What can we learn from the Evangelical Left?

September 14, 2017

What Can We Learn from the Evangelical Left?

Editor’s Note: The original version of this blog post was published by Patheos.com. Click here to read it. 

We’re familiar with the stereotypes of conservative Evangelicals as prudish heresy-hunters. White males, largely end-times dispensationalists, who obsess over controlling human sexuality and women’s reproductive systems, or so the caricatures go. But in the same way that conservative Evangelicals’ intentions are expressly overlooked or maligned, I’m beginning to wonder how the intentions of our neighbors over on the progressive channel have similarly been treated. And even if we disagree on the means (and goals), can we learn anything from some well-meaning folks on the Evangelical Left?

In a way this proves a bit difficult as the Evangelical Left exists along a wide spectrum of rotating beliefs and values. They have no unified mission statement. Some keep their orthodox beliefs, like marriage for example, discreet in order to appeal to a wider audience. Others seek to totally revise settled doctrine in order to accommodate a post-modern society instead of relying on God’s transformative grace. These efforts should never be taken lightly. (There’s also the post-Evangelical crowd which is part of the broader Religious Left.)

Full disclosure: I think there’s plenty wrong with the Evangelical Left’s distortion of Christianity and full-fledged allegiance to the Democratic Party. My day job is working to expose and confront their far-left political agendas masquerading as biblically-based justice over at the Institute on Religion and Democracy. I even wrote a book on the subject titled, Distortion: How the New Christian Left is Twisting the Gospel and Damaging the Faith.

Even so, by examining a few aspects of the Evangelical Left we can better our own Christian witness.

1) It’s good to ask questions about Christian doctrine

If there’s one thing the Evangelical Left does well it’s questioning. Let me be clear, I’m not talking about glamorizing doubting. In this case, I’m talking about putting Scripture and Church history under the microscope to understand exactly how it withstands reproach. How can we confront theological revisionists or winsomely share the truth of the Gospel if we haven’t honestly examined the Scriptures ourselves?

In certain non-denominational, Charismatic, and Baptist circles I’ve roamed, it’s apparent that many Evangelicals cannot articulate what they believe or why they believe it. A lack of  catechesis leaves them vulnerable to the Evangelical Left’s distortions of Scripture. 1 Peter 3:15 instructs Christians about “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” We need expertise in Christian apologetics. How can we answer doubters’ questions if we don’t become familiar with the Church’s centuries’ old answers?

The trouble begins when the Evangelical Left doesn’t uphold much in the way of truth they like to seek, but aren’t too keen on finding. We need to distinguish between a search to find truth versus a denial of the existence of absolute truth.

2) Consider the weight of painful experiences in the Church

It’s wise to acknowledge some individuals who’ve left the Church or those who glibly mean-tweet us are motivated by the mistreatment from those who wear a conservative Evangelical label. Countless members of the Evangelical Left were raised in traditional Evangelicalism and have written about how their personal experiences drove them away from traditional Christian teachings. The lesson here is to better empathize with people’s past painful experiences in the Church.

But while this is a lesson gleaned from the writings of many Evangelical Lefters, it tends to stop short of one very important biblical lesson: People are innately sinful. Genesis 8:21 declares, “. . . the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”

This means human beings are fallible and will inevitably disappoint or hurt us. For this reason, we need Christ’s redemption. Empathy only goes so far before broken people must confront humankind’s sinful nature. Unfortunately, the Evangelical Left often leaves this part of the lesson out of their blog posts. This doesn’t make it any less true. Nor does the truth of the matter excuse the harm done. I’m reminded of the striking analogy of the Church as a hospital. Its sinful congregants are the patients in daily need the Lord’s restorative goodness and mercy.

3) Hyperbole doesn’t facilitate civil disagreement

Okay, so this lesson isn’t so much gleaned from Evangelical leftists’ efforts as drawn from their recent hyperbolic reaction to a new declaration citing longstanding Church doctrine.

Fearmongering reactions to advance an ideology don’t help anyone. It excludes people from the table who don’t agree with your narratives. Come to think of it, I have heard this lesson repeated by the Evangelical Left. Sadly it often fails to be implemented when opposing a pro-traditional marriage or pro-life message.

Not to pick on the Evangelical Left. This isn’t solely a progressive problem. It’s a human nature problem. A sin problem. Honestly, there are many days I badly need the Apostle Paul’s reminder, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)

It’s really good advice for all of us.


