In the latest issue of Westar Institute’s periodical The Fourth R (for “religion”), long-time editor and member Tom Hall argues with Vanderbilt Divinity School Visiting Scholar Gerd Lüdemann about who can claim the name of “Christian” in today’s post-modern, post-Christian context. Hall demands, “Who says we must ‘save’ the doctrine of the risen Christ? Who says we may not disavow clearly obsolete elements of ‘the faith of most early Christians’?” Professor Lüdemann fires back: “After the bodily resurrection and other supernatural propositions are recognized as fictions, the heritage that remains is simply Judaism. So why shouldn’t Christians join the local synagogue and become Jews?”
Unfortunately, The Fourth R is not yet published online, and I can’t quote much of it (“fair use,” and all that). But the question raised is at the heart of Christian identity crises today. People who have joined the 21st century in terms of cosmology and want to distinguish ourselves from biblical literalists (fundamentalists) can choose between “liberal” and “progressive.” But what about theologically conservative Christians who staunchly support all of the social justice positions of the political left? Should they give up the designation “evangelical”? Is it fair that they get lumped in with the rest of the libertarian right?
My favorite quote from the online discussion at Sojourners God’s Politics is: “With a glass of champagne in one hand and a smile on his face, Rob Bell, former pastor of Mars Hill church in Michigan, answered, “An evangelical is someone who, when they leave the room, you have more hope than when they entered.”