Beyond Evangelical??

On Rachel Held Evans’ blog yesterday, she shared links to three articles that were all very interesting to me.  The first article, a blog post by an author named Frank Viola, was the most fascinating to me.  In his post, he breaks down young evangelicals into four major “streams,” or categories.  Out of interest, I clicked over and started reading.

The first stream was the Systematizers, and I could relate to them because they “seek strong discipline and order in their daily lives” and live “in quest for theological certainty.”  I could relate to those desires.  I no longer believe that I am going to find the systematic, theological certainty that I’m looking for, but I still want it.

The second group was the Activists.  I could relate to them because  they are “attracted to social causes like acts of mercy, social justice, helping the poor, caring for the environment, etc,” and I kind of am, too.

The third group was the Emoters.  I could relate to them the least, but I have become increasingly less skeptical to the idea of “supernatural encounters,” so that kind of connected me to them.

As I read about all three groups, though, I congratulated myself in not fitting neatly into any one category.  I felt proud of my ability to “think outside the box” and to make up my own mind.

Then I came to Category 4.

The “Beyond Evangelicals.”

I kind of think his whole post was skewed toward this category, as he talked much more about it than any of the others.  And also, the name of his blog is “Beyond Evangelical,” so there is obviously some sympathy there.  That said, I was blown away by how well this guy–a man that I had never even met–described me.  I found myself nodding, “yes,” to just about all of the characteristics of a “beyond evangelical.”  Here is what Viola wrote about this 4th “stream”:

*politically: tend to be apolitical, believing that the local ekklesia (body of Christ) is the new polis and the kingdom of God is the true government. Beyond that, their political positions are enormously diverse.

*appeal: believe that there has to be something more to Christ and the church than what the first three streams present.

*search: discovering and displaying Jesus Christ in authentic, deep, and profound ways.

*identification: Most have come out of one of the other three streams. They belong to no particular movement, tribe, or denomination. And they do not belong to any single expression of church. “Beyond Evangelicals” can be found in all church forms and structures.

“Beyond Evangelicals” are not seeking a theological system (stream 1). Concepts and ideas don’t appeal to them. They are seeking spiritual reality. They view Scripture as fully inspired and true, but approach it as a narrative rather than a system of propositional ideas.

“Beyond Evangelicals” are not seeking any specific cause (stream 2). Religious duty doesn’t appeal to them. They view “good works” as being the natural outflow of living by Christ. They regard pursuing Jesus Christ and seeking causes that are related to Him as being two different things.

“Beyond Evangelicals” are not seeking a supernatural experience (stream 3). They believe that the emotions (as well as the mind and will) can either reflect or hinder the work of the Spirit. One’s feelings are not synonymous with the Spirit’s leading. Miraculous demonstrations don’t appeal to them either, unless they supremely unveil and glorify Jesus Christ.

“Beyond Evangelicals” are in pursuit of a Person above and beyond ideas (stream 1), activities (stream 2), or feelings (stream 3). They emphasize God’s work in and throughthe human spirit, and believe that mind, will, and emotion are to be governed by the Holy Spirit.

“Beyond Evangelicals” want to know Jesus Christ in reality and in the depths. Yet they aren’t quietists or passive mystics. Outward activity is important, but it’s like fruit falling off a tree. It’s the natural result of living by the life of Christ.

Wow.  That’s me.  Apolitical?  Check.  Ekklesia as new polis?  Check.  Oriented around the Kingdom of God?  Check.  Seeking to “discover and display Jesus Christ in authentic, deep, and profound ways”?  Check!  People, that’s what this whole blog is about!

Now, like I said, I do think he kind of rigged it so that the reader would fit himself into this last category, and it’s not like I thought that I was the one who first started focusing on the Kingdom of God (I’ve kind of given credit for this resurgence of the Kingdom to Dallas Willard, who, in his 1997 book, The Divine Conspiracy, quotes many scholars views on the centrality of the kingdom to the gospel.  One such scholar ponders, “I cannot help wondering out loud why I haven’t heard more about it [the Kingdom of God] in the thirty years I have been a Christian…Where has the Kingdom been?”  Oh, buddy–it’s back.)

Anyhow, it is always interesting to see one’s worldview laid out so flawlessly by a complete stranger, and it makes me wonder, yet again, exactly how it is our particular views are formed.  Sociology is so interesting to me, especially when I see these kinds of trends in human thinking.

