Going Public with My Privates (part 2 of 3)

Written by geoff holsclaw : July 31, 2008

…on becoming post-(whatever I was).

Last time I was talking about how Evangelicals are free to whip out their private beliefs at any time.  But this individualism left me disillusioned with public individualism.

Evangelical Liberalism
So I, like many others, went searching for a faith that was not only public, but communal. And for many of my friends, this is where Protestant Liberalism comes in.  Protestant Liberals (no I’m not going to define them farther), see the Gospel primarily as a communal message having communal effects.  This is commonly disparaged by Evangelicals as the Social Gospel.   For those who know that God’s call goes out to the entire world (as in all creation, not the world of collected individuals), the Social Gospel is the means of going public with faith beyond a suffocating individualism.  This going public is generally manifested as a coupling of Protestant Liberalism and the Democratic Party’s social policy, as well as a capitulation of theological considerations to the current intellectual climate.

Despite its drawbacks of often abandoning the private message of the gospel and making Christianity merely a public form embodying a type of social action that could continue without the private content, many post-Evangelicals are lured by the prospects of a marriage between Evangelicalism and Protestant Liberalism, looking hopefully to the union’s progeny.  The verdict is still out whether Brian McLaren, Jim Wallis, or Tony Campolo have inadvertently done this, even against their intentions (i.e. inadvertently).

Evangelical Fundamentalism
But the children of that marriage are only my cousins, not direct siblings, which is why I was initially so confused about me emergent lineage.  I am the descendant, rather, of the union between Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism.  This partnership has garnered continued attention with the first and now second term of President George W. Bush, and those of the religious right attempting to legislate conservative morality and control the Supreme Court.  This program has many practical and theological guises, from postmillennial reconstructionism to the more typical Moral Majority or the Christian Coalitions, both now being reincarnated as the NAE.  This is the route that I entered into (for only a year, mind you!) in the late ‘90’s.  This type of militant Fundamentalism was so attractive for precisely the same reason that many are drawn to Protestant Liberalism.  It offers a means of going public beyond mere individualism.  We were going to take over America!

Now, of course I did not stay there long.  Just as many post/progressive/younger-Evangelicals can’t fully endorse the project of Protestant Liberalism, I left the marriage of Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism disillusioned.

…with My Privates

So how might my aberrant lineage through Fundamentalism shed light on the project of emerging post-evangelicals, hoping to move beyond an anemic, private faith?

Well, as we’ve seen, the problem from which so many of us are fleeing is not merely along the private/public divide (how to properly confess faith), but the individual/communal divide (by/to whom this faith is primarily confessed).  On one side of the spectrum are typical Evangelicals who go public individually, while Fundamentalist/Liberals go public communally (one coercively, the other persuasively).  So really, when viewing the situation this way, we find that there is little actual difference between Fundamentalists and Liberals concerning the issue of going public with your privates. They are in opposition arguing over the proper means of confessing faith (individual/communal), but agreeing on the project of making a private faith public.  They both conceive of the problem as concerned with how to make private beliefs bear fruit in the public square. (see recent interview with Campolo.  It is very good.  Thanks Steve.)

The Evangelical project has always been an awkward mixture of fundamentalism and liberalism in the first place.  So to find Evangelicals flirting with either Liberals or with Fundamentalists should cause little surprise.  At best, this marriage is inbreeding.  At worst, incest.  Either way, an attempted marriage of Evangelicalism and Protestant Liberalism (of conservative faith content and spirituality [private] and liberal social action [public]), or its Fundamentalist opposite, will certainly only produce sterile offspring.
Something leaders in both camps would like to keep private, I’m sure.

What needs to be rethought, and what happened to me, is that we must abandon the movement from private to public.

Next (part 3 of 3): Going Public with My Privates: Beyond the Private

Geoff Holsclaw is co-pastor at life on the vine in chicago and a ph.d student at Marquette University studying liturgy and politics.

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Viewing 2 Comments

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    • v
    I am re-reading this post and re-reading it.
    Are you making the case that taking faith public, or better, taking faith political, is wrong?
    Both the Wallis crowd and the NAEers are equally out of line in this sense. The argument runs parallel to that of Libertarianism.
    Yet, we continue to desire community. But we treat the church as if it were not enough. Like the man who will not be satisfied with his wife but must run about with mistresses, we desire connections with other people. We are merely promiscuous.
    • ^
    • v
    not so much that 'taking faith public' is wrong, but that it is exactly the wrong way of thinking about it. Rather, faith is always public, never needing to be "made public". This already being public is the community of faith, as I will argue in my last installment.


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