Are YARs evangelical?

I understand and respect the sentiment expressed by Skylark and Joe, that there is a need for a space where younger voices can be heard. I just entered my own response to the “YAR or OAR” poll in the 46-55 bracket, and I am grateful for the expressions of welcome to participate. I’ll be content, for now, to listen more than to speak, since I have a great deal of curiosity about what YARS are thinking and feeling these days.

First question: are YARs “evangelical”, or not? I suppose that might make them YEARs, and the YEARs in turn might make them OARs, but that’s a separate question.

Many if not most OARs considered themselves throughly “evangelical”. Menno Simons, I think, helped define the term with his statement “True evangelical faith cannot lie dormant, but must feed the hungry, etc..”

Nelson Kraybill (AMBS honcho) who is my age, also embraces the term “evangelical”, but he reports that when he mentioned to a young person (perhaps a YAR?) that he had just attended a “Fellowship of Evangelical Seminary Presidents”, that person “looked at me as though I had been to an island with the bubonic plague.” Do a google on the title “Is Our Future Evangelical” to read the article.

Is the term losing its appeal? Perhaps because it has been “hijacked”? If so, what should our relationship be to it now?



Comments (16)

  1. Amy

    Interesting question. I react quite strongly (in a negative sense) to the term “evangelical”. In my life experience (not growing up in the Anabaptist tradition) evangelical and fundamentalist were used as synonymns, although I know there are many differences between the two.

    I do not consider myself to be an evangelical. And, I don’t think Anabaptists should be. We have something more “radical” to offer Christianity than that. Bringing justice conversations into faith, pacifism, priesthood of all beleivers,etc. These are all things that we don’t see too much in evangelical Christianity. (Although there are voices–Jim Wallace for one)

    Unfortunately many of the Anabaptist churches have morphed into something evangelical. In fact, I was in a Mennonite church recently where there was an American flag on the stage, and they had an evangelical hymnal. (Nothing wrong with the praise and worship choruses, but I’m just saying….)

    And, in the 90’s, a group of more evangelial churches in my former conference left the conference and became independent because they thought Mennonites were becoming too liberal. This was AFTER this conference kicked out my church b/c of our GLBT welcoming position (after much pressure from the evangelical Mennos).

    My hope for the Anabaptist tradition is that we can create a new model for what it means to be a church together. Not evangelical, fundamentalist, liberal, emergent, etc.. But, a group of people with diverse opinions that can listen to each other, and focus and work together on the agreements.

  2. Skylark

    Evangelical in which sense? Evangelical can mean interested-in-bringing-as-many-people-to-God-as-possible, you know, evangelism. It can also reflect a cultural and political identity that is sometimes synonymous with “the Christian Right.” I think that’s what Amy was getting at, especially when she compared “evangelical” and “fundamentalist.”

    The second definition probably wasn’t around when Menno Simons was talking about evangelism. If it was he who said that quote, I’m pretty sure he was talking about the Great Commission, not a way-of-being-as-a-Christian-in-the-U.S.-in-2007.

    I’ve had a lot of long conversations over the years with nonChristians about evangelicals, both the conversion-minded-kind and the politically-rightist kind. The two definitions are too often embodied in the same person, so attempts to share one’s faith can be interpreted as a call to become a Republican, anti-abortion, anti-gay, pro-military, anti-Catholic, etc. That’s a big reason I feel uncomfortable when I’m in a situation where I could start talking about my faith as something the other person might find valuable. Some people associate Christian evangelism with cultural imperialism, greed and disrespect for their experience.

    I sincerely appreciate the Mennonite emphasis on social justice and service. That’s not something I see so much in circles where it’s all “saving souls for Jesus.” Many service workers have told me stories of someone being so moved by the worker’s help with a physical or social need that they inquired about the worker’s faith. That’s the way it’s “supposed to happen,” some say. Yes, I know some MCC workers have been accused of being vague about Jesus.

    One of my big values is respect for others. They are not just a soul to win or a notch to add to my belt. I want to listen and learn from their stories. The traditional evanglism model can be “Christian talk Gospel, non-Christian respond and repent.” Call me post-modern if you will, but this idea that I have all the truth and they just need to join me doesn’t cut it anymore.

  3. TimN


    I hope you’ll continue to speak as well as listen. You’ve brought up a really important question that I’ve discussed for hours with friends and mentors.

