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Foundations for Post-Evangelicalism - Kim Sønder

The Evangelical Movement has from the beginning been tight up with modernism, but now the spirit of time has changed. For us living today we cannot but be challenged by the post-modern man and his ideas. So what would be more natural than for the Church of Jesus Christ to look for a new paradigm by which to administer the Gospel in a new age. To become a true alternative to post-modernism we simply have to go beyond the primitive Evangelical system of thoughts in search for something better. Evangelicalism is outdated and an upgrading of our theological systems is badly needed. Therefore, I would as the first thing like to renounce the idea of Post-Evangelicalism as post-modern Evangelical theology. What would be the point? To be the true alternative from God our new paradigm must be true to the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Scriptures. Therefore, in its search for a more contemporary approach to the Gospel the Church must keep itself free from the post-modern presuppositions. It must necessarily continue to recognize the substance of Evangelical theology. But it will have to make a clear break with Evangelical reductionism. That is when the complex realities of life are sold out for the sake of the simplicity of expression. Here it doesn’t matter whether one is Lutheran, Reformed, Baptist, Pentecostal or Charismatic. A new paradigm is at hand.
The Evangelical Abstraction about the Scriptures

Evangelical reductionism appears in many forms, but it is particularly manifest in the form of Bible propaganda. The Bible is elevated as inerrant and as such considered the true authority of the Church. In practice it is the affirmation of the original manuscripts of the Bible as perfect and without error. The problem, however, is that these first manuscripts have been lost and that only copies are available. Consequently, our true spiritual guide does not exist and naturally the talk about it ends up in abstractions. The Bible elevation builds on the erroneous idea that inspiration and inerrancy carries the same meaning. That is in fact an act of false yoga, i.e. identifying unequal substances. In my perception the inspiration to write by the Holy Spirit does not need to have been limited to the authors of the Holy Scriptures. But only writings that match the divine objectives could ultimately be chosen as true authoritative guides for the Church of Jesus Christ. By lifting up the Holy Scriptures of the Bible as the Word of God we do not have to decline human authorship. It has indeed been written by men, who somehow were shaped by God to write according to his will. (But all the speculations about how God inspired the Scriptures unto perfection we consider as unuseful waste.)  Therefore, it is a more realistic approach to recognize the Holy Scriptures of the Bible as the authoritative guide for the life of the Church of Jesus Christ based upon its canonical election. The Biblical Canon (and particularly the New Testament) is recognized as authoritative guide for the spiritual life of the Church based upon its ultimate co-election by the Church and the Holy Spirit in the fourth century AD with reference to a similar historical decision in the early church (Acts 15:28). Such position recognizes the continual presence of the Lord in his Church throughout the times of the Church (Matthew 28:20b).
The dual Authorship of the Holy Scriptures

The divine origin of the Holy Scriptures is affirmed, but also the prophetic and apostolic co-authorship. It is in fact crucial to accept the dual authorship of the Holy Scriptures. The divine origin must be recognized for the Scriptures to be considered authoritative, but the human origin has to be affirmed for the sake of interpretation and relevant application. The prime reason for recognizing the human origin of the Scriptures is therefore to make them relevant in a human context. For if the Scriptures are not studied and interpreted in their human context, which basically consists of human language and culture, it would simply be impossible to contextualize the Gospel.

Therefore, what is here affirmed is not really new in the art of Biblical exegesis. Evangelicalism is not rejected as wrong, only insufficient. For the Evangelicals have never done the effort to include statements about interpretation in their doctrinal statements concerning the Bible. Therefore, Evangelicals also see no need of interpreting the Scriptures into each new specific cultural environment. Consequently, they advocate universalistic interpretations of the Scriptures presented as the Word of God and end up as culture imperialists. They don't subscribe to the new age doctrine that man and God is the same, but they act as the infallible God's voice. And in their chosen ignorance they don't see the need to distinguish between God’s Word and their own interpretations, done by fallible man.  Although the Holy Scriptures of the Bible is one, all Christian theology must necessarily be contextualized in time and space. In the limited mind of man there is no such universal theology, which could rightly be considered valid in each nation at all times.

