How Many Evangelicals Does it Take to Comment on an Encyclical?

by Caleb Stegall on August 14, 2009 · 16 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Short

68 apparently.  I had to laugh when I saw this.  I recognize many of them as my interlocutors from the old New Pantagruel days.  And if I learned anything, it is that Evangelicals suffer from a bad case of church envy.  Lacking a magisterium, they tend to compensate with outfits like the Center for Public Justice.*  As such, unconstrained by the weight of a musty, tradition-bound, and world-weary humility, the magisterium-lite model tends to tug in the direction of world-saving schemes and delusions (I would argue that this is the problem with American Catholic neoconservatives as well, but that is a different argument).  So it is no surprise that the 68 evangelicals in question take exactly the wrong message from Caritas in Veritate.  They are globalists through and through, or rather, they are the “protagonists” of an “ethical globalization.”  Which is to say, the only thing wrong with the current state of affairs is that the universalist impulse has not yet been imposed onto every nook and cranny of this recalcitrant old globe.  They call for a “serious dialogue” in order to  ”call forth political action to secure” a “global common good” by proposing “new models of global governance [which] secure increased participation, transparency and accountability, and help strengthen the nation state relative to the power of global finance.” 

Take it from me, sitting in the belly of the beast, when Evangelicals ask you for a “serious dialogue” about “new models of global governance,” reach for your gun.  Or your rosary.

* Lest anyone mistake my playfullness for cruelty, I offer the obligatory caveat that of course places like CPJ do a lot of good work and are staffed by intelligent, thoughtful Christians, some of whom are my friends.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar forestwalker August 18, 2009 at 5:37 pm

“And if I learned anything, it is that Evangelicals suffer from a bad case of church envy.”

Too true. Brings to mind this reflection by Fred Clark:

“When we were first putting together the Evangelical Environmental Network, I was kind of jealous of our partners forming similar groups among Catholics, mainline Protestants and Jewish congregations. They all had structures to work with. Those groups had organizations and hierarchies that allowed our partners to quickly and officially establish legitimacy with the constituencies they were trying to reach.

“Evangelicals have no such structures. Instead of church polity, we have a marketplace. Influence and authority are not determined by tradition, by hierarchy, by spiritual discernment or democratic election embodying collective wisdom. Instead, they are determined by book sales, TV ratings, fund-raising acumen, and how many radio stations one owns.

“This is a hell of a way to run a church.

“Some of these market mechanisms can, I suppose, be passable proxies for a democratic form of church governance. Take for example the recent rise to national prominence of the Rev. Rick Warren. One could argue that the success of his book, The Purpose-Driven LIfe, represents the wisdom of the people — that the body of believers has voted with their dollars to elect Warren as a pseudo-bishop in our market-driven church. But this kind of “election” usually has more to do with the flim-flammery of marketing than it does with the will of the Holy Spirit. I’d trust the system more if we just cast lots like the early church did in selecting a replacement for Judas.

“This market-driven ecclesiology gets more disturbing the more you learn about the cynical, pragmatic outlook of groups like the NRB and the CBA. That would be the National Religious Broadcasters and the Christian Booksellers Association (although books account for less than a fifth of their sales). Think of them as our colleges of pseudo-cardinals, or the pseudo-archbishops who with their money and marketing appoint our pseudo-bishops.

“So anyway, given the lack of formal church structures, we had to find another way to ensure our evangelical audience that the EEN was a legitimate effort worth their attention. So we collected names. We circulated copies of something called ‘An Evangelical Declaration on the Care of Creation’ and tried to get as many “gatekeepers” as we could to sign on.

“By gatekeepers I mean the whole assorted collection of influential evangelicals — pastors, seminary presidents and professors, the heads of mission agencies and parachurch groups, authors and radio hosts. Each of these men (mostly) and women had influence in a different segment of the the evangelical audience we wanted to reach. Their endorsement was a kind of imprimatur.

