Defining Terms: Evangelical and Post-Evangelical

f_0025“Dispatches from the Post-Evangelical Wilderness” is the byline of this website. In recent days I have received a number of questions from readers, emailers, and Facebook friends asking me to define “post-evangelical” for them. Here’s a review of how I, Chaplain Mike, use this designation.

Michael Spencer called himself “post-evangelical,” and to clarify that he would say that he had moved past present evangelical culture to seek a “broader, deeper, and more ancient” form of Christian faith. His book further describes his journey as being from “Churchianity” to a “Jesus-shaped spirituality”. What did he mean?

On our FAQs/Rules page, you will see his answer, and my comment, to the question, “What is Post-Evangelicalism?”:

MS: I believe the way forward for evangelicalism is the way back to the roots of the broader, deeper, more ancient, more ecumenical church, not forward into more of what evangelicals have been doing the last 50 years.

CM: I heartily agree. In addition, I would say that the reason this is the way forward is that “post-evangelical” for many at ground level evokes a deep disillusionment with the culture of American evangelicalism, a sense of exile or “wandering in the wilderness” in relation to the church, and a hunger for historical rootedness, community that cannot be found in programmed settings, and participation in mission that penetrates the world with the love and truth of Jesus.

The word “evangelical” has a long history. A few of its major uses:

  • Its roots are in the Greek word for “Gospel.” The Good News of Jesus is the “evangel.”
  • In the Reformation, the word came to describe Protestant (especially Lutheran) adherence to the “Gospel truth” of justification by grace through faith alone. Lutherans continue to have a special affinity for this word, and in Europe it came to be a designation for the non-Roman Catholic Reformation churches.
  • The revivals and awakenings of the 18th century, particularly in England and North America, and movements such as Pietism, Puritanism, and Methodism used the word to reemphasize the need for a living faith of the heart.
  • In the mid-20th century, Protestant evangelicalism distinguished itself from separatistic Fundamentalism. In the aftermath of the Fundamentalism/Modernist controversies and the onset of the Cold War, evangelical leaders such as Carl Henry sought to restore an evangelical faith that was more engaged with higher education, less separated by legalistic rules of personal behavior, and more ecumenical in its relationships with other Christian traditions. This is what I call “classic evangelicalism” in America. The public face of these “new evangelicals” was represented by Billy Graham and iconic institutions such as Wheaton College, Christianity Today, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), and the evangelical faith missions and publishing houses.
  • Evangelicalism morphed further in the 1970s and 80s as the impact of the social and political revolutions of the 1960s was felt more and more in the United States. As Christians became concerned about the sexual revolution, abortion on demand, and other public issues, evangelicalism enlisted in the culture wars. Leaders such as Francis Schaeffer, D. James Kennedy, Jerry Falwell, and James Dobson called for more Christian involvement in the public square. Jimmy Carter was elected as an openly evangelical president. The conservative turn in the 1980s that continued into the new millennium was influenced by an influx of evangelicals who participated in the political process more seriously.
  • On the theological and ecclesiastical fronts, the 1970s and 80s were also a time of great change. The charismatic movement, church growth teaching and the rise of the megachurch, emphasis on small group ministry, the decline of mainline churches, an explosion of new Christian music, publishing, and retail industries and media outlets, the “worship wars,” the seeker-church paradigm, and the continued influence of  parachurch groups upon the Christian community in effect created an entirely new evangelical culture.

It is this culture to which the term “post-evangelical,” as I use it, refers.

As a post-evangelical, I have not departed from evangelical doctrine. I love Jesus. I treasure the Gospel. My heart and life have been captured by the grace of God in Christ. I fully embrace and gladly own the name “evangelical” in this sense. David Bebbington’s classic 1989 study Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980, identifies four main qualities which describe evangelical convictions and attitudes:

  • Biblicism, a high view of the Bible
  • Crucicentrism, a focus on the atoning work of Christ on the cross
  • Conversionism, the belief that sinful human beings need to be converted
  • Activism, the belief that faith should be expressed in effort.

Though I would want to clarify my beliefs in these areas, and though I would say that these four statements in and of themselves are inadequate, they do accurately describe a few key elements of my basic stance as a Christian.

However, the word “evangelical” has come to mean more than this and to represent an entire church and/or religious culture, which iMonk and many others have critiqued. On Internet Monk, I have given testimony to my experience leaving this evangelical culture and finding myself in no-man’s land in a post called, “My Post-Evangelical Wilderness”. I did a series called “My Issues with Evangelicalism,” in which three specific ecclesiastical and pastoral issues were explored:

Post-evangelicalism is a running theme on this blog, and you won’t read far without bumping into a book review, essay, commentary, or opinion piece that critiques evangelical culture from that standpoint or somehow suggests a broader, deeper, more ancient way.

