Yesterday I got coffee with a friend and our conversation eventually turned to the topic of modern American evangelical identity. My friend voiced frustrations with the arbitrary nature of evangelicalism’s identity with church history. For the most part, evangelicals do not stand in the tradition of which they are a member, so much as they label themselves with one tradition but borrow randomly from any other tradition they personally find useful.

While such an approach to church history is certainly American (and quite post-modern, in the most technical sense of the overused phrase) I wonder if it’s healthy. My friend’s contention is that evangelicalism can work when it’s an ethos within a larger tradition. So, for example, you can have a working evangelicalism grounded in the Anglican tradition (C.S. Lewis, the Clapham evangelicals of the late 18th century, maybe Tom Wright?) or in the Reformed tradition (Schaeffer, Guiness, Keller) but you cannot have a a stable, lasting Christian tradition that is primarily evangelical because of evangelicalism’s approach to church history.

I’m not sure if I agree with his argument or not, but I’m curious to hear what the readers of Mere O think. If there’s a readership anywhere likely to think (and capable of proving) that evangelicalism can function on its own as a distinct and sustainable Christian tradition, I’m guessing this is it. So what say you?

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Posted by Jake Meador

Jake Meador is the editor-in-chief of Mere Orthodoxy and author of "In Search of the Common Good: Christian Fidelity in a Fractured World." He is a 2010 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he studied English and History. He lives in Lincoln, NE with his wife Joie, their daughter Davy Joy, and sons Wendell, Austin, and Ambrose. Jake's writing has appeared in Commonweal, Christianity Today, Fare Forward, the University Bookman, Books & Culture, First Things, National Review, Front Porch Republic, and The Run of Play.

3 Comments

  1. Depends on what we mean by “evangelicalism,” no? You might want to watch for Fred Sanders’ book (on the Trinity) forthcoming from Crossway. It’s on the Trinity, but in terms of a performance of evangelicalism, it’s the best I’ve seen.

    Matt

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  2. +Pax.

    In all essentials, “evangelicalism” centers itself around a “scriptural” approach and worship to form a religious identity. But as we have witnessed in the last two hundred fifty years or so, that as “evangelicalism” actually begins studying scripture, it begins to become critical of it and sidelines it, morphing it into some liberal, humanist monster, defacing religion and worship into a festival of relativism and spiritual anarchy, which by all effects only reinforces an existentialist view of religion. In many ways, then “evangelicalism” is really nothing more than a humanist rebellion ADAPTING religion to suit its purposes (or abolishing its tenets altogether).

    It at its best moments PARA-CHURCH, but NEVER of the Church. Where the downfall of this faith system is evident (and where the triumph of secularism in our day becomes so pronounced) is that it continually struggles with and abandons absolutes. In this formlessness and continual deconstruction of a Christian creed, it offers peoples only a reactive voice, quite banal, even defeatist, and struggling to be relevent (or at best reactionary). While in the end, it proves itself incapable of providing the Truth (or even a path to it) and reducing worship to a poseur’s art of spiritual Twister. Utterly inadequate and even profane in the sense of a “profanation/profanity”.

    Souls yearning for a life in the Holy Spirit either find alienation (the vast majority who then join the secular age) or a remnant Christianity with some worship and some meaning (The RCs, certain liturgical Protestants, even the more Renovationist or schismatic “Authentic” “Orthodox”). A very small minority sees the quest through and finds the Catholic Church in the fulness of her Tradition (WHICH IS THE ORTHODOX CHURCH ALONE). That very small minority more often than not then has to contend with the austere and difficult adaptation of their modern formations and societal maturation to the ageless and True Church while reconciling perceived (and often VERY REAL) hypocrisies, shortcomings, inconsistencies and betrayals of theChurch Militant very much human with sinful and fatally fallible people calling the shots.

    Is “Evangelicalism in a fundie or liberal guise” sustainable? Only as a generationally attritional organism constantly losing ground (and souls) to secular humanism. It will die out (and in so doing prepare the seeds for more AUTHENTIC Christian identity).

    Is “Orthodoxy” in a “Renovationist” or even “Traditionalist” guise sustainable by the same standards? This is what Fr. Schmemann struggled with and what he was trying to overcome. Where we lose sight is that Orthodoxy is blessed to be the SOLE CHURCH OF PENTECOST and in that vocation abides and lives with God, the Holy Spirit, Who is constantly the companion of each and every believer. God walks with us right now and talks to us. Let us just cleanse our hearts to hear His voice and be deified in His uncreated love, labours, guidance.

