Anglican Evangelicalism is a valuable aspect of the Gospel witness of world-wide Anglicanism. Great Evangelical thinkers and doers from the 18th century on have advanced the cause of Christ as part of the diverse theological and Biblical traditions that make up the unique expression of Christian faith that we identify as”Anglican”.
The highjacking of Anglican Evangelicalism by those who would make it into something less than it has been, using its convictions and views to divide rather than unite and strengthen has been a source of sorrow to me as one who came from other Evangelical Christian traditions into Anglicanism. Evangelicalism can be reduced to, as Christopher LaTondresse, founder and CEO of “Recovering Evangelicals” points out, preoccupied with “picking our favorite biblical passage, where Jesus’ vision for ‘who’s in’ includes people like us, and excludes people are aren’t; meanwhile we ignore other passages that redraw the boundaries that would force us to change in order to be included in Jesus’ ‘in-group'”.
Such is the nature of the controversy swirling around Rob Bell’s newest book, Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. Bell, pastor of the 10,000 member Mars Hill Church in Grandville, Michigan, has become the latest victim of a truncated Evangelicalism that stifles dialogue about key issues of faith and life. He has been branded with epithets such as “radical”, “false prophet”, “heretic”, and “revisionist”. He has been tarred with condemnatory variations of the word “unorthodox” and “unbiblical”. Sound familiar?
Why does the highjacking of Anglican Evangelicalism by those who would destroy its historical and contemporary context for all kinds of reasons hurt not only Anglicanism, but the witness of the redeeming power of Jesus and his Gospel as a whole? As LaTondresse points out in a recent article on the Recovering Evangelicals website, robust conversation within the body of Christ about important theological matters has an important place., “but imagining that God’s Kingdom is well served by the mere act of standing up for ‘truth’, no matter the means, method or tone” is a different matter. The fact is that the members of the Millennial generation are leaving Christianity or failing to consider following Christ as a way of life because Christians fight “stupid battles” that are irrelevant to spiritual seeking of a new generation with whom God is calling us into relationship. People are simply off-put by entrenched debates over sexuality, models of Biblical interpretation, or heaven-and hell (the issue Bell’s new book explores) and see the Christian Gospel diverted away from what LaTonresse deems the biblical call to be “salt-and-light and Ministers of reconciliation.” As Anglicans we have to transcend some things for the sake of the Gospel and let our theologically diverse streams continue to flow together into one healing stream directed into a hurting world. The Gospel demands nothing less.
I commend to you the recently composed “Young Evangelical’s Prayer” which appears on the Recovering Evangelicals website. It makes for great Lenten self-examination:
God of heaven, earth and all people:
Thank you that you are in the process of restoring your kingdom, and invite us to participate.
We confess that we often rebel against your best hopes and dreams for the world, both in the things we do and in the things we leave undone. Give us your grace to sustain us as we learn to live and act in sync with what you are up to in the lives of individuals, in the lives of people groups, in our institutions, and among your creation.
Forgive us when we quarrel with one another out of selfish ambition, vain-conceit and misplaced piety — when our posture should instead be the same as that of Jesus Christ: a servant. (Philippians 2: 1-11)
Forgive us when we make ourselves like the leaders of Jesus’ day, sewing division and a spirit of religion amongst your people, “traveling over land and seas to make a single convert, and then making them twice the sons of hell that we are.” (Matthew 23:15)
Forgive us when we call out splinters in the eyes of those whose beliefs and lifestyles we disagree with without first removing planks in our own eyes, and the proverbial eye of our own doctrinal tribe. (Matthew 7: 3-5)
Forgive us when we construct walls that divide and separate your family — our own brothers and sisters in Christ — rather than pursuing love, forgiveness, reconciliation, and unity — so that the world might know that God and Jesus are One. (John 15: 9-17, 17: 20-23)
Forgive us when we defame your holy name by misrepresenting your unconditional love. God, you are love, and you have called us to love one another because you first loved us. (1 John 4:7-21).
Forgive us when we forget that your son Jesus was condmned to death as a heretic — like the biblical prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah and Amos before him — all in the name of “orthodoxy”. (Luke 13:34; Acts 7: 51-53)
God, in your infinite love and wisdom, help us to bear good fruit for the sake of your kingdom. Teach us to recognize when we do not incarnate the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentelenss and self-control. We know that your disciples have always been identified by these virtues and we pray that you give us strength to bear this fruit as well. (John 15: 1-8; Galatians 5: 22-23)
In the name of the father, your son Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit,
Rev. Steve Bailey is a deacon at St. Laurence, Coquitlam and one of the administrators of nwanglicanblog.