“Not everybody was willing to sign, of course. The activist religious right pretty much blew us off, viewing our environmental message as a kind of crypto-socialism. Others saw this effort as vaguely ‘controversial,’ or they feared that others might view it as such. And association with “controversy” could diminish their standing in the marketplace. Still others viewed any new effort as a threat to their market share. They saw us as competition for their slice of the fund-raising pie and refused to help.”

avatar Bob Cheeks August 19, 2009 at 4:30 am

Caleb,

Hard hitting albeit accurate!

avatar Weasly Pilgrim August 19, 2009 at 7:43 am

Perhaps this church-envy also explains the tendencies of Evangelicals to bluster in the face of contrary Christian traditions? My recent reading has focused on Evangelical responses (always responding—why?) to Catholicism, and the primary impression I have thus far is that the responders are terribly insecure. Their arguments may be rigorous, but their rhetoric has a desperate feel to it, as though they are arguing a case they firmly believe to be true but wish were otherwise. Now, I haven’t gotten very far into the topic yet, and I am sure that there are Evangelicals who can carry the debate forward with wit and grace, as though they both believe and welcome the conclusions they reach. Still, having been raised Anabaptist, and therefore having lots of sympathy for the Evangelical position, I am somewhat nonplussed to find this apparent insecurity in some of its prominent spokesmen.

avatar Bob Cheeks August 19, 2009 at 7:59 am

WP,

Excellent, thought provoking, comments!
The thing I admire about the Evangelical movement that I first encountered back in the early 70′s is their insistence on placing doctrine in a secondary position while moving the Christ engendering experience into first place. By insisting on this order of things I think the Evangelicals returned a waning Christianity to the fore in America. But, I agree with you re: a certain insecurity in matter of liturgy, tradition, ect.
I should like to see some concinnity between the Evangelical inspired Christ engendering experience made possible for the individual and the church community incorporated into the Roman Catholic/Orthodox liturgy/traditions…but that’s probably asking too much.

avatar Matt Huggins August 19, 2009 at 9:48 am

I take issue with both the Encyclical and the proffered response. Still, now I know where One Roman Catholic Scholar and 66 Protestant Scholars stand on the issue.

avatar D.W. Sabin August 19, 2009 at 1:48 pm

So now we know how to pry ye alte damned Stegall out of the Summer hiatus mit den Hog Wallow….sick some World Perfecting Evangelists on him.

What I find most interesting is that there is virtually nothing of substance said about the Encyclical within the mainstream media. Having read it and enjoyed the various consternation about the use of the word “gratuitous” within it, it seems to me that it is an important document by a major world figure concerning the current economic and political global clusterboink . The Pope strikes to the heart of the matter while the Secular Leadership thinks it can restore dignity and equitability to a debt -gutted, industrially declining system. Had Pastor Warren or someone like him offered something like it, the popular media would likely have hailed it as a best seller and Oprah would be out-bidding the Cash Fer Clunkers Lost Leader.

The Vatican should envy the American Evangelicals their media attentions. Then again, how might one actually fight the consumerist self-help of American Theo-Boosterism with an idea that one should actually give something away…you know, not charge for it. Those trouble-making Maryknoll Sisters must have been released on Parole.

avatar Bob Cheeks August 19, 2009 at 4:38 pm

D.W.,

Are you having a theophonic event? I hope I’m invited to the baptism…full emersion?
The pope ain’t infallible re: economic matters.

avatar The Reticulator August 19, 2009 at 10:04 pm

I am sorry I never heard of the New Pantagruel until just now. I wish the links for the last 2005 issue were in working order.

Bob Cheeks: Cool word coinage: “full emersion”. Does that mean flying up out of the water after an immersion, toes, feet and all? On Russian TV you can see missiles do it when fired from submarines.

avatar Weasly Pilgrim August 20, 2009 at 6:35 am

Cool word coinage: “full emersion”. Does that mean flying up out of the water after an immersion, toes, feet and all?

