According to the Driscolls, your favorite street pastor is officially “not a man” and “worse than an unbeliever”. I spent the first year of my daughter’s life at home with her. In a recent Facebook discussion, one friend of mine pointed to this video as a reason why he cannot consider himself an evangelical. His comment got me thinking about the meaning of that word.
I tend to distinguish between “evangelical” and “fundamentalist”. Classically, the evangelicals are a subset of Protestants who emphasize personal piety and the study of Scripture. In other words, we love Jesus and we love the Bible. Fundamentalists, on the other hand, are a group of reactionaries emerging in the last century (or so) in opposition to the influence of “modernity” (e.g. Darwinian evolution, Freudian psychoanalysis, & historical criticism of biblical texts) on the Christian churches. It was only in the last half of the 20th century that people realized “fundamentalist” was becoming a bad word, so they co-opted “evangelical” from the rest of us.
The (post)modern world is a scary place. We are inundated with a glut of information and choice, but we are not told how we ought to sort all of it out. I sympathize with the perceived need for guidance, but if we let that need lead us toward the abdication of our own moral and intellectual responsibility, we leave ourselves open to all kinds of unsavory characters who would use our cry for help as an opportunity to garner personal power and increase their profit margins.
I still consider myself an evangelical in the classical sense, although I am a gender-egalitarian, I accept the theory of evolution, I don’t believe in eternal damnation, and I support LGBT equality in church and society. All of these criteria disqualify me from identifying as a fundamentalist.
I refuse to let my love of Jesus and the Bible excuse me from doing the mental work required to be a mature Christian and a responsible citizen in this society.
The Protestant reformers risked everything on their belief that common people have the right (and the responsibility) to read the Bible for themselves. They stood up against an oppressive institution that preferred to spoon-feed people with easy (if somewhat arcane) answers. It seems to me that fundamentalism is quick to return Christians to the same state of thinking from which Luther, Calvin, and Simons tried to liberate us.
As an evangelical Christian and an inheritor of the Reformation, I cannot in good conscience allow someone else to do my mental and moral homework for me. This is why I am inclined to disagree with the Driscolls’ basic cultural and biblical hermeneutic.