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

To Love Thy Neighbor: Understanding Global Evangelicalism

Written by: on January 24, 2019

For years, North American Evangelicalism has been tied to conservatism, separatism, and capitalism; however, this is simply one variant in the midst of countless definitions. However, due to America’s temptation towards nationalism, this definition has colored all forms of evangelical interaction and tied one’s faith to one’s favorite news network.

A few years ago, I attended a Christian comedy show at a nearby church, the comedian started the night off by surveying the audience. His questions were quick, and our reactions were immediate. He asked us if we watched NPR or Fox News. My hand shot up at the sound of NPR; however, the rest of the crowd did not resound with my choice. I was considered deviant because I didn’t fit into the narrative of North American Evangelicalism; therefore, my whole self was deemed heretical.

Donald M. Lewis, professor of church history at Regent College and Richard V. Pierard, professor of history at Indiana State University[1] suggest, “Such marginalization of evangelicalism in the academy and the media is therefore understandable and yet regrettable because it means that this powerful international movement is not understood by outsiders or – for that matter – insiders.”[2] Therefore, one’s definition of evangelicalism is tied to one’s perception, which is individualized and relativistic.

According to Mark A. Noll, Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at Notre Dame, [3] evangelicalism was not tied to a specific group or denomination, but a group of tenets that were valued by many. They include the need for conversion, the need for Scriptural understanding, the need for activism and charity and the redemptive belief in the cross of Christ.[4] These doctrines were upheld by Fundamentalists, Pentecostals, and Charismatics who paved the way for the early revivals and mission organizations.

Wilbert R, Shenk, senior professor of mission history and contemporary history at Fuller Theological Seminary[5], asserts, evangelicalism was based on the foundation of unity, innovation, and brotherhood. However, as time passed and Premillennial thought resounded from a majority of pulpits, the gospel became driven by Christ’s return, instead of the tangible needs of one’s neighbor.

Dwight L. Moody was the first to ascribe to the mindset of Premillennialism. According to Wilbert:

This had a two-fold effect on evangelical theology. On the one hand, it heightened the sense of urgency about the evangelistic task, and the premillennialist emphasis on the imminence of Christ’s return became the hallmark of revival preaching. On the other, it undercut concern for social issues. This dichotomy polarized the evangelical impulse between the salvation of the souls and the message of compassion and social witness.[6]

The introduction of Premillennialism created a barrier between liberal theologians and their conservative counterparts. It made preachers so heavenly minded that they were no longer concerned with being earthy good. “This movement forged an ideology that made preaching and evangelism the priority in missions, declined to have fellowship with those who differed with them doctrinally, and followed a conservative social ethic.”[7] In essence, evangelicalism became a social club that separated the haves and the have nots. However, not all forms of evangelicalism followed suit.

Globalization redefined the mission of evangelicalism and encouraged Christians to understand the gospel through the lens of diversity. Professor Donald M. Lewis asserts:

Globalization is more than just the idea that the world is becoming a smaller place, a worldwide village, because of the technological revolution. Key to the globalization debate is the idea that Western economic, political and cultural models are increasingly influencing this ‘global village’.[8]

Globalization influences cultural expectations in regard to religion, familial standards, and ethical structures. It is the central core that colors one’s understanding of themselves and others. This is why “faith is undergoing both a major expansion while at the same time virtually reinventing itself in new form.”[9] It is reacting to the reality of the time and culture.

According to the authors of Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History and Culture in Regional Perspective, evangelicalism is defined by one’s context and culture. However, due to the influx of interconnectedness within North America and abroad, we are faced with this reality in our churches and ministries. We are faced with the realization that our understanding has been steeped in our own perceptions and nationalistic ideals. This is why some churches are struggling to adapt to the flood of migration. Lewis reveals:

People who feel threatened that impersonal forces (as implied by the term globalization) are robbing them of important aspects of their identity may react negatively and reverse the process. Local reactions could take the forms of strident nationalism, exclusive ethnic identities, religious extremism, sexism, racism or other specific forms of social exclusion.[10]

Evangelicalism in a Postmodern context will challenge us to react. We will either run towards the safely of division or struggle for the sake of unification. Jesus left us with one of the most haunting questions in scripture. He asked:

Of all the commandments, which is the most important? “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.[11]

We cannot love our neighbor unless we understand them. We cannot love God unless we seek to love others. Globalization has created a diversified landscape of evangelicalism; however, each heartbeat is tied to the same stem of grace. Each presentation and perspective is tied to the cross of Christ. The nations are here – they are our neighbors, our congregants and our purpose. They are our mission and unified evangelicalism in the midst of diversity is our goal.

 

 

 

[1]Donald M. Lewis and Richard V. Pierard, eds., Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History and Culture in Regional Perspective (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2014), 305.

[2]Ibid., 13.

[3]Ibid., 305.

[4]Ibid., 20.

[5]Ibid., 305.

[6]Ibid., 51.

[7]Ibid., 54.

[8]Ibid., 62.

[9]Ibid., 74.

[10]Ibid., 67.

[11]Mark 12:28-31 (NIV).

About the Author

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Colleen Batchelder

I speak at conferences, churches, companies and colleges on intergenerational communication, marketing, branding your vision and living authentically in a ‘filtered’ world. My talks are customized to venue needs and audience interests. My passion is to speak with organizations and bridge the intergenerational gap. I consult with companies, individuals, churches and nonprofit organizations and help them create teams that function from a place of communication that bridges the generational gap. I’m also the Founder and President of LOUD Summit – a young adult organization that presents workshops, seminars and summits that encourage, empower and equip millennials to live out their destiny and walk in their purpose. When I’m not studying for my DMin in Leadership and Global Perspectives at Portland Seminary, you can find me enjoying a nice Chai Latte, exploring NYC or traveling to a new and exotic destination.