Why do post-evangelicals pick on this Christian evangelical culture, especially as displayed in America? Here is a list of some of the aspects of evangelical culture that post-evs are reacting to:

  • A lack of understanding of and respect for history and tradition,
  • A “solo Scriptura,” literalistic, precisionist view of the Bible that does not adequately grasp hermeneutics, literary genre, history of interpretation, and church authority,
  • Paradigms of church growth that stress building institutions rather than loving and helping people,
  • Models of church structure, leadership, and organization that turn the church into a corporate marketing and business enterprise rather than the fellowship of God’s people,
  • Models of ministry that depend on strategies, plans, and programs more than upon the Word and Spirit,
  • A continual confusion of means and ends, and the inability to see that changing methods can and does alter the message,
  • Pastors who are CEOs or inspirational speakers rather than pastors and spiritual directors,
  • Preaching that sets forth principles to help us live as good, moral people, rather than proclaiming what Jesus did and does for lost and sinful people,
  • A “temple-oriented” approach to the Christian life wherein everything revolves around the church and its programs (“churchianity”), so that churches are turned into family-friendly, religious activity centers rather than places of true discipleship,
  • “Worship” that is more about the worshiper and his/her preferences and emotional experiences than about giving honor to the true and living God and reenacting the story of Christ,
  • Captivity to a conservative (usually Republican) political agenda,
  • An inability to see the dangers of power and greed as clearly as the dangers of immorality,
  • A culture-war approach to public issues, wherein believers and churches take up rhetorical “arms” and wage war against those who disagree with them,
  • An entire culture of religious consumers strung along by a “Christian-industrial complex” of corporations who get rich by marketing and selling stuff to them.

“Post-evangelical” is by definition a negative term—it describes having left these things behind. It does not specifically describe where one has gone.

Some are still in the “post-evangelical wilderness,” wandering, seeking nourishment and refreshment. They have not yet found a fellowship or religious culture that can sustain them on their faith journey.

Some have gone the “emerging” route, and this can mean many different things. A lot of “emerging” folks are trying to creatively construct what Brian MacLaren calls, “A New Kind of Christianity” or “A Generous Orthodoxy,” which he further describes as “a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, catholic, green, incarnational, depressed- yet hopeful, emergent, unfinished Christian.”

Some have returned to historically-rooted and confessional church traditions—Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy, mainline Protestantism, etc.

Some have remained within evangelical churches of one kind or another, and have chosen to live in alternative fashion to the prevailing culture.

For all of you, and others who may be listening in: Internet Monk will continue to be your trusted source for “Dispatches from the Post-Evangelical Wilderness.”

71 thoughts on “Defining Terms: Evangelical and Post-Evangelical

  1. Great article, Mike. Thank you.

    You mention the politicizing of evangelicals that began in the 1970s and 80s over the sexual revolution, abortion, and so forth. If I may immodestly offer an article on this shift that I just posted, I think it can contribute helpfully to the conversation–especially of the relationship between the terms “evangelical” and “fundamentalist.”

    Though people rarely claim this term for themselves any more (the media having thoroughly stigmatized it), it is worth thinking about how streams from old-style fundamentalism surfaced in the 1980s and changed the direction of many of the very evangelicals who had, starting in the 1940s, sought to separate themselves from the “fightin’ fundies”–at least in their pugnacious “angularity” to American culture, if not in their core beliefs.

    The article may be found here:

    Keep up the good work!


  2. Thank you.

    “Some have remained within evangelical churches of one kind or another, and have chosen to live in alternative fashion to the prevailing culture.”

    This is what I chosen to do for yet one more year in the church where I’m currently serving. I had decided not to return to my leadership position for next year and then I became broken and spent a couple of weeks wrestling with God. It’s the hardest thing for me to do and I even question why I’m in this church because there is such a resistance to new things and to thinking biblically versus relying on the old formulas which have worked in the past. It’s such a daunting task to think about returning, but I trust that God has something in this for me.


  3. I think your point about revivalism is apt — even though most people don’t believe sinless perfection follows conversion, revivalism does pictures the transition from “dark” to “light” and from the “world” to “God” in very stark terms. This language has consequences. It sets up the expectation that a believer who is in the light is also in the right — conversely, those opposing him are lost in darkness, not equals with a potential valid perception of the world. Thus self-criticism may be de-emphasized and criticism of the outside world heightened to a fever pitch. Problems the believer faces will tend to be described as an attack from “the world” and “Satan” on true believers.

    An example: A friend of a friend recently posted the following message on Facebook:

    “The longer I am married, the more I believe that Satan and the world does not want Christians to remain married.”

