Should Anabaptists be evangelicals?

Ted Grimsrud—June 11, 2012

I recently read a fascinating and well executed collection of essays, The Activist Impulse: Essays on the Intersection of Evangelicalism and Anabaptism, edited by Jared S. Burkholder and David C. Cramer (Pickwick Publications, 2012). I intend to interact more explicitly with this book soon, but right now I want to reflect a bit on some thoughts that reading it triggered for me.

One of the basic issues The Activist Impulse takes up is the relationship between “Anabaptism” and “evangelicalism”—especially how closely those in each movement should be linked. As many of the writers in the book acknowledge, each of these terms is difficult to define. Both refer to movements and mindsets, not to clearly delineated organizations.

What one means by “Anabaptism” is probably easier to settle on, at least in a general sense, than what one means by “evangelicalism.” Most of us would agree in linking the term with a particular (though surprisingly diverse and amorphous) movement that arose amidst the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century and ultimately found institutional shape in the Mennonite churches, their siblings (such as the Amish and Hutterites), and various cousins (especially the movement that evolved in diverse forms to produce the Church of the Brethren, Brethren Church, Grace Brethren, and German Baptist Brethren).

However, since the term was rehabilitated following Harold Bender’s widely circulated and praised summary statement, “The Anabaptist Vision,” increasingly many non-Mennonites and Brethren have used the terms in a positive sense that speaks more to certain theological and ethical sensibilities—most notably pacifism, a strong emphasis on the Sermon on the Mount, simple living, and intentional community.

Evangelicalism—Two senses of the term

What is meant by “evangelicalism” is more contested. Without getting into to various debates, I will simply suggest two general senses of how I see the term being used (let me note that the editors of The Activist Impulse deliberately chose to avoid a stable definition in their book, allowing each author to use the term in their own way—a mistake in my opinion that leads to less precision than would have been desirable in the collection as a whole).

The first sense is to see “evangelical” simply as a rough synonym with “conservative Protestant” and to link it with the Reformation itself and other later renewal movements. This is the way Mennonite historian Steve Nolt defines it in his essay in The Activist Impulse: “Evangelicalism is a stream of Protestant Christianity marked by emphases on religious conversion, active and overt expression of faith, the authority of the Bible, and Christ’s death on the cross. These hallmarks, as British historian David Bebbington has shown, were common across the north Atlantic world among those who called themselves evangelicals in the 1700s, and they have served as a minimal definition of evangelicalism in the centuries that followed” (pp. 13-14).

The second sense is more conflictual and North American-focused. It would be to link “evangelical” with institutions and sensibilities that evolved from the early 20th-century Fundamentalist movement in the United States and Canada. This sense of “evangelical” may be understood in relation to entities that emerged in the 1940s and 1950s such as the National Association of Evangelicals, the Billy Graham movement, and seminaries such as Fuller, Asbury, Trinity, and Gordon-Conwell and a college such as Wheaton. Evangelicals in this sense tend to have doctrinal statements that are enforced. The Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) still requires its members to believe in biblical inerrancy. From time to time the ETS will go through a process to decide whether a member has crossed the line and violated evangelical orthodoxy.

Evangelicals have been spoken of as having theological affinity with fundamentalists, but a less separatist spirit; somewhat contentious and intolerant, but less so that the combative Fundamentalists.

To ask about Anabaptists and evangelicals, it matters whether we are defining evangelicalism more in the first sense or the second sense. Steve Nolt and his Goshen College historian colleague John Roth in their essays in The Activist Impulse both tend toward the first sense and both seem quite sanguine about close connections between evangelicals and Anabaptists.

I tend toward the second sense of understanding evangelical. [I have written a bit about my own background as an evangelical and my self-conscious move to leave evangelicalism and become an Anabaptist here and here.] It seems to me that when “evangelical” is used of theology (in a broad sense), it needs to be understood against the background of the Fundamentalist movement that gained traction in the early 1900s and that still defines much of the theological sensibility of evangelicals.

