Tag Archives: evangelicals

Film Review: God Loves Uganda

God Loves Uganda Cover

God Loves Uganda — a faulty premise that neglects important details and falls for grandiose stereotyping.

This documentary film by the acclaimed director Roger Ross Williams is a story about the complex mix of homosexuality, faith and politics in Uganda. He sees it as religious fanaticism stoking the flames of hatred and forcefully blames the influence of American evangelicals as the root cause of Ugandan homophobia.

His documentary thesis is supported by filming a devoted group of followers, and highlighting one of their former leaders, Lou Engle, from the International House of Prayer — an unaffiliated charismatic community located in Kansas City.

John Stackhouse, who holds the Sangwoo Youtong Chee Chair of Theology and Culture at Regent College in Vancouver, B.C., reviewed the film for Christianity Today and wrote:

Some people, alas, will be tempted to channel their outrage into hating evangelicals right here at home, those frightening people who are trying to wreck Africa and who, if they only could, would criminalize homosexuality here, too, and even kill unrepentant homosexuals. Such seems to be the unsubtle subtext of the film. More moderate evangelicals need to say, and say clearly, that to identify Scott Lively or Lou Engle as a typical American evangelical is like suggesting that Osama bin Laden was a typical Muslim or, closer to home, like suggesting that all homosexuals are like the most outlandish figures in Gay Pride Parades. We must speak up in public and both denounce and distance ourselves from such extremists, rather than muzzle ourselves in misguided charity for errant brothers and sisters, or we will see the gospel increasingly attacked as homophobic in just the way these people are.

…Yes, homophobia is bad. But so is evangelophobia. And what might have seemed just a decade ago to be a ridiculous and paranoid parallel doesn’t seem so now.

Stackhouse’s claim of evangelophobia has generated considerable buzz and I think he is right in this assessment.

The documentary succeeds at evoking immediate anger against evangelical christians and reinforces the stereotype of them being weird, racist, white bigots who are attempting to force their brand of truth throughout the world regardless of any human consequence.

It thrives by sweeping all evangelical christians under the same category of having a homophobic agenda. In reality, the evangelical movement is split over the topic of faith and homosexuality. This movie in no way represents this spectrum and neither is there any attempt to demonstrate that the International House of Prayer is considered a sect outside of mainstream evangelicalism. Williams selected it because it fit his premise.

It is a movie not only about Uganda, faith and homosexuality, it is also a journey for Williams to make sense of himself as a gay person who grew up in an American religious home. This should have been stated somewhere in the movie about why he was personally motivated to cover such a topic. It would give the viewer important context.

The film touches on an important subject that is becoming a genre. It is that of charismatic extremism. This can also be found in the controversial movies Machine Gun Preacher, and the The Jesus Camp where they are about independent and pioneer charismatic leaders doing their own thing with little training or external accountability. Williams has grouped IHOP as evangelical and pentecostal while it is actually charismatic – an important nuance neglected in his coverage.

Charismatic churches are hard to define and has been a subject of debate for over a decade. They are typically independent bodies that have split from a mainstream denominational evangelical church over the doctrines relating to the christian mystical experience. Many of these churches have little or no external accountability, tend to rely more on personal revelation and divine encounters which do not necessarily have to be rational. This movement is much smaller than its pentecostal counterpart, but it is highly emotive and vocal This form of mystic extremism can be very damaging for the christian movement as a whole and has to be urgently called into account.

IHOP and its brand of faith do not represent any pentecostal organized constituency which has a much larger member base. Neither am I aware of any mainline pentecostal North American organization promoting a homophobic agenda. If that was the case, then Williams would have filmed a historical masterpiece of immense value.

The film also fails to take into account that homophobia is a part of the Ugandan and African social tapestry. Same-sex relations are illegal in 36 of Africa’s 55 countries, according to Amnesty International, and punishable by death in some states. according a Guardian.com article written by David Smith. This is a huge oversight by the Film and seriously erodes the argument of American evangelical influence interfering with Ugandan politics and being responsible for increasing homophobia in Uganda.

