The Evangelical Conversion

Back during the Reagan administration, when I was going to Southeastern College of the Assemblies of God it was just a little four-year Christian liberal arts school “in the Pentecostal tradition.” One of the signs of the decadent-pre-rapture-Laodicean-liberal-mainline church, we were often reminded, was that it preached something called the “social gospel.” Real Evangelicals didn’t preach the social gospel; no, they preached the gospel from 1 Corinthians 15: the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.

But strange things happen when you mess with the Holy Spirit. Southeastern is now a full-fleged university, run by a Methodist(Yeah, he’s a charismatic, but still…). The country’s most ubiquitous Evangelical, Rick Warren is preaching about ending poverty, and I’m not in the Evangelical wing of the church any more. In fact, I have often thought of myself as a post-evangelical or recovering evangelical or just plain liberal.

The reason that Rick Warren and Pat Robertson have decided that ending poverty is a responsibility of Christians is that they were foolish enough to ask the Holy Spirit for help. Jesus tried to warn them: “The wind blows where it wills…” but they are finding that faithfulness to Jesus means being a liberal. Of course Pat would take issue with that (I’m not sure that Rick Warren would), and his website is replete with the kind of kooky and kinky crap that Evangelicals are fascinated by. But you can’t argue with the fact that something is going on here.

I believe it’s called conversion. The Bible uses the term “metanoia” which means, a “turning around of.” Believe me the sight of Evangelicals like Warren and Robertson calling on the powers and principalities to use their resources for justice is a conversion of the very first sort. Evangelicals regularly invoke the Spiriti Sanctus, but when you ask the Holy Spirit to guide you, you don’t get a handprint shaped like a viper’s mouth. You can wrestle with the Spirit, you can ignore the Spirit, you can defy the Spirit, but if you take a deep breath of God’s Wind once too often, you will be speaking God’s Word in truth and justice.

Will the One campaign end poverty? No, probably not. The poor, after all usually take it on the chin from the rich. But it is the voice of faithfulness in the wilderness, it is the speaking of truth to power, it is the sound of justice rolling down like mighty waters. I like that sound. And I suspect that God does too.

5 thoughts on “

  1. What is open source theology? The short definition, please. If it’s not biblically based, it won’t have any success in blunting the evangelical right. If it’s fuzzy, liberal theology, no one on the right will take it seriously, and that’s who we need to be talking to. We need to be giving the religious right some theologically conservative interpretations that contradict the politically conservative interpretations they’ve been force-fed for years. As you suggested in your blog, poverty is a big issue. It’s also an issue where the theocratic right is vulnerable. For example, Jesus didn’t address stem-cell research at all, but he talked at length about poverty. The federal government — which has the means financially and through policy to help the poor– is retreating from that responsibility. That’s wrong. We need Scriptural references and sound theology to help show evangelicals why that’s wrong, because they’re not getting it now.We need Scriptures that address having leaders wage unjust wars; leaders that lie; leaders that abuse God’s creation. We need to use the Bible to show conservative evangelicals that the wolves are dressed as sheep.


  2. Now, do I look like the type of post-evangelical, fuzzy-head that would advocate fuzzy liberal theology? Wait, don’t answer that. Open source is a wonderful concept based on open-source software–Mozilla’s Firefox being the popular example. The concept is that the people of God, not some magesterium (official or otherwise) have the Holy Spirit and can contribute to a modern, or rather, post-modern, Biblical theology. It tries to wrestle with the big questions and rather than come up with a dead orthodoxy, place theology in the context of twent-first century language. But you’ve given me a great idea for my next post. Thanks.


  3. So it’s kind of a power-to-the-people theological movement? Ok, God can talk to anybody, He’s shown that. Good grief, He supposedly talks to Jerry Falwell, although I don’t imagine there’s a lot of listening going on.I’m open as long as it works within the fundamental framework of Christianity. Not all dogma is bad.


  4. Excuse my drive-by sniping, but your comment “…kinky crap that Evangelicals are fascinated by” sounds incredibly dismissive of a very serious subject – sexual predators. I don’t get it.BTW, I found my way to your blog via the Eric Rudolph post mentioned by Jesus Politics. Great post. I also do appreciate your mentioning the recent action on the part of Evangelicals toward social issues. I think a lot of folks are going to be surprised by what many of us actually believe, and that we’re not all part of the Religious Right.


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