    Satan … OK, maybe. But who is “the world”? When did this world develop a unified opinion — or even an interest — in Joe Christian’s marriage? And why are Joe Christian’s marital difficulties the fault of Satan and the world, rather than himself?

    The logic is troubling.


  4. Maybe it’s a geographic phenomenon/anomaly; evangelical churches in my region are either mega-church wannabees, or fundamentalist YEC cults. I know there are no perfect churches, but we just have too give up to much of our conscience to fit in those communities. There are a lot of Catholic, Episcopal, Presbyterian and Lutheran churches of all varieties here though. Maybe we’ll wander over to those neighborhoods for a look. The worst that can happen is we fail another set of tests and keep on wandering.

    Is thisbecause my name is Mike?


  5. It is worth noting that fundamentalism is a specific historical movement. That movement has typically affirmed certain beliefs and fostered certain attitudes, but it cannot be defined by any single doctrine or trait (being ‘judgmental’, etc.). I think what you are observing in fundamentalism its strong sense of being at war — with various adversaries. It arose as a protest movement against developments in mainstream Protestant churches & consequently has emphasized crusading against error and apostasy. Many of fundamentalism’s greatest obsessions and rhetoric make more sense when this history is taken into account.

    As an offshoot movement, evangelicals basically share the same heritage and most of the same tendencies, but tend to be more moderate in some questions … sometimes more pragmatic or mainstream in their tone. A fundamentalist and an evangelical generally hold very similar beliefs and exist in overlapping interpersonal and institutional networks; they just exist at different points on the same continuum.

    As Jerry Falwell put it, “A fundamentalist is an evangelical who is mad about something.” :p


  6. On the subject of Communion, once a month has been the pattern in most churches I’ve been with, Michael. But there have been plenty of times in my evangelical church experience that worship at the Lord’s Table has felt like an “afterthought.” And I’ve often lamented that I as a pastor, our church leadership and people didn’t really know what to do with communion other than squint our eyes real tight, try to imagine Jesus on the cross, and feel sorry that our sins put him there. Not always. But only rarely was communion integrated into the service as seamlessly and meaningfully as it is in the liturgical traditions, where the practice of worship is defined by both Word and Table.


  7. I’m chewing on where this idea of innocence comes from. Schlesinger’s article goes into more detail, associating it with the enlightenment idea of the perfectability of man. I think social evolution comes into play as well. But revivalism may be the real culprit – particularly in the teachings of Charles Finney. Revivalism teaches sinless perfection – instantaneously through a conversion experience. If I buy into this, self-criticism becomes impossible, because it would imply less than perfection, which in-turn implies a false-conversion. Rather than justifying my actions, I must assume that all my actions are perfect and in accordance with God’s will. External criticism becomes the work of the devil to discourage and destroy us. We are the “saved”, and everyone else is the “sinner”. The elephant in the middle of the room is the incompatibility between the ideal of innocence and sinless perfection and the doctrine of the fall. If we truly believe in Genesis, that we by nature are sinners and heirs of the sinful nature, how can we be so sure that everything we do is “right”?


  8. Culture War Without End can all too easily turn you into a Veteran of the Psychic Wars.


  9. Problem is, there’s a lot of overlap between Fundamentalists and Evangelicals; the two seem to merge imperceptibly into each other like how many hairs make a beard. I’ve heard the word “Fundagelical” used to describe the overlap (and to describe both). And the joke definition of “Evangelical” — a Fundamentalist who’s trying to distance himself from all those other Fundamentalists and their reputation.


  10. Much of evangelicalism is “What’s in it for me?”, including not only some of the touchy-feely emotionalism on Sunday morning, but also some of the cornerstones of the faith—whether I have a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” or whether I am “born again” or “saved” (datably) and where I’ll spend eternity. Me, me, me.

    A Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation.

    Reacting against a Social Gospel which ignored personal salvation, and ending up just as out-of-balance in the other direction.


  11. This is a very compelling post. It raises so many questionss. For instance, how did those more accurately labeled “fundamentalist” gain so much power over the evangelical movement? As I understand it, fundamentalists like Bob Jones were vicious critics of Billy Graham. I can remember Falwell preaching “Christian Fundamentalism” as if he spoke for all true American Christians. Did we buy into terms like “Judeo-Christian” without considering who was determining the definitions? It’s all so complex, but getting to the bottom of this is critical to moving forward.


  12. could I add “insufferable in their sermons, as well…..” sometimes I’m close to getting some of those noise filtering BOSE headphones and having them handy for when the culture tirade gets going full bore (wow…freudian slip, there… 🙂 )


  13. I’m a life-long lover of DOGS of ALL kinds, yellow, blue, brown, large or small…… politicians and christians alike could learn a LOT from their dogs (OK…..and CATS) if they but slowed down and looked/learned.