Focusing on differences between evangelicalism and Anabaptism

I think discussions about evangelicalism and Anabaptism should focus on the differences between the two movements before developing a sense of commonality over the similarities. I am still thinking about how to articulate this concern.

For various reasons I have gotten more interested in such discussions lately. My school, Eastern Mennonite University (perhaps as much of a bastion of Anabaptist sensibility as any place right now), hosted three quite different visitors this spring semester who each, in some sense, came to EMU as evangelicals attracted to Anabaptism and wanting to learn more about it first hand.

One was folk musician Shaun Groves, who travels widely performing mostly at evangelical schools. He was our “Spiritual Life Week” speaker/performer. According to his extensive (and fascinating) reflections on his blog, he found the experience of interacting with Anabaptists surprisingly a bit unsettling in a way that seems to have made him think that linking evangelicalism and Anabaptism might be more complicated than he might have thought.

Then we had James Davison Hunter, prominent sociologist of religion at the University of Virginia who came to talk about ideas from his recent book, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (Oxford, 2010). He was followed by pastor and urban missiologist David Fitch from Northern Theological Seminary in Chicago, who discussed his book, The End of Evangelicalism? Discerning a New Faithfulness for Mission: Towards an Evangelical Political Theology (Cascade Books, 2011).

Each in his own way also seemed to find their conversations with EMU folks helpful but also a bit unsettling. I would say that part of the unsettling aspect is it becoming more clear that, though they each have found themselves attracted to some elements of Anabaptist thought, the differences between evangelicalism and Anabaptism remain significant and complicated.

These encounters, one after the other though none connected to the other, stimulated me to think more about issues I have long been interested in. I have also read in order to review several books lately that have continued the stimulation. Paul Martens, The Heterodox Yoder (Cascade Books, 2012), is an evangelical and Mennonite who critiques the theology of John Howard Yoder and concludes that Yoder was not “orthodox” (my critique of Martens’s critique is here). The second is The Activist Impulse, mentioned above. The third is another book of essays, this one edited by Justin Bronson Barringer and Tripp York, A Faith Not Worth Fighting For: Addressing Commonly Asked Questions about Christian Nonviolence (Cascade Books, 2012).

Five key differences

As I think about it, I think of numerous issues that I would want to discuss as differences. I think facing these head on would help us better define what is at the heart of both evangelicalism and Anabaptism—and would make the conversation about how they connect (or not) with each other more fruitful.

(1) Atonement—As is well known, even while ancient dogmas focused on clarifying Jesus’ divinity, they never did address the issue of what view of Jesus’ death and salvation would be considered orthodox. Numerous recent studies of atonement doctrines have emphasized the plurality of models and images in the Bible itself. Yet North American fundamentalism did make what is called the “penal substitution” view into an explicit boundary marker.

In Shaun Groves’ discussion of his experience at EMU, he asserts that a doctrine something like the penal substitution view was for him a “non-negotiable” in determining acceptable theology. I have had the experience in recent years of seriously being labeled a “heretic” by students strictly because of my lack of affirmation for the penal substitution view. Along the lines of J.Denny Weaver’s argument in his book The Nonviolent Atonement, I would suggest that in fact the penal substitution view (along with the less extreme view of Anselm—the “satisfaction” model) is actually in tension with Anabaptist pacifism and with the main thrust of the biblical teaching.

(2) Exclusivity—In Paul Martens’s critique of John Howard Yoder’s theology, a central problem that arises for Martens is what he terms Yoder’s failure to affirm “particularity” in his Christology. It appears that what Martens actually means is that Yoder does not affirm a strong sense of Christian uniqueness. What makes Christianity true, Martens implies, is that it is the only truth; the explicit affirmation of Jesus as one’s personal savior is the only way to salvation.

