one of those

i've been engaging in an interesting discussion with @vickybeeching on twitter, which made me think again about what we do with the seemingly unending plethora of labels we have for people of the christian faith. it began because vicky asked the question what an 'open evangelical' was - she had never heard the term before. @peterspurs soon added his blog to the mix, and i pitched in with some of my ideas of what it is to be an open evo, along with pointing people to this fulcrum article, which has long been around and seen as a way of articulating particularly the distinctivness that there is between hues of evangelicalism.

it seemed amazing to me that the open evo term was not in common usage by now - i've been using it for the last five years - but actually when i think about it, i'm not that suprised. i remember being in a DEF (diocesan evangelical fellowship - frankly *yawn* but anyway....) and listening to the 'Charismatic' or 'New Wine' guy, chatting with the 'Conservative' or Reform man and whilst they were happy with acknowledging each other's label as part of the evangelical spectrum, when it came to including open evangelicals in the meeting they were arranging, they turned to another guy (yes they were all men *sigh*) and said 'well you're the other one aren't you?', and after a bit of giggling, we established that the 'other one' was 'open'.

it was a little bit like being part of 'the organisation that must not be named' to be honest. for surely the organisation most linked with open evangelicalism must be Fulcrum. however, i do find that there is still a game afoot to paint us off as wishy washy liberals. (which just won't do boys, but that's for another blogpost)

but back to labels....

in our conversation on twitter, it wasn't long before i realised, not only that 'open evangelical' was not in as much common usage as i'd assumed, but that pretty soon people begin to say 'what about just being a christian.'

and i agree with them. but....

a bit of my own story impacts on this for me. because as much as i want to say 'ditch the labels', i just don't feel that's either realistic or kind in the christian world that we are in. there are so many labels, and sometimes it just, frankly, sucks, but it's the pool we swim in. i became a christian in the traditional evangelical 'pray the prayer' kind of way when i was 14, and in the traditional catholic 'baptised' kind of way when i was 6 months - so take your pick. but the point is that i found i was in a world where i was told i was just 'a christian'. denominations were mere matters of fact, but did not make a difference, because we were all 'just christians'. in terms of labels there were 'christians' and there were other people called 'liberals' (and they weren't really christians, but, for some reason, still went to church every sunday - i didn't get it, because i can tell you that i wouldn't have been going to church unless i was a christian....)

so these labels worked for a while. and then i met a liberal. she was a teenager who became part of our youth group, because we had more teenagers at our church. she loved Jesus. oh crap. i found i needed a label switch.

and then i began to realise that i was something called an 'evangelical'. ok. but then i met evangelicals who seemed to think i was a liberal! more label switching needed (although it's crap not getting to define your own label...) they studied books about what it meant to be 'evangelical' rather than christian and although i didn't want to be part of this exclusion agenda, in the end i found that i needed my own label. a place to belong. this process was a lot longer than this you understand, and i've written about it a number of years ago on this blog (part i, ii, iii, iv, v, vi - editors note - because of the new look on the blog these links don't seem to work, if you'd like to read this story then look at my archive, september 2007 and look for 'tales from the outside' series starting with the 'death of a pastor' post), although there has been much travelling in between then and now, i still am formed by those experiences.

on finding myself pushed outside the evangelical label by others, and in some ways, forced to question whether i was a christian at all, i heard the term 'open evangelical'. so i did what all modern women do when faced with a term they don't understand - i googled it.

at first i found myself linked to an article which denounced open evangelicals as liberal. 'well', i thought, 'i may be on the right track'. from this article i was pointed to fulcrum. and whilst i have often still wrestled with my evangelical label, (i have found that the 'open' appellation is probably the only thing that keeps me within the evangelical tradition) i am now at the point where i am pretty clear that because i am an evangelical, then i get to be part of defining what that means.

my gratefulness at finding fulcrum and eventually becoming the editor of the site cannot be overstated, because the last thing that i wanted was to become a rather bitter ex-evangelical. my friends on the fulcrum team helped to prevent that, although it was sometimes a close call, particularly over the last two years at ridley, where i became thoroughly sick of the label. nevertheless i did retain it, at least for myself. (although some will notice that i ditched it as the name of this blog, moving from radical evangelical to radical disciple - and i'm glad i did for reasons i'm about to explain)

the thing with labels, with being 'one of those', is that we can't escape them. yes, of course i want to shout from the rooftops that i'm 'just a christian!'. i'm generation x, we're not very good with being boxed in (that's why i'm a radical disciple). but i also know what it's like to be labelled from the outside. unaware of the reasons why people are responding to you the way they are. the labels are there, so find out about them, and choose - it may be that you choose not to. fair enough, but that's still a choice.

as an anglican, i don't see these labels as a bad thing - they represent the glorious diversity of the creative God. at their best, they give us a picture of God that we wouldn't be able to see unless we were sat at the feet of Jesus together with others who are different from us, which is what i see the anglican communion to be about. open evangelicals as part of their DNA are open to the other traditions within anglicanism and the christian faith as a whole, seeing what is to be affirmed and what might even be practiced faithfully within the evangelical tradition. sometimes i might look very like a modern catholic - i'm fine with that. but i'm still an evangelical. i'm a sacramental christian. but i'm still an evangelical. i'm an ordained woman. but i'm still an evangelical. i'm politically a leftie. but i'm still an evangelical. i'm ********* when it comes to sexuality. but i'm still an evangelical.

for those who don't like that....i'm still an evangelical.


Terry Wright said...

Have you read Olson's Reformed and Always Reforming? It champions post-conservative evangelicalism.

I never know whether to describe myself as open or post-evangelical. I'm trying to avoid labels as much as I can, but it's difficult!

radical disciple said...

no i haven't read it - is post-conservative evangelicalism different to post-evangelical?

i know, the labels can be a little tedious - i've never gone quite to the post-evangelical status, because i kinda came to the conclusion that i'm evangelical in the same way that i'm scottish, it's part of my dna - it forms me and if i try to say i'm not then i just come across as a bit defensive :)

i definitely like the idea that i get to define evangelicalism rather than it defines me, because i 'am' an evangelical, then 'me' is what an evangelical looks like :)

Vicky Beeching said...

Thanks Jody, really good post!

And thanks also for explaining to me about what Open Evangelicalism meant the other day :)

I agree with you...it seems bizarre that we need all these different labels. But they are necessary when there are so many nuances of Christian faith.

Looking forward to more of your posts!

Terry Wright said...

I'd say there's not much difference between post-conservative evangelicalism and open evangelicalism, to be honest. (Post-evangelicalism doesn't apply at this point.) But Olson's book is arguably the best one I've read on this angle.