Though I am not involved with politics, several of my closest friends are. Many of those friends are also evangelicals and members of the “religious right”. With the reelection of President Obama this past November, I heard several of my conservative associates lament that America is no long a Christian nation. Remarks like “this election taught me that the church is no longer an influence in our culture” and other similar statements scattered my network of airwaves for weeks. I am not going to get political or theological for that matter in this review, but feel that many in the religious right are finally beginning to realize how drastically different the social and spiritual landscape is in our country. At least at the turn of the new century (and many would argue long before then) our Western mindset and Judeo-Christian affiliation began to shift more rapidly towards postmodernism and America became a post-Christian nation.
In the new book, A New Evangelical Manifesto: A Kingdom Vision for the Common Good (2012) edited by David P. Gushee, twenty-two different Christian scholars and pastors write on provocative issues that are becoming major hot button issues in the church. These issues, like global poverty, human trafficking, creation care, consumerism, and the rise in Muslim populations are being recognized by the “new evangelicals” as opportunities to share God’s love in a new way among a new generation. Contrary to the closed mindedness that often accompanies the religious right, these new evangelicals advocate more of an acceptance and abundance spirituality. Though I will not argue which “evangelical” is correct, it is evident that for me and the Millennial generation, the Billy Graham era of the 1950’s is lost in America’s yesteryear.
Richard Cizik, former Vice President for Governmental Affairs at the National Association of Evangelicals and current President of the New Evangelical Partnership, describes the NEP as: “1) believing in the authority of Scripture as the Word of God, 2) the virgin birth, saving death, and bodily resurrection of Jesus, 3) the call by our Lord to be born again; and 4) the command to share that faith with others” (p.30). The “New” part confesses that: “First we are committed to reaching out beyond our own constituency to be ‘bridge-builders’ with others for the sake of public good.. ‘[and] Second, we are committed to not politicizing the church.” (p. 30-31).
In the opening chapter, “The Church in America Today”, well-known blogger and activist, Brian McLaren states four challenges to the Evangelical church, including the cultural shifts to postmodernism/post-colonial/post-industrial, heightened sense of pluralism, an apathetic response, and the politicizing of faith. To the last point, McLaren differentiates between the “right-wing/regressive who focus on the nostalgia, nativist, and negative (called “3N”) with those in the emerging conversation/new evangelical left-wing/progressives who “instead seek an ethos of hope, diversity, and creative collaboration” (p. 6).
As someone who was very involved with creation care during the first decade of the 2000’s, I was very interested to read about Richard Cizik’s struggle with his very public dismissal as the VP of the NAE. Cizik was fired for comments he made about creation care, civil unions, and abortion. Though I agree with Cizik’s work on earthly stewardship, I cannot support his beliefs regarding his other statements. Still yet, I was struck by a powerful line in the beginning of Richard’s chapter: “To not learn and change, especially spiritually, is a form of death” (p. 26). I can get behind this remark but would have to clarify that for the Christian, they should always be changing, by growing into the likeness of Christ. Richard Cizik concludes his thoughts by encouraging Christian leaders to seek a vision, strategy, and tactics from God, while also remaining bold and humble. He quotes Jim Collins the management, research giant by saying that leadership should also be about “creating a climate where the truth is heard and the brutal facts confronted” (p. 40).
Chapter 3, “A Disenchanted Text: Where Evangelicals Went Wrong with the Bible” should convict readers to question why in our Western world the Bible is no longer relevant. It is a call to rectify the sanctity of Scripture and release it from the scientific strangleholds of Enlightenment. Author Cheryl, Bridges states that both liberals and conservatives during the twentieth and twenty-first Century “robbed the Bible of its status as having any subjecthood… Truth was disjoined from presence, and Spirit was disjoined from Word” (p. 19). Like Bridges, I too yearn for a revival of God in our land and I believe it will begin with prayer and a reaffirmation of biblical authority.