Anabaptists would not tend to be pluralists in the sense of affirming all religions as equally revelatory (certainly Yoder was not), but by seeing practice as integral to Christian faith (faith without works is dead, doctrine and practice belong inextricably together) they actually do differ from evangelicalism’s doctrine-first approach.

(3) Scripture—In my own experience, a key moment in rejecting evangelical theology came due to the debate over biblical inerrancy. I came to believe that evangelicalism often emphasizes the doctrine of scripture over the content of scripture. The key thing about the Bible in evangelical theology, it seems to me, is that it gives us an unassailable authority. So, for example, evangelicalism tends to begin systematic theology with the doctrine of scripture rather than the storyline of the Bible. We need to establish the Bible’s authority before moving on to other doctrines.

This emphasis on the Bible as first of all unassailable authority helps explain why, say, evangelical theology tends to be so dogmatically certain that homosexuality in all its expressions is wrong and that any argument to the contrary is “against the Bible”—even when the content of the Bible does not actually support such certainty. All we need to know, it appears, is that somewhere the Bible says something against some expression of homosexuality. Since the Bible is an unassailable authority that gives us that absolute directives we need, we may simply cites the negative allusion as our once-for-all-time answer to the issue. In this view, we do not need to ask about the context and specific meaning of the particular texts. That is, it is Bible as authority that matters, not the actual contextually specific content of the biblical references.

(4) Politics—I talked with a friend recently about some of these issues and he told me about his recently deceased mother, a deeply traditional Mennonite. Over the past several years she had expressed strong support for the death penalty. This surprised my friend because traditionally Mennonites have opposed the death penalty. It appears that her switch on this issue followed from extensive exposure to evangelical teaching on TV, the radio, and even in her Mennonite congregation.

I have written before about my experience in recent EMU classes of students’ increased dogmatism in their anti-abortion view and concomitant affirmation of governmental intervention to criminalize abortion. I have had guest speakers in the past who had expressed strong pro-life views as an expression of their Mennonite pacifism—but they had also argued against focusing on governmental intervention. This new focus strikes me as another way that exposure to evangelicalism has pushed Mennonites away from more overt Anabaptist theology.

I would trace the evolution in evangelical political engagement as being linked closely with activism concerning opposition to abortion. I was involved in Fundamentalist and evangelical Christianity right about the time that the U.S. Supreme Court forbade making abortion illegal with the Roe v. Wade decision in the early 1970s. At that time, evangelicals tended to be pretty apolitical. The movement against abortion has been able to greatly expand and focus evangelical political involvement. And this involvement tends to lead to uncritical support for the Republican Party and various “wedge issues”—most notably anti-abortion, pro-Israel, pro-death penalty, pro-militarism, and anti-homosexuality.

(5) Pacifism—The issue that highlights the differences between Anabaptism and evangelicalism most clearly is the issue of pacifism. Self-described evangelicals in the United States are much more likely than the general population to support warfare and the death penalty. Numerous of the above points are related to this fundamental difference.

For example, how else to explain the blindness in much of evangelicalism to the peace message of Jesus except that the Bible is being approached as an instrument of authority rather than as the source of basic ethical teaching? For another example, if the emphasis is placed on exclusive doctrinal truth over faithful practice (because “anyone” can try to be nonviolent but only a true Christian will declare that Jesus was God), it is small wonder that at best pacifism would be seen as one option a Christian might choose to take.

Even in the Barringer/York book, that very helpfully makes a strong case in favor of pacifism, several evangelical writers (such as Greg Boyd and Stephen Long) make a strong point of clearly differentiating “true Christian pacifism” from “liberal humanist pacifism” in a way that points toward the sense that correct Christian doctrine takes priority over an affirmation of Jesus’ message against violence.

Conclusion

Each of these five points deserves much more careful thought and discussion than I have been able to offer in these short comments. And it could be that I have made too many unfair generalizations about evangelicalism. But I still offer these as points of discussion. I believe that if we carefully examined these points of difference (even if we decide that the differences are not as strong as I am suggesting), then we will be able to make solid progress in growing in understanding about what we mean by both “evangelicalism” and “Anabaptism” and how a fruitful conversation between the two movements might proceed.