God Loves Uganda starts with an important survey of homophobia in Uganda but denigrates into a poor stereotype of Christians. He took the easy-way-out on a very difficult topic and oversimplified the causes. Because of this, I would rank this movie a 4 out of 10.

Evangelicals and Health Care Ethics

How health care ethics need to be ingrained in the fabric of the evangelical mindset.

Technology has introduced great breakthroughs on issues of life and death but has also naturally brought about new ethical issues that the traditional faith has not been prepared to engage in.

Most evangelicals are left with making life or death decisions, not on the basis of religious piety, but the insistence of economics or social convenience. They are game time decisions made in hospitals and doctors offices. These decisions are not considered the role of the church or faith. It is just what has to be done. Faith comes later.

When to pull the plug, is nowhere to found in the Scriptures. Neither is in-vitro fertilization, surrogate motherhood, or the question, does life begin at birth, conception or when the fertilized egg implants on the uterus? Then there is the other difficult question — when is someone really dead? Families are often forced to make life decisions for their members based on statistical chances of recovery. Others are compelled by insurance or economic costs. Sometimes medical advances have allowed suffering to go beyond normal expectations. What framework are Christians to have to make the numerous and difficult decisions on the grey areas of life and death?

The contemporary dilemmas brought on by modern technology have no immediate parallel in the Scriptures. Readings from the ancients like Tertullian and Augustine could easily be used to strengthen the concept of life from beginning to end but they are moralistic more than technically descriptive.

There is no be-all-to-end-all solution to any of this either. The new technologies are always creating new ethical problems. Evangelicals feel morally strong about the equality of all human life but have little know-how in applying this in the health-care arena.

The problems confronting evangelicals on such new territories are not going away by simply ignoring them.

Evangelicals, along with everyone else, are personally confronted with ethical dilemmas on numerous occasions in their lives. For example, a Christian nurse sees a patient’s health chart has a yellow star on it, which means that the patient is not to be resuscitated if there is a health emergency. On some occasions this may be OK, on others, this could be murder. If an emergency does arise, there is no time to think about it. How does the nurse know what is the right move in God’s eyes? What if it goes against the policy and procedure of the hospital?

Or the husband being tasked a life or death decision about his very sick wife, who is hospitalized, overweight, has diabetes, and is need of open heart surgery. The hospital business administrator asks the spouse to make a life ending decision based on statistical chances of survival and advises that surgery is an unnecessary cost. A decision is required now, or within the next few days. He has to go it alone with what his conscience dictates. If he should say that he wants the treatment to continue, he has to convince a thoroughly skeptical administrator who will push hard to achieve the hospital’s objectives. What should he do?

Most evangelicals assume that conception means the fertilizing of the egg but that is no longer correct. It has changed in the last 60 years from the sperm fertilizing the egg to the successful implantation of the blastocyst into the lining of the womb. This is a very controversial subject and a primary concern from a life perspective to look into. Yet, this has never been the subject of popular scrutiny in the evangelical realm.

Evangelical belief holds surgical abortion is wrong, but the use of a chemical pill, such as misoprostol, to immediately dispel a fetus, seems to be in a grey zone. As one blog commenter noted on using it, “It was private, effective, and relatively painless. It is more “moral” (from my Christian perspective anyway).”(1) As found at pregnancyoptions.info

Ethical problems can be found in some types of pregnancy testing. For example older women are routinely advised by doctors to get testing so that a prognosis can be made whether the fetus has down’s syndrome. It is statistically known that there is a greater chance for older women to have a child with this. If a woman is discovered to be carrying a defective child, the medical system allows the woman to choose to carry or abort. I suspect many Christian women have not considered the ethics of such a practice. They simply do the test on the doctor’s advice whom they implicitly trust.

Physician assisted suicide has recently been opened up for discussion in the Canadian political realm. I have not seen or witnessed any feedback from the grassroots Christian community. The silence and lack of action on such subjects always are concerning.

There are many more examples that could be used but this is sufficient to show that Christians are confronted with these difficult deliberations throughout life.

