A couple years ago I had a conversation with a UM pastor who was expressing his frustration with "evangelical" churches. I listened for a while and agreed with him on much of what he had to say...but then reminded him that in our Book of Discipline, the UMC is referred to as an "Evangelical" Church. His concept of "evangelical" had become associated with the far right-wing; anti-woman; literalistic; conservative politically; version of what much of our media labels as "evangelical."
I began to wonder, myself, what is the "real definition" of "Evangelical" as understood by our Book of Discipline. I felt it was important that we "re-capture" that term for our denomination and it's original meaning...but didn't quite know how to do it.
While I was at the Jurisdictional CORR meeting...I discovered a book on the Cokesbury table entitled: "How to be Evangelical Without Being Conservative" by Roger E. Olson. I bought it...and just finished it. It was an amazingly helpful book in describing our roots as an Evangelical denomination while differentiating us from the far right-wing political agenda which is often associated with the word "evangelical."
It is an historical reminder of where the term "Evangelical" came from. It gives the historic 5 characteristics of our original "Evangelical" faith and explains in detail how that differs from what is often described as "evangelical" in today's culture and media.
With chapter titles like: "Being Biblical without Orthodoxy"...it gives the original perspective of why Wesley could state that "orthodoxy has little to do with true religion of the heart". Other chapters are entitled "Celebrating America without Nationalism"..."Taking the Bible Seriously Without Literalism"..."Transforming Culture Without Domination"...."Updating Without Trivializing Worship"..."Accepting Without Affirming Flawed People"..."Practicing Equality Without Sacrificing Difference"...."Redistributing Wealth without Socialism" etc. And the conclusion entitled: "Toward a Postconservative Evangelicalism".
This book helped to identify, for me, the original meaning of "Evangelical" and re-define where we as United Methodists find our roots. Needless to say...it was very helpful. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to re-discover our "Evangelical" roots and re-capture it's original meaning from the far right-wing political agenda.
For instance....in the chapter on "Redistributing Wealth without Socialism" I was reminded how our original Evangelical roots were solidly on the side of "the poor" and how the cries of "socialism" that we hear from the far right against universal healthcare; graduated tax system, etc. are really more a result of far-right, laissez-faire capitalism political agendas rather than having roots in evangelical history.
You may not agree with everything that is said.....but it is one of the best books I've read lately. I believe it will help us re-discover our Evangelical heritage in the United Methodist Church.
Rev. Gary E. Holdeman Enid District Superintendent The Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church P.O. Box 5024 Enid, OK 73702
An excellent book by Olson. Increasing numbers of "evangelicals" are expressing the sentiments Olson shares in this book, and it's great to have a great mind speak them here. It warms a person's heart when more and more Christians are being moved to authentically follow Christ and the written Word rather than the dread establishment, namely the Religious Right. For those of us who are serious both about the historic faith and living out said faith, Olson's book is a welcome beginning.
We live in a time when the conflation of "evangelical" and "politically conservative" seems never to stop, both with the media but also with many within the evangelical church itself. All too often some evangelicals get so caught up with a very specific, right wing political point of view that they equate anyone not in agreement with them as probably not Christian at all. It seems as though the most materialistic, rationalistic, humanistic agnostic who agrees with their political philosophies is more welcomed into the friendship and fellowship of many of these Christians than fellow believers in the Gospel who may differ in governmental or economic systems. This should not be, if the Gospel truly is at the heart of the believer's life and mission.
This is the situation that Olson addresses in How to Be Evangelical without Being Conservative, and his willingness to raise the issues involved is commendable. However, as another reviewer has noted, the book progressively becomes less objective and more judgmental, to the point that his end chapters seem as hard-line in political philosophy as those he is addressing, just from the other end of the spectrum. Nowhere is this more evident than in his section on the differences between "egalitarians" and "complementarians" regarding women's role in the churches. While this is a difficult area for many Christians, his broad brush comments seem to stereotype all those who have not yet fully moved to the egalitarian position, even--very unfairly I think--equating those who disagree with his view as being equivalent to a racist position (p 189).
There is one more area of the book that warrants caution and that leads to my having given this only 3 stars. While Olson includes caveats and conditions, he still seems more "open" to open theism than most evangelicals might be, even those in agreement with his other points. Addressing the linking specific political and economic positions with Christianity is good, but to espouse shifting theological positions just because of the changing culture raises some different issues that could be of concern. In fact, this part of the book almost sounded like the arguments he used to support consideration of open theology as valid could be the same ones that some on the right might use to defend their elevation of democracy and capitalism as a specific "Christian" position.
Given my misgivings in these few areas, I still believe the book deserves to be read and considered by all thoughtful evangelicals. Be aware of the stridency that starts to slip in near the end and consider carefully the theological wavering that might be apparent in the open theism sections, but don't miss the key message--mixing the Gospel with specific economic and political positions is neither Biblical nor evangelical.