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24 Comments

Filed under Anabaptism, Evangelicalism, Mennonite, Theology

24 responses to “Should Anabaptists be evangelicals?

  1. Thanks for a good, thoughtful essay!

  2. Ted, excellent reflection on the contrasts between anabaptists and evangelicals. I just bought The Activist Impulse and am using it as a source for my DMin project. My approach is to explore the ways in which Anabaptist ecclesiology can inform and shape our Southern Baptist church (although moderate by today’s SBC standards) into a reconciling community within our own context. Your insights have given me some specific ideas to focus on in my research and reading. I look forward to your further engagement with The Activist Impulse.

    Interestingly, I grew up in Southern Baptist life during a time in which most SBCers rejected the idea that we were Protestant, or later, evangelical. It might be an interesting study to trace the transition of the SBC from its historically Baptists heritage to its enthusiastic embrace of the religious right, and conservative (tending toward fundamentalism) evangelicalism. Sounds like your EMU students, and some Mennonite congregations are assimilating evangelical views and theologies by virtue of their popularity and ubiquitous presence. I think there might also be room for disaffected SBCers like myself to find common cause with Anabaptists in both praxis and theological reflection. I would be interested in your thoughts on that regard.

    • Ted Grimsrud

      Thanks, Chuck. I do highly recommend The Activist Impulse. It’s a fine book.

      What you say about older Southern Baptists not thinking of themselves as evangelicals is very interesting to me—and believable to me given my first awareness of Southern Baptists back in the 1970s. Certainly traditional Baptist convictions such as separation of church and state and soul liberty don’t fit too well with the religious right.

      I agree with you that there seems to be genuine potential for disaffected SBCers and Anabaptists finding common cause. Of course, not all Mennonites affirm Anabaptism in the same way I do—and some wouldn’t affirm it at all.

      I am pretty pessimistic about the near future of American Christianity, so the odds are high that we might increasingly be thrown in together. That would be good.

  3. “I came to believe that evangelicalism often emphasizes the doctrine of scripture over the content of scripture.” This sentence really captures what has long been a concern for me (see my 2008 reflection Why I am evangelical but not an Evangelical at http://billsamuel.net/blog/?p=18). I don’t know that I’ve ever seen it expressed so succintly so well.

  4. Gary Olsen-Hasek

    Interesting analysis, Ted. The first Mennonites I encountered in the early 1970’s were evangelical and retained their historic Anabaptist beliefs about staying out of politics and emphasizing the Sermon on the Mount. Many of those who are heirs to the Anabaptist movement that I have encountered derive their beliefs from a sola scriptura perspective, like Evangelicals. Some also are charismatics and emphasize the place of the Holy Spirit for living out the Gospel. You are aware that Sojourners and Evangelicals for Social Action folk have retained their evangelical identity while sharing many ideas and passions with Anabaptist heirs. Many evangelicals have strongly embraced social justice causes over the last couple of centuries based on their interpretation of scripture. While I no longer identify myself as an Evangelical as that term has been too closely identified with USA nationalism and culture, I consider myself evangelistic about the message of God in Jesus reconciling the world.

    • Ted Grimsrud

      Thanks, Gary. I think that “sola scriptura” in the original Reformation sense and what I am characterizing as an authoritarian approach to the Bible as (generally) characteristic of evangelical theology (as I perceive it) are not at all the same thing.

      To me, what sola scriptura has the most to do with is the belief that the content of the Bible matters tremendously (more than any other theological source). This is very different than the affirmation of biblical inerrancy as a non-negotiable absolute. An authentic application of sola scriptura would lead one to reject inerrancy, I think, because it is not a doctrine that is supported by the content of the Bible.

