Evangelical identity and diversity

A few weeks ago I gave some reflections at the Evangelical Alliance Council on the 21st Century Evangelicals survey. One of my responses from the report was that evangelicals were increasingly uncertain about our place in society.

40% were unsure about working with others for the common good

70% felt it was difficult to live as a Christian in the UK.

And there was great uncertainty around religious liberty for others.

The report was published against the backdrop of legal decisions that seemed to limit the right to practice religion- or at least allowed the state to determine where those limits were.

There is lots to think about in all of this and of course the Church has been struggling with these issues since the beginning. How do we maintain and appropriately express our distinct identity in the context of diversity?

Do we long for a Christian country or a country in which Christians are free? If we are concerned about our freedom then we need to be concerned about everybody’s freedom. I was with a group of Egyptian and Arab speaking church leaders earlier this year as the revolution in Egypt got underway. Amid the understandable concern, worry and hope one Church leader said to me: ‘If the church is not on the streets fighting for a free Egypt, we will forfeit our place in the new Egypt’. Maybe this is a prophetic statement for us all. If our concern is limited to looking after our own interests not only will we be dismissed as being hopelessly partisan but I am not sure how that gives witness to the one who lived and died for others.

Around a hundred years ago Christians who were most concerned with serving society and being able to speak into the culture ended up losing their grip on Jesus and the social gospel movement was born. We need a better theology and imagination to enable us to keep connected to society and  to Jesus. Retreating into the bunker isn’t good enough and loosening our grip on Jesus is not an option. We need to understand how to be inclusively distinctive.