It should at this point be obvious why Evangelicalism is so impotent to deal with post-modernism. It treats lightly the issue of interpretation. It is a severe problem, because in post-modernism only the interpreters voice counts. The origin of a text is arrogantly set aside. The problem of the Evangelicals is that they affirm Luther’s word “Solo Scriptura”, but overlook the full statement of Luther at Worms, in which he affirmed the authority of the Holy Scriptures in reasonable interpretation. Therefore, in the spirit of Post-Evangelical theology we reject Evangelical reductionism and affirm the Holy Scriptures in intelligent interpretation as the unique authoritative guide of the Church of Jesus Christ. We affirm the inspiration and divine origin of the Holy Scriptures of the Bible, but as composed and recorded in the context of time and place by chosen prophets and apostles.
The Duty to Interpret the Holy Scriptures with contemporary Words

The Evangelicals like to boast about their faith in the Bible. However, what truly influences our practical life is not the unintelligent repetition of Biblical terms in worship and preaching. There is no spiritual impact from the ability to jingle with Biblical ideas. Such only functions within the typical Biblical community and it hardly makes the Church of Christ something beyond a primitive post-modern community with its intrinsic values. What truly influences our life-style is the intelligent replication of the meaning of the Holy Scriptures in contemporary terms, which function in our own concrete social and cultural environment beyond the Church. There is no meaning in trying to post-modernize the Church. With its internal language the typical zealous evangelical church is already - although unadjusted - a primitive post-modern community in isolation from other groups in society. Organizing contextual outreach alone does not solve the problem. It will only create a schism between the thoughts and actions of the Church. The spiritual battle has to be fought through a fresh reinterpretation of the Holy Scriptures, not by senseless accommodation of the values of the worldly environment.

Intelligent interpretation presumes meaning and meaning presumes intelligible speech in sentences with subject and predicate. This is the true meaning of the Greek concept LOGOS. Individual words carry no unchangeable meaning beyond their context. Decorating our interpretations with a lot of words from the Bible might in fact show up to be a mere deception presenting apparent Biblical teachings, which in reality fall far short of God's quality. Such might even cover over totally foreign meanings. It is good to economize our use of Biblical terms. In fact, if we are unable to explain our so-called Biblical positions in contextual words, we should indeed question if we possess any real spiritual position at all. Scriptural interpretations in outdated terms do not impact real lives. For each last generation there is the need to understand the implication of the Scriptures in their own cultural and social environment. The Biblical historical revelation must be put in touch with our present reality and our Biblical positions expressed in contemporary terms and language. In the spirit of Post-Evangelicalism there is no need to suffer from Indofobia. For the use of vocabulary is not the point in determining meaning. We can without fear make use of the fact that the vocabulary of the eastern religions already has invaded the thoughts of the Western world. However, since interpretation is so concerned with the human context, at this point it might be opportune not to forget the divine side of the Scriptures. We therefore seek with all our heart to interpret the Holy Scriptures correctly by the assistance of the Holy Spirit.
The Evangelical Faith with and without Obligations

After dealing with the issues of the Scriptures and their interpretation, let us now proceed to one more limiting practice of Evangelical reductionism. It concerns the faith only Gospel with the promise of a free place in Heaven. The whole focus of the Church is to bring men to Christ. The life of all the Church becomes salvation event oriented. In the message of salvation nothing seems to be expected besides faith, but soon those who received the message are expected to witness. It is a contradictory message, which first teach people only to believe and next adds demands upon those who chose to believe. For obviously it is impossible to deny the need to obey the Great Commission, which prompted the evangelist to bring people to Christ in the first place. But how could people’s daily life-style be positively affected by such a primitive belief system, which advocates bringing people to Christ so that they can bring other people to Christ? Again it might be good with the reminder that even Martin Luther in his famous statement of Worms did not affirm a faith only Gospel. Besides being subject to the Scriptures in intelligent interpretation, he declared himself to be captive to his conscience, which is the same as affirming the obligation to act correctly upon the faith. Faith and spiritual practice have always belonged together. Therefore, in the spirit of Post-Evangelicalism we hold that the Holy Scriptures of the Bible - as understood intelligently and interpreted by the assistance of the Holy Spirit - is the unique authoritative guide to all Christian faith - and practice.
The new spiritual Paradigm: Obedience from Faith