      My sense is that Sojourners and ESA are a tiny minority and are not characteristic of evangelicalism in general. And I suspect, based in part on my own experience, that ultimately one has to make a choice between being a thorough-going Anabaptist and remaining a thorough-going evangelical. But this is precisely what I think needs to be discussed—what are the differences and can we actually hold them together?

      • Gary Olsen-Hasek

        I generally agree with what you are saying about the authoritarian approach to the Bible vs. inerrancy. My roots in the Reformed Church in America helped me to understand the difference. This was especially true when I studied religion and Bible at Hope College. As Reformed, I was taught that we took the Bible seriously and were “conservative,” but were not like the fundamentalists in our belief in inerrancy. When I identified myself as coming from that perspective while a first year student at AMBS, a student of Mennonite background couldn’t understand that I thought of myself as sort of in the “middle of the road” category. I didn’t identify fully with historic criticism, nor with conservative evangelicalism or fundamentalism. He only thought in liberal vs. fundamentalist categories. I have found that Evangelicals vary to some degree on their allegiance to the inerrancy dogma and it isn’t only the minority who appear as Sojourners or ESA members. I have known people who are Evangelicals within mainline denominations who tend toward a more nuanced view of scripture. A good example came as I studied at Garrett-Evangelical. Within Methodism, theology and biblical interpretation can vary to a degree, but the Methodist Quadrilateral (Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience) gives overall direction. The Evangelical Methodists I’ve known still believe in the balance of the guidance from John Wesley.

  5. Gary Olsen-Hasek

    Just another thought…While many heirs to Anabaptism have embraced Evangelicalism, others have become more like mainline Protestant or even Roman Catholic in worship style. You might consider whether the question, SHOULD ANABAPTISTS BE MAINLINE PROTESTANTS?

    • Ted Grimsrud

      I am probably more interested in the question of whether should Anabaptists be Catholics—there are some who are trying. That doesn’t seem as problematic to me as the evangelical question. Maybe partly because Catholicism does not seem to be having nearly the corrosive impact on Anabaptist convictions that evangelicalism is.

      The “mainline Protestant” issue is more difficult to pin down. That terms seems even harder to pin down than “evangelical.” Part of how I see “mainline Protestant” defined is that one is part of one of the denominations that traditionally have been seen as “mainline” in our society (e.g., Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopalian, Lutheran). But there are many quite conservative (“evangelical”?) people in those denominations.

      Maybe you mean, “should Anabaptists be theological liberals or progressives?” I simply don’t see theological liberalism being that much of a threat to Anabaptists. But this is worth thinking more about….

      I think that the deepest issues have to do with the five themes I mention at the end of my post (whether they are inextricably linked with evangelicalism or not). Liberals are not nearly as problematic in relation to any of those issues as evangelicals, I think.

    • Gary Olsen-Hasek

      Ted, I state that “others have become more like mainline Protestant or even Roman Catholic in worship style.” Worship liturgy, use of lectionary, church building as sanctuary, rather than meeting house, and the focus upon sermon (as in the Reformed tradition) as the pinnacle of the Sunday worship gathering. Some Mennonite and Brethren traditions adapted and adopted these many years ago and others more recently. It certainly is linked to more ecumenical influences. I am not opposed to some degree, but it seems that some of the more traditional style of worship gathering had some value that is now being lost. Emblematic of the transition that occurred among the Church of the Brethren could be seen when contrasting the chapel at Bethany Seminary as it was in Oak Brook, IL and AMBS chapel in Elkhart, IN. Both were designed by the same architect. Bethany’s chapel was designed with a large pulpit and the sanctuary had fixed pews all lined-up and facing front. AMBS’ chapel is more flexible with chairs in a curve and has a low platform. Architecture and worship styles usually reflect something about theology and ecclesiology.

      • Ted Grimsrud

        This is helpful, Gary. I wasn’t think about your point in these terms, but I think you make excellent sense.

  6. This essay needs to be published in “The Mennonite” magazine.

  7. I do think that the view of evangelicalism is too narrow. You tie it to 20th century fundamentalism. This is historically misleading at best.