  14. Oh, that is just rich…. I’m guessing that the conversation didn’t go on for many more minutes …… I’m copying this out for future dialogues of my own…

    Greg R


  15. @ Ted and Searching Anglican

    Hmmm….I smell a future post topic! (reg, spiritual direction)
    I second that……we can’t hear enough about it (at least from my quasi-charismatic, God’s gonna zap me Vineyard context)

    In addition to the anti-Catholic bias, which is still very strong in my neighborhood, there is also the strong “this smells like work/works to me”. As in “if GOD wants to do it…then HE just up and do it..” a bizarre but common thought among those not very theologically or historically grounded. For some, the work of spiritual direction SEEMS to grate against their ideas of GOD’s sovereignty and man’s wretchedness: if there is no good to be had in my flesh, then why try ?? Equally absurd, equally shallow to the first line of thought.

    The voices of Peterson , Willard, Foster and others are pointing to ancient, well traveled trails that testify that the path of spiritual formation is not works righteousness, but it ain’t charismatic couch potato-ness either. I think one reason why so many ev. leaders and teachers either avoid it, or give it faint praise is because it is difficult if not impossible to boil down the concept and process to 4 or5 neat bullet points in a sermon or in real life. Also, it tends to hurt like he_ _ to actually put this stuff into pracitce. Not exactly ‘seeker friendly” stuff.

    Those thirsty for reality in the spirit will not be put off so easily, whether Pastor Bob likes it or not.

    I’ll repeat: this is, IMO, crying for it’s own future thread(s), and the leadership issue that DaveC mentioned goes right along side of it.

    Greg R


  16. There seems to be a lack of self-criticism among evangelicals, and a rabid defense against its critics. In a New York Times article entitled, “Forgetting Reinhold Niebuhr”, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. made this comment about America in general, which seems to fit American evangelicalism quite well:

    ” ‘Nations, as individuals, who are completely innocent in their own esteem,’ Niebuhr wrote, ‘are insufferable in their human contacts.’ The self-righteous delusion of innocence encouraged a kind of Manichaeism dividing the world between good (us) and evil (our critics).”


  17. I went to a Restoration church (Christian Church) for awhile and there were certainly some there who would proclaim “no creed but the Bible,” but many (even in leadership) did not hold to that and appreciated the Great Tradition. I’m still friends with the ex-Pastor of that church (now at another Christian Church) and he’s very well-read and appreciates the various streams of Christian thought. He even graduated from a Restoration university (Hope International University).

    But maybe that just means he’s not really a Restoration Christian? 🙂


  18. My current church and my previous church have communion every week. My first church did communion once a month.

    My current church seems to baptisms as needed — but we’re a small church, so it’s not often. I don’t know if I’ve been to a church that reserved baptisms for only once or twice a year.


  19. Great post. I found myself wandering in the “post-evangelical wliderness” over the past year, exploring ancient practices, and trying to figure out where I “fit” as a pastor. Going beyond the borders of our country to see what’s happening in the life of the Church is greatly advised for those who are struggling to find their place, who are frustrated with “worship wars”, and who desire something deep and intimate.

    Internet Monk has become a part of my daily routine throughout the past year…Thanks, Chaplain Mike and Michael Spencer…When will we see more of the Liturgical Gangstas?


  20. An Orthodox acquaintance of mine recalled a conversation he once had with a “Restorationist” Christian:

    Acquaintance: So, what is your creed?

    Restorationist: We have no creed but the Bible. We just believe the Bible.

    Acquaintance: Okay, so that’s the first point of your creed. What’s the second point?

    “Creed” comes from credo = I believe.


  21. As a matter of fact, it was too “Catholic” a term even in Howatch’s novels. The character who most promoted it was an Anglo-Catholic priest/former monk who kept getting into hot water with the more liberal and the evangelical Anglicans. Great reading.

    Like SearchingAnglican, I’m in favor of this sort of thing, Catholic or not. I try to get together with a good friend (who happens to be a pastor) every year or so for a day of work and talk and hike. It’s not enough.


  22. Hmmm….I smell a future post topic!

    In all seriousness, I was raised an active, engaged Catholic, but never really heard the term. It was when I was received into the Episcopal church and was discipled/mentored by a decidedly evangelical priest that I first encountered the term and the experience. Weird, huh?

    Having a spiritual friend/mentor who had training in spiritual direction really broke some things loose for me, spiritually speaking, and I grew more in those years than any time in my life.