The teaching of the Apostle Paul about justification by faith only is indeed a true fraction of the Gospel (Romans 3:21-26). It could never be disposed from it. However, justification by faith is far from the main paradigm of Paul’s message. This might rather be found in his introduction of the letter to the Romans (1:1-5). In it Paul presents his personal missionary calling, which is to call people from among all the nations to the obedience that comes from faith. A true faith in Jesus Christ as the son of David and the Son of God is presumed. In view of Paul’s ministry and his firm rejection of the obligation of the Gentiles to follow the Law of Moses, the expected obedience could only be to Jesus Christ as Lord. There is no doubt that Paul referred to the final Word of the Lord Jesus Christ, that all disciples should be taught to obey everything he commanded, i.e. his Teaching (Matthew 28:20a). Therefore, the correct meaning of Paul’s introductory statement in Romans suggests an expected obedience to the Teaching of Christ beginning from faith (as well defined by Evangelicalism). It is a reasonable explanation. For the first command of Jesus Christ was actually that people should repent and believe that the kingdom of God is near (Mark 1:15), i.e. that the Christ had been born into the world. Therefore, in the true Gospel obedience to the Teaching of Christ is expected to follow the saving faith in the person Jesus Christ and his reconciling work on the cross. After the event of faith, man and God is not expected to live happily ever after without further obligations. Such is a fairy tale Gospel of the Disney world. Paul presents the same matter in a more simple form in his letter to the Galatians, in which he states what truly counts is faith active in love (Galatians 5:6). Besides faith, obedience to the commands and the inclination to show love for others is the indispensable proof of salvation as also clearly taught by the Apostle John (1 John 2:3 & 3:23).
Weaving the horizontal Pattern

Therefore, I understand Paul’s introduction in his letter to the Romans as his concrete application of the Great Commission to his personal life and ministry. The apostle Paul is putting the Teaching of Christ into practice in his missionary ministry to the Greek and Roman worlds. The Teaching of the Apostles might in that sense be understood as a the practical implementation of the Teaching of Christ, which leaves us a pattern of how to apply the Lord’s commands in still new contexts, i.e. for the necessary contextualization of the Gospel in missions. However, as a consequence of Evangelical reductionism, there has only been established firm connection between the passion stories of the Gospels and the their application by faith in the Epistles of Paul. There has been done very little conscious effort to identify the broader reference to the Teaching of Christ in the Epistles (through comparative studies). The Pentecostals have done the effort in binding up its spiritual life with the Apostolic practices in Acts, which in fact led to much spiritual progress among men. But it is now necessary to go one step further back and break the man made distinction between the dispensation of the Gospels and the Epistles.

For the sake of verification of my argument, let me now show some concrete reference points between the Gospels and the Epistles of Paul. The Gospels teach that according to Christ the greatest command is to love (Mark 12:28-31). It should therefore be expected to find reference to it in the Teaching of the Apostle Paul. It is of course easily found in his first letter to the Corinthians 13. Love is presented in a somehow abstract form fitted for Greeks. But reference to love - as chained with faith - is also often found in the beginning of his epistles. To the Colossians Paul begins to write that he had heard about their faith in Christ Jesus and the love they have for all the saints (Colossians 1:4). This is what a Christ-fellowship is all about, that they believe in God and love one another. The meaning of good works with Paul is not some strange Catholic way of salvation (Ephesians 2:10). Good works is love in action. Good works cost. Therefore, good works is love. The Evangelicals can put their anti-Catholic arguments in the trashcan. The apostle Paul's teaching on good works can be interpreted positively as the Teaching of Christ on love taught by Paul in a new culture. In general we presuppose that Paul's mission is to introduce the Teaching of Christ in new forms to the Greek and Roman worlds. Here is our Scriptural pattern for contextualizing the message of Christ. For if it is believed that the Apostles obeyed the Great Commission, their teaching must undoubtedly be understood as identical with the Teaching of Christ (Matthew 28:20a).
The Need to Evaluate spiritual Practice

Since there has been established no safe pattern to discern spiritual practices, because theology is all about the content of the faith, the Church has been left without means to evaluate its own spiritual life. This is not the least problem in these days, where many historically new teachings are being introduced to the Body of Christ as Christian, particularly from the side of the Charismatics. The historical church has tended to follow its ecclesiastical traditions without evaluation of individual spirituality. Lately, the more progressive side of the body of Christ has tended to evaluate its practices according to the value of success. However, the apostle John said that anyone, who runs ahead and does not continue in the Teaching of Christ, does not have God (2 John 9). The more correct way to evaluate any practice of the Church is by being able to establish its foundation in the Teaching of Christ. Maybe the Church was inaugurated on the day of Pentecost. But the mission of the Church is not a new mission. It is an extension of the mission of Jesus Christ on earth. Therefore, the Gospels and the Epistles must not be approached totally apart, but be better woven together for the sake of establishing a sober model for the mission of the Church of Christ.

