DMINLGP

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

Two Books and a Tree

Written by: on February 19, 2015

In light of Still Alice, a movie of a young woman (50 years old, it’s all relative) recognizing that she’s moving into Alzheimers, I’m concerned that I’m losing my mind. I bought two of the same book, one paperback “Evangelicalism in Modern Britain” and one Kindle version. Why? I don’t know. Thus, I begin my reading with a fear of growing older faster than I want, while also frustratingly angry, in light of our consumerism conversation last week, about spending money on both items. But alas, God smiles. My world is presently surrounded by evangelicalism physically (a book), technologically (a Kindle version), and personally (childhood and adult practice). In reading Evangelicalism in Modern Britain, I have some answers as to why I am the way I am; apparently I need more than one reminder. I’m born in and from the evangelical world that began in Britain. “We evangelicals are Bible people” – John Stott.[1] My family, the Evangelicals, is to be celebrated as a gift. It’s my history. Growing old and history aren’t that bad, it just means there will be frustration from time to time.

Bebbington argues that evangelicalism “has been a vital force in modern Britain,”[2] resulting not only in its impact on the world politically and socially, but also for the whole of Christianity, beginning in the 1730s. Evangelicals are “self-consciously distinctive and unitary.”[3] Delineating the unifying factors, conversionism, activism, biblicism, crucicentrism, he also articulates the adaptability of evangelicals to stay sensitive to the “flux of events”[4] Truly a remarkable historian (76 pages of notes), he lays out his thesis that a new and purposeful Christian movement happened with evangelicals, providing an identity that begins first with Wesleyan Methodists and diffusing across various denominations.

New? I wonder if evangelicalism can adequately articulate her identity as something fresh and previously non-defined. Or was it simply a new morphed understanding against the backdrop of the Reformation? Similar to a teenager who needs to self-differentiate in order to develop into a mature adult, there is a period of rebelling against that which was, in order to frame that which will be. Certainly Bebbington’s four factors consolidate the essence of evangelicalism, allowing for the diversity in unity, but it would seem the character of evangelicalism begins earlier than the 1730s. Arguments by some say that evangelicalism is actually the truest Christianity of the New Testament, recovered by the Reformation, reinforced by the Puritans, and awakened in 1730 (J.I. Packer and John Stott)[5] Interesting to consider.

Beyond that argument, rather than focusing and deciding on where and when evangelicalism started, I find the beauty in evangelicalism through the simplicity of its qualifying features. They allow for flexibility in responding to society. The interplay of the four factors allows for freedom and conviction to hold onto truths that unite: Christ, scripture, and demonstrating faith in a new life. How that is lived out varies as long as the “Christian ideal…imitate[s] the lives of Christlike people”[6] While allowing for the ongoing transformation of the Spirit, evangelicals can live in a place of imagination:
…those [most likely referencing evangelicals] who practice theology must become less preoccupied
with the world that produced Scripture and learn how to live in the world Scripture produces. This
will be a matter of imagination, and perhaps of leaping.”[7]
My entire paper last semester was on the beauty of the unity of the church that can allow for diversity, using an analogy of a tree. Through the imaginings of what is and could be as a church, evangelicals reflect the growth from the trunk and its roots of what’s central to doctrine while allowing for a variety of expressions.

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Evangelicals can risk what may be non-essentials, by holding onto the essentials. The pliability allows evangelicals to consider what God has next as they continue to adapt to an ever-changing world, while staying true to what Dr. Brian Harris calls “Passionate Purity.”[8] At the core of evangelicalism comes a desire to live true in all aspects of faith whether in prayer, preaching, or vocation.

Realistically, the argument for the definitions of the essentials continues to differentiate rather than draw evangelicals together. Rightly so, theology and doctrine need to continue in conversation. However, as Bebbington demonstrates in his four factors, perhaps the identity of being an evangelical could be focused less upon what we are not, to what we are and could be into the future. As Harris concludes, “Perhaps we could theologise in such a way that our diverse constituencies capture a vision of what it might mean to be missional communities of invitation, welcome, and embrace.”[9]

And by the way, if you know of someone who needs the book, let me know. I have an extra. J

[1] David W Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: a History from the 1730s to the 1980s (London: Routledge, 1989), 4.

[2] Ibid, 276.

[3] Ibid, ix.

[4] Ibid, 271.

[5] Brian Harris, “Beyond Bebbington: The Quest for Evangelical Identity in a Postmodern Era” (paper presented at Staff meeting for Department of Christian Thought and History, Australian College of Theology, Australia, 2007), accessed February 12, 2015, http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/churchman/122-03_201.pdf, 202.

[6] Bebbington, 37.

[7] Luke Timothy Johnson, “Imaging the World Scripture Imagines,” in Theology and Scriptural Imagination, ed. L. Gregory Johns and James J. Buckley (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), 3.