    It is here where the Orthodox ontology thrives and saves, in projecting and supporting a real encounter with God and an experience of divinity in worship, study, and conversion of all of ones life to the Church to make that life then a personal church for the Consecration of creation. Here is where synergetic existence with the Holy Spirit in the Communion of the Saints sanctifies the world in the transfigured, eschatological reality of palpable holiness and authentic, divine love. Holiness and unity in Christ, a life transfigured and mystically becoming one with His perfection of human nature and a holistic union of it with God the Father–that is authentic, “Traditional” Orthodoxy.

    Now, one does not have to become an Athonite to get there (Although if one is a great exponent of piety and Tradition, one is to be applauded and emulated). Our deeds don’t save us, they just get our houses in order so the Holy Spirit can visit and stay and save us with His grace. What is important is proper intent and PROGRESSIVE adaptation of our lives to the Orthodox ontology of, ardent and zealous faith, love for, need for, consecration to holiness, where we increasingly affirm the Church’s lex orendi in a living, LOVING way and exist solely in the transfigurational realities this imparts to our souls. True conversion, our life’s synergy with the love of the Holy Spirit to consecrate and submit our existences to our Saviour and not only abide in holiness, but spread its message through love and sanctification (deification) of the world around us. In this we find our callings and consecrate the world in loving worship of our Master.

    Oftentimes, we hear about Fr. Seraphim (Rose), an Old Jordanville, or Elder Ephraim, the Holy Mountain, Valaam, Optina, Pskov Caves Lavra, Romanian Hesychastarions, or a Mother Gabriela, HNM Grand Duchess Eliabeth, and these people come to seem so far removed and impossible, modern mythes to soothe our souls in the dehumanizing and spiritual alienation of our post modern, secular days. Many improperly formed in Renovationist pseudo-Doxy, recoil in alienation and can’t at all relate to this mythology, this Orthodox authenticity. Others simply gasp and say, “impossible for me and not part of my time or my life in reality” (even though a pilgrimage here or a book there or a spiritual conversation even over a telephone is treasured as a very, palpable ontological event, a comfort and respite). Yet a real ontological conversion is still left wanting, and we know it.

    That is the challenge for Orthodoxy in our modern day (not robber councils, Renovationism and ecumenism, neo-Unias): ascetic struggle (podvig) to love unconditionally in Christ Jesus and in consecration to the Church, in a full sacramental life where our living itself becomes a Sacrament, or event of deifying, uncreated ontological grace spilling into and transfiguring our hearts, our lives and the world around us. Then we totally live and relate to anyone and everyone and everything we encounter as an act not only or worship, but of mercy, unconditional love. We bear our crosses and as St. Simon the Cyrene, help to bear the crosses of a wounded humanity and vandalized, exploited creation.

    Within the framework of Christ’s Church, this is the life in the Holy Spirit. This is the Holy Tradition. It is available to us the moment we are sealed in Christmation with the “tongue of fire” and become a living member of His Body. As we live in this love and make it a totalitarian ontology, we affirm the Orthodox Tradition in a finally authentic time-locality specific way and become heralds of a true worship and encounter with Christ which saves, which loves, which transfigures and holds us up as we grow in Him so that the loftiness of the past or certain personages becomes a journey not to a theatre act or a yearning for a bygone era or act of nostalgia, but of a eschatological reality where our Communion with Saints becomes a constant family reunion, where our encounters with an Elder Raphael (Karelin) or a Mother Maria (Skobtsova) become moments where we meet with older siblings, parents, and mature in our micro-ecclesiological niches, cultivating our roles in a family we share with them.

    When this Orthodoxy and this approach becomes characteristic of our North America, our diasporas coming to a smelted union, we will realize the foundation of our true unity and the germ of our local tradition and our local church. Only until then.

    Assimilate ethnic rebellions and renovationist or “Traditionalist, authentic” boutiques or national enclaves (which represent a way for us to adapt to our Orthodox ontology, but not the final answer) are not going to get it done.

    So is a “purely Orthodox” identity sustainable? Only as a total, holistic, transfigurational and generational ontology of each and everyone of us loving as maturing witnesses of the Holy Tradition. As a sacramental event and a writing of micro-Gospel with the witness of each and every one of our lives.

    R M Malleev-Pokrovsky

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  3. To adapt a phrase of Irenaeus from “Against Heresies”:

    The only thing Protestants have in common is that they do not recognize the authority of the Church or her Bishops. On every other point they (may) disagree.

    This was not entirely true 500 years ago, but with “Sola Scriptura”, sacred Scripture is not the final word, the individual believer’s interpretation is. This is partly the reason for over 20 different English translations of the Bible available today.

    Evangelical tradition cannot survive when believers who don’t feel the Holy Spirit guiding them in the same direction as their pastor leave for the church across the street. I watched the denomination I grew up in explode to 20 different “versions” here in the US. I think every church I’ve ever been a member of has “split” at least once…

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