Essays Exploring the 50 Shades of Evangelicalism
Over the course of my faith journey, I have seen religious identity in America change in ways few could have imagined. My own spiritual explorations have taken me through a variety of experiences with Baptist, charismatic, mainline and non-denominational communities of faith, all of which have in some way influenced my own religious identity. My journey has become far more common than rare for my generation and those that have followed.
I'm just a Christ-Follower
In just a few decades, Christian identity has morphed from clearly defined denominational brands to a post-denominational milieu where you are just as likely to see someone self-identify simply as a Christ-follower as you are a Baptist or a Methodist. In fact, just glance at one of our Member Spotlight panels on FaithVillage and you'll see exactly what I'm talking about. When given the freedom to express religous identity in one's own words, people choose an increasing variety of terms and turns of phrase.
The Evangelical Box
And yet, as much as we may want to eschew categorization and stretch our individualistic wings, the quantifiers of our culture need to measure our opinions, trace our migrations, predict our behavior, and count our nickels and noses. "Evangelical" is one of those identity terms that has been frequently used by theologians, congregational researchers, public opinion pollsters and the media who report on the intersection of faith and culture. Like all terms, it carries rich heritage as well as regrettable baggage. It can be used with historical-theological precision, as political typecasting or as social commentary. It may aid mutual understanding or very well hinder it, but a recurring theme among many who embrace evangelical forms of faith seems to be a deep ambivalence about the term.
So, is it still helpful? What does it signify and to whom? Should we fight for it as a badge of honor or relinquish it as an obstacle to sharing our faith? Is it a dying category from a former era or will it continue to serve as a sign that can help you find your tribe in a post-denominational, post-modern, post-whatever-is-next-to-change world. Could the term still serve as a kind of ichthus, where I draw "evan" in the sand and you draw "gelical" and we feel safe with and understood by one another?
We think that this is such a worthy theme we will be hosting a panel discussion on 50 Shades of Evangelicalism at this week's Religious Newswriters Association conference. The theme was actually inspired by an insightful essay by Jonathan Fitzgerald that first appeared at ReligionDispatches.com and is also included here.
As a way of involving our FaithVillage community in this discussion, we recently issued a call for essays on the related theme, "Hi, I'm ____, and I'm an Evangelical." These featured essays represent the true spirit of our editorial vision here at FaithVillage, a vision to provide a conversation space where the diversity of evangelical voices can find conversation and community. All of these essays are posted together on a special 50 Shades of Evangelicalism page in the Newsstand, or you can access them individually below.
We hope you enjoy them.