This is the very battlefield that is thrust upon the church; how to get the conscience of the grassroots members of the church body in tune with these issues from a Christian perspective so when the moment comes to make these life or death decisions, they are made correctly.

Prior education from a Christian perspective is required before these moments occur. It cannot be done at the moment of crisis.

Medical ethics has to be an inherent part of the church curriculum that repeatedly needs to be communicated in both public and private occasions. It cannot be simply a yearly symposium, or two sermons a year. It has to become part of the fabric of the church. This is the only way it can fully enter into the grassroots conscience. The ethics have to be viewed as temporary absolutes and has to change as new medical advances arrive.■

References   [ + ]

The Alliance between Israel and Evangelicals

The financial, political, social and religious connections between the nation of Israel and Evangelical groups abroad.

The growing relationship between Israel and Evangelicals is largely due to domestic problems inside Israel and the greater Jewish community. The Jewish liberal monetary support has been declining, partly in protest to the encroaching rhetoric of Jewish fundamentalism into mainstream Israeli politics, such as the transfer of power to a Likud based party, the redefinition of the Jewish identity by a stricter set of rules,(1)http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week122/cover.html “Israeli Alliance with American Evangelicals” January 30th, 1998 Episode no. 122. An interview with Benjamin Natanyahu by Paul Miller, Religion and Ethics and the religious fervour of Westbank community settlements.

The Evangelical alliance also gives the Israeli Government political insurance if there is potential fallout of goodwill within many of its western democratic government allies.

The initial passion for the restoration of Israel can be found in the Evangelical movement over 100 years ago and was so pervasive that Dr. Stephen Sizer, an Anglican Minister and one of the foremost authorities on Christian Zionism, believes that this was a key force in allowing the reformation of the physical entity of Israel in 1948.(2) Stephen Sizer. Christian Zionism: Fueling the Arab-Israeli Conflict. CD pre-release version. Chapter 5: pg. 305. No Date Given but is the rough manuscript to the final print version, “Christian Zionism: Road Map to Armaggedon?”

This zeal has heavily influenced political decision making. For example, in the 1980s the then President Ronald Reagan along with the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Senator Jesse Helms, were openly known to hold evangelical end-time aspirations in dealings with Israel. George Bush Jr. is also noted to hold this faith position, more so than his father.(3) American Jews and Israel: A 54-Year Retrospective University of Judaism, http://www.uj.edu/content/ContentUnit.asp?CID=1200&u=3025&t=0

Josh Pollack noted in the Jewish World Review that a significant chunk of donations to the United Jewish Appeal are from Christians(4) http://www.jewishworldreview.com/0298/evewar.html “The dance of symbols” by Josh Pollack, Jan. 21. 1998 . Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, director of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, a Chicago-based organization, consisting mainly of Evangelical Christians donors, have contributed over $5 million dollars to the United Jewish appeal in 1997 and in 2006 the yearly donations skyrocketed to $39 million dollars.(5) http://www.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/meast/08/17/jews.christians/index.html The Jerusalem Post wrote that he claimed his organization to be the largest single donor to the United Jewish Appeal.(6) Evangelical Christians Supply Major Source of UJA Donations. The Jerusalem Post Thursday, November 13, 1997 By Aryeh Dean Cohen. Rabbi Yechiel’s statement may be hyperbole but it demonstrates how important Christian financial contributions are becoming in Israeli fund-raising activities.

There are other examples as well which demonstrate how widespread financial support from Christian communities have become:

  • The Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, reported that television evangelists raised over $20 million dollars to help Jewish immigration to Israel in 1997.(7) U.S. Christians paid for summer airlift of Ethiopian Jews. By Catherine Cohen , Ha’aretz. Friday, December 31, 1999. No link to this file

  • Ann Lolordo of the Baltimore Sun found that financial help for Jewish settlements could be found in the Christian Zionist community, and ironically not found from western Jewish ones. She detailed a number of Christian Churches and organizations funding endeavors such as the $5,000 dollars raised by Judy Campbell and the New Life Church in Colorado, or Ted Beckett, a Colorado developer, who started the Adopt-a-settlement program and contributed over $50,000 dollars over a two-year period. The Fellowship Church of Castleberry, Florida, donated over $100,000 dollars for a dormitory and conference center at a West-Bank settlement called Kiryat-Arba.(8) Israeli settlers find staunch friends in Christians, By Ann LoLordo, Baltimore Sun. July 27, 1997.

