Monday, 18 April 2011

Life in the old dog yet

British 'evangelicalism', that is. At a great houseparty on Saturday night, I reflected with friends on the merits or otherwise of the Alternative Vote and tactical voting; with a new student acquaintance on the Cathars and what we can learn from heretics; and with an old colleague on 'evangelicalism' and how US & UK are two nations divided by a common language. 

On which third point: I'm disturbed by how our US brothers of 'reformed' stripe, dismiss evangelicalism wholesale as if they weren't a part of it. It seems that across the pond, evangelicalism is marked by Finney, revivalism, spiritual/conversion experience, pragmatism, fervour, and some morals & politics thrown in. Thus the 'reformed' want to distance themselves from 'evangelicalism'. In the old country, we would use 'evangelical' to refer to shared belief in core doctrines on which basis there is unity, while not blurring lines of church affiliation or the importance of ecclesiology and doctrine. Thus the concept of 'reformed' distinct from 'evangelical' is a strange one.

Now inevitably, there is some bleed-through, as we send good preachers over there, and get some books and music in return (of varying quality and great quantity), and also because we're all sinful, prone to error and what our itching ears want to hear. And I wonder how much of our difference in terminology simply shows national characteristic (this Brit imagines American friends as more pragmatic, bipartisan and fervent about most things; apply such epithets backwards to critique Brits if you will). But I also ponder whether dismissing 'evangelicalism' wholesale and proposing reformed is such a helpful response even if amorphous American evangelicalism were as bad as is reported. The 'reformed' content themselves that they're 'OK', nothing to learn, because 'they're not in that lot' which has so clearly lost protestant truth. I suggest they'd miss out on something of the missions fervour. And the evangelicals hear stricture and don't see anything better held out in love. And miss out on the ecclesiology, and indeed, the doctrines of grace.

I'm not for self-flagellating, nor for mutual gushing Dale Winton-like, but perhaps if we were to consider that there may be a plank in our eye too, we could get close enough to a brother to pull out the speck so painfully blinding him.

Anyway, Carl Trueman enjoyed something of British evangelicalism in north Wales last week, and writes of it to encourage us all. Hoorah!

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