    Living in the rural area I do, it’s hard to find a good spiritual director (or any), and I miss it terribly. Of course, perhaps after my first experience, perhaps my expectations are way too high. I tried SD over the phone with a long-time priest friend of mine, and it was okay, but just not the same as face to face.


  23. As I understand it, many or most of the restorationists are actually antagonistic to the Great Tradition, seeing the creeds as ‘the doctrines of men’. Cut away from historical constaint, they are then free to reinterpret what being ‘New Testament’ is reall all about. Of course the nexus ends up being whatever pachage and ideas the head guy is convinced is biblical.

    It’s not hard to see the difference between these two streams of thought, and as you’ve pointed out, Michael was no restorationist, and the spiritual nature of his ecclesiology would have fought against such a narrow and misgueded picture of the body.

    Greg R


  24. I think you have misinterpreted Michael here. He was no restorationist. There is a difference between that and being historically informed and practicing one’s faith within the bounds of the Great Tradition.


  25. “Captivity to a conservative (usually Republican) political agenda,”
    As a life-long Yellow Dog Democrat, AMEN!!


  26. You said:

    MS: I believe the way forward for evangelicalism is the way back to the roots of the broader, deeper, more ancient, more ecumenical church, not forward into more of what evangelicals have been doing the last 50 years.
    CM: I heartily agree. In addition, I would say that the reason this is the way forward is that “post-evangelical” for many at ground level evokes a deep disillusionment with the culture of American evangelicalism, a sense of exile or “wandering in the wilderness” in relation to the church, and a hunger for historical rootedness, community that cannot be found in programmed settings, and participation in mission that penetrates the world with the love and truth of Jesus.

    I come from a church heritage that prided itself in “getting back to first century Christianity,” so I see a lot of danger in Michael’s words. A lot of evangelicals have this nostalgia for the past and an unreal idealization of it that ignores all the problems discussed in the NT as genuine problems with the church. My favorite rejoinder to those who would encourage me to get back to first century Christianity is to say, “Oh like Laodicea, right?” When pressed to identify the ideal church in the first century, they cannot do it.

    Instead of looking back and returning to some idealized halcyon era of blissful wonderfulness that exists only in our minds, would we not be better served to look ahead? Unlike Michaels notion that Evangelicalism will continue the next 50 years as it has the past 50, I don’t believe that looking forward necessitates perpetuating the status quo. Frankly, the trajectory of Evangelicalism, when examined historically, is one of constant innovation and transformation. Keith Green looked forward to what Christian music could be and ushered in a whole new era of Christian music that continues to develop today. Is it all good? No. Is it all bad? Hardly. The same is true with expressions of worship, doing mission work (I’m thinking of the grammatically awkward term “missional” here that I loathe semantically but embrace conceptually), and a host of other fronts.

    We need to keep in mind that at the time, Bill Hybels was an innovative shot in the arm to stagnating churches who were ineffective at impacting the individuals surrounding the church. Rick Warren was a whole new way of church planting when he started. Just because we see clones of these individuals becoming institutionalized in Evangelicalism, is no reason to think that Evangelicalism is a static monolithic entity unable to veer from a set course. If you want an illustration, all you have to do to see how far Evangelicalism has changed in the last 50 years is to read David Cloud of the Fundamental Baptist Information Service and see what a 1960’s era fundamentalist thinks of the current state of evangelicalism. If Michael means that the next 50 years will be one of constant innovation like the last 50, then maybe staying the course is exactly what we need to do. More likely, IM is part of that innovative shaping of the future that we are already seeing, even if we are calling it post-evangelical.

    In other words, we are creating post-evangelicalism as it happens. The Emergent Conversation/Movement is part of it. The push for contemplative Christianity is part of it. There are many threads that contribute to the evangelical landscape and all are shaping it. What MS and CM have left unsaid in the above quote (but is contained elsewhere on IM) is that no single expression of post-evangelicalism need be the standard by which other post-evangelicals are measured. This is the fault of many, this idea that “they’re doing it right so we need to be like that,” or “they’re doing it wrong so we need to avoid being like that.” As if ANY group has it all right or all wrong. What a lot of us post-evangelicals are finding is that we are comfortable with the flawed expressions of Christianity around us because we have a heart of grace that sees small efforts as progress, that won’t stamp out a smoldering wick or snap off a bruised twig because it is flawed. That, I believe, is the way forward – incremental change over time until, like yeast, the whole lump has felt our influence.


  27. For some, it’s too “Catholic” a term. Wouldn’t want to have any suggestion of another person standing between the individual believer and God, you know.


