I was surprised to hear the term “fundamentalist” used by some people to describe evangelicals. Most evangelicals do not even know what a fundamentalist is. It is actually a pejorative term that should not be used to describe evangelicals. Today’s evangelical churches have no resemblance in form and style with the evangelical churches of the 1960s or 1970s. Today’s Evangelicals have become “mainline” Christianity. The old mainline churches have lost their place of primacy to the evangelicals as the shapers of mainstream society.
In my experience of being a blend of pentecostal-evangelical-Lutheran, I kind of have my foot in both worlds and am familiar with both worlds. Post-modern evangelicals have a very acute understanding of what the post-modern world is about. They feel they are called to engage the world, e.g., social, political, financial. The New Evangelicals would repudiate separatism and anti-academia. The New Evangelicals do not want to return to the good ol’ days of Little House on the Prairie and Leave it to Beaver. In fact, they have no idea what it is. The new generation of evangelicals see themselves as post-modern, missional, prophetic, theologically-minded, and desire to make the practice of their faith and theology relevant to today’s post-modern age.
In today’s post-modern evangelical churches (or meeting places as some call it), their worship music, language, culture, and ways of speaking are so post-modern that one might even have to look twice to differentiate it from post-modern culture. I am not saying that the post-modern evangelicals condone a lax moral lifestyle. They definitely do not condone sinful lifestyles. Style must be differentiated from substance. Today’s evangelicals want to live out their lives “sold out” for Christ but they have the style of the post-modern culture. I think this is very Pauline, i.e., “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Cor.9:22, TNIV). As missional Christians, aren’t we all called to carry out the Great Commission?
How do we experience a personal reformation? By hearing the teaching, the preaching and by experiencing the sacrament of the living word who is Jesus Christ. This has been my personal experience. As one hears the living active word, the Holy Spirit awakens faith within a person’s spiritual inner being. The Holy Spirit arouses our inner spirit-being to be regenerated, bringing new life. One will never be the same again. This is what Martin Luther calls regeneration; today’s evangelicals call it being “born again”. Luther actually said: “It was like I was born again.” Though some Lutherans will deny that regeneration is not the same as being “born again”, it really is the same thing but using different words. It is all semantics; however, the evangelical definition of “born again” has connotations of evangelicalism. Thus, Lutherans seem to want to keep the definition of “regeneration” distinct–but it is actually the same thing. Evangelicals have an easier time pointing back to an experience they can remember; whereas, Lutherans are called to “remember their baptism” as a continual everyday thing. (see my posting on Dec. 28, 2006) [photo: Watchman Nee who in 1952 was imprisoned for his faith, tortured and beaten black & blue; he remained in prison until his death in 1972. His words remain an abundant source of spiritual revelation and supply to Christians throughout the world.]
The “Coming Radical Reformation” that was supposed to put Christianity on its knees has not come in this age and probably won’t in future ages either. I believe there is a personal God external to human beings as opposed to Robert Funk’s “God of the metaphysical age is dead” idea. Sure the de-literalization of the creation story might be agreeable to many…even to some evangelicals but most of Funk’s “21 Theses” are considered too radical and unorthodox biblicalto most Christians, even to liberal scholars. Does God still interfere with the order of nature from time to time? Sure. Miracles are not so unbelievable given the amount of testimonials out there by ordinary people around the world, especially from Christians in developing countries. What causes our unbelief is our lack of contact with the ordinary folks who experience the supernatural. Perhaps we should not be so quick to judge those who have experienced God in a real and tangible way. One’s subjective opinion cannot invalidate one’s personal experience of the Holy Spirit; nor can one’s lack of experience of God’s supernatural essence validate the non-existence of God. The fact that we live and move and have our being is a miracle in itself. Funk’s christology of Jesus as non-divine human being is an attempt to demote Jesus to the status of a demi-god or mere prophet. This would certainly please the Jehovah Witnesses and Muslims but the onus is still on R. Funk and the nontraditionalists to prove that Jesus is not divine. It will take much more proof to disprove the traditional beliefs of historic Christianity, which has been handed down to us through the centuries. Funk’s disbelief in the virgin birth of Jesus doesn’t cause as big of a stir to traditional Christian theology. I don’t think traditionalists should have much to fear even with a change of wording of Isa. 7:14 from “virgin” to “young woman”. Things like these are really the non-essentials of the faith. It will take a much greater pardigmatic shift in theological opinion to subvert the traditional wording of the Creed. (The Good News bible and N/RSV translations switched to “young woman” rather than “virgin”; but the NIV, TNIV, ESV, and modern translations have remained the same.)