I just about blew coffee all over the laptop because of this. The image is priceless…

avatar Bob Cheeks August 20, 2009 at 2:06 pm

Reticulator/Weasly, ya know I actually have a dictionary sitting right here and it just slide by…however, I am delighted that the end result was merriment!

avatar D.W. Sabin August 20, 2009 at 2:32 pm

Cheeks,
Nobody’s infallible, not you and your spleling, nor even me and my relentless bullshit but right now, based upon empirical evidence, Alan Greenspan nor even Ayn Rand aint got nuthin on the Pope.

Then again, I don’t think the Pope has to balance any checkbook.

As to any eminent baptism, I aint good enough, not imminently, nor even sometime later.

avatar Bob Cheeks August 20, 2009 at 3:05 pm

D.W., them boys are having a good time…ouch!
Irony, you say…never the less, there’s enough of a Mick in me to think that in matters of faith, the big guy is just that…infallible! Re: you and baptism, the question does not ride on your worthiness, none of us are worthy…it rides on the gift of being, freely given by I Am Who Am, being freely returned. The ultimate act of love and surrender to He Who Was and Is and Shall Be.
You stand at the abyss and Kierkegaard suggested you leap into the maw that is forever shrouded in exquisite blackness…the whole thing is mystery, the human drama cloaked in the divine mystery! Man, it don’t get better than that.

avatar JD, Esq. August 21, 2009 at 9:43 am

Bob Cheeks said:

“I should like to see some concinnity between the Evangelical inspired Christ engendering experience made possible for the individual and the church community incorporated into the Roman Catholic/Orthodox liturgy/traditions…but that’s probably asking too much.”

Bob, I’m not sure how much more of an “engendered”(???) experience one can have of the Lord than receiving his true body and blood in the Eucharist, and by doing so also entering into mystical communion with one’s fellow believers and the Logos that created the whole universe.

God bless you.

avatar Bob Cheeks August 21, 2009 at 12:42 pm

JD,
If you tell me that the Eucharist illuminates the reality of the Logos then that is the truth, and I agree with you re: that truth. The question is, how many fellow Catholics believe as you do? I would argue the numbers are in decline and that requires the question, why?
I’m arguing for a restoration, a return to a pre-Martin Luther unified Christendom. I don’t know if that’s possible, but I think it may be.

And, God bless you.

avatar Corey August 24, 2009 at 12:30 pm

Lest we forget, the second largest Christian denomination in the United States is the Southern Baptist Church, which seems to have both the qualities of church hierarchy and evangelicalism. Nevertheless, we should also remember that evangelicals believe the doctrine of Christianity is embodied in its practice, ie. the full pursuit of the life of Christ, as if there were nothing else. Perhaps this is why the Southern Baptist Church (which trained Rick Warren, and which is generally the insititution behind the larger evangelical churches in the US) and its members devote less time to doctrinal works and more time to Bible study and application.

Now, there is much to admire about the Catholic tradition, and evangelicals, including the Southern Baptist Church, would do well to learn it and emulate the methods that produced. And yet, that tradition is readily available for all to see; the Catholic tradition is not only accessible to Catholics, but to all Christians. Yes, that means that we respond to Catholic tradition, because we want to connect to the long tradition of Christ’s church. Yet, being evangelical and, speaking for myself, being baptist, it is not the tradition that makes us a part of Christ’s body but the fully embodied being of Christ.

Of course, this often leaves the evangelical with no clear answer on the difficult questions that do arise, and he is then forced to try to answer them on his own… but that is the priesthood of the believer.

avatar Brad Isbell August 27, 2009 at 11:26 am

Church envy? Not Rome-ward, not from this old school Presbyterian. “Evangelical” is a meaningless term these days anyway. What will replace it – at least for traditional Christians in the Reformed tradition – is an open question. See Michael Horton’s “Christless Christianity”.

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