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Thursday, August 29, 2013

"The Evangelicals You Don't Know" (Tom Krattenmaker)

TITLE: The Evangelicals You Don't Know: Introducing the Next Generation of Christians
AUTHOR: Tom Krattenmaker
PUBLISHER: Plymouth, UK: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc, 2013, (232 pages).

Who are the new evangelicals?  Are they the movement coming out from Portland, Oregon? Are they people who are hitting back at fundamentalist evangelicals portrayed as "anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-women's rights, anti-science, anti-liberal, pushy and arrogant, judgmental, quick to shout and disinclined to listen?" Are they the younger generation of believers who are tired of old fashioned politicking in the name of Christianity? Using a "big-tent definition," Krattenmaker tries to be as inclusive as possible with regards to who are the new evangelicals. He defines them as:

"Christians who are rooted in the orthodox beliefs of evangelical Christianity and who are fiercely devoted to Jesus—yet are largely free, or becoming free, of the cultural and political baggage that has made evangelicalism appear, often, to be just another voting bloc or culture war army."

Writing as an interested observer, this self-professed non-evangelical tries to journal the emergence of a new movement, a new group of modern evangelicals by focusing on a largely white, male, and young to middle-age segment. It is a movement that is devoted to following Jesus as radically as possible. It is a movement that is geared toward social justice and anti-poverty. It is a movement that is frustrated by the excesses of the past political baggage, the Jerry Falwell and James Dobson era, and seeks to move beyond politics toward actual reaching out to people who have been marginalized. Ten chapters are devoted to describing these new evangelicals.

Krattenmaker makes a powerful start to describe the need to replace any styrofoam Jesus with the real Jesus. Stereotype images must be removed for they mask the real thing. The new evangelical movement represents a strand of hope for the true face of evangelicalism to emerge. He talks of how one of Portland's evangelical churches, the Imago Dei, bucks the trend of churches asking for money by giving away money to the city and for the community. With a $100,000 Christmas gift, the Church surprises the city's mayor and makes Portland "Jesus' favourite city." Jim Henderson bucks the trend of conventional witnessing and evangelism by finding new ways to connect people with Jesus. One way is open bidding for the soul of an atheist on ebay, and then making an honest attempt to be friends rather than to convert the "friendly atheist," Hemant Mehta. Henderson's aim: build bridges of understanding, and then let the person experience Jesus for himself. Krattenmaker also takes issue with the perception of the US as a "Christian nation," arguing on the contrary that it is more unChristian. Rather than to be entrapped by arguments on how Christian is the US, the more constructive question is: How do Christians participate constructively in the affairs of nation building?

In a movement that sings to the same tune of "Blue Like Jazz," there is also a group of new evangelicals boldly putting up a "confession booth" in the middle of a raunchy public festival. That is not all. Instead of telling the skimpily clad individuals who entered the booth to confess and repent, the volunteers at the booth actually confessed to the sins and the historical wrongs done by people who wreak havoc and violence in the name of Christianity!

One key to bringing about change to negative public perceptions of evangelicals is to divorce religion from political party platforms. The Religious Right does not represent all of evangelicalism. Neither should they crusade for Christ under the platform of political votes. Phrases like "Reclaiming America for Christ" movement needs to be carefully reconsidered, in a manner that is less politicized, and more inclusive of various points of views. One example is to avoid pitting labels of "Christians" vs "non-Christians," but to have common labels to reflect common goals and desires. The vigour of evangelical youth can power the next generation toward these ideals.

Then there is the homosexuality debates. Using the example of a gay campaign (oneWheaton) in the premises of a conservative theological school, the new evangelicals are less quick to condemn homosexuality, choosing instead to find ways in which they can be accepting of the homosexual person without condemning them as persons.  Young people do not want to be forced to choose between their faith and their friends. They want greater love and acceptance. They do not want old-style condemnation but new style openness. These people believe that one does not have to compromise their beliefs even when they accept the homosexual community.

From homosexuality, there is also the age old abortion debate. Again, the politicizing of the issue has caused many problems. The new evangelicals see the Pro-Life and Pro-Choice debates as a dead-end issue. It can never be resolved. Instead, the focus ought to be on the larger issues that CAN be resolved. For example, greater access to birth control, better sex education, etc. There is also the issue of terrorism, secularism, culture making, and other issues which many will be familiar with.

So What?

The chorus throughout the book is about becoming more accepting and more open about people as people, rather than people according to their declared political, ethical, religious, or social stands. It is about learning to live well in a pluralistic society. It is about the efforts and desires of a new generation who are tired of old-style politicking and religious debates that seem to head nowhere. It highlights the need to be more accepting of the younger generation of believers, especially those who have rebelled against the excesses of fundamentalist behaviours and tactics. Gone are the days where one can thump their Bibles and expect people to just obey. Such tactics are ill-advised, and will be swiftly rejected, even condemned by society, especially the young. It will be interpreted as insensitive, intolerant, and inappropriate. Unfortunately, in its haste to discredit the radicals from the "Christian Right," there is a danger of throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. The newer and younger generation risks alienating themselves from the wisdom and the biblical faithfulness that the believers of old have kept. It is fair to say that while we acknowledge that some things said are bad, we cannot say that ALL are bad.

I reflect on the book and understand that the author is essentially questioning the need to even draw the line when it comes to controversies and religious disputes. Why can't we all get along? Why can't we be more open in another way, instead of becoming locked in closed ended issues. The New Evangelicals present a new hope for a new era. I applaud this optimism and I sincerely look forward to seeing great things and ideas that will draw people closer to Jesus. However, I have one caution. In attempting to bring others into the common fold, we must be careful not to lose our own identity in the process. No matter how open or how accepting we are, we need to know ourselves and our relationship with God. We need to know what is honourable and what is not honourable to the Word of God. Being nice is not a command of God. Being true and faithful is. I will recommend that readers read this book with an open mind, but not to be too quickly swept away by the ideas in the book. Yes, there are fresh ideas. There are good initiatives that are well intentioned. Just like they say we cannot throw away the baby with the bathwater, we too need to understand that we still need to do something about the dirt and the grime in the water in the bathtub. How to go about doing that requires the wisdom that comes from God and people with wise spiritual counsel.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Rowman and Littlefield Publishers and SpeakEasy without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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