    There was a flowering of evangelicalism in the 19th century. Evangelicals then were in the forefront of social justice movements such as abolition of slavery, prison reform, mental health reform and animal welfare.

    Then there was a mid-20th century rising up of evangelicalism. This evangelicalism was actually a counter to fundamentalism, and had such results as Billy Graham insisting on racial integration at his revivals. Today, the largest grouping of evangelicals in the USA is the NAE, which aligns with other Christians on many social justice issues. On the international scene, one can look at the The Lausanne Covenant, which also sees social justice as a major component of Christianity.

    If you take a broader and more historically accurate view of evangelicalism, it will be much easier to see common ground between the Anabaptist tradition and the evangelical tradition.

    • Ted Grimsrud

      Thanks for the challenges, Bill (as always!). So much of this discussion is about definitions. I agree that one can define “evangelicalism” in the broader sense that you suggest (that is one of the two options I give in my post). But I fear that doing so moves us too quickly to the “common ground.”

      In the book, The Activist Impulse, the Mennonite historians who provide the first couple of essays do precisely what you suggest. But in doing so, they avoid facing the issues of tension that I discuss.

      I think there is a defensible argument for the narrower view I lean towards (George Marsden’s work tends in this direction; he’s a terrific historian who taught for some time at Notre Dame). What I think is most important, though, is finding a way to focus on the differences rather than making a priority on finding common ground.

      I suspect if you looked more closely at the National Association of Evangelicals, you would see that the “social justice” voices being quite a small minority. Their presence, something to be celebrated, does owe a lot to the insistence by some courageous voices that Anabaptism does indeed link with evangelicalism. I fear, though, that the main lesson to be learned from these admirable efforts is actually that Anabaptism and evangelicalism have little in common in a deep sense. But I could be wrong. That’s why we need more honest discussion.

  8. I am a former Southern Baptist now attending the Mennonite church where Clif H. (see above) is a member. One of my professors and current friends is Dr. E. Glenn Hinson, who was co-author “Are Southern Baptists ‘Evangelicals?” Here is how someone summarized Dr. Hinson’s view:

    “While Hinson himself conceded that both Southern Baptists and evangelicals shared common roots in the Protestant Reformation, he parted company with evangelicals because ‘they (evangelicals) let nothing stand above what they consider to be the objective Word of God found in the Scriptures.’ Hinson offered a contrasting vision whereby Holy Scripture was thought to possess ‘no objective word apart from uncoerced human response.’ He further stated “the term ‘Baptist’ refers to that version of Christianity which places the priority on voluntary and uncoerced faith or response to the Word and Act of God over any supposed objective Word and Act of God.’ Objectivity regarding biblical interpretation, as defined by the creeds of the Christian church and the overall historical trajectory of the Christian tradition, was viewed with suspicion as a mere human construct susceptible to error. Human experience, therefore, trumped objective truth as no one could, in his opinion, know with certainty that they possessed truth” (Douglas Baker).

    • Ted Grimsrud

      Thanks, Leroy. This is helpful and interesting. I see we have this book in the EMU library. I will need to look at it. In terms of earlier comments, I’d actually see Hinson taking a more “sola scriptura” view (one that is based in the content of the Bible) than evangelicals as he characterizes them (whose view is based, ironically, on a modern philosophical foundationalism).

      As I mentioned in my original point, I am defining “evangelical” theology at least somewhat in terms of the Evangelical Theological Society’s insistence that its members make a written commitment to belief in biblical inerrancy.

  9. Ted, thanks for your response. I would agree that Evangelicalism in the last three decades has made a strong emphasis on biblical inerrancy. That would have been one of the reasons for Dr. Hinson’s trying to separate Baptists from evangelicals. But, of course, he was unsuccessful and he became a target of fundamentalist opposition that grew stronger and stronger from 1979 on. Consequently, he had to leave his teaching position at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. — You may want to add another book to your library, my book “Fed Up with Fundamentalism: A Historical, Theological, and Personal Appraisal of Christian Fundamentalism” (2007). I deal with fundamentalism broadly, but have many examples from the Southern Baptist Convention, with which I was affiliated from 1947 to 2005.