    For better or for worse, the term Evangelical means very different things in different contexts. I personally experienced this difference between the United Kingdom and the United States. In my second month in the country I was very surprised to hear Joel Edwards, the president of the Evangelical Alliance, speaking to an audience of young adults on God’s heart for justice and the political implications of taking up our cross. In a conversation afterwards he confirmed that he’d drawn some of the concepts from John Howard Yoder. During my time there I discovered that many of my Anabaptist friends considered themselves Evangelical, although there was also some stronger hesitation with this after the EA held a heresy trial against one of its members. Overall however, I found that many Evangelicals were able to hold together their traditional theological views with an active discipleship that clothes the poor and work to change the system that makes them poor. This can lead to all night prayer sessions for trade justice and prophetic actions in in front of parliament for trade justice.

    Nelson Kraybill spent 6 years living and working in London and when he claims the term Evangelical I’m sure he is in part remembering his brothers and sisters in the UK. And in attending Evangelical gatherings perhaps he hopes to bring this perspective to Evangelicals in the United States. Unfortunately, I’m not convinced that the term evangelical is redeemable in our lifetime. The work of George Bush has gone a long way towards defining Evangelical more clearly in the Western world. I think its safe to say that most Europeans associate the term “Christian Evangelical” most strongly with the policies of the Bush administration. While folks like Tony Campolo and Ron Sider have made admirable efforts to incorporate social action and justice into the vocabulary of US Evangelicals, they are in a small minority in that community.

    I find much more hope in movements coming out of and speaking to the Evangelical community such as the Emerging Church and the New Monasticism movements. Both of these movements are attracting young people who grew up in evangelical churches but became dissolutioned with its shortcomings. Some within this movement identify as Evangelicals and others don’t.

    Finally, note that I’ve deliberately used Evangelical with a capital e in this post to refer to the proper nouns as it is used by people to refer to Christians who identify with Evangelicalism today. I’m aware that this is quite a different animal than the evangelical faith to which Menno Simons was referring to 450 years ago. Rather than trying to reclaim the term that Menno used, I think we should focus our energy on shaking off our dormancy, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, comforting the sorrowful and sheltering the destitute.

  4. joe

    “True evangelical faith cannot lie dormant, but must feed the hungry, etc..”
    you know, maybe the term has been hijacked somewhat. erwin mcmanus was sharing in the middle east with christians and he had a translator. he was speaking about following christ with “passion”. the translator stopped and said there is no word in arabic for passion. erwin pressed him on it and come to find out the word for passion is “hamas”. he said he would be telling people to be “hamas” for christ. the word was hijacked by a terrorist organization. maybe it is the same for “evangelical” here in the states. not that is taken by a terrorist organization, but hijacked by the mainstream to be sure.

  5. Mfalme

    Joe, I like the way you think. Another interesting vocabulary overlap that occurs both in Arabic and in Swahili is “shahid”, which the passionate Hamas guys use to refer to their suicide bombers. In that usage it has the meaning “martyr”. But it also means a “witness”, in the sense that Jesus said to his disciples, “you shall be my witnesses”, in Swahili, my “shahidi”. So unless we want to imagine him saying “you shall be my suicide bombers”, we need to be careful about the meanings we do or not associate with words. Including the word “evangelical”.

  6. joe

    “Is the term losing its appeal? Perhaps because it has been “hijacked”? If so, what should our relationship be to it now?”

    isnt that really the question? does the term get redeemed and renewed or do we now press towards a post-evangelical culture. DONT LOOK AT ME! i dont know the answer to that.

    maybe the term is too far gone. maybe we should just skip it and move on. or is there still enough value in the word itself and its history to just let it pass?sometimes it seems there are too many battles to fight (if i can say that on an anabaptist site)and to decide which to fight is important. good question mfalme.

  7. jdaniel

    I generally avoid describing myself as evangelical (and certainly not Evangelical) because of the aforementioned cooptation of the word.

    Nonetheless, the origins of the word are worth noting:

    [Origin: 1525—35; < LL evangelicus (< LGk euangelikós; see evangel1, -ic) + -al1]

    [Origin: 1300—50; ME < LL evangelium < Gk euangélion good news (see eu-, angel); r. ME evangile < MF]

    I’d like to be evangelical in the clothe-the-naked, feed-the-hungry, love-your-enemy sort of way, not so much in the “Bible thumping”, “soul saving” sort of way. I also think the kind of evangelical faith that Menno Simons was talking about isn’t concerned with the proper terminology for itself. It is a faith of action, not of fancy words.

    True evangelical faith cannot lie dormant. It clothes the naked, it feeds the hungry, it comforts the sorrowful, it shelters the destitute, it serves those that harm it, it binds up that which is wounded, it has become all things to all people.

    ~Menno Simons

  8. ryanm

    Has the term been hijacked? Of course. But in throwing out capital-E Evangelicalism because of its political connotations, what do we lose in the process? By rejecting the label, what actions or concepts do we also reject?

