Friday, July 22, 2005

What's an Evangelical?

I hesitate to link Pyromaniac's blog again, but I really have to. He's blogspotted me twice already, and I'm afraid if he sees me quoting him again he'll think I'm a blogstalker. Here's the link. The reason I'm writing this post is because he is seriously burning down the evangelical movement. I thought I'd give you my two cents here as well.

Phil thinks the evangelical movement is dead. I believe that what he means by that is the term "evangelical" is no longer useful. It has gotten so broad that almost everyone can claim that they are within the "evangelical" fold. I think he's right about that.

The reason I agree with him, oddly enough, was because of a mission trip that I took to Brazil. I was there for three months, and I might add that I was the only American there. I stayed with a Brazilian family and worked with Brazilian Baptists. I spent months preparing by learning Portuguese via flashcards and regular meals with a Brazilian couple. (Don't get me started about the wonders of Brazilian food!) When I got there, I could at least conversate a bit and avoid being shortchanged at the gas station.

Of all the memorable things that happened on that trip, one is particularly applicable to this discussion. I did a good bit of street witnessing and such things in Brazil. (Even though I often told people that they had "sinners" in their hearts instead of "sin". Lord have mercy. I tried though.) In such encounters, people would often smile and nod and say, "Eu sou evangelico." Which means, "I'm an evangelical." At first, I was happy because I thought that this meant that they were fairly similar to me in faith. I was wrong.

As my stammering Portuguese would allow, I began to investigate these folks as to where they went to Church. Surprisingly, I'm naive you see, many of them went to no church at all. And many who did went to charismatic Churches that made some of our American pentecostals look tame. Creflo "Show me the Money" Dollar had nothing on these folks.

Confused, I asked the Baptist Brazilian friend I was staying with what an "evangelico" is. He shrugged and told me that alot of people mean that since they aren't Catholic, then they're evangelicals. Then, I asked him if we were evangelicals. He said, "No, we're fundamentalists." Suddenly, I had a headache and culture shock. I went straight to bed and had a nightmare that I was forced to wear a pilgrim hat and the belt around it was buckled so tight that I thought my head would explode.

Now I'm home in the good ole USA, and I still don't know what an evangelical is. Apparently, Clark Pinnock's one. But I certainly don't want to be what he is. I don't think I can be a fundamentalist though, I'm not mean enough. I am definitely Reformed, except that I am not an infant baptizer.

The irony of all of this is that I was recently irked that I couldn't get a straight answer from the "emergent" church on what the emergent church is. I don't even know what an evangelical is anymore. I hope that Phil's series on this helps me figure all this stuff out. I think I'm getting culture shock again.


Lynn S said...

Labels are such a problem these days! Even if we hate them we have to use them because how else can you talk about something if you don't have a name for it? The problem is, as soon as you figure out what to call something the label changes and everyone's criticizing you for mis-labeling something, particularly some groups of people. Sometimes it makes me want to start a Take Back the Language movement.

Scott Hill said...

I feel your pain.

Sue said...

Oh, these labels are so confusing. They mean different things in different countries, and even within the USA as far as I can tell. In the uK, where I come from, most who call themselves evangelical are also charismatic, but in a low-key sort of way. I'm an evangelical Anglican by background, with charismatic (but not Pentecostal) theology. I don't like reformed theology when it's rigid and Calvinist, but I have no problem with babies of Christians being baptised. My two sons were, and then one of them was baptised again as a teenager while the other was confirmed in the Anglican church. I believe in community, and in Scripture as God's record of his revelation, and in discussion - and all the emergent church/postmodern kind of thing. I'm certainly not a fundamentalist, yet I believe in the basic fundamentals which are supposed to define fundamentalism.

Huh. I just go with what new believers say in the Arab world: I'm a follower of Jesus. Forget the labels.