Just returned from a day led by Glen Marshall (nah-then) looking at the current state of evangelicalism and its future possibilities. Much of what Glen said used Bebbington’s quadrilateral as abase but it was interesting to consider the extent to which current trends are relativising the things Bebbington sees as core markers of evangelicalism. (For those unfamiliar with Bebbington see here).
Biblicalism: Does a fresh appreciation of other traditions and the elevating of experience alongside a decline in Bible reading suggest a diminishing devotion to Scripture?
Crucicentrism: What impact does the fresh appreciation of the Trinity over the last century, the recognition of the place of the Holy Spirit and recent interest in creation have?
Conversionism: Is the acknowledgment that for many conversion is a process rather than a crisis decision and that faith is a journey lessening the zeal for conversion?
Activitism: Does the growing chorus of voices decrying activism discourage the push to do more for the kingdom?
My own view is that while these trends will change evangelicalism they should not be seen negatively. Rather they will help develop a church which is shaped by the Scripture narrative, that sees the actions of the Son in the fuller glory of who God is, in which responding to the call to follow Christ is properly understood in the context of being incorporated into the people of God and in which doing good is the outworking of people’s transformation into a community of virtuous godliness.
But the future doesn’t look as if it will be that simple. Evangelicalism took shape in under the influence of modernity and is bound to be changed by post-modern shifts. And if evangelicalism is a child of modernity to the extent that it were simply a form that Protestantism took in modernity then its demise would be of little consequence. It seems to me that it is more likely that there will be a variety of evangelical futures.
- There will be a conservative grouping whose motto is, “you are only an evangelical if you define evangelicalism like us”. It’s not so much a stream of evangelicalism but a canal, with straight deliberate sides and a clear end point in mind.
- There will be a more open grouping who seek to engage with other Christian traditions and with the wider culture. A bit like a river which has banks but occasionally floods, meanders, changes course and establishes new routes over time.
- There will be a progressive grouping who seek to leave aside old labels and arguments, reclaiming the ancient faith for a post modern world. At it’s worst this can become as a trip to the seaside, to play in the sand and gaze out to sea now freed from the old constraints. More hopefully it can hold onto the insights and values of the evangelical tradition to help shape a generous orthodoxy which recognises the various ways water gets from its source springs to the sea and encourages the movement.