Here Come the Post-Evangelicals
- Tuesday, February 24, 2004
Brace yourselves - for here come the "post-evangelicals." A movement that began among left-leaning evangelicals in Great Britain, post-evangelicalism is now coming to the United States.
Many Christians will find their first introduction to this new movement in The Post-Evangelical by Dave Tomlinson, an Anglican pastor in London and the former leader of "Holy Joe's," a ministry located in a London pub. The Post-Evangelical is actually an updated edition of a British book that was first published in 1995, but the message is essentially the same.
Tomlinson and his colleagues hope to launch post-evangelicalism as a legitimate alternative to evangelicalism - the predominant form of conservative Christianity in both Great Britain and the United States. Determined to put distance between themselves and traditional evangelicals, Tomlinson offers his book as a manifesto for the new movement.
"The post-evangelical impulse does not necessarily imply a move away from Christian orthodoxy or evangelical faith," Tomlinson insists. "Rather it demonstrates that to remain true to a tradition, we must come to terms with a changing cultural context in order to find an authentic expression of that tradition - 'you have to change to stay the same.’"
Nevertheless, despite Tomlinson's protestations, post-evangelicalism is a move away from Christian orthodoxy, and the very use of the prefix post indicates that it is not really evangelical either.
Tomlinson explains that his book emerged from an experience at Greenbelt, a festival of the Christian arts held annually in England. At Greenbelt, Tomlinson heard the phrase "we post-evangelicals," followed by the qualifier, "whatever that means."
Determined to give context to this new movement, Tomlinson offers his critique of evangelicalism and extends a call for frustrated evangelicals to join the post-evangelical wave.
The foundational issues for Tomlinson are cultural and philosophical. He is absolutely convinced that the emergence of a postmodern worldview requires Christians to make a fundamental shift in the way we conceive the Christian faith and the best means of communicating Christian truth. "Post-modernity," argues Tomlinson, "has become the new context in which the integrity and credibility of [the faith] must be tested."
Rather than critiquing post-modernism, Tomlinson and his allies openly embrace this new worldview. Post-evangelicals, he argues, "are more comfortable with the mysteries, ambiguities, and paradoxes of faith," and are thus quite at home in the postmodern milieu.
Evangelicalism, Tomlinson asserts, "was fueled by the modernist cultural worldview." His reading of history is established in the primacy of the postmodern over all previous worldviews, and centers its critique of traditional evangelicalism and its supposed dependence upon a modernist concern for absolute truth. Postmodernism is here to stay, the post-evangelicals insist.
As Tomlinson argues, "Those who assert that postmodernism is a figment of the academic imagination, merely a passing intellectual fad, could not be more wrong. Postmodernism closed directly from the musty corridors of academia into the world of popular culture. It's on the pages of youth magazines, in CD liner notes and in the fashion pages of Vogue. It has abolished the old distinction between 'high' and 'low' art and created new art forms out of things such as music videos, urban graffiti, and computer graphics."
The evangelicals "are lodged in a cultural time-warp," Tomlinson accuses, "still interpreting their faith using the language of, and in the shadow of, the modernist 'big story.’" According to Tomlinson, the post-evangelicals have escaped this trap and no longer try to present the Gospel as a meta-narrative or comprehensive truth claim.
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