Saturday, October 28, 2006

Evangelical vs. evangelical

As promised, we need to cover what I mean by "evangelical" (little-e) and why it is different from "Evangelical" (capital-E). While I have had an intuitive notion of the difference for a while, reading Brian McLaren's book A Generous Orthodoxy helped put it into words. This is a great book (so far) that I will probably discuss in a future post after I have finished reading it. In the chapter entitled "Why I Am evangelical" he lists several different "definitions" of the word Evangelical (pp. 128-129):

"Big E" Evangelical, as some use the term (especially in the U.S.), increasingly refers to "the Religious Right."...In contrast, evangelicals include both political conservatives and liberals, and those who, like me, don't fit in either category.

As used by others, Evangelical sometimes means "Fundamentalists of a slightly less narrow-minded and arrogant attitude," which is...a small step in the right direction...I would heartily like to be included among any group making even small steps in the right long as that label means "adhering to fundamentals," and as long as fundamentals itself means "loving God and loving neighbors" above all.

...More positively, Evangelical generally refers to people who (a) highly respect the Bible...(b) emphasize personal conversion...(c) believe that God can be known and experienced with something like intimacy..., and (d) want to share their faith with others...

Thus, while the term Evangelical has some positive connotations, the association with the Religion Right and Fundamentalism makes it a hard label to own up to. McLaren points out that the term evangelical etymologically means "pertaining to the good news" and proposes his own definition of evangelical (pp. 130-133):

When I say I cherish an evangelical identity, I mean somethign beyond a belief system or doctrinal array or even a practice. I mean an attitude--an attitude toward God and our neighbor and our mission that is passionate....When evangelicals are being true to their identity, they do whatever it takes to express their love for God and God's love for their neighbors--however unconventional and innovative their methods may be....I hope evangelical can become an inclusive and positive term, rather than a sectarian and restrictive one--an essential element of a generous orthodoxy.

So, in good Chinese menu tradition, when I refer to the term evangelical I am choosing one definition from Column A (pertaining to the Bible, personal salvation and evangelism) and one from Column B (passionate about loving God and neighbor). This is not only a more accurate and useful definition, but one to which one can aspire and which is more of a challenge than simply pulling the right levers on Election Day.


Blogger David said...

Thanks for your post on this! I was searching for a summary of McLaren's big E, little e writings, and this was very helpful!

9:21 PM  

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