Thursday, 2 April 2009

Evangelicals and Protestants should be pariahs

I got given a book by one of my friends very recently, Papers of a Pariah. It is a collection of essays and papers written by Robert Hugh Benson, a rather strange turn of the 20th century fellow. Benson's story is becoming more and more familiar to me. Benson went from being Protestant (Anglican) to being Roman Catholic. He died as a monsignor.

There has been a steady trickle of high profile Protestant conversions to the Roman Catholic Church. Read about some of them here. Tony Blair is a more obvious example for those of us in the UK. All this along with the attraction of Eastern Orthodoxy among tired and disillusioned evangelicals. It's worth asking: what is actually going on?

Two general thoughts.

Protestantism in general, and evangelicalism in particular, lack coherence. Whether doctrinal or intellectual coherence, or emotional and aesthetic coherence, or the coherence that comes from a sense of common heritage and identity, being Protestant or evangelical doesn't mean anything any more. I doubt few people outside of Northern Ireland and West Central Scotland describe themselves as Protestant these days. And if it means anything, being evangelical simply means being a fundamentalist nutter who gets animated about evolution and the wrong kind of sex. But even those subjects now fail to distinguish the evangelicals at your dinner party from the crowd.

Protestantism in general, and evangelicalism in particular, lack credible ecclesiologies. Take as an illustration the recent Dever Baptism Debate. Reformed and evangelical commentators exploded in outrage at Dever's statement of an historic Baptist position i.e. people who baptise infants sin in that belief and practice. Only people with no concept of the church as an organised and ordered society of Christian people would be offended by Dever's position. As disillusioned Protestants and evangelicals think through where they belong, only the older traditions offer the appearance of a solid house in which to pray.

People - whether they are high profile or not - want to belong to something that is bigger and better and longer lasting than themselves. Problem as I see it is that followers of Jesus are called to be pariahs. It's not simply that we are to identify with the poor and the marginalised. In this world we are the poor and the marginalised. If we don't feel that way then there is something wrong. If we don't feel that Matthew chapter 5:1-11 describes us then we have a stunted understanding of the gospel. That's why protestants and evangelicals are in culture shock. We've failed to embrace our pariah pilgrim status.

1 comment:

Nick Mackison said...

You're bang on. The irony is that in trying to be relevant, particularly in P&W, we've become sadly irrelevant.

We should be embracing our pariah status and singing didactic hymns and the songs of Zion. Why do we feel the need to have worship teams that are like a crap version of The Script or whatever?