• John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

GEEZ, am I a "liberal evangelical"?

GEEZ magazine has recently offered what they call a typology of contemporary evangelicalism. We pedants would prefer the term “taxonomy”–since typologies set out ideal types while taxonomies classify real-world instances–but hey: GEEZ is too hip to use an odd word like “taxonomy.”


Anyhow, GEEZ puts me in a category they call “liberal evangelical.” And some of their readers have contacted me to ask me what I think of that categorization.


I’ll say this. What GEEZ says it means by “liberal evangelical” is actually not a bad description of the people they put in their list of examples. And I’m delighted to be listed with some of my heroes, including Ron Sider, John Stott, and C. S. Lewis. (I think they put me on this distinguished list, which also includes Rick Warren and Bono (!), to satisfy Canadian Content regulations.)


Yet to get all scholarly about this for a moment, there really was a “liberal evangelicalism”–about a century ago, in the Church of England–and I don’t fit. That movement was both too liberal and too Anglican for me and for some of the rest of them too, I daresay.


Furthermore, my sense is that, on the one hand, the conservative evangelicals would say, if they’re sufficiently censorious (and one or two are), that I’m not even an evangelical.


To be sure, GEEZ has that prospect wittily covered too, as their “Evangometer,” like Spinal Tap’s amplifiers, goes past 100% to 110%. So you can be less “evangelical” than the conservatives, and still be fully evangelical –and that’s quite right.


True liberals, on the other hand, such as most of my former professors at the University of Chicago Divinity School–the ne plus ultra of liberal theological institutions–would say I’m nowhere near being qualified as a liberal.


So I sit instead in what I like to think of as the sensible mainstream of the historic evangelical tradition, along with others of my heroes, such as John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield, and Jonathan Edwards, and lesser, but still “burning and shining,” lights such as John Fletcher, Christopher Smart, and others. And that’s why I enjoy teaching at Regent College, which tries to be a 21st-century version of this kind of evangelicalism.


But let’s face it. Trying to be that kind of Christian in North America nowadays does locate one toward one edge of contemporary evangelicalism. So perhaps GEEZ should use a nice Canadian term instead and call me “centre-left.” I can live with that.