Monday, November 16, 2009

Am I a Conservative Evangelical?

It isn't the sort of question that keeps me awake at night. But it's something I think about occasionally...

It's easy to say that I used to be. 5 years ago I was involved in lay leadership in a conservative evangelical church, going to conservative evangelical camps and conferences and so on and agreeing with most of what was being said, and reading mostly conservative evangelical books. I criticised mainstream conservative evangelicalism on issues like their failure to communicate the primacy of grace when discussing homosexuality, but I did so from within the movement.

But am I still one? My context has certainly changed - I'm now an ordained minister in a charismatic evangelical church and while I still go to some conservative evangelical events, I probably go to more charismatic evangelical ones and read quite a lot of books from both charismatic and open evangelical perspectives. And I seem to fit the label "conservamatic" fairly well, though I'm a lot more comfortable in high church settings than most conservatives or charismatics, and don't like being defined as fitting into any one group.

The thing is, my theology hasn't changed much at all. There are quite a lot of areas where my understanding has deepened or clarified, but I don't think my theology has moved much. The big things that have changed which affect whether I'm a conservative evangelical or not, as far as I can tell, are:

  • I've realised that conservative evangelicals often emphasise and word things in reaction against points of view they've come into conflict with - especially Ryle's caricature of 16th century Roman Catholicism, modernist liberalism, postmodern syncretism and pentecostalism.
  • I've realised that there are a good number of charismatics who don't fall into the traps which I used to associate with them, and that a lot of them don't mean what I thought they meant in the way they talk about the Holy Spirit. Many of them also seem to use the ecstatic gifts (which I never really thought had ceased) sensibly rather than just ignoring them as the conservative evangelicals did.
  • I think I understand much better how it is quite possible to be a sincere and Bible-believing Christian and to be a convinced charismatic (like my training incumbent) or anglo-catholic (like the local suffregan bishop), and I'm happy getting along with such people and even being a regular member of their churches. I think there are much more important issues than church politics, such as love for God and others, mission and evangelism, and so on.
  • Conservative evangelical culture has solidified a bit more and moved slightly, and I'm not hanging around with them as much.

Having thought about it a bit, I think I'm happy and comfortable being a conservative evangelical (albeit one with charismatic leanings and some catholic sympathies) when I hang around with conservative evangelicals. And when I hang around with charismatics, I'm happy being a charismatic with strong Biblical tendancies and conservative influences. When I hang out with open evangelicals, I'm happy fitting in at the more conservative end of open evangelicalism unless they start conservative-bashing. And when I hang around with wider groups, I'm happy not really fitting any label well but saying controversial stuff and trying to mix up the stupor that seems to hang over such gatherings. And I think and find it is quite possible to be all of those without inconsistency.

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