Thursday, June 14, 2007

Your own personal Jesus

I am pondering the next sequence of Learning Church talks, which will start up in October, and the theme for the first four or five will be evangelicalism - full title: "Your own Personal Jesus: an outsider's perspective on evangelicalism".

This is my initial sketch of what I'm wanting to cover:

Before the Great Awakening
- the historical context of evangelicalism (English enlightenment - John Locke - rationality); the anatomy of evangelicalism; what are the core elements? distinction between evangelicalism and Reformed theology

The great evangelicals
Jonathan Edwards; the Wesleys; John Stott (others? Billy Graham?)

The problem with America
19th century theological drift; arminianism; Charles Finney; 20th century consumer culture; Billy Graham and the altar call? Pentecostalism?

Aspects of contemporary crisis
Wycliffe Hall? Women bishops? Gay bishops? US imperialism? Theological critique continued?

The post-evangelical future
Postmodernism as removing the conditions that led to the rise of evangelicalism, and therefore where evangelicalism is now; 'deep church'; emerging church; a survey of divisions and the lie of the land.

To oversimplify drastically I'm going to argue for the following:
- evangelicalism was born out of a reaction to a sterile and non-Christian culture, most specifically English culture after the Glorious Revolution (1688), and it has two great virtues that stand out against that background - i) an insistence on the centrality of Jesus for Christian faith, and ii) an embrace of a more affective understanding of the faith. This is the sense in which 'personal Jesus' is very positive, ie a transforming relationship, 'my Lord and my God';
- Jonathan Edwards and (especially) the Wesleys as still having vast amounts to teach us about what it is to be a Christian today;
- the corruption of evangelicalism by influences stemming from the United States in the nineteenth century, looking at Finney in particular, leading to Jesus becoming a commodity incorporated into a wider economic system, the consumer model of church - "personal Jesus" as analogous to "personal trainer", "personal assistant", "personal shopper", ie an extension of individual will;
- links between 'classic' evangelicalism and the early church - the emerging consensus.

You could say that the Johnny Cash version of the song reflects the first understanding; the Depeche Mode original explores the latter....

This is me thinking out loud. I'm posting it because - as an outsider (smile) - I'm sure there are all sorts of aspects that people out there will know more about than I do, so if anyone sees any big gaps, please do say 'hey, you haven't mentioned ______' - that's really crucial to understanding evangelicalism!

(NB I will rely on a distinction between evangelicalism and Reformed theology, which I will argue for in the first session)

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