makes such a difference. From my present vantage point I see that we are still reactionary. The location of the focus may have shifted somewhat, yet vestiges of the past remain. Evangelicalism may have emerged from the context of fundamentalism intent on “saving American civilization from the baneful influence of Darwinsim, which they charged with causing the current revolution in morals and threatening the foundations of democracy.”[8] From the emergence of neo-evangelicals and the postwar (WWII) expansion to our present day reactions to women in ministry and our inability to figure out how to talk with one another about homosexuality we seem to not know how to relate to the four areas of evangelicalism: Conversion, Biblicism, Activism, and Crucicentrism. What will mark our present “time?” What will move us forward?

 

It was not a surprise that Scott Sunquist identified unity as an issue at the heart of evangelicalism.[9] Sometimes we just see better, or at least I do, when we are looking from another perspective. Sunquist did that (and in a few sentences pulled together perhaps one of the essentials for our program) when he offered, “Evangelical division, unfortunately, are often related to economics…Evangelical witness will continue to thrive as the suffering servant makes his home in the suffering church of Asia.”[10]

 

It makes me wonder do we recover our identity and in many ways find our identity as a suffering servant? Will it come as we recognize our own suffering? Can that bring together the past and the present that might provide something solid to adapt to and build upon in the future?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

            [1] Donald M. Lewis and Richard V. Pierard, ed. Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History and Culture in Regional Perspective (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2014), 11.

            [2] Ibid., 12.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 13

[5] Mark A. Noll, “Defining Evangelicalism” in Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History and Culture in Regional Perspective, ed. by Donald M. Lewis and Richard V. Pierard (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2014), 19.

[6] Noll, 20. Noll references D. W. Bebbington, Evangelism in Modern Britian: A Hsitory from the 1730’s to the 1980’s (London: Routledge, 2002), 2-3. Four qualities of evangelicalism: Conversion, Biblicism, Activism, and Crucicentrism.

[7] Scott W. Sunquist in “Asia” Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History and Culture in Regional Perspective, ed. by Donald M. Lewis and Richard V. Pierard (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2014), 201. Sunquist

[8] John Wolfee and Richard V. Pierard in “Europe and North American” in Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History and Culture in Regional Perspective, ed. by Donald M. Lewis and Richard V. Pierard (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2014), 119.

[9] Sunquist, 230.

            [10] Ibid.

About the Author

mm

Carol McLaughlin

Carol walks this DMin journey from her locale in Gig Harbor, WA (USA). She is preparing for pastoral ministry in the Presbyterian Church (PC-USA), as well as teaches in the Online Learning Community programs at GFES. Part of the DMin Leadership & Global Perspectives 4 cohort (dminlgp4) her research and dissertation focus is exploring why baby boomers leave the church and what it means for their faith development. The views expressed here are her own.

3 responses to “Identity”

  1. mm Julie Dodge says:

    Hmmm, Carol, you got my wheels turning and my brain thinking. In my classes, we talk about cultural identity development. When one is majority culture (dominant), one assumes that one’s perspective is correct and best. It sets the tone for everyone else in a society. Non-dominant groups may internalize the definitions that the dominant society puts on them, and try to separate themselves, or perhaps struggle to simply understand their own identity at all. In our world, people often make assumptions about each other based on what they see – our dress, our skin color, etc. We rarely get to know what the other person is thinking about us – someone sees us and assumes without asking what might be true. Which brings me back to our evangelical identity. The world has assumed that our identity is different than what Noll defines it as. The world thinks we are about rules, politics, absolutism (which is kind of true – I think there’s one God and apart from Him there is no salvation – but I digress), judgment, and anything non-scientific. The world does not understand our true identity. And many evangelicals get caught up in the trap – either they dig in their feet and fight for issues and not God (as the world sees our identity) or we hang our head and distance ourselves from that identity. Because the world’s view of the evangelical is not always good.

    I think Satan loves this. Instead of a light on a hill, we are perceived as all kinds of things that even those who hold the most fundamentalist views probably don’t want to be seen as. Our identity is lost among misperception, and by being distracted by issues instead of the gospel. Our true identity, the suffering servant that you mention, is not one that many of us even as evangelicals want to take on. But it is exactly that humble servant, who speaks the truth not as a demand, but through living a faithful life, and speaking with wisdom and grace. And sadly, when we do live out in this way, it isn’t newsworthy. If Westboro church shows up with 6 people to protest a funeral, that’s news. But if a Christian doctor travels to war zones and epidemics, risking life and freedom, to serve and share the gospel, well, that’s not really newsworthy. It goes un-noticed.

    The more I think, the bigger this gets, so I will stop. But I will add that in walking humbly with our God, we should remember that our battle is not with flesh and blood, but spirits and principalities, who want nothing more than for evangelicalism to be shushed.

  2. Richard Volzke says:

    Carol,
    You stated that you were, “raised in the church in the 1950’s and 1960’s the framework may have reflected evangelical expression, but it was solidly anchored in fundamentalism. Do I regret this? The answer is surprisingly both “yes” and “no.”” I am puzzled by the duality of your answer. As one who was not raised fundamentalist but who has converted to it, I am curious as to what caused you to change your views. I agree with you that fundamentalism has made mistakes when it comes to evangelism, but I am wondering if this has to do more with American culture? In American, both Christian and non-Christians have the mind set that we know what is best for the world.
    Richard

  3. mm Clint Baldwin says:

    I do think that often the “baby has been thrown out with the bathwater” concerning Evangelicalism. However, Evangelicals (or certain swaths of them) have so often done this to themselves…they’ve made it really, really hard to be in conversation with them unless you happen to fairly closely align with their perspectives.
    Anyhow, I do think there are some potential new ways forward waiting to happen. I hope they do.

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