  • Vicki Hearst, daughter of the late wealthy businessman, Randolph Hearst, has given an undisclosed significant amount of money for facilities on the West Bank Jewish settlement of Ariel.(9) IBID. Israeli Settlers. LoLordo.

  • Pastor John Hagee’s Cornerstone Christian Church in Texas donated over $1.5 million dollars to the United Jewish Communities for “Israel-related causes”.(10) http://www.ujc.org/page.html?ArticleID=36411 United Jewish Communities “News: As Evangelical Christians Cheer, Preacher Gives Money to Back Israel” by Barbara Richmond. And in 2006 it is alleged he raised over $7 million for Jewish groups.(11) http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/newscontent.php3?artid=14013 Growing Acceptance seen of fiery Pastor by James D. Besser, Thursday, Aug. 23rd, 2007 He also founded on February 7, 2006, Christians United For Israel an Evangelical equivalent of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) to lobby the American congress to support Israel.(12) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Hagee In that same year, Hagee was the recipient of the Humanitarian of the Year Award by B’nai B’rith.(13) http://www.jewsonfirst.org/07b/yoffie.html Leader of Reform Judaism discourages cooperation with Christians United for Israel. May 29th, 2007.

  • The amount of money from many of these groups may seem insignificant, but there are Churches and organizations all over the world doing the same thing, cumulatively adding to Israel’s economy.

  • There are so many pro-Israel Christian groups that if one does a Google search, it will bring up over 250 organizations. It is difficult to assess the yearly economic contributions to Israel, but four of the larger well known ones, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem, Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, and Chosen People Ministries, collectively receive donations over $33 million US every year.(14) This was based on studying financial reports given on the internet for the year 2000.

This Christian zeal enters directly into modern-day Israeli politics. I was at the International Christian Embassy Feast of Tabernacles celebration held in Jerusalem in 1986, where the then Prime Minister Yitzhaq Shamir was given a standing ovation by a thousand or more Christians as a sign of prophetic allegiance. The annual rite that occurred in 2007 consisted of an estimated 7,000 Christian pilgrims from 90 nations.(15) http://www.icej.org/article/feast_pilgrims_ready_for_jerusalem_march

Benyamin Netanyahu, a former Israeli UN representative and current Prime Minister, has frequently spoken in Churches.(16) http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article4951.htm “The Interregnum: Christian Zionism In The Clinton Years” by Donald Wagner.  He is a cherished idol in the Evangelical community, as reflected by this blogger on Netanyahu when he announced participation in a previous Likud leadership race, “I believe that Benjamin Netanyahu is the chosen man of God to help lead Israel through this very difficult time.”(17) http://www.onenewsnow.com/2007/07/bibi_netanyahu_the_great_commu.php A posting by Steve Wenge, July 11th, 2007

The Knesset has formed the Christian Allies Caucus because of the decades of warm political, economic and social relationships between the Evangelical Christian Community and Israel.(18) http://cac.org.il/. http://www.israelnn.com/news.php3?id=69672 Christian Allies in Day of Prayer for Jerusalem. See also http://www.knesset.gov.il/lobby/eng/LobbyPage_eng.asp?lobby=41

The European Coalition for Israel: the brainchild of a number of major Christian Zionist groups was founded to promote the welfare of Israel before the European Parliament.(19) http://www.europeancoalitionforisrael.org/ “A Christian initiative Promoting European-Israeli Cooperation.”

The Israeli political ethos has warmed to these Christian communities since the times of Menachem Begin, who oversaw the transition of a liberal based Israeli government to that of a Likud based one — a party influenced by orthodox Judaism — the Christian equivalent of a fundamentalist group.