  28. Yes, but what you mean by that depends on who you are talking to. Critics of the classic evangelicalism that emerged in the mid-20th century would label it “neo-” in a derogatory sense. But it was also called “new” in the sense of being a new reaction in the Bible-believing church to fundamentalism that came into being in that specific historical situation.


  29. That’s one of the good things about the Lifeway one mentioned. Their online database continually grows. It almost makes the online project the more useful bit, at least for those music folk who are always wanting the latest stuff. While I like the hymnals themselves, I think if I was a worship leader I’d use the Lifeway one and use it more for reference to make projections or inserts due to the reason you mention.

    That said, personally, I’m OK with not having all the latest K-Love hits in the mix! Admittedly, my take on the most recent worship music is not a very charitable. I’ve noticed at my parish we get the most congregational participation in two kinds of song: the very trendy popular stuff and the very old traditional stuff. The former seems kind of hit-and-miss, though. Probably due to familiarity issues. I.e. it depends on which songs the most people know!

    One day I’d like to join a traditional church choir, though. I’ve done a lot of Praise-Band stuff in recent years. I’m kinda sick of it. But that’s just me; my preferences tend to be cyclical.


  30. Are classic evangelicalism and neo-evangelicalism (not to be confused with neo-orthodoxy) the same thing?


  31. Headless Unicorn….

    Fascinating!! I agree. When it comes to the Bible I’ve wondered if evangelicals have made the Bible an idol and worship it instead of God.

    In regards to the culture war never forget. There must be prayer in schools at all costs!! 😛 Kids can pray in school silently..BUT we can’t have that..WE need to have our kids pray in a public manner in front of others and draw attention to ourself. That whole command by Jesus about praying in silence alone by ourself and to not pray in a way that it is done publically like the Pharises…well will just ignore that. It’s like Jesus’ heart for the poor. That doesn’t fit into American surbibia either…. 😛



  32. Many people leave evangelical churches not because of the worship style, but because the sacraments are an afterthought behind the show. Baptisms are done once a year when its warm enough to swim, eat bar-b-que, play softball, get baptised and have a horseshoe tournament. The Lords Supper is dragged out once or twice a year because some of the older folks insist on having that worn out old ritual with those pain in the ass little cups rolling around everywhere. The only sacraments the Lord gave us are too much trouble, or are too embarrasing to make a regular part of evangelical worship in too many churches. But we’ll have 45 minutes of “praise”, 45 minutes of “preaching” on “8 different ways to live better in every way through your friend Jesus”, and God forbid they not take up several different types of offerings every sunday. This is one more reason people leave evangelicalism, even those who’ve been evangelicals for a long time, but can’t live with the lack of consideration for the sacramental aspects of worship anymore.


  33. Problem with blended Hymnals is that they get out of date too quickly. A couple weeks ago I was at a church that used a blended hymnal, from 1990. So the most contemporary song in there was from 1988.


  34. Oh, I forgot to ask, as a way of trying to figure this out more, would Tim Keller be considered post-evangelical at all?


  35. Would you say that there is a certain antagonism toward the notion of spiritual director? It’s completely foreign in my Baptist/Congregational tradition.

    Oh, we talk about “discipling” but nobody does it; and I think part of the problem comes from the Protestant “priesthood of believers” tradition and the abandonment of the confessional or an intermediary to God—or anything that even smells like it.

    The first time I heard the term “spiritual director” was from Susan Howatch’s novels about the Anglican church—and this was partly in a monastic context.


  36. Mike,

    Thanks for the definitions. I’m still trying to figure this whole post-evangelical thing out, but this is a really good start. I had always assumed that most of what you listed as evangelical culture were just Evangelicalism turned awry, so most of what how you define post-evangelical is what I would take to be evangelical. The pastoral staff from the non-denominational Evangelical churches I’ve attended for the last decade would agree with your criticisms I think, but I think they would also say they are firmly Evangelical, hence my confusion. Post-ev seems more like a “let’s get back to our roots and back to the basics” reformation/revival movement than “post-“, it seems to me anyway.


  37. Michael Bell, this is one of the things that I do agree with Michael Spencer about–but here too it depends on defining the terms.

    I think MS was talking about the difference between our religion being egocentric as opposed to theocentric. Much of evangelicalism is “What’s in it for me?”, including not only some of the touchy-feely emotionalism on Sunday morning, but also some of the cornerstones of the faith—whether I have a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” or whether I am “born again” or “saved” (datably) and where I’ll spend eternity. Me, me, me. While this may be necessary for salvation—and ultimately to glorify God—this primary focus on myself and my eternal needs distracts from a true worship of God and makes that secondary.

    To paraphrase Kennedy, ask not what God can do for you; ask what you can do for God.

    If that’s what Michael Spencer meant, perhaps you’ll agree.


