November 5, 2007

€œElastic Orthodoxy
by Pastor George Van Alstine

Some of us preacher/seminarian types throw words around as if everyone spoke “Theologian.â€? I used the word “evangelicalâ€? to describe myself the other day, and a good friend who is a mature Christian, well-read and intelligent, said, “What’s an ‘evangelical’?â€? It made me realize that I was using a specialized jargon word that most people in our congregation may not be familiar with.

I use the word to represent the mainstream historic beliefs that have been passed down since the Reformation, emphasizing that the Bible is the Word of God which expresses the gospel truth about God, his Son Jesus, human redemption and the destiny of the created world.

The same set of core teachings have been affirmed in all Protestant traditions and, with a somewhat different emphasis, in Catholic and Orthodox churches as well.

I found myself this weekend using the term “evangelicalâ€? in contrast to those “fundamentalistsâ€? from Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, KS, who have made news for protesting in aggressive ways, carrying signs that read “God Hates Americaâ€? and “All Fags Burn in Hell.â€? Their doctrinal statement probably affirms the same historic Biblical truths we believe, but there’s something about them that’s radically different.

Today, I stumbled across an article that drew the line in an interesting way. The author interviewed D. Michael Lindsay, who recently wrote a book entitled Faith In The Halls of Power.* Lindsay said that evangelicals are characterized by “elastic orthodoxy.â€? He explained his meaning in this way:

“It’s what separates evangelicals from fundamentalists. The two groups share beliefs about God and the church. But they differ in how they respond to those shared convictions. Fundamentalists tend to separate from pluralistic society, while evangelicals actually engage it…. [They have] an elasticity to their faith that compels them to build bridges and alliances with many different groups.â€?

“Elastic orthodoxyâ€?—God’s Truth is big enough to stretch over new ideas and new situations. The “brittle orthodoxyâ€? of those sign-wielders from Topeka tries to force all ideas and all people into its own shape. There’s a lot of struggle, anger and pain as the fundamentalist tries to push all truth into his little reality box. Inevitably, the box itself will break, because of its brittleness. Then, no one wins.

The gospel is elastic, not because it is compromising, negotiable or weak, but because it is living!

*Interviewed by Tim Stafford, “The Evangelical Elite,â€? Christianity Today, November, 2007, page 35.