The Biblical imagery and geographical rhetoric that the Likud party espouses is easily understood by the Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians, which makes the attraction between the Likud and these Christians a natural one.

The Israeli Government feels comfortable with this arrangement because money donated comes with what appears few strings attached. An Op-Ed by Abraham H. Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League detailed this in Time Magazine, “The support comes voluntarily, and we welcome it, as long as it comes without a quid pro quo.”(20) http://www.jewsonfirst.org/howjewsseefp.html How Jews See it: Foreign Policy and Christian Zionists: Time Magazine, January 16th, 2007

The Christian organizations that offer material support believe the country and its politicians are mandated by God, and their assistance is to accelerate modern Israel’s self-determined course to Armaggedon. They feel direct intervention on how and where the money should be used would be counter-productive to the unfolding of the events leading to the end of the world.

Much of the closeness between Evangelicals and the Israeli Government can be traced to the late American Evangelist, Jerry Falwell, and his close relationship with Israeli leader Menachem Begin. It has been asserted the relationship was so close, that Falwell was loaned a Lear jet by the Israeli government. A deeper look reveals this to be false, according to the Israeli-American writer, Zev Chafets.(21) Zev Chafets. A Match Made in Heaven. New York: Harper Collins Publishers. 2007. pg. 66

Falwell once stated that the Israeli government can be confident that he could mobilize over 70 million Christians in support of Israel.(22) Donald Wagner. Evangelicals and Israel: Theological roots of a political alliance. Christian Century. Nov. 4. 1998 http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1058/is_1998_Nov_4/ai_53227143/pg_4

Little is said or written about what the average Israeli perceives the Christian Zionist in a one-to-one conversation. Zev Chafets appreciates such enthusiasm to support the Israeli cause. He turns a blind eye to their religious fervour and is simply in favour of anybody who defends Israel from being taken off the map.(23) http://www.jewsonfirst.org/howjewsseefp.html On Fresh Air: Chafets shrugs off Christian Right Agenda, Israeli attack on Iran. Terry Gross interviews Chafets on Fresh Air, January 18th, 2007.

Chafets explores the modern Israeli relationship with Christian Zionism in his book, A Matchmade in Heaven. He described this association through an experience touring with a Christian Zionist couple in Israel. While they were in a store, he was talking with an Israeli clerk about his touring friends. In English, they are appreciated, but in a short Hebrew dialogue between Chafets and the clerk, they find them weird(24) IBID Chafets. Pg. 41. . When he worked in the Israeli government, he found “…that Christian Zionists were politically useful, even if their hypersincerity was a bit off-putting.”(25) IBID Chafets. Pg. 10.

This relationship is a gamble that the religious observant Jew or modern liberal Israeli has made with much trepidation. Ira Rifkin wrote in Jewish Week that he is concerned about the long-term consequences of using the Christian Zionists for the Israeli national agenda. A variety of issues could rise that deeply split the Christian from the Jewish communities and cause a new wave of anti-Semitism.(26) http://www.thejewishweek.com/top/editletcontent.php3?artid=2389 The Jewish Week: Beware of Christian Zionists by Ira Rifkin. Nov. 22, 2002. Gershom Gorenberg echoed this same sentiment in an on-line New Republic article, stating that Reverend Jerry Falwell believed the anti-Christ was alive today and was male and Jewish. This type of religious vernacular indicated to Mr. Gorenberg that Christian fanaticism could quickly turn against the Jews.(27) Tribulations: Jerusalem’s Y2K problem by Gershom Gorenberg. The New Republic: a journal of politics and the arts. JUNE 14, 1999 ISSUE

John Hagee and his organization, Christians United for Israel (CUFI), has especially brought the relationship of Christian Zionism with mainstream American Judaism to a head. Hagee’s invitation to have a forum at a convention held by the powerful lobby group American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and CUFI’s ‘Nights to Honor Israel’, at local Churches has especially increased discussion.(28) http://www.jewsonfirst.org/07b/yoffie.html Rabbi Moline, an ultra-conservative Rabbi who fiercely crusades against intermarriage and the religious right, is a known sponsor of Hagee’s fundraisers even though he doesn’t like his theology or politics, “…we live in a time when friends of Israel are few and far between. We have to recognize that we are receiving support from the Evangelical community that we are not receiving from our traditional friends.”(29) http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/newscontent.php3?artid=14013 Growing Acceptance seen of fiery Pastor by James D. Besser, Thursday, Aug. 23rd, 2007

