Evangelicals reacted to the period of modernity by assuming a largely defensive posture. They chose to react to skeptical, rationalistic criticisms of scripture’s astounding accounts of miracles, massive floods, resurrections, and such by defending the literal meaning of the text. They also concluded that, while such fantastic events are not generally visible today, that does not mean that there is not a profound spiritual experience that is available for the individual believer. Thus, teachings about individual foregiveness of sins and the promise of a greater, more wonder-filled afterlife became dominant.
This change of viewpoints worked out well in many ways. By the end of the twentieth century, evangelicalism was arguably the most dominant form of Christianity in the United States.
However, not all Christians took the path of evangelicalism. Another set of Christians, sometimes referred to as the “mainline churches,” took another route through modernity. Much to the consternation of evangelicals, they concluded that most of scripture’s fantastic accounts were, probably, mythical or exaggerated, but they contended that – even if those stories were not “true” from an historical viewpoint – the real power in Christianity was in its teachings. Thus, the “mainline” road emphasized the importance of love for fellow man, as exemplified by Jesus. Their gospel, in other words was not a spiritual one, but a social one.
I mention this road not taken by evangelicalism because it is an important pathway on the post-evanglical map. In a sense, what the post-evangelical is looking for is a grand re-unification theory – a place where the roads of evangelicalism and mainline Chrisitanity can again converge and continue along together. In other words, we are seeking a way to re-join two ways of knowing Jesus that somehow became separated during modernity. (In some ways, describing it as “two ways” is deceptive since it is really “one way” of knowing Jesus that somehow got split in half!)
In a similar way, as a post-evangelical, I am interested in discovering how the practice of my faith can re-join with other ways of practicing Christianity. The Charismatic movements of the twentieth-century, a particular “branch” of evanglicalism which emphaiszed the immediate experience of God’s spirit and movement in the world, are important to the post-evangelical. Likewise, post-evangelicals are interested in re-discovering and re-integrating ancient, time-tested liturgies and prayers into their devotional and worship life.
As you can probably guess, the post-evangelical is not the only form of “post” that is floating around in Christendom. There are post-mainlines, post-charismatics, and post-liturgicals out there. While they all continue to be influenced by the churches and belief systems from which they come, they tend to get along with each other, and with the post-evangelicals, much more readily than you might imagine! In a sense, one who becomes a post-anything is on a journey to find a place where many different paths come together into a larger roadway on which the benefits of all of these perspectives can be experienced.