    Menno said true evangelical faith [thanks, jdaniel, for the entire quote] has become all things to all people, but if we lose the concept of evangelism as defined in Menno’s statement, then we become nothing to anyone. Whether we like it or not. I’m not talking about preaching on a street corner or asking everyone you meet whether they are saved. Evangelism, and therefore evangelicalism, can take many forms. Despite whether or not we accept the capital E, the church, and we therefore as Anabaptist Christians, must necessarily be evangelical in the way we live. Salt, light, leaven — whatever biblical metaphor you choose — tells us that our communities with all of their flaws must be agents of growth and change for those within and those without.

  9. jdaniel

    here’s an interesting post on American Evangelical Theology

  10. Ben

    Here is an interesting article on evangelicalism and its degression to political activism. This is from the magazine of evangelicalism Christianity Today. I think I agree with Boyd on a lot of the points.
    Here it is:

    Replacing Rallies with Revivals
    In criticizing the Religious Right, Greg Boyd resurrects pietistic withdrawal.
    by James K. A. Smith | posted 10/05/2006 09:30 a.m.
    The unfolding story of American evangelicals’ involvement in politics has a certain rhythm to it. Like a pendulum swinging from one extreme to another, evangelicals have swung from a kind of pietistic stance of withdrawal and suspicion to a strident, triumphalistic program for “taking America back for God.”
    The Myth of a Christian Nation, a new book by St. Paul pastor and former professor at Bethel College Greg Boyd, provides a sign that the pendulum might be headed back the other way.
    But first we need to first appreciate the story thus far. Once upon a time, evangelicals considered the Great Commission their primary mission and calling. What mattered was eternity. What was most urgent was the salvation of souls. While evangelistic work was often attended by charity and acts of mercy, few evangelicals could justify expending energy on “worldly” tasks such as politics.
    In the early 1970s, some influential voices began to argue that this understanding of the church’s calling was truncated. In particular, Ron Sider and Jim Wallis argued for a more holistic approach to the gospel, noting that Jesus’ model for ministry attended to concrete, “worldly” matters of poverty and illness as occasions for redemption (Luke 4:14-20).

    The rest of the article is available at Christianity Today. (Admin note: Sorry Ben for cutting this, thought it would be better to not post the full-text for copyright’s sake.)

  11. JUnrau

    I wrote about evangelicals in last autumns issue of Geez magazine, and the thing that bothered me the most wasn’t anything about political power (Canada isn’t quite the same as the US on that I gather) but the salespitchery of the whole thing.

    It was all about getting your message out. And using good works to get your message out. Like setting up resume classes for immigrants was a cup you’d plaster Spiderman 3 pictures on.

    That seems to be a problem not so much with the term evangelical being hijacked by politics as it is with taking itself too seriously.

    I’m just saying. (And yeah, I’m one of those former-MCCers who would count as being vague about Jesus.)

  12. Pingback: Fire at the Simple Way » Young Anabaptist Radicals

  13. Drew Kanda

    It sounds like you’re creating problems yourself by striving to solve this issue instead of shopping at why their is usually a problem in the first place. thanks !!! really useful post!

  14. TimN

    Drew Kanda is a spam bot (his name used to link to some store somewhere). But I couldn’t help but notice the computer generated poetic beauty of it’s comment.

    Wouldn’t the world world be a better place if we shopped at our problems instead of trying to solve them?

    Maybe it’s time to make a place at the table for spam bot’s too…

  15. Andrew Martin

    “Evangelical,” as it is most commonly used, refers to the kind of Christianity that emerged from America’s Great Awakenings. Of course, there are lots of other ways to use the term (though it still shouldn’t be confused with “evangelizing”, which is synonymous with proselytizing). I think the defining feature of Evangelicalism is an emphasis on an emotional, personal conversion experience, clearly dividing the past self with the new self, and the self from non-religious society.

    I don’t like to self-apply the term because I associate it with black-and-white thinking, even though there are plenty of folks that I respect who associate themselves with the term.

  16. Joao

    Do you consider aatpabtisns evangelical? That is, Mennonites, Church of the Brethren?If so, I’d include John Howard Yoder high on the list.I’d think you’d have to include Al Mohler, much as the thought distresses me (since he is, indeed, quite influential – would that it weren’t so).Jimmy Carter? He certainly has been influential and out there in the public eye.Glen Stassen, as one who has been greatly responsible for the Just Peace Theory movement.I don’t reckon he’d count as an evangelical, but Leonardo Boff or one of the other leading Liberation Theologians have had a huge impact on the world.Is Billy Graham counted as our generation? If so, you’d probably have to count him.Like them or not, you might have to include Rick Warren and Brian McLaren, as they both have been tremendously influential.

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