The problem has been addressed by the Chief Rabbinate in Israel. They called on Jews to shun the annual International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem’s 2007 Feast of Tabernacles celebration held in Jerusalem. The Rabbinate cannot comprehend the modern Evangelical end-fervor and could only logically conclude that this was a plot to convert Jews to Christianity.(30) http://cnews.canoe.ca/CNEWS/World/2007/09/23/4520803-ap.html, Evangelicals disturbed by Israel rabbis’ call for Jews to shun holiday event. By Amy Teibel, The Associated Press, September 23rd, 2007.

What would happen if the Evangelical community discovered that they have been used by the Israeli Government and Jewish allies for their own political means? This scenario would likely never happen as the Pentecostal/Evangelical mindset on end-times is so deeply set, that it could not reach this state of consciousness.

Could the Evangelical support switch into a deep form of anti-Semitism? Contrary to the fears of many Rabbis and Jewish religious pundits, this is not going to happen. If anything, the new problem is that of Philo-Semitism, and the expectations that come with it.

What could be the potential turning point? A worst-case scenario is the election of a majority Labor government, who in turn would legislate and destroy illegal settlements, outlaw expansionism, and begin to introduce more liberal laws into Israel such as universal abortion on demand, recognition of same-sex marriages, and a significantly re-drawn two-state solution with Palestinians. The Christian Zionist organizations then would react two-fold: first, Christian Zionist money and political leverage would substantially shift from the Israeli Government to the territories and radical religious Jewish groups. Secondly, the Christian Zionist movement would become politically silent on military offences or defences for or against Israel, believing it to be a punishment on a government that has lost its God given mandate and in need of spiritual correction.■

For more information:

This article was originally published on the ScribD website in 2007. It is republished here with some changes.

References   [ + ]

Evangelicals on the Problem of Being Saved

What does it mean to be saved? It depends on who you ask.

In general, the modern definition of saved according to many contemporary Evangelical Churches is a defined spiritual relationship with Jesus Christ. How this relationship begins and the nuances that publicly confirm such a declaration varies slightly between denominations. The rudiments consist of an acknowledgment of one’s shame, the inability to correct one’s behavior, the need for divine intervention, and the promise of a changed life.

Evangelicals believe the only route for a divine intervention is through the mediation of Jesus Christ who substitutes Himself as both the sufferer and the redeemer on each person’s behalf. This portrait of Jesus, according to Evangelical doctrine, is the only way to forge a relationship with God. However, a verbal confession is required to enact such an arrangement and a prerequisite to gain entrance into heaven. This declaration is volitionally done and verbally expressed both privately and publicly.

Normally this realization is a one-time intense emotional experience that is described as an epiphany between God and the person — a mystical union and results in catharsis. “Catharsis is an emotional discharge through which one can achieve a state of moral or spiritual renewal or achieve a state of liberation from anxiety and stress.”(1)http://literarydevices.net/catharsis/ This moment is dated, qualified and publicly expressed. Other terms to describe this moment are born again or conversion.’ A clearly defined confession of this epiphany is usually necessary for full entrance into an evangelical community.

The Billy Graham Association has liked to emphasize this moment as born again and describes this state succinctly:

A born-again Christian is someone who has repented of their sins and turned to Christ for their salvation, and, as a result, has become part of God’s family forever. All this takes place as God’s Spirit works in our lives.(2) http://www.billygraham.org/articlepage.asp?articleid=4077

This is typical of most evangelical Churches, but perhaps is an over-generality. John Stackhouse, a Professor at Regent College in Vancouver, believes being saved to be a distinctive mode of Evangelical spirituality but that the date and time of conversion are not universal within Evangelical circles. He cites that Billy Graham does not give an exact date or time of his being saved but a process.(3)http://www.christianity.ca/NetCommunity/Page.aspx?pid=4376. Originally published in Faith Today, May/June 1995.