As for whether those views make me, “beyond evangelical,” frankly I have no idea.  Also, I don’t really care.  I believe in sharing the gospel with others, if that’s what you mean be evangelical.  But, I don’t really believe in doing it with tracts or with hellfire sermons.  But that’s not a unique belief, either.

Anyway, I just thought I’d share that interesting take on evangelicals in their 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s.  If you fit into that age category (and even if you don’t), I’d be interested in your thoughts on Viola’s analysis.

Which, if any, of the four streams best describes you?  Or do you find any fault with his choices of categories?

9 responses to this post.

  1. Thanks for the mention. I’m glad you appreciated the post. Part I lays out the groundwork. If you click on my name, it should take you there. (I’ve noted that a few people who aren’t familiar with the blog read Part II without Part I, and it led to some misunderstanding.)

    Part III will be published next week after an interview with N.T. Wright.



    Psalm 115:1


    • Wow, thanks for jumping over here, Mr. Viola! Like you deduced, I had only read the article that Rachel Held Evans’ blog linked to. At your suggestion, I went back and read part 1, and am so glad I did. I now see that “beyond evangelical” does not mean post-evangelical. My comments in my post reflect how confused I am about that label (and kind of tired, to be honest), but you do a good job of recovering its historical roots and showing how you still adhere to its “four key notes,” as do I. Furthermore, my adherence to those notes is similar to your own. Clearly, I need to check out your blog more often!


  2. Having not read Part 1 that Viola wrote, I have to say that the categories make sense ..I also find myself more likely to put myself in the “Beyond Evangelicals”. I would think most people who find themselves here, reading a blog related to living for the Kingdom would do the same.

    It makes sense that our view of evangelism has changed with the culture of the church – we have noted lately that there is a change in the tide of what is considered “evangelism” especially related to care of the poor and giving. I would say that most of the church people i grew up with fit into the first two categories (though certainly more in the first one) ..i dont say that out of arrogance, but because I think those categories better describe the way that churchers of the last few decades have been taught.

    The culture of the present church is shifting a bit to more global focus on poverty, the Kingdom, apolitical, etc. I would guess that most people who read an article on “Beyond Evangelicals” would find that they do find themselves in that category as well …largely because this present culture seeks those things out more actively than past generations.

    I certainly hope that there is a much larger group that can relate to the “Beyond Evangelicals” – I think that those types of “evangelicals” are much more effective for the overall activity of the Kingdom. And, as you have mentioned there is a very serious turn towards a Kingdom focus, and with it all of the things that could allow a person who finds themselves drawn to that focus also be categorized as “beyond” evangelicals.


    • Yeah, Court, I think most people would place themselves in the 4th stream, too, if only because it is portrayed as the coming together of all the other streams. The other streams are portrayed as only highlighting a certain aspect of a person (mind, actions, emotions), where the 4th stream brings them together and even moves beyond them (since it moves beyond “self” to Christ). That said, I don’t know that most evangelicals would relate to the 4th stream if they just read that description by itself. Especially the apolitical part. I don’t know many apolitical people.


  3. re: “focusing on the Kingdom of God.” What a great focus to remind us of, Kim.

    I was recently struck by a connection I never noticed before in Matthew 3 and 4. In 3:1-2, we are told that John the Baptist was teaching “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” In 4:12-17, Jesus learns that John has been imprisoned, and it says From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

    John preached it, but then was thrown in prison. That’s when Jesus started preching it. I figure the kingdom of God must be important.



  4. I read both posts (Part I and Part II) by Mr. Viola and (though there is SO much more I could say than what I am going to say), mainly I just want to give an enormous “AMEN!”

    I found this nugget in Part I:
    “The body of Christ is at a crossroads right now. The two common alternatives are to move either to the left or the right. It’s our observation, however, that we are living in a unique time, when people are frozen as they look in either of those directions. When they look to the left, they decide that they cannot venture there. When they look to the right, they feel the same. Whether they realize it or not, people are looking for a fresh alternative—a third way. The crossroads today, we believe, is one of moving forward or backward (Jesus Manifesto, p. xiii).”