4 Responses to What Can We Learn from the Evangelical Left?

  1. Mick says:

    I agree that the Evangelical Left have several things going for them including 1) freedom from the errors of tradition and 2) less susceptibility to legalism (that may bear out of that tradition).

    But the disadvantages are treacherous: 1) prioritizing allegiance with the popular culture over God’s call to righteous living; 2) normalization of recalcitrant, unrepentant behavior within the Church; 3) pride and arrogance in Church service (especially if used to pridefully contrast Conservative Evangelicalism) masquerading as empathy and service to the “downtrodden,” and the “disenfranchised;” and, ultimately 4) developing a waywardness with the Word.

    The Evangelical Left, like their political cousins, ultimately bow down to none but themselves. It’s the age-old problem – hatred of God (and we all, daily, need to repent of our tendency to repeat the Devil’s horrid error). The Evangelical Left, like their Mainline Liberal cousins, insidiously self-congratulate themselves that they are about the King’s mission. They’re not. They’re opposed to Him like the twisted, wife-beating and cheating husband who keeps his wife around to serve him, yield to his abuse and to prove, for all public appearances, that he is a loving, one-woman man.

  2. Tim Kriebel says:

    Chelsen, I thought this was an extremely well-written and insightful article. We traditional evangelicals DO need to see and hear what is good and valid from the others’ perspective, as well as hear and see ways our views are misaligned with scripture, our actions inconsistent or mean-spirited, and our hearts and minds closed to others who act and think differently than ourselves.

    That said, I further appreciate the way you still laid out the ultimate failures and mistaken perspective of the evangelical left. Your quest for what we on the right can learn from the left, fairly and accurately balanced with what the left can learn from us on the right, was a masterful piece. Thanks for writing it!

  3. mel says:

    Hi Chelsea, do you ever check your comments way later? I am evangelical left. I’m guessing that I believe pretty much as you believe as far as the gospel message, the truth of Jesus Christ, who He is and what He literally and specifically did for us on the cross. I am pro-life and believe in traditional marriage.

    Its funny you talk about EL being caught up in the culture over godliness because in America I see that in the ER to much the same extent. From my experience with my fellow believers, if you believe the Bible is the true word of God and are grace-saved, you therefore have to be a Republican, must support unfettered access to assault rifles, must believe that government is bad and that the government is heck-bent on giving freebies to the lazy takers of society. Those beliefs are very political and cultural as much as is so for the EL.

    Please know that I am not saying you believe any of this but I’m surrounded by that kind of verbiage from those I do otherwise respect.

    • Chelsen Vicari says:

      Hello Mel,

      Thanks so much for reading and I appreciate you taking time to leave a comment. When possible, I try to read and reply to thoughtful comments. But nowadays that can be a little more challenging, as I’m balancing work and an energetic baby girl crawling around.

      I absolutely understand the politicization you see among right-leaning Evangelicals. Sure, I see it too at times. No, I’m personally not an unfettered supporter of assault rifles or even married to the Republican party as I’m so often accused simply because I am a conservative Evangelical. You’re right. We probably agree on more than we would disagree, which is why I wanted to write this particular blog post and examine the main commonalities.

      So those facts aside, my point (from what I recall from memory) when writing this post was to note that so often the Evangelical Left is married to the Democratic party causing many (certainly not all) to compromise on Scripture’s authority on marriage, sexuality and the sanctity of life. It is largely over these distortion of Scripture by liberal church leaders that I am gravely concerned. (IRD staff report instances again and again. So I encourage you to read our reports. Disregard my suggestion if you’ve don so already.)

      Do conservative Christians get things wrong? Sure. Do I get things wrong at times? Absolutely. But my ultimate goal–and I would say the goals of my colleagues–is to affirm and share the truth in love of the uncompromised Gospel of Jesus Christ with the lost, and not to alter traditional Christian teachings to neatly fit current cultural trends. TI stand by my belief, stemming from experiences attending liberal Christian conferences and events where Jesus Christ’s name was barely mentioned (See our reports from Wild Goose Fetival for example), that many (again not all) Religious Left leaders and activists are more concerned with approval of secular society than they are with evangelizing, church planting,and speaking the truth in love even when it is hard and offensive. The leaders I am thinking of, by the way, would mostly disagree with your pro-life stance and certainly affirmation of traditional marriage.

      There is a spectrum both the Left and the Right find ourselves on many of these issues. I’d bet you and I are closer on the spectrum to one another than we might initially think. Blessings and peace to you.

      Appreciatively,

      Chelsen Vicari

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