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?