Friday, December 31, 2010

Evangelicals and the gospel

"Among the Evangelicals" by Timothy Beal in The Chronicle Review describes the findings of a variety of academic studies. A couple of paragraphs in the middle summarize well why "post-evangelical" has become an increasingly popular label among those disillusioned by the sense that technology and activity have become more important than gospel and discipleship.
A hallmark of American evangelicalism, at least since the 1940s, has been its ready willingness to adapt its theological content to new media technologies and popular trends in the entertainment industry. Implicit in that openness is an evangelical counterdeclaration to Marshall McLuhan's: The medium is not the message; the message, or the Word, transcends whatever media are used to convey it. But in the long run, is the constant evangelical adaptation of the Word unwittingly proving McLuhan right? I think so. That is partly why we find so little coherence within and among the various groups and movements and productions that pass as evangelical.

Indeed, it's impossible to imagine the likes of Osteen or Warren or Jakes without the teams of creators, editors, and marketers who publish them beyond their home churches, in books and on the radio, television, and Internet. It is not too much to say that their media producers actually create and sustain them as pop-culture icons. Their relationships with their publishers in the production of both medium and message are not unlike those of pop-music stars with their labels. Lady Gaga has Universal Music and Max Lucado has Thomas Nelson.
Later, Beal defines  describes the evangelicalism he grew up with:
Evangelism is at root about telling a good story. The Greek word behind it, euangelion, means "good news" or, more literally, "happy message" (eu, "happy" plus angelion, "message"). Whence comes our word "gospel" via the Old English godspel, "good spell" or "story." In that light, it can be argued, as it often is, that all forms of Christianity, including those way on the left, are essentially evangelical, insofar as they are about proclaiming the Christian gospel, the good story. Disagreements quickly emerge, of course, in the often radically different interpretations of what that gospel is and means.

Growing up conservative evangelical in the 1960s and 70s, I learned to see it primarily in terms of personal sin and salvation. The most popular version of that gospel message was the Four Spiritual Laws, created as an evangelism tool in 1952 by the late Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ. They are: God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life; sin separates you from God; Jesus on the cross paid the price for your sin; you need to accept Jesus as your personal lord and savior. (My mom occasionally pulls out an old reel-to-reel tape of me, age 5, singing, "What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus! Oh, precious is the flow, that can make me white as snow.") Most nonevangelicals assume that is the one and only gospel among all evangelical Christians. But that's far from true. ....
Among the Evangelicals - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education