We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Evangelical Liberalism: What It Could Be

In yesterday's posting (here), I suggested that the "way out" for declining mainline churches may be what others have called "evangelical liberalism" or "ecumenical evangelicalism."  What would such a thing look like?  What would it be?

In most general terms, evangelical liberalism (use "progressivism" if you like) would be at once warm hearted and broad minded.  It would be committed to a deeply personal saving faith and to social justice.  On Sunday mornings, evangelical liberals would sing with gusto, pray enthusiastically, and worship vigorously—whatever their particular style of worship might be.  Evangelical liberal churches would no longer take a kind of "whatever" attitude toward membership and participation.  Their members would no longer shy away from a commitment to faith-sharing (read evangelism) and to personal spiritual development that includes an active prayer life.  Evangelical liberals would be committed to biblical Christianity, albeit they would not mean quite the same thing by "biblical Christianity" as evangelical conservatives mean.

Evangelical liberals would love Jesus and be inspired by the Holy Spirit.  They would take part in small groups that study the Bible, discuss personal faith, and engage in meaningful prayer time.  They would also continue to welcome homosexual Christians into their number without equivocation.  They would double down on insuring that women have a fully equal voice and place in their congregations.  They would reject a dualistic, I'm saved-you're damned approach to spirituality.  They would affirm the value of other faiths and the importance of interfaith dialogue.  They would continue to work for social justice, but they would balance that commitment with a deeper commitment to personal piety.

Evangelical liberals will be a remnant people, the vital left-overs of declining denominations.  They will remain Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and UCC'ers, but their denominations will be much smaller, less centralized, and increasingly focused on that balance of piety and social justice described above.  And it may be that they will be the seeds of something new, growing, and exciting in the future just as the evangelical conservatism of the 1950s and 1960s was the seed for today's all but dominant branch of American Protestantism.  Evangelical liberals will draw from the fresh expressions movement in Britain and the emerging church movement here in the U.S.

Evangelical in spirit.  Ecumenical in vision.  Committed to social justice.  Warm hearted and open minded.  That is the potential of an evangelical form of liberal Christianity.  Amen!