    I have heard various talks on missions where it was described how, at different times, the focus has swung between the spiritual and the physical. What we’re starting to realize is that BOTH are important and that each actually needs the other. I have a lot of ideas swirling around in my head right now about “extremes” (perhaps they will come together in a blog post), but the point is that I think they are very dangerous.

    While reading Part II, I felt that I could relate (at least somewhat) to ALL of the “streams.” I think, in general, the Church of Christ falls more in line with the first one (and that was my starting point), but I have never been totally satisfied with it, so I have picked up parts of the others. It made so much sense to me when I understood that each of the four streams was associated with (basically) either mind, body, heart, or spirit. Of course we are going to relate to something in all of them because we all have those parts of our existence. The thing we need to realize, though, is that, like he said (I don’t remember which part this was in), the Spirit should be controlling all of the other parts. And we need ALL of them. We are mistaken if we think we can do without order, good deeds, or emotion. But, the Spirit is the most important, and we need to give it free reign over everything else.


  5. I would just add (at least for starters… I may be back for more) that even within that 4th category, which has come out of the other three, are shadings based upon which (ones) we came from, as well as our reasons for coming out of them. Just for example, Kim, I see you as being more trending towards the “activist” than the “systematizer,” despite (or perhaps in reaction to) your “systematizer” roots (while still being within the broader umbrella of “Beyond.”) I, on the other hand, would be the reverse–while I am discovering an interest in the “activist” sphere, it is more as an addition to, or garnish for, a “systematizer” base with which I am more comfortable. One litmus test for that might be the political: while all of us “Beyonders” may agree that there is merit (and are flaws) in the current political choices, when we DO vote (albeit with one hand so the other is free for nose-holding), which box do we reluctantly check? Or, in a more spiritual sense, which side’s weirdos give us the most heartburn–are we bothered at a personal level more by the Pharisees or by the Universalists? Of course, the body has lots of members, and they are not supposed to all be the same. Lots to think about here.


    • Larry, I think I’m more sympathetic to the systematizer mindset than you may think….and not because of my roots, but because of my personality. The desire to have a consistent hermeneutic with which to interpret the entire Bible stems from my systematizing tendencies, as does my need for a disciplined, daily time with God. I honestly think the activist streak is more because of my environment. Activism is very much in the zeitgeist right now, and I’m at a good age for it. That doesn’t make it a bad or a fake thing; it just means that, like everyone else, I am somewhat a product of my environment. On Rachel Held Evans’ blog, someone in the comments section mentioned the book, “Streams of Living Water,” by Richard Foster. In it, he traces 6 “streams” within Christianity: contemplative, holiness, social justice, evangelical, charismatic, and incarnational. In each chapter, he talks about a Bible figure who personifies this stream, a prominent early Christian, and a more modern Christian. He argues that each generation is good at one or two of the streams, and that one or two of the streams fall by the way side. I definitely think that this generation is waking up to the stream of social justice…and perhaps the stream of holiness is falling by the wayside? I know I definitely relate more to contemplative, social justice, and incarnational (another recent buzzword) than the others (though I do really value holiness).

      As for your litmus test, I do see what you are saying, and I would choose Universalists over Pharisees if I had to make the choice. But honestly, I don’t think I am going to make that choice this year. Or any choice. That’s what I mean by apolitical. I think that’s what makes me truly “4th stream.” It’s not a question of right or left for me anymore. And here is the real difference between you and I: Though I sympathize more with one, I ultimately reject them both. Though you criticize them both, you ultimately embrace one.

      Is that vague enough for you?:) Correct me if I’m wrong.


  6. Vague, yet strangely illuminating. 🙂

    I like what you say about generational stuff. And I think that’s one reason why I’m personally a little weird (hopefully in a nice way). I tell my students that my parents “skipped the 60s.” They were just the right age to have been in college in 1967-68, but instead got married and had jobs (and me). So I grew up with boomer-age parents with the cultural experience of a prior generation (no Beatles records on mom’s turntable–Elvis and the Righteous Brothers). And just yesterday someone said something to me at church that was meant to be a compliment, I think: that I’m personally of indeterminate age. I laughed that this is because I’ve been 40 ever since I was 17. (The context was that Ann looks so young, btw.)

    I think that you and I are both “in but not of” our own generations. When you factor in what you wrote about activism being in the zeitgeist, and also that each generation of the church seems to be strong in certain streams, that sort of fits (or helps explains the mis-fit).


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