However, once one starts to get into the details and begin asking questions such as;

  • What is a qualified experience?
  • Is it an intellectual or psychological state?
  • What is the demarcation line between sincere and insincere penitence?
  • Does it take a crisis moment, such as a death of a family member, loss of a job, etc., as the Christian Missionary Alliance puts it, to bring on a conversion.?
  • What if a person is incompetent and cannot understand the abstract foundations of penitence, redemption, sacrifice or confession? Does their lack of intellectual capacity damn them?

These details start to unravel the unity between the various camps on the subject.

Many leaders within are beginning to question the traditional Evangelical position and have called for a re-evaluation. Brian D. McLaren, a Pastor from a Plymouth Brethren background, and one of the leaders of the growing Post-Modern Christian movement believes it is outdated:

“I think our definition of “saved” is shrunken and freeze-dried by modernity. We need a postmodern consideration of what salvation means, something beyond an individualized and consumeristic version.”(4) Brian D. McLaren. “A New Kind Of Christian” San Francisco: Jossy-Bass. 2001. pg. 130

McLaren reflects an active tension in the Church community where one is questioning or even repudiating the modern evangelical definition, but lacks a solid model to replace it.

Scot McKnight, a New Testament Professor at North Park University, takes it even further:

Whether evangelicalism was paying attention or not, it is now. Universalism, or at least the prospect of it, is the single most significant issue running through the undercurrent of evangelicalism today… My own estimation is that somewhere near 75 percent of my students, many if not most of them nurtured in the church, are more or less universalist. They believe in Jesus and see themselves as Christians but don’t find significant problems in God saving Muslims and Buddhists or anyone else on the basis of how God makes such decisions.(5)http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/church/features/24878-universalism-and-the-doctrine-of-rob-bell.

The Evangelical world has been challenged internally on the definition by Rob Bell, whom some considered the replacement for Billy Graham. A review in Christianity Today accuses him of universalism and then claims that Bell’s thesis offers answers that “sabotage his own goals.”(6)http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/april/lovewins.html?start=2

Salvation is intended to be the defining character of Evangelicalism, but as Cathleen Falsani, web editor and director of new media at Sojourners, has found the movement itself is very diverse. In her web article titled, Defining “Evangelical” and Other Unsolved Mysteries she asked a number of Evangelical leaders on their definition and concluded:

As you can see from the answers some of our authors have offered, “evangelical” at best has a fluid definition, depending on whether the question is asked in a cultural, religious, historical or political context — and then colored by where both the speaker and the listener situate themselves in those worlds.

Perhaps defining “evangelical” is a bit like trying to define (definitively) what pornography is. To paraphrase former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart in a 1964 Court opinion, I shall not today attempt further to define it, but I know it when I see it.

The best answer I’ve heard lately to the question, “What is an Evangelical,” arrived unexpectedly at a New Year’s Eve party I attended a few weeks ago in the southern California town where I live. Not long before the clock struck 12, a mutual friend casually turned to my longtime friend (and now neighbor) Rob Bell, former pastor of Mars Hill church in Michigan, and casually asked him what “evangelical” really means.

With a glass of champagne in one hand and a smile on his face, Rob answered, “An evangelical is someone who, when they leave the room, you have more hope than when they entered.”

A quote attributed to the late science fiction writer Rober A. Heinlein finds a serious weakness in the Evangelical theology of being saved, “A long and wicked life followed by five minutes of perfect grace gets you into Heaven. An equally long life of decent living and good works followed by one outburst of taking the name of the Lord in vain — then have a heart attack at that moment and be damned for eternity. Is that the system?”(7) http://thinkexist.com/quotation/a_long_and_wicked_life_followed_by_five_minutes/344885.html

It is indeed a subjective experience that cannot be qualified except through emotional fervency. One could perhaps surmise that the strength of such a definition was waning in the mid-1900’s until Billy Graham exploded on the scene.

