Back in December, Mere Orthodoxy created a quiz to determine whether you are really evangelical. I waited until now to write about it because I decided it vindicates a point I made in my blog last week.
In addition to proving me right, the quiz is both well-done and hilarious. Don’t take my word for it. Go ahead and take it yourself. I’ll wait.
Okay, now that we’re on the same page, let me commend the opening section of the quiz:
“In the Trump era there is no lack of uncertainty about the true definition of an evangelical Christian. 81% of evangelical Christians supported Trump last fall and… one of Trump’s most prominent conservative critics is evangelical leader Russell Moore. It’s no surprise that a) no one knows what an evangelical is, and b) everyone wants to define it.”
First of all, that may as well be the dust jacket for my book project. Second, it echoes something that’s obvious to anybody who follows a certain niche of the Christian Twitterverse:1 a hallmark of evangelicalism is an obsession with defining “evangelical.”
For those of us in that niche, the obsession is so natural that it’s easy to take for granted. But it’s also weird. If the news is to be believed, evangelicals are one of the most culturally-influential religious groups in the country.2 But nobody seems to agree on what an evangelical even is.
Luckily, I happened to *takes swig of a drink to assume an attitude of casual nonchalance* explain this in my last post.
My core argument was that “evangelical” is great as an adjective modifying an actual Christian tradition (like evangelical Anglican, evangelical Presbyterian, evangelical Baptist, etc.). But when “evangelical” is used as a noun, we get into trouble, because the term doesn’t have much content on its own.
The Mere O quiz highlights that problem. And in doing so, it concocts as good a definition of evangelical as anyone. You see, evangelical isn’t really about subscribing to certain theological points.3 Instead it’s an amalgamation of various habits, emphases, and prejudices that express themselves in a lot of distinct (and weird) cultural examples.
If you were raised in that culture, you know what I’m talking about. And you also know what the quiz is talking about. Seriously, these questions hit close to home. For example:
- Yes, I did get my driver’s license before I was allowed to read the Harry Potter books. And the first time I read the books (as a freshman in college), I had a nagging feeling of guilt the whole time.
- Yes, I did kiss dating goodbye in high school. Or at least, girls kissed dating me goodbye. Same difference….
- Yes, I have had involved discussions with friends and family about the timing of the Rapture, and, some of it may have involved the Left Behind series. And when I noticed an NHL player named Nicholae, I got really freaked out.
- Yes, I do know which of the Five Love Languages is mine. For those interested, it’s quality time. It is NOT physical touch. Repeat: NOT physical touch. So please don’t try to hug me. Or if you do, don’t be offended when I curl into a ball like a pill bug to escape it.
- Yes, the first R-rated movie I saw WAS Passion of the Christ. And yes, this was around the time I had a chart which made analogies between CCM bands and “secular” bands.
The point isn’t just that I had a very evangelical upbringing (not to brag, but I scored “True Believer” on the quiz). It’s to underscore something about evangelicalism. It isn’t a rooted theological tradition on its own. It’s a hodgepodge of various sub-cultural in-jokes.
All the more reason for me to once again (hooray!) drive home my point from last week. Don’t be an “evangelical” as a noun. Be an evangelical as an adjective.
1 In case you’re wondering, that niche is “college-educated Christians aged 18 to 35 who were raised evangelical, but have since had an on-again, off-again mini-crisis to determine if they still belong in that world, or if they even want to belong in it.” There’s actually quite a few of us.
2 How many of us just shuddered thinking about Robert Jeffress?
3 Apologies to David Babbington. And J.I. Packer. And any of those other dozens of theologians.