  38. My wanderings led me to Canterbury as well, Paul. I definitely have seen some spill-over silliness from cultural Evangelicalism, too. That said, there’s the liturgy, the Sacraments, and the connection to the historic Church that mitigates the silliness. There’s no St. Perfect’s Parish. But this is definitely a move in the right direction for me.


  39. Yep. To that end, I advocate each congregation finding themselves a good hymnal with topical and biblical indices. Combine this with a Lectionary and the Church Year, and you have yourself the makings of something that’s built on more than just preference. Preference certainly plays a part, but there are elements that can mitigate preference as the main factor.

    There are plenty of more recent hymnals that have a song selection that is more “blended” genre-wise. Lifeway’s The Worship Hymnal published in 2008 is a good example from the Baptist end of things. That’s one that would work well in many contexts that have some more Evangelical roots (like the Anglican Parish I attend). GIA’s Gather Comprehensive is one from a Roman Catholic perspective that has this blended approach. I’ve seen it used well by non-Catholics as well (in fact, I was introduced to it at an Episcopal parish).

    A buddy of mine is starting a non-denominational church next month. I bought him a copy of The Worship Hymnal and the Book of Common Prayer as some resources from the wider Church traditions that he might find helpful from time to time.


  40. It’s really tough when you have finally reached the other side and look back at all that modern evangelicalism gets wrong, we went through a long painful search of looking at various churches finally ending up in the Anglican faith.

    I have found great comfort in a liturgical service based on good traditional values, however I’m also finding that even in the ancient traditions there is a propensity to replace discipleship with other things. And I can’t tell if I’ve just been too damaged from my past to see the issue clearly or that there really is no place that truly desires go back to the roots of discipleship.

    I find myself very suspicious of programs, off site trips (like family camping trips) and anything that in my eyes is not making disciples. I had my share of conspiracy nuts who also happen to be young earthers, programs that aren’t critically evaluated and programs that just get a pass because they have the word ‘Christian’ attached to them.

    Maybe someday I’ll settle into something that feels comfortable, but to this point I’ve only had glimpses of what I would call a home church. Part of that may be my working through some of my issues, but it’s also what I feel is a no compromise attitude on making disciples and taking seriously what a church offers to it’s members. It’s not a fun place to be…

    Thank God for this site, nowhere else am I hearing these things being said. I don’t agree with everything, but I’ve staked my tent in my own post evangelical wilderness and it’s a blessing to know there are others out there thinking like I do…



  41. And herein lies one of the most central roles of the pastor. Many churches are hollow, both mainline and evangelical, because of this neglect.


  42. My experience has more often been worship that is orineted to the preferences and experience of the praise team, worship team, or whatever your particular name for the musical and prayer leaders is. I long for something with more depth (and less repetition). 🙂


  43. Are you speaking of the “entertainment” as worship? Not specifically about styles, but overall approach. For example it’s one thing to sing contemporary worship songs with a band versus putting on, essentially, a rock show with lights, fog machines, and an audience.


  44. Interesting. I was listening to Fresh Air this afternoon, and Terry Gross had Richard Cizik back for a return engagement. If anyone remembers, Rev. Cizik used to be the chief lobbyist for the National Association of Evangelicals until he was forced out of the NAE in 2008 for remarks tolerant of civil unions for same sex partners that he made on his first visit to Fresh Air. Today he was sounding a lot like Michael Spencer and successors here at InternetMonk, and was making some of the same points you make in the article above. It’s got me wondering if Richard knew Michael, or consulted him when he (Richard Cizik) split from the regular evangelical fold. I got so frustrated that it wasn’t a call-in show because I wanted to call and ask him if he was familiar with the InternetMonk phenomenon!


  45. I agree, but there is a vast difference between accommodating the worshiper and what has been happening throughout evangelicalism with regard to worship over the past 40 years. The entire practice of worship in many parts of evangelicalism has been thoroughly redefined.


  46. Spiritual director is a traditional term in pastoral theology. It has only become more fashionable over the past 25 years or so for evangelicals to use the term (thanks primarily to Eugene Peterson and his book The Contemplative Pastor). But it has been known in the Catholic tradition since the days of the early church, and particularly in the monastic movement, where older monks would be spiritual mentors for the younger monks. As evangelicals have become more aware of the concept of “spiritual formation,” the role of a spiritual director to listen to my life and provide guidance for my growth in Christ has become more well known.


  47. Chaplain Mike – one of your criticisms was for “Pastors who are CEOs or inspirational speakers rather than pastors and spiritual directors”.
    Can you define the term “spiritual director”, e.g. what does it mean, and how does it relate back to a broader, deeper and more ancient form of Christian faith? I hadn’t heard the term until Lisa Dye had referenced it in one of her first essays – – so is this a new thing?


