What Evangelicals Have

Frederick W. SchmidtAn interesting piece from Patheos on what Evangelicals have the Progressives and “Mainline” denominations could learn from. The piece is by author The Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr, Episcopal priest and professor at Southern Methodist University. He asks what progressive and mainline Christians can learn from Evangelicals. He suggests, strongly, that they should not hide behind the truth that it isn’t all about size. But further he argues:

There’s another problem with dismissing Evangelicals out of hand: Many of the excuses we tell ourselves are based on a caricature that simply isn’t fair or particularly accurate. Evangelicalism has its problems, but the ones it does have rarely receive attention and a lot of the criticisms laid at its doorstep are simply not true. Evangelicals are often bright, well educated, and comfortably middle class. They are not necessarily literalists or inerrantists. And contrary to the old stereotype, they do not hold the monolithic positions on social issues that some suppose.

So, it’s time to ask, “What do they have?”

His answers?

  • Evangelicals believe something.
  • Evangelicals are actively committed to what they believe.
  • Evangelicals also think that thinking about what they believe is important.

You can read his development of these themes, and why he thinks they are important for progressive and mainline Christians here. Interesting for those of us who identify ourselves as Evangelical to hear someone outside our ranks tell us what he thinks are our best attributes. These are strengths that we should be working to further develop, even as we assess what our weaknesses are and seek to address those. Anyone know of any Evangelical sources that point out what we should be learning from progressives and mainliners?

6 comments on “What Evangelicals Have

  1. Having grown up Evangelical, I was startled to find out how “weird” people think we are in this region of the country. I thoroughly enjoyed, as an inerrantist and (largely) literalist, being contrasted with those who are “bright[and] well educated.”

    Who is the big-time Evangelical leader or leaders he is trying to rescue us from? I didn’t read the original article. Does he state his motivation for doing us this grand favor?

    • I don’t know that he is trying to rescue evangelicals from particular leaders. I think he is turning to his followers and saying “look, we can’t just dismiss the evangelicals, they have something important to teach us.” He may also be saying that to assume evangelical “leaders” like Pat Robertson actually speak for any sizable group of followers is to misrepresent reality. (plenty of comment from me on that already, so I’ll leave that alone here)

      I also think that he is saying that people like him, mainliners, shouldn’t be so foolish as to assume all evangelicals believe the same things on all theological issues (literalist, etc.). There are varieties within evangelicalism, and he is suggesting progressives and mainline denominations not forget this. What he is trying to do is point out the strengths that unite evangelicals across their varieties, and I think he does pull out three key points of unity.

      • Maybe I’m just a cynic then 🙂 You read it much moer positively than I did.

      • His title was “What Do Evangelicals Have That We Don’t?” which seemed to me to imply the audience is people like him, and those of us who are evangelicals are just listening in. I would be surprised if he spoke too highly of us, since he must think we are wrong about something or he would be one of us! I’m not always an optimist, but I guess I am on this. Hopefully I’m reading him correctly as well.

      • I reread it but skipped the first 3 paragraphs and liked it more. 🙂

  2. Thanks for the post! I was a student here at Messiah when Fred was a professor here. Nice to see where he is now. As a “main-liner” myself (Episcopalian) who grew up Evangelical (Southern Baptist), I am in a unique position to understand both places from the “inside”. I hope there is more dialog about commonalities and respect for the theological differences instead of assumptions and superiority complexes!

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