The Gospel Beyond the Evangelical Version

Ed Stetzer, the Southern Baptist researcher from LifeWay Christian Resources, recommended this post by John Blake on CNN’s Belief blog. It’s called “The Gospel According to Obama.” As Stetzer said, “You won’t agree with it all, but I think you will learn something from it.”

I found some fascinating insights, particularly in regard to the American black church. We have caricatured Rev. Wright to death because of a few stupid statements, and shamelessly implied that everything true of Wright is true of Obama. But there is much more to Obama’s faith than these caricatures, and there is much we evangelicals can learn from the black church.

We white evangelicals are pretty insulated and, to be blunt, legalistic. We think the American evangelical experience is the ultimate and only true expression of Christianity. Anything else is non-Orthodox, compromised, and possibly heretical. People outside the United States don’t have a proper understanding of Christianity, so we send missionaries and conduct conferences to show them how to do it right. To enlighten them.

But that is such a shallow, paternalistic view of the faith.

In particular, we reject anything with “social gospel” attached to it. That stems from a 1950s-era backlash–not entirely a bad thing–against the mainstream Protestant church, which had sorely neglected the salvation message. But we have swung too far in the other direction. A good deal of Jesus’ message was social in nature, and we can’t discount it. The black church, to its credit, has never discounted it.

Years ago, I was part of the organizing committee for the first joint convention between the two main religious press organizations, the Evangelical Press Association and its mainstream (“liberal”) counterpart, the Associated Church Press. I don’t think it went particularly well–our two groups were very different. And yet, I learned a lot. I remember when an ACP person gave a prayer, and I thought, “Why don’t we evangelicals pray about those things?” There were other things they emphasized which I found eye-opening, in a good way–issues of justice and compassion that we evangelicals just don’t focus on.

Likewise, in attending a service at an all-black church many years ago, I discovered expressions of the faith that were foreign to me, but which I realized were totally valid.

We evangelicals think we’ve got it all figured out. But there are holes in our gospel.

And so, read John Blake’s article with an open mind–not a partisan mind–and see what God teaches you about aspects of the Christian faith which are missing or unstressed in your evangelical tradition. It’s quite a long article, but puts a lot of religious issues into context. I found it insightful.

A quote near the end says, “What’s interesting is that these values, associated with Obama and the black Protestant tradition, are now also the values of a growing number of white evangelicals.” That is what I’ve seen, and it’s a healthy thing.

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