We are talking but are we hearing each other?

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I’ve written recently about the discussion concerning “evangelical deconstruction.” I’ve also in the past picked up on aspects of the debate including reactions to articles from people like Kevin DeYoung and John Piper as well as books such as “The making of Biblical Womanhood.”

Part of the problem I think is that we have the appearance of a conversation but I’m not sure that we truly hear one another. There are two dimensions to this. The first is that many of us are tuned in to look for subtext. We hear someone say something and we assume that behind what they did say are a lot of unsaid things. The “identity/story hermeneutic” feeds heavily into that. However not everyone does use subtext and not all the time. Sometimes they do mean what they say and only what they say.

Here’s an example. In a conversation about how to help someone who felt that they were being disobedient to the command to read their Bible daily because of their struggle with dyslexia, I wrote this.

Steve expanded on his position leading to Chris Todd’s response as follows:

Chris is absolutely right to point out that some people will find that subtext in what I wrote. However there wasn’t

a subtext. I probably could have been clearer in my tweet to avoid people seeing a subtext. And to be clear, there’s no subtext here either. I fully appreciated Chris’ clarification which probably protected me from getting into an unintended social media storm.

So, my first point here is to encourage us to stop listening out for the subtext and start listening to what is actually being said. Then, separate to that, let’s name the things that we think are not being discussed, discuss them and allow others to give their views on them.

The other part of the problem is that we tend to be insular and forget that others are connected who are also different to us. This means that we often tend to be very western/anglo-centric in our discussions. There’s a bigger conversation to be had there. But if you’ll allow me to remain a little Western-centric for now, we often see a problem when conversations happen within the English speaking Evangelical world.

What I mean by this is that when a British Christian hears Americans talking about evangelicalism we think primarily in terms of our understanding of evangelicalism. We mean specifically evangelical theology and evangelical church life. So we hear about “deconstruction” and assume that it is all about an attack on theology. Now, as per Jonathan Leeman’s recent article, yes there is a risk, particularly from how the conversation is happening that the doctrine baby gets thrown about with the culture bathwater. However, the American context is different to ours and so conversations and critiques about evangelicalism are as much about a social/cultural/political/economic entity. 

So, for some of us, we see the attack on evangelicalism as a rejection of sound doctrine when in fact it’s a rejection of a particular culture which may or may not be good or bad and may or may not be just a bit cringy.  However, even when we are alert to the cultural phenomena I think distance means that we aren’t able to quite see how that cultural entity does join up with the theology. Hence some of us are equally bewildered by what people like Jonathan Leeman and Kevin DeYoung are talking about.

At the same time it can also seem very distant and very remote to us.  So we think it’s not an issue for us at all.  There is a danger there too because whilst we are different, we are also connected.  WE listen to American preachers, read American books and sing American worship songs. The theology and culture does have some influence here.

It works the other way too. I’ve mentioned before that I