The Death of ​Evangelicalism?

Lately, I’ve been reading about what some have considered the death of evangelicalism. Admittedly, I am a little shocked at the idea. Evangelicals, in my understanding, have been indignant about their evangelicalism so this concept comes as a surprise. I can't imagine the need to drop a title for such a significant and beneficial movement within Christianity, yet when reading the reason behind this idea I find myself starting to understand (though maybe not agreeing). One of the best articles I’ve read on the subject was a recent blog by Scot McKnight entitled Bury the word ‘Evangelical’(you can read that here).

As I read this article by McKnight, and others alike, I found myself asking a few fundamental questions that are not being addressed. The first of which is whether this is an issue of American Evangelicalism rather than an issue of Evangelicalism itself. Are we, in Canada suffering the same fate as our evangelical brothers and sisters in the US? Canadian politics looks very different than American politics do and in my narrow but growing understanding of evangelicalism, we Canadians are not (yet) following in the same footsteps.

McKnight and many others have tied the issue to their President Donald Trump. Not that it began with President Trump but that the support the POTUS has garnered from the American Evangelical community was the straw that broke the camels back. Many Evangelical leaders are rightly identifying this as an issue of the idolatry of a nation. This being the case, I can't help but think that the idea of dropping the word, or buryingit as McKnight calls us to, would not fix the problem. In fact, would this not only further the problem.

Should we, Canadian or any other evangelicals be willing to drop or change this for the sake of American Orthodox Evangelicals to be able to separate themselves from Trump supporters? Does American Evangelicalism hold that much sway? If so, should it? (If you are an American evangelical that is a question for you as well. Should you?) Does this not further the mentality of America first that many have pointed out as idolatry? How does changing a title actually change idolatry?

Ultimately, my issue with seeing this as the answer to the problem of political bias is that it isn’t just evangelicals that have been tainted. The damage that has been done has been done to the whole church not only those within the evangelical community. No matter how much that may frustrate some of us. The overwhelming message I hear from those outside the church is that they are not willing to separate evangelicals from other types of Christians.

To say “I am a Christian,” says a lot and usually much more than we intend. What I hear people assume about the church is that we suppress woman, we hate homosexuals and transsexuals, we are anti-gun restrictions and pro-Trump. Now, the last one might be less likely north of the border, but the thought is not far from their minds.  If we really want to make a change to the idolatry that got us here, we can't expect that dropping a title will suffice.

My concern is not to save the title evangelical. Truthfully, I think the church could do with a few less titles to separate and divide us if I'm honest. I think the problem that I have is the idea that dropping the title will be cause for clarity and peace between the church and the world. The only thing that can actually do that is to live out the way of Christ, working to care for those in need of salvation and to unite the body. Otherwise, we will find ourselves in the same problem years from now.

Those who voted for Trump, who picket at funerals, spew hatred in the name of Christ and call themselves Christians just like me have done damage to the body. Whether they are evangelicals or not is not a saving grace. When someone walks through the world with Christ as their badge of honour and lives in direct contradiction to his teaching there is a problem, and the only answer I can have to that problem is to proclaim the good news of the one who "called me out of darkness and into his wonderful light."

The body of Christ is messy. It always has been, and it will be until Christ comes again. If we are saying that we want to do away with titles and terms like evangelical because it will allow us to gain unity back as the church, then I am all in. If, though, we want to get rid of the title because we believe that it will in some way free us of a radical group within Christianity and allow us to be seen separate from them, then I would say good luck. I believe the only answer for a bad witness of Christ is a good one. So, evangelical or not, let's be in the world as lights shining the glory of Christ for the world to see. Let's stop putting our hope and salvation into the hands of any political figure and put it all into the capable, nail-scarred hands of Christ.

Canon Robert Steele

Rob Steele