After giving you a little bit of background as to my personal theological formation and spiritual journey, I thought I’d write a little bit about how I like to think about myself now, my hopes and aims for the future and the kind of theology and spirituality I want to dedicate The Lion & Phoenix to upholding and advancing.
I’ll try and make this a short post about a big idea: clear evangelicalism. You may have noticed that in the previous post, I described myself in the most recent period of my life as “a Reformed, Conservative Evangelical.” It’s an accurate enough description of the kind of theology and emphases I’ve developed since my early twenties, but it isn’t where I want to stay. Because I have an inkling that “Reformed” and “Conservative” can both potentially be too limiting and that without wanting to diminish or “move on” from the convictions I hold today, I sense that evangelicals defining themselves in terms of “conservatism” or having arrived at a fully reformed state of being in theology and practice, may not be the most helpful place to end up.
The truly “reformed” church is committed to the principle of semper reformanda (Always Reforming), not merely resting on the laurels of your church’s traditions and past achievements. “Reformed” is accurate if you or your church have been shaped by the principles of the Protestant reformation and have undergone a process of changing your doctrine or practice because of your arrival at new convictions based on the clear teaching of Scripture. But Christians – even in the best reformed traditions – need to continue to challenge themselves to be renewed and reshaped in response to God speaking through His Word.
Likewise, “conservative” would seem to imply that we need to resist changing trends, values, beliefs and practices and hang onto “the way things have always been”. When it comes to the core of our faith, conservatism is crucial: you can innovate your way out of historical, orthodox, biblical Christianity! But conservatism doesn’t work so well as a universal approach – in fact I dare say it undermines further reform and self-evaluation in many cases. Sometimes we hold to traditions without ever re-evaluating whether what we say we believe and how we practice it in today’s world accurately represents biblical principles and faithfully points to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Plus there is a tendency to create litmus tests for theological conservatism that often alienate other evangelicals who may share a range of similar convictions but find themselves disqualified by one or two shibboleths.
“Progressive” evangelicalism seems to have more problems of its own than solutions to their conservative brethren’s issues (more on that another time). So I’m proposing something that is in many ways the same as conservative evangelicalism, but with a difference that possesses the versatility to either appear explicit or subtle when the two approaches are placed side by side.
Clear evangelicalism is about holding tightly onto the core of the gospel tightly and never loosening our grip, while at the same time ensuring that the secondary and tertiary aspects of our theology and practice present other Christians and non-christians alike with a clear and unobscured message about the Christian gospel.
It begins with looking at one’s own approach and constantly being challenged to say and do everything in such a way that proclaims Jesus, and salvation in His Name, loud and clear. Then it extends to encouraging others who share this commitment to keep doing the same.
My hope is that while people might be classified differently under the present evangelical subgroupings on offer or still find themselves disagreeing with gospel-centred people on a range of issues, a common commitment to clear evangelicalism will facilitate greater encouragement to preserve, promote and proclaim the things that matter most. I also hope that where differences exist and one group can’t win the other over to their position despite reasoned biblical arguments, there will be room for a different kind of victory: challenging those with different views and practices to approach them in the way that best displays the gospel.
I’ll share more on what I think this might look like in the coming weeks and months, but for now I would love to hear your feedback. Does this sound like a worthwhile approach? Am I perhaps just rebranding conservative evangelicalism without any substantial changes? Do you see any dangers or weaknesses with this kind of attitude towards evangelicalism?
 Sathish J “Spirituality” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) Flickr