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.


  1. Hmm... not sure why the text seems odd in this post! Sorry!!

  2. There's a lot of "postness" about. I think of myself as post-liberal, which for me, as for others who adopt this label, implies a turn towards orthodoxy and especially the traditions of the Church as transmitting a culture which forms one as a Christian.

    I wonder how post-evangelicalism now is like or unlike the post-evangelical liberalism of a previous generation? The leaders of early twentieth century liberalism in Scotland had often grown up in evangelical contexts (I'm thinking particularly of John and Donald Baillie).

    Liberals love this because it allows them to apply a model of "maturity" that implies that liberalism is more grown up than evangelicalism. This would also fit with your analogy of the ladder. The post-evangelical has climbed to a higher level leaving evangelicals trapped below. Surely there must be a way to acknowledge our differences and transitions that doesn't lead to this sort of hierarchy?

  3. This is very interesting Nick. It would seem to me that 'post-liberals' and 'post-evangelicals' could end up finding a lot of common ground! Not wishing to get into some kind of label debating contest! But where do 'progressives' fit in with all of this? It had seemed to me that the description 'progressive' as commonly applied was similar to liberal (but livelier perhaps?!?!) and yet I have heard 'progressive' used to describe some 'post-evangelicals', 'radical evangelicals', 'liberals', and way out radicals! At the same time several folks I know claim it is not a label describing a theological position (which I think is a touch disingenuous!) but is simply a description of anyone who wishes to move forward int heir faith! Any insights?

  4. I tend to be suspicious of anyone who call themselves "progressive". It implies improvement and implicitly claims that the Christianity of those adopting the label is better than that of others. This isn't necessarily a claim that someone shouldn't make but taking it as your "name" seems presumptuous to me.
    I would hope we all want to move forward in our faith but we can't know what direction "forward" is without a clear idea of destination and for most of those I've encountered who call themselves "progressive" (many of whom I'd count as friends) this will be towards rationality and a radically liberal political and egalitarian economic position that trumps faith in Christ as our redeemer.

  5. Thanks Nick. I find that helpful!