So, I've been writing a lot about being an evangelical, the core of evangelicalism, and in previous posts, what it really means to be a Christian living in the Kingdom of the resurrected King Jesus. I'm focusing on evangelicals, because that's what I consider myself. I'm have also occassionally wrtitten about and am going to write more at some point about the emerging and Emergent Church (which is widening quite a bit beyond evangelicalism these days). The question is, what do I think about Christianity in general? Are only evangelicals Christians? By no means.
There are a lot of Christians, and we all have some pretty serious agreements and differences. I prefer to talk about the differences within evangelicalism right now for a lot of reasons, but I want to affirm that we have brothers and sisters who love Jeus Christ, but who come from different streams and have a lot of different beliefs. Sure, I think they're often wrong on a lot of things, we disagree on biblical exegesis and hermeneutics, and we often have differing ideas about where authority is based. However, do I think many if not most of them are Christians and will be with us in eternity? Yup. Do I think that praying to Mary means someone will go hell? No way. Do I think that being saved by grace through faith is key? Yup. Still believe that. In fact, awhile back I was listening to a podcast interview of NT Wright when he shared interesting similar sentiments with which I have a lot of affinity. His comments here reminded me of my study of the changes that happened with Vatican II as well as a document called "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" and an evangelical assessment by Timothy George that have been important in my growth over the years and helpful in my relationships with Catholic friends to find common ground. Here's what NT Wright said (you can find the transcript of the interview here):
Trevin Wax: You mentioned earlier Hans Kung. How would you distinguish your views on justification from that of official Roman Catholic teaching?
N.T. Wright: Well, it’s a nice question as to what official Roman Catholic teaching really means these days. I remember once, after there’d been an official agreement on the doctrine of salvation between Anglicans and Roman Catholics, I went to do a public debate with Ted Yarnold who’s one of the great Catholic theologians at Oxford, sadly dead now. We went off to a big ecumenical gathering in Reading, between Oxford and London, and we chatted in the car about who would speak first. I said, “Well, you’re the senior here. You better go first and lead off.” So he did. He began by saying, “Let’s just remind ourselves what the doctrine of justification is. It is that there’s nothing whatever we can do to earn God’s favor. It must come entirely from God’s grace. And the only thing that we can possibly do is nothing of ourselves, merely believe in the astonishing goodness and grace of God.” And I stood up and said, “We might as well go home because obviously we’re on the same page here. If your chaps had been saying this 400 years ago, we mightn’t have got into all this problem.”
There's a lot too that. Back in 1999 I wrote an article called Broadening the Scope that I never sent to anyone to be published (a bad habit of mine, many articles never sent out) as I was beginning to really get to know some Catholics (yes, true, I didn't know many before that.) Since that time, I've made a lot of friends with Catholics - some of my most favorite were connected to the Word of God community from Ann Arbor, some of whom are evangelicals and to whom much of this would apply in some ways (although there is a tension still in the issue of authority of the church in relationship to the biblicism as a core belief). Anyway, I reread this article of mine recently and thought I'd post it for some perspective on where I've been. You can link to it here if you're interested.
So, back to the future of evangelicalism. I'm talking, then, about "evangelicals" not everyone who is a Christian. In a sense, I'm still trying to figure out who "we" are by looking to the past and not really looking to the future at all. However, having a starting point might actually help move us forward, so in that sense, it does have to do with the future of evangelicalism.
Anyway, as I've struggled to figure out whether I'm "in" or "out" (because some people say people like me are "out" of evangelicalism), I've learned something that's been quite helpful to me. Some evangelicals prefer what is referred to as a “bounded set” of beliefs by which to draw boundaries in order to determine “who’s in” and “who’s out.” This approach takes a set of beliefs or statements or propositions or doctrine, and draws a circle around them, creating a bounded set of accepted beliefs. If you're in the circle, you're orthodox, if you're out, you're unorthodox. Others talke about what is called a “centered set” which refers instead to the important core center and focuses on whether our theology and practice are moving towards (orthodox) or away (unorthodox) from the center. This style seeks not to see who’s in and who’s out, but to be committed to moving towards the center and core beliefs without worrying as much about the theological edges.
Guess which one I prefer? In my estimation, the second type promotes a ministry and style that seeks to be “winsome” rather than “boundaried” and in which someone can “belong” before they “become,” whereas a bounded set of beliefs tends to only allow those who are “in” to truly belong. A more generous evangelical practice seems to be our history as a faith community.
I recently spoke with another pastor friend of mine, and we did some drawing on a white board. His drawing was helpful to me, and since then I've expanded upon it. I'm going to try to put it in visual form and put it up soon.