[8] Harris, 213.

[9] Ibid, 213.

About the Author

mm

Mary Pandiani

Spiritual Director, educator/facilitator, follower of Jesus, a cultivator of sacred space for those who want to encounter God

9 responses to “Two Books and a Tree”

  1. mm Nick Martineau says:

    Thanks Mary! I actually checked the ebook version out from the GF library and after reading thought that this was a book I might want to own one day. Looks like the Spirit really wanted you to learn this material. (-:

    You made a few points that really stuck with me. I think you articulated well the arrogance we can sometimes have when wrestling with theology when you asked, “I wonder if evangelicalism can adequately articulate her identity as something fresh and previously non-defined.” Maybe, just maybe, we can redefine some of the minor things of our faith but the majors (the essentials) have well been established and tested through time. At my church we often say we want to major on the majors and minor on the minors. I wish it was easier for all evangelicals to unite around the core qualities of the Christian faith instead of focusing our time and energy arguing about the non-essentials. Thanks Mary!

    • mm Mary Pandiani says:

      What’s your address, Nick? I’d love to send you the book. I have way too many books on my shelves 🙂 I’m being sincere about sending it your way. I’ve gotten really good at sending books now that I’ve had to do it a few times for the GH library, so it will be real easy to do so.
      When you speak of uniting around the core qualities of our faith, that’s why I love our cohort’s interaction. I know we don’t all agree on everything, but we’re willing to move towards one another in trying to understand. To me that’s the definition of love as Jesus calls us into.

      • mm Jon Spellman says:

        What happens if we all throw everything that we believe about God, man, the world, eternity, etc. onto a great big ol’ table then, begin to remove the things that have disagreement on? What we find is that there are waaaaaaay more things left on the table than were removed! I’m finding this to be the case over and over in my interactions here in the city of ATL.

        Remarkable…
        J

  2. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Mary, First, in the spirit of sharing brain-farts. In a bunch of reading for my dissertation work I had come across Ross Douthat and the book Bad Religion. I purchased it as a ebook last week. Later in the week discovered it was on our class reading list, and just 10 minutes ago before reading your post I found the book on my shelf from when I ordered it with all the other books for the class:)! An I am only 42, so I don’t think it is an age thing:)
    I liked your line, “Or was it simply a new morphed understanding against the backdrop of the Reformation?” I picked up on a similar inclination questioning the morphing of Evangelicalism. Was Evangelicalism strong and steady with its message was tested through culture shift and change or was it morphing in response to what was taking place around it. I love the tree illustration because hopefully the trunk stays strong, while the branches are blown around. Great post!

    • mm Mary Pandiani says:

      Sure appreciate you, Phil, feeling my pain. Makes it a bit more bearable.
      I hope the tree stands strong as well. Beyond the diversity-in-unity, the point I make in my paper is that the roots have to be deep and widespread. To me that’s the spiritual formation that’s imperative, undergirding whether the tree will remain strong. Then the life of the Spirit, water coursing through the tree, sustains the trunk and branches, even when the wind blows.

    • mm Jon Spellman says:

      Phil. how are you finding time to do a bunch of reading for research? sheeesh!
      J

  3. Travis Biglow says:

    Dont worry about getting older Mary, its nothing we can do about it. Lol. Our indentification is always changing as we learn and we continue in this path as an Evangelical. I know my world has morphed so many times and even as I write i feel that God is opening up new things daily to me. How we are going to impact the world is going to be effective only as we allow God to lead us. Like a tree, we are planted by the rivers of water and what we will be in the future as an Evangelical will only come from how we are growing as Chrisitans today! Blessings

  4. mm Dave Young says:

    As I posted this past week I turned my eyes to my bookshelf where I’m keeping all the books for this term. Looking for “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism”, I look, and I look. I slowly start chastising myself for being so sloppy as to forget to get one of the books. I then checked my amazon account to see if my order hasn’t arrived, looking back to all the books obtained I realized ‘I never ordered it’. Now what? So I look for a copy and with my 2nd day prime deliver order a copy… it should be at the house today! Guess what – I did order it, it was the only one I got digital and I got if via iBooks (which I never use). My Mary have I lost my mind? Where can I go find it? Maybe we can sell our extra books back? Anyway, you’re not the only one. Thanks by the way for a hopeful view of Evangelicalism, too often we don’t see a family tree. I’d rather like your hopeful view.

    • Jon Spellman says:

      Dave, I am waiting for this term’s “skip” to come along. You know, it’s the one that I forgot and instead of scrambling to get it delivered, I will just pretend to have read it and exercise the skill learned from the French literary professor last semester… Luckily, that hasn’t happened YET!

      J

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