Friday, 16 March 2012

Pulling up the Ladder?

I can hardly believe that it is almost 20 years since some Christians started describing themselves as ‘post evangelical’ and 17 years since Dave Tomlinson’s book ‘The Post Evangelical’ was published to a mixture of acclaim and criticism.

All those years on, many people continue to self identify as ‘post evangelical’. I am not entirely happy with the label (I am not entirely happy with any labels!) but I do identify with the journey that has led many one time conservative and charismatic evangelicals to end up as ‘post-evangelicals’. Those of you who have read my previous blogs will not be at all surprised at this.

On his webpage, Dave Tomlinson writes, ‘The post-evangelical impulse does not necessarily imply a move away from Christian orthodoxy or evangelical faith – though it does for some. Rather it demonstrates that in order to remain true to a tradition, we must come to terms with its changing cultural context so that an authentic expression of that tradition can be found’. Indeed! (Although it will be clear enough from this quite that there is no coherent body of thought that constitutes ‘post-evangelicalism’!)

What for me is more interesting is that so many of those who found themselves caught up in the stream of post-evangelicalism in the 90s are now well involved in ‘mainstream’ church settings, often embracing a more ‘catholic’ expression of worship. I can most certainly identify with that trend.

But I am also aware of tendency over the past 5 to 10 years of those who were early adventurers into the stream of post-evangelicalism’ wondering if they can still be effectively missional, open to the enquirer and seeker, and passionate in worship.

It is perhaps to be expected that those who begin to question and challenge can initially become distanced from faith, distrustful of church and cynical about mission. I wonder if there are hints of that in Richard Holloway’s recent book (not that he comes across as cynical, but there is a bleakness lurking within the beauty of his writing).

I am intrigued that Tomlinson’s more recent book is entitled ‘Re-enchanting Christianity’, in which he ‘explores how Christianity, once deconstructed, can become credible again’.

I am not sure that my Christianity was ever thoroughly deconstructed, although my views have certainly shifted and developed over the years. But I do like the idea of ‘re-enchanting Christianity’. Our faith cannot be ‘good news’ to the world if we are so disillusioned with it and so unsure of it that we have lost all passion, vibrancy and conviction.

I remember hearing someone publicly worrying that those of us who had come into faith through a fairly standard, simple, straightforward (possibly even ‘naive’) evangelicalism were now unintentionally guilty of pulling up the ladder behind us and – having moved on – failed to provide a way into faith for other seekers and enquirers.

And perhaps – for all its inadequacies – that is where the likes of the Alpha Course does so well, and some of the more explorative and ‘sophisticated’ offerings, while they may excite and intrigue and stimulate those who are ‘questioning’ Christians, seem not to engage those yet to begin the journey of faith.