Ok, so labels in the Christian world are an odd thing. I do think there's something inherently unChristian about them, as they generally seek to put people or churches or organisations in boxes which is a bit irritating.
But I accept they are needed, so you can work out where you are and what you are dealing with, and a general set of parameters into which your experience might fit.
Ok we're stuck with labels, but I have to say, I think my section of the church has been stuck with the wrong one.
MY church would be called, I think conservative
evangelical, or worse still reformed. The latter, I think can pretty much discounted because:
1) It is the name of a pretty nasty type of ham that comes in plastic packets and looks nothing like the shape of a pigs leg.
2) Churches that call themselves this are often cessationist, grumpy, bad tempered, teetotal people who go on about grace but don't seem to show much
3) the correct term would be reforming
as the point of these churches is that they are in the tradition of the reformation which is supposed to mean contantly reforming under the rule of Scripture, rather then getting it all sorted and sticking with it, thick or thin, year in and year out, never changing a flipping thing.
Anyhoo. Reformed - our survey said ni nu
So we're left with conservative evangelical. Nope. Sorry. Other evangelicals have such interesting sounding names - charismatic evangelical sounds so exciting, liberal evaneglical sounds a bit crazy, open evangelical sounds nice and welcoming.
Conservative summons up images of
- Maggie Thatcher - heaven help us.
- Old. People. who. won't. change. anything.
- stuck in the 1950's.
No no no no NO. This is not an accurate OR an atractive description. You see, conservative evangelicals are NOT generally people who want to preserve the status quo, keep things the way they are, or keep the church in step with society. Quite the opposite. It is quite often people who would describe themselves as liberal who are committed to that. Let's look at a few key areas:
Theologically - CE's are often strongly Calvinist - ie they believe God chooses who will be saved, they are often committed strongly to penal substitution central model of the atonement - that Jesus died on the cross to take God's wrath in our place and the inerrancy of the Bible - it is right. always.
And actually these views are not conservative in the sense of being held by people in the past or at the moment, in the church or society at large, and needing preserved. In fact, it is often evangelicals that call themselves other names that are more conservative - by not wanting to challenge the societal mores about the importance of human beings and how they feel. All of the doctrines above depend on a radical, rather than conservative, view on the world, based on the absolute centrality and importance of the display of God's character, and the secondary importance of us and our preferences. This is not an existing view that needs "conserving" it is a radical view that needs prophetically shouted from the rooftops in the face of prevailing church and secular culture.
Traditonally - CE's are often those who are most willing to throw tradition out the window for the sake of reaching people with the message. Even charismatics who are supposedly the maverick sheeps of the family have more of a set way of doing things than so-called conservatives. It is unlikely to be the conservative evangelical (defined theologically above) in your local parish church campaigning for the use of robes and the book of common prayer.
No conservative evangelical is all wrong. We need a new name. I like "banana" - but as it's already been stolen by a cheeky bendy piece of fruit, better go with something that does actually come close to describing our position. I like "radical evangelical". That sums up for me the God centred countercultural view of the world that supposed conservatives hold. Radical evangelical -it's the new banana.