On such foundation it is possible to formulate some rules for contextual interpretation of the Holy Scriptures, particularly the Epistles. Since all texts are studies in a human context, interpretations are subject to the biases of man. In the process it is quite possible to accommodate culture rather than contextualizing the Teaching of the Holy Scriptures. But since it is accepted that contextualizing is a must, it is indeed necessary to ask what in a Biblical text can be relativized and what cannot. In my opinion, what refers to the Teaching of Christ, Apostolic references to the Law of Moses and direct revelation from the Holy Spirit cannot be subject to much interpretation. But what is relating to the Greek and Roman cultural environment must be understood, but not necessarily practiced according to literal value. A cultural adjustment will have to take place in the prescribed practice. Finally, with reference to the apostolic authority of the whole Biblical Canon it should be remembered that direct Apostolic commands must be honored. But the simple narration of the practices of the apostles might be bound to local cultural values.
The Purpose of the Church

Since the Teaching of Christ is practiced in a community, we finally need to consider how to define the purpose of the Church of Christ. In the spirit of Post-Evangelicalism the purpose of the Church cannot be identified solely in terms of its external mission to the world. The Church must be concerned about everything that the Lord commanded (Matthew 28:20a). It cannot neglect to support the spiritual growth towards Christ-likeness of the individual members of the community. The Christ-fellowship is indeed an organized community of mutually committed people that support the practice of the Way of Christ. This definition expresses a balanced position, which neither solely identifies the church in relation to its external purpose in the world nor in relation to its inner social life. The mutual commitment has particularly to do with love for one another as the Lord commanded. For the Church has no substantial mission to the world without true love for one another (John 17:20-23). There is no place for arrogant leaders with their own selfish mission agendas and no loving concern for the needs of the people.

At least the Church must be concerned with faith, prayer, love and missions. Teaching as well as baptism in water and communion is provided to grant the opportunity for decided men and women to obey the Lord’s commands. The purpose of encouraging people all over to receive the Gospel is not to make people into propagators of the Gospel. The purpose of discipleship is to grow spiritually and have one’s life shaped into Christ-like quality (Colossians 1:2). After having decided to walk with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, new disciples do not have to be introduced to congregational duties and unintelligible traditions of the church without reference to the Lord’s commands. It is my opinion that the many estranged traditions of the churches is the result of the unfortunate disconnection between the Gospels and the Epistles, which has allowed the Church to develop teachings of its own apart from the head of the Church, which is the Christ (Colossians 2:18-19). In the environment of Post-Evangelicalism, it is becoming more possible to distinguish between what is of God and what is of man!

With Post-Evangelicalism a new central paradigm is being introduced for the administration of the Gospel in a new age (Ephesians 3:2). It is neither the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church nor the faith only Gospel of the Evangelicals. (Particularly evangelical reductionism must be set aside as totally impotent to deal with the spiritual needs of our post-modern time.) It is the obedience from faith paradigm, which has been established according to the main declared purpose of the Apostle Paul (Romans 1:5). What counts is obedience to the Teaching of Jesus Christ in response to faith in him and his reconciling death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. The purpose of the Christ-fellowship and its servants is, therefore, to support the practice of the Way of Christ and to lead each disciple of the Lord forth towards a life of Christ-like quality. Its earthly pretension is not in conflict with the expectations concerning the promised life beyond. For Christ-likeness is indeed the essence of Heaven.


The co-election of the canonical books of the Holy Bible by the Church and the Holy Spirit is affirmed. On that ground the Holy Scriptures of the Bible is confirmed as the unique authoritative source of all spiritual knowledge concerning God, Christ and the Way. The Holy Scriptures is affirmed as inspired by God, but recorded in time and space by chosen prophets and apostles. The dual authorship of the Holy Scriptures is thus affirmed - the divine inspiration for the sake of the authority - and the human authorship for the sake of contextual interpretation. In intelligent interpretation, assisted by the Holy Spirit, The Holy Bible is the unique authoritative guide to all faith and practice of the Church of Christ. The New Testament is particularly interpreted as the Teaching of the Apostles viewed as the implementation of the Teaching of Christ among the Greeks and the Romans as a model for the spread of the Gospel to the end of the world (Acts 1:8).

The spirit of Post-Evangelicalism is then in a sense common, because it defines a way to give space to particular expressions of the Gospel. It does not deny the right of Catholics, Evangelicals or any true historical tradition to call itself Christian and to be accepted as such. But it is a rejection of unhealthy universalism, which opposes particularized theology and practice, whether it concerns contextualizing the Gospel in missions or contemporizing the Gospel in new words for new times. Since it concerns a living Lord, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a living reality, which must always be made new in the mind of each nation and each new generation - until the end of the world. Truly!