Me with my lovely wife, Kathy:

Friday, October 26, 2012

Except for my gray hair I look like a paleo-evangelical, but I'm not quite ready to adopt the label as mine.

A young friend of mine, Bart Gingrich, recently introduced me to a new label, here.  I'm pretty tired of labeling, and particularly relabeling--as if calling something by a new name somehow made it different.  This label, though, caught my attention.  Bart, in his article, responded to an article by Thomas Kidd.  A colleague of Bart's also contributed a piece--sort of an across-the-table-with-coffee, friendly debate.  This morning again through Bart--he expands the view from my keyhole--I found that the new moniker, and Bart's article had been passed up the food-chain to First Things, here.

I've had three primary reactions to the discussion about "paleo-evangelicals":

  1. I regard it as a very good thing.  I have for sometime thought that the dual sleeping arrangement between a large section of Evangelicalism and what I would call conservative politics has been unhelpful, and, more importantly, unhealthy.  It appears to me that those who are saying, "I guess I am a paleo-evangelical."  Share that discomfort with their political bedfellow's snoring.  My thinking on this was advanced and clarified by some of Chuck Colson's writings, and a very practical straight forward little book, Blinded By Might, written by two former associates of Jerry Fallwell,  Cal Thomas, and Ed Dobson.  To a lesser extent my thinking was tweaked by David Kinnaman & Gabe Lyons' book, Un-Christian.
  2. I was actually surprised--pleasantly so, mostly.  As the name of my blog would imply, I don't get out much.  Even as I type this, I have other, much more local things to do.  So it isn't hard to bring up things in the bigger world that surprise me.  I think, though, that I'm more thoughtfully surprised on this one.  I know that the first half of the hyphenated term was transplanted from a well established--though not popularly recognized--label, Paleo-conservative."  Applying "paleo" to evangelical would indicate that this is what evangelicalism was, before it became what it is today.  If I'm wrong about that, I hope my better informed friends will correct me.  But what I find somewhat shocking is that Evangelicalism has morphed into a movement--at least this is how it appears to a significant body of thinking observers--that is identified more by its politics than it's Theology.  At this point I go back to reaction #1.  I'm glad for the recognition.
    I also offer an apology.  I get the idea that I'm much older than most of the voices in this conversation. I'm about forty years older than Bart.  I don't regard myself as directly responsible, but on the part of my generation, I just want to say that I'm sorry.  I'm sorry that we made, or allowed "Evangelical" to become a political term rather than a word that calls to mind what it originally meant--Good News, John 3:16, and Amazing Grace.
  3. This is really #2 from the other side, and a return to #1, sort of:
    I am an Evangelical.  As you can tell from some of my previous postings on this blog, I have been somewhat conflicted over that title, but I wear the title with much more comfort than I ever have before.  I grew up in the result of, and the core of my education came from, the Fundamentalist movement that took place in the first half  of the Twentieth Century.  I was taught that "Evangelicalism" was a bad word.  I still have friends that regard it as such.  As I observed what happened to Fundamentalism in the latter half of the Twentieth Century, and as I grew (I hope).  I came to mostly reject the label Fundamentalist.  I hadn't really changed what I believed, but I saw that in the eyes of many--in particular young people--Fundamentalism was seen as something that I wanted no part of.  So, with apologies to some of my forebears, I, mostly, quit using the title.*
    At the same time, though, Evangelicalism took on overtones with which I was not comfortable.  Unlike many of you in this conversation, I was alive before the Moral Majority.  A large part of my thinking here was shaped, not by broad reading and careful reasoning, but by association with some very Godly people who were absolutely Evangelical in the Biblical sense, but thoroughly un-evangelical as defined as a political movement.  If you search this blog for "political" and/or "politics" you'll find that on my side of the keyhole I've been campaigning for some time, that evangelicalism is not a political movement.  I'm sorry we have allowed it to become seen as such.  I would challenge others in the conversation--unless they are political operatives of the ilk who can tell you which way Toyota driving accountants are going to vote (I guess you are paid to that)--to stop looking at Evangelicalism through a political lens.  Yes, because Evangelicals tend to take seriously what the Bible actually says, we are likely to be pro-life, for instance, but to say Evangelicalism is pro-life, as if that defined us, is to distort us.  
Bottom line.  I reject the label Paleo-evangelical.  Not because what I've seen so far does not describe me, it does, mostly.  I said as much in my comment, here.  I reject the label, because I'm not prepared to surrender most of the field and claim just a corner.  I maintain that what is described as Paleo-evangelicalism is really Evangelicalism.  Let's describe the other folk as Politically-distorted-evangelicals, and reclaim the word "Evangelical" for what it really means.

*It doesn't quite fit in the flow of this piece, but the book, Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism, helped clarify my thinking.  Chiefly, the editors choice to include Fundamentalism as one of the subsets of Evangelicalism confirmed a view I have had for some time.  Historically, and Theologically they have common roots.  

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