  48. Good point. I’ve also come to view fundamentalism more as a state of mind than a set of beliefs. I have friends who have very conservative theology (young earth), but are open minded and not judgmental. I would not call them fundamentalist.


  49. I’m probably a lot different in my thinking than several of my Christian friends and family, but I’ve always been lucky enough to be part of faith communities that allowed those differences to exist. We can gently disagree and even sometimes debate. I’m politically liberal and more moderate in my theology than some I know. My current church tradition (Evangelical Covenant) has a classically Evangelical faith statement which basically affirms the ancient creeds, has a high view of scripture, and believes in the new birth of believers. This allows a lot of flexibility on teaching and discussing things at our church. My pastor even recently taught on Genesis 1 and told us he believed that the genre of Genesis 1 was poetic and not chronological or meant to be taken literally. I know there are some who don’t agree with his interpretation, but it’s ok.

    So I’m not in the wilderness. And from my own church tradition, I’m not even post-Evangelical (in the way we describe Evangelical). But I am post-Evangelical culture (specifically the culture wars). But then again, I was never part of that part of Evangelicalism — except by association. But I love iMonk, because it constantly challenges me.


  50. “Worship” that is more about the worshiper and his/her preferences and emotional experiences than about giving honor to the true and living God and reenacting the story of Christ

    While I agreed with 95% of what Michael Spencer wrote, we disagreed over this matter. Just not true of any of the numerous Evangelical churches that I have been associated with. (Note: Your experience may vary 🙂 )


  51. Many never make the transition.

    Michael Spencer had made the transition in his heart, but I don’t believe ever found a place to truly belong. His attempt at a church plant in that model did not succeed.

    I must admit though that I am in the second group that Chaplain Mike mentioned: Some have remained within evangelical churches of one kind or another, and have chosen to live in alternative fashion to the prevailing culture. It has taken a long time, but we have finally found a church in which we are comfortable.

    As for your wife finding the transition difficult. I would recommend reading “How my passion for ministry almost ended my marriage” by C. Michael Patton. He writes:

    …God is not going to call you into something that he does not also call your wife into… If God sovereignly calls you into something, do you think he is going to forget about your wife?


  52. Chaplain Mike,
    Amen. A terrific post. I think so many of us are drawn to this site because Michael and now you have created a safe space–Internet Communion?–where we can discuss these issues and not be immediately branded heretics. We all have a living not static faith and we work it out in communion with others. I especially loved these points:

    * Preaching that sets forth principles to help us live as good, moral people, rather than proclaiming what Jesus did and does for lost and sinful people,
    * A “temple-oriented” approach to the Christian life wherein everything revolves around the church and its programs (“churchianity”), so that churches are turned into family-friendly, religious activity centers rather than places of true discipleship,
    * “Worship” that is more about the worshiper and his/her preferences and emotional experiences than about giving honor to the true and living God and reenacting the story of Christ,
    * Captivity to a conservative (usually Republican) political agenda,


  53. â– Biblicism, a high view of the Bible
    â– Crucicentrism, a focus on the atoning work of Christ on the cross
    â– Conversionism, the belief that sinful human beings need to be converted
    â– Activism, the belief that faith should be expressed in effort.

    It seems that a lot of what has made contemporary Evangelical culture a stench in our nostrils is out-of-balance obsession with one or two of these characteristics, exaggerated until they lose touch with reality.

    * Biblicism becomes Bibliolatry, either straight on the rocks making the Bible the Fourth (and greatest) Person of the Trinity or the watered-down hyper-literalism that fuels Ken Ham and AIG on the Beginning, Hal Lindsay on the End, and Restorationists/Reconstructionists in-between.

    * Crucicentrism becomes obsession with the Altar Call, the year/month/day/hour/minute/second of When Were You Saved, the exact wording of The Sinners’ Prayer (i.e. the ONLY true way to be Saved).

    * Conversionism becomes Wretched Urgency.

    * Activism becomes Culture War Without End, Amen, and Death to All Heretics.

    Chesterton spoke of Christian doctrine as being a dynamic balance of opposing doctrines, any of which if let loose on its own could lay waste a world. Today’s American Evangelical Culture has let one or more of these four get out of balance and let loose.


  54. Loved your definition. One discussion I would like to see in some type of forum is how those who have moved from the post-evangelical wilderness to the confessional church traditions have been able to make the transition. I consider myself in the wilderness at the moment after 40 years of complete immersion in the evangelical world , and I currently feel led to the confessional traditions, but I am finding the transition a bit difficult, especially for my spouse.


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