Graham’s preaching and the Evangelical voice came in the 1960s during a radical shift in cultural thinking regarding life and personal identity.

21st-century philosophers discussed a similar parallel that Graham so strongly emphasized. Philosophers Karl Jaspers’ and Martin Heidegger promoted that to experience true existence, one must confront reality and make a decision. It did not matter if the final personal result was a grim one or a leap of faith. It was the decision that counted. It was considered the special moment that defined one as fully human. If one did not confront reality and come to that moment of decision, they would not discover their true humanity.

Karl Jaspers called this the first order experience and also final experience. Followers of Jasper were known to say, “I have had a final experience”.(8) http://mhsymp.com/?p=49

It is not surprising that many of Graham’s programs have the word decision as the key phrase in their traditional literature, such as the Decision Magazine, the radio program The Hour of Decision etc.

With the general society already conditioned that a one time intensely subjective experience is necessary for becoming being fully human, the Evangelical message of being saved nicely fit. One could argue that this evangelical conversion process is the religious alternative to the final experience.

Factions of the Catholic Church have had their own internal struggle against the contemporary definition of salvation and struggle to re-find what they believe to be their traditional one. Extremist groups within this realm, such as the St. Benedictine order, led by the late Father Feeney, have fought against Liberalist theology and modernism, by enforcing an ancient decree, “Extra Ecclesiam Nullus Omnino Salvatur”–“Outside the Church, there is no salvation for anyone” (the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215). The statement conveys that only formal members of the Catholic Church can be saved. They cite numerous Church Fathers throughout history to support their position. Father Feeney and his followers are recoiling against a modern challenge by urging allegiance to the Church and its traditions. It is a protectionist type of reaction, which does not give a precise definition of what the term saved means.(9) http://www.catholicism.org/pages/outside.htm, http://catholicism.org/author/fatherleonardfeeneymicm
Originally I learned about Father Feeney at http://www.ihsv.com/a_challenge_of_faith.html. This page is now gone. It seems that any history of Feeney has been significantly toned down since the initial research was performed a number of years ago.

The discussion of conversion in the annals of the Evangelical world can be traced back to the Methodist movement that struggled over the same question. Harold Roberts, the President of the World Methodist Council in the late 1950’s, stated:

“The test of the reality of conversion is to be found in a sense of forgiveness, a growing sensitiveness to sin, a conviction that all sin can finally be overcome by the power of God, an assurance that we are on the right road and that our life is in the hands of divine love, a changed relationship to our fellows revealed in social justice, the pursuit of peace, compassion, patience, humility, and absence of self-concern, and deepening allegiance to the Church as the people of God.”(10) Harold Roberts. The Doctrine of Conversion: Some Reflections. Pg. 197 as found at http://www.oxford-institute.org/meetings/1958/08_1958_Roberts.pdf
 The London quarterly and Holborn review, Volume 28; Volume 184. 1959

This is one of the better definitions, but it is not ironclad. How can one test that a person has changed relationships, overcome sin, has conviction etc.? The question of conversion then switches from the pronouncement of the individual’s conversion experience to confirmation by the Church authority.

Another approach can be taken from J.A. Wickham’s A synopsis of the doctrine of baptism, regeneration, conversion, etc.(11) http://books.google.com/books?id=jINCAAAAIAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=doctrine+of+conversion&lr=&ei=qqxlS__YPJjEzgSF-OE2&cd=16#v=onepage&q=&f=false He argues that the historic Church taught and believed conversion and regeneration were represented in baptism. Baptism and being saved are synonyms. Either one is baptized or not. Whickham’s approach takes away the subjective nuances of conversion. There are weaknesses in this argument, but it is compelling.

These are a few of the problems that modern Evangelicals face today in defining the core of their belief system. However, none, except for J.A. Wickham, offers a satisfactory and a non-subjective alternative.

The next article on this subject looks into the earliest role of faith in the Christian message. It is an analysis of two key phrases found in the Books of Mark, and Luke. What it means to be Saved.

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