You Are Here

As part of my neo-fundamentalist masochism, I have been reading quite a bit of quasi-postmodern Christian writing lately, and the more quasi I read the more queasy I get. The latest entry that has found its way into my briefcase is Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christian.

One of the most frustrating aspects of reading modern evangelical writers, especially those who are attempting some sort of relevant edgy thing, is the inability of such writers to see themselves in a broad historical context. They have no x on a map of church history that says, “You are here.” Nothing is more irrelevant than such relevance, nothing duller than evangelical edginess, and nothing more predictable than an evangelical writer trying to get us all to long for “something more.” Nothing is more historically opaque than this apparent evangelical transparency. The “something more” comes in many different packages, but in the evangelical world it always comes. The modern evangelical schtick is to be dissatisfied with traditional forms, and the traditional form of modern evangelicalism is to figure out how to walk away from the last traditional form, even if the last traditional form was created by evangelicals walking away from the form before that. All postmodernism has done for historically-orphaned evangelicals is make us change the timing of the cycles. Winds of doctrine change direction more quickly than they used to. Our turnaround times are quicker now. The fads that speed through the evangelical world now are like that “on-demand” low inventory system that WalMart has. What used to take forty years to spend itself now takes around five. And nobody appears to know that in pursuing the “new thing” they are doing nothing more or less than perpetuating the “old thing.” And this particular tradition of ours is genuinely destructive.

A new kind of Christian. What kind of tradition is necessary to make it possible for such a phrase to even begin to be attractive? And why is it that that modern evangelicals cannot see that walking away from tradition is their tradition? If this were a postmillenial longing for the maturing of the new man, a longing for maturity itself, then the story would be different. But it isn’t, and evangelicalism continues to wander, clueless. Someone is going to write a history of modern evangelicalism someday. They should call it Gullible’s Travels.

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