  10. I became a Christian amongst evangelicals of the first sense. But it was Anglican and in Australia and these,interestingly, tend to be interested in social justice and not particularly fans of war..( often in America associated with left wing, liberals ) Politically, the Anglican evangelicals I know can be both left and right politically, or even culturally conservative or liberal; yet are committed to witnessing and accuracy with scripture, and often, though not necessarily, inerrancy of scripture which is a source of discussion rather than a demand. I have understood evangelicals of the second sense as peculiarly American. Both though, seem to have an emphasis on being ‘right’ as in ‘accurate and correct’.

    I am wodnering if another distinction may be that ‘evangelicals 1′ are more worried about being right theologically, and the morality follows, but ‘evangelicals 2′ are worried about being right morally, and theology follows…

    • Ted Grimsrud

      I think you are correct about “evangelicals 2″ being peculiarly American–at least in origin. This seems like an important point for this discussion, and I thinking most especially about the American context in raising the questions about Anabaptists and evangelicals.

      But now, of course, American evangelicalism and its various problematic emphases has been exported throughout the world. I imagine even in Britain some of the emphases of evangelicalism 2 have had an impact on the older evangelicalism 1.

      You raise a good point about the “morality/theology” dynamic. I think it depends upon what kind of morality one has in mind. Part of the complicating dynamics of the post-1973 politicizing of evangelicalism 2 in light of the anti-abortion activism is that this brings together a belief-centered theology with political activism. So I am not sure in light of that dynamic what kinds of distinctions would now work in thinking about this.

  11. A “Who We Are” statement that we created at Reba Place Church in 1992 stated:

    “Reba Place Church is a congregation centered on Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God, rooted in an Anabaptist tradition, catholic in spirit, evangelical in conviction, charismatic in practice, and antiracist in calling.”

    An accompanying paragraph defined each marker. The one on “evangelical” reads:

    “We are evangelical in conviction.
    The word evangelical refers to the good news, or gospel, that is revealed in Jesus Christ. To be evangelical is to respond to this good news in faith and obedience, and to commit ourselves to communicating this message throughout the world. By confessing that we are an Anabaptist church that is also evangelical in conviction we are declaring our identity as followers of Jesus, saved by his life, death, and resurrection, and led by his Spirit to form a community of believers dedicated to demonstrating and proclaiming the reality of God’s saving grace.”

    The full statement can be found at:
    http://www.rebaplacechurch.org/who-we-are

    Ric

    • Sandra Poe

      To that, may I say Selah! Shalom over all of you as your words have so encouraged and uplifted my soul, today. That is why we are here. Thank you in Christ. Sandra Poe

    • Ted Grimsrud

      Thanks, Ric. This is very interesting. I strikes me that the first of sense of evangelical that I described is in mind, not the second. But I would fear that this kind of affirmation might open people up to the second kind without their being aware of this. I would be curious how this has worked out with Reba Place.

      • Ric

        Good observation. The definition is meant to be an antidote to the American-style definition by embedding it in a broader context. In fact each element is shaped by its linking to others. The key for Reba Place of course is that this definition emerges from our history these past 55 years. There have at times been tensions with traditional American-style evangelicals who have wanted that element to define the others. What has kept that from happening I think is the material commitment of Reba Place Fellowship to a common purse lifestyle. The grounded discipline of shared economics militates against the anabaptist component ever being co-opted by the evangelical component.

        In contrast, our daughter church in Rogers Park has had more trouble with the anabaptist-evangelical tension partly because they do not have a large enough common purse element to anchor their identity against the evangelical drift.

  12. Thanks for sparking this great discussion, Ted!

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