Sunday, August 22, 2010

Being Evangelical

I've just spent the weekend at the Methodist Evangelical Renewal Movement consultation - or countrywide gathering. It was such an encouraging experience. I must admit that I went along with some hesitancy as I have struggled to fully understand what this fairly new movement is all about. I hoped to catch a sense of their vision - and I did. I am still trying to process and absorb everything and I hope that I will blog about it all eventually.
What I think at the moment- it's ok to believe the Bible is the word of God. It doesn't mean I am a fundamentalist (I don't read it word for word literally).
It's ok to believe in a 'whole salvation'. We speak of both personal salvation and social salvation. Personal holiness and social holiness.
The Bible informs us of these salvations and 'holinesses'. I go to the Bible to discover how to live in order to bring about the kingdom of God.
Sometimes people understand the word 'evangelical' differently and even negatively - that doesn't mean I am like their understanding!
The Methodist Church has always had a missional ecclesiology and we should reclaim that.
There is too much more and I really need to process it properly.
I came away believing that there is real hope for the Methodist Church and the God truly is a God of love and action.


Anonymous said...

Yippee! Constructive use of the word Evangelical (even if you're not quite a Fundementalist yet) is a positive step :P.

Looking forward to reading how you unpack this.

Thomas O. Scarborough said...

"Evangelical" has different meanings and different connotations. By and large, I find that it doesn't mean the same here as it does in North America, or even in Central Africa. I have been annoyed by some who use it as if the other people who use it didn't exist. (Which would seem to be a point beside the point, reading your post)! Who "is" this Methodist Evangelical Renewal Movement?

Jenny Hillebrand said...

Thanks Mark and Thomas. Yes, I agree with you about the use of Evangelical in America and here. I'll say more in later posts!

Anonymous said...

One other thing (for some reason this was on my mind while driving to work this morning), Could you give me a definition of "social salvation" and "social holiness". Sorry I'm so ill-informed.

Jenny Hillebrand said...

Hi Mark - I sort of made up 'social salvation' but you'll understand it in relation to social holiness which is from something John Wesley said. 'There is no holiness but social holiness'. The idea is 1. You can believe in Jesus and pray and read your Bible and keep your temper and love your spouse and so on and you're probably a Christian. 2. You do all of point 1 and you belong to a Christian community and attend worship and Bible study and whatever. 3. You do all of 1 and 2, but you also consciously act as a Christian in the 'world' reaching out to the lost in attempting to meet both spiritual and physical need. The Wesleyan concept of social holiness is point 3. (There are probably people who can put it better - I rebel a bit against Wesleyan 'jargon')

Dion Forster said...

Hi Jenny,

Thanks for this reflection. I am so pleased to hear of your experience - I too have been on a journey to 're-appropriate' the term 'evangelical'. In my understanding the common usage has been far too narrowly applied to the act of 'evangelical preaching'. However, in the Bible we see that Jesus' 'good news' (Luke 4:19 ff) was very social. He not only wished to describe the state of 'good news', his intention was to establish God's good news as a life changing reality for those whom he encountered.

I am passionate about journeying with people towards a personal encounter with Christ. But that is only the starting point, not the end. Once the encounter has taken place the results of Christ's transforming love must flow out into society. You cannot love Jesus without loving His ways - and his was are just, merciful, inclusive, empowering and renewing. The ways of Jesus set people free from sin and the structures that enslave (some clear examples are Jesus' encounter with unethical business people in the temple, and false religious leaders with the woman and man caught in adultery. Jesus cares about the rights of children and the fate of the oppressed).

For me, the whole Gospel for the whole world means precisely that! Not just a narrow personal salvation from individual sin.

In this sense I am evangelical!

With regards to Wesley's theology of personal holiness and social holiness it is always worth remembering the context in which he served. Not unlike us, he faced some massive social challenges around his ministry. Slavery, the abuse of labour, unjust governing authorities, a Church that was disconnected from the needs of society etc., it was into this situation that he came to understand that personal piety (my prayers, my acts of worship etc.) is meaningless unless it is expressed socially.

As South Africans I think we can understand this relationship very well. For many years Christians would worship on Sunday's declaring the Glory of God in Church, reading our Bibles and praying. Yet, we lived in a society that was fundamentally unjust.

Such a disconnect between faith and belief invalidates belief (as the Epistle to James clearly says).

You may be interested in the paper that I presented at the Oxford Institute of Methodist Theological Studies at Christ Church in Oxford in 2007. It deals with a history of social holiness (Wesley's 26th sermon, plus his theology around that), and in particular relates it to the South African Christian Church. You can find that article here: Dion Forster Oxford Institute - Social Holiness.

The chapter was later reworked and published in the book Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission. Some of the stuff that was cut out of the chapter for the book was also published in 2008 in Journal of Church History Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae.

Thanks for sharing this reflection! I am grateful to be an evangelical!

Jenny Hillebrand said...

Hi Dion - thanks! Your work with Graham Power, Lausanne, Unashamedly Ethical and so on certainly bears witness to being Evangelical! Thanks also for a more detailed explanation of social holiness. Bless you.

Thomas O. Scarborough said...

The term "evangelical", in my (local) experience, does not have negative connotations -- in fact very positive ones. It does have negative connotations, however, when one enters the world of (some) seminaries, particularly where there is a marked U.S. content. Thus it is referred to as "evangelical detachment", "one-dimensional evangelicalism", and so on.

Dion speaks of the "sense" in which he is evangelical. This is good if it is stated as a qualification, as the definition of "evangelical" seems well established. There have been attempts to redefine or appropriate "evangelical" under the influence of Yale and so on, which would seem to be reflected in his post.

Steve Hayes said...

Yes, "evangelical" does have lots of different meanings in different contexts. For a long time monks have tried to follow the "evangelical counsels" of poverty, chastity and obedience, and i wonder what many self-styled "evangelicals" think of that!

And in the "Lausanne Conversation" site someone asked me if Orthodox Christians were "evangelical" without saying which of the meany meanings of "evangelical" he had in mind.

There is Evangelical versus Reformed, Evangelical versus Anglo-Catholic, Evangelical versus Ecumenical, Evangelical versus Charismatic, Evangelical versus Fundamentalists and many more. It can get very confusing!