12 responses to “To Love Thy Neighbor: Understanding Global Evangelicalism”

  1. mm M Webb says:

    Colleen,
    I enjoyed reading your analysis of Lewis and Pierard’s editorial work on Global Evangelicalism. Regarding Moody’s 2-fold effect, which way do you lean? I would suggest that they are both important and balance the tension between the two depending on the context and needs and people and or situation before us.
    Thanks for referencing the Great Commandment as your evangelical foundation. After that, what is there to argue about that really matters in the eternal scheme of things?
    Good post!
    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

    • Thanks for the great question, Mike!

      I lean more towards Mid-Trib, which has a definite influence on my presentation of the gospel and my interaction with people of different faiths. My doctrines rest on the tenets of Methodism, Liberation Theology, Charismatic leanings with a Baptist foundation. Suffice it to say, I’m a theological mutt.

      One of the problems that I see from Moody’s turn toward Premillennialism is the dichotomy that occurred between fundamentalists and social reformers. The gospel was broken into soul vs. body, instead of soul and body. I take the stance of both/and. If we limit the gospel to practicality, then the soul is dismissed. If we limit the gospel to eternality, then the needs of humanity are dismissed.

  2. Colleen,

    I thought this was a really good review of the development of evangelicalism. Good, succinct summary! Most pertinent was your observation that as the world has come to us, we must then grapple with how culturally-bound our own faith is. I know that as we lived abroad in our twenties, that we had to struggle through how we understood our own Western-rooted faith, and I am forever grateful for that experience. But now, none of us have the luxury of being isolated from other cultural perspectives, and we all must grapple with what is real faith. Distilled down to loving God and loving others is a great place to end.

    • (Additional Reply)

      Thanks so much, Mark!

      We can no longer hide away in our localized hubs of comfort because they have become globalized by language, perspective, and presentation. We must learn this new language if we want to maintain our relevance. You’re right when you write, …” none of us have the luxury of being isolated from other cultural perspectives, and we all must grapple with what is real faith.” When we learn to love God through loving others, not simply our perception of others, then we become leaders who are able to bridge the gap towards salvation in the midst of cultural differences.

  3. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Colleen,

    Pre-millenialism has certainly impacted the motivation for evangelism and continues to influence the more conservative strains of the faith. This is why many in the Evangelical community were very slow to ecological issues, recycling, climate change etc. The thinking being that “Jesus is returning soon so what’s the point?” I believe that this may have contributed to the lower participation rates of emerging generations as these issues are crucial talking points for them. Do you think that it is possible for the Evangelical church to demonstrate renewed interest in these areas and be invited back to the discussion with emerging generations or do you think the opportunity has gone?

    • (Additional Reply)

      Thanks so much, Dan!

      Exactly! It’s easier to treat present issues with a liberality when your greatest purpose and journey is toward eternity. Yes. As the song goes, “Heaven is a beautiful place, filled with mercy and grace…” However, when our perspective is so colored by our desire to meet Jesus, we dismiss being the hands and feet of Jesus in our own spheres of influence. Being a “good and faithful servant” requires something from us. It requires more than belief or saving souls. It requires sacrifice.

      I believe that it’s possible for the Evangelical church to demonstrate a renewed interest in the here-and-now ONLY when they establish boards that bleed out the diversity of global evangelicalism. If we stick within the constraints of our race, then we continue to perpetuate an assumed reaction to this world.

  4. Chris Pritchett says:

    Thank you for this post, Colleen. You help the reader to zoom out and look at evangelicalism in a larger light than does our national media. I wonder what it means to you to be evangelical. 🙂

    • (Additional Reply)

      Thanks so much, Chris!

      In my perspective, being an evangelical means being a part of the global church, the local church and the body of Christ. There must be three parts in order to understand the needs and mission of my brothers and sisters. Being an evangelical means putting myself in situations where I am a racial/cultural minority and stepping into positions of partnership with those outside the church and inside the sanctuary. Evangelicalism, in my perspective, is the belief in the cross of Christ and the incarnational mission of the cross of Christ. It goes beyond the gospel and into the messiness of my communities. It is being compelled by the love of Christ that I minister practically and personally to the people of Christ, which is ALL.

  5. Shawn Hart says:

    Colleen, how do you make sure that you reach out to the masses without allowing the masses to corrupt you? There is a difference between “seeking the lost” and being “unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” Does the church take precautions when reaching out and evangelizing?

    • (Additional Reply)

      Thanks so much, Shawn!

      I remember that I am still a sheep and Christ is the shepherd. I remember that just because I’m saved, I don’t hold a higher position than the other flock, but a higher mission, which is to reveal the purpose and presence of Jesus Christ. Yes. As a pastor and leader, I’m called to be “doubly honored/accountable” for my teaching. However, when I look at the life of Christ, I see a Savoir who ate with sinners, mingled with the untouchables and spoke with the town harlots. He risked his reputation so that they could see the goodness and grace of salvation. My greatest prayer is that I would step into the messiness of humanity and simply point out the shepherd. We all still smell and look like sheep, but Christian leaders simply know and trust the guidance of the Great Shepherd.

  6. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    Hey Colleen I like the tie into the pre-mil conversation and the relatively new place that has in history. Will you be incorporating a lot of this into your dissertation?

    • (Additional Reply)

      Thanks so much, Kyle!

      Yes! I’m amazed at the correlation between theological beliefs and generational differences. I definitely plan and using Taylor’s idea of enchantment and disenchantment and Moody’s introduction of Premillennialism within evangelicalism. I think it’s interesting how the belief of Kingdom Now vs. Kingdom Come theology can influence us as leaders and our presentation of the gospel. If you know of any books that delve further into this, please let me know!

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