Categorical Imperative

Over the last few days, I’ve been working through Bauman’s essay on identity and pilgrims.  And while I’ll return to that on Monday, I thought I’d take a quick side-trip and consider a term that many have been thinking about and using lately: evangelical.

In a recent post, author and professor Alan Jacobs attempted to respond to the question of whether the term evangelical ought be abandoned by those who have identified as such.  Jacobs’s response is titled “Steal It Back,” so you can mostly assume his answer.

Jacobs begins with a nod to U2’s Rattle and Hum:

I find myself remembering that moment in Rattle and Hum when Bono introduces “Helter Skelter” by saying, “Charles Manson stole this song from the Beatles. We’re stealing it back.” It’s time to steal “evangelical” back.

From there, Jacobs articulates (1) who should do the stealing, (2) whom should be stolen from, and (3) how the term should be stolen.

The piece is succinct and sober.  Here’s his answer to number 3, though.

How should they steal it back?

(1)  Put “searching the Scriptures” at the heart of congregational preaching — and singing (which requires, among other things, immediately eliminating all praise songs that are not thoroughly scriptural and restoring the place of hymns that offer a sophisticated interweaving of biblical texts: nothing teaches Christians how the various parts of the Bible interrelate better than the great hymns.

(2)  Rigorously and patiently teach people the various disciplines of public and private prayer (Adoration, Petition, Intercession, Thanksgiving, Lamentation)

(3)  Regularly and reverently celebrate the Lord’s Supper

If even a handful of the churches that now call themselves “evangelical” were to take these steps — in full awareness of how radically countercultural such steps are, and in full willingness to pay the price in popularity for their dedication — then in a generation or two there could be enough people who are properly formed within the ancient practices of the Christian faith to provide the critical mass necessary to have a significant impact on society. It won’t be easy, and it won’t be quick, but it will be a great work of mercy and grace. And anyway, the churches that fail to do these things will fade away, because they have nothing to pass on to their (biological and spiritual) children.

It is, of course, You Are What You Love and the Benedict Option all rolled into one.  More than that, it is true.  It may need some refinement, but it’s also a great place to start.

The reason why I say “it may need some refinement” is because many (evangelical) Christians will look at the post and think “but we’re already doing that.”  (This is something that I run into [and probably do myself] quite often as a teacher.)  I would suggest the missing piece has something to do with delight and devotion, about a genuine and even costly interest in other people, particularly other believers.  But like I said, Jacobs’s post is a good place to start.  You can read the whole post here.

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