Monday, December 15, 2008

American Evangelicals Are Different

Michael Bird is an Australian-born evangelical who teaches New Testament in Scotland. He talks about the difference between evangelicals in America and around the world: dear friends in North America have to learn that outside of North America the things that they regard as badges of evangelicalism may not necessarily be badges elsewhere. For example, nowhere outside of the USA is "inerrancy" the single defining issue for evangelicals. The UCCF statement of faith in the UK refers to the Scriptures as "infallible" not inerrant. At the GAFCON meeting in Jerusalem where an international group of Evangelical Anglicans met together, their statement of faith referred to the "sufficiency" of the Scriptures, but there was no reference to inerrancy or infallibility. Ironically, these are people who are besieged by real liberals (not N.T. Wright, Peter Enns, Norman Shepherd, or those Federal Vision chaps, I mean real liberals!) and they do not associate an orthodox view of Scripture with pledging one's allegiance to the Chicago Statement or to B.B. Warfield. Now, if you ask the average non-American evangelical what they believe about Scripture, I think you'll find that they regard it as "true and trustworthy" in every meaningful sense, but without necessarily resorting to the well-worn mantra of the "inerrant autographa" (though I imagine that they might just as well affirm it even if it's not their default setting). In other words, American evangelicals (reformed or otherwise) need to try understand themselves as being one small fish in a much bigger ocean and not expect non-Americans to line up with their own parochial theological proclivities. Moreover, there are also some things about North American evangelicals that Christians outside of North American cannot comprehend: 1. Only north american evangelicals oppose measures to stem global warming, 2. Only north american evangelicals oppose universal health care, and 3. Only north american evangelicals support the Iraq War. Now, to Christians in the rest of the world this is somewhere between strange, funny, and frightening. Why is it that only north american evangelicals support these things? Are the rest of us stupid? It makes many of us suspicious that our North American evangelical friends have merged their theology with GOP economic policy, raised patriotism to an almost idolatrous level, and have a naive belief in the divinely given right of American hegemony. North Americans would do well to take the North-Americanism out of their evangelicalism and try to see Jesus through the eyes of Christians in other lands.

1 comment:

AnglicanAlone said...

I believe that we North American Anglicans recognize the variances in scriptural translation and hold fast to the belief that God has supplied us with what we need in scripture, not necessarily believing that it is inerrant in a particular translation or that our reading of it at any particular time is inerrant. However, we do trust that God made himself clear at various points and that for us to contextualize his instructions away would be a heretical move.

To simplify North American evangelical Anglicans down to idolatrous GOP naive nationalists is offensive. Consider the breadth of the country you address, the number of individuals that the US church includes, and please allow for the variance of viewpoints, practice and opinion. Your numbered points are not universally supported by North American evangelicals; far from it.

I could not classify all believers in your church, must less your country, in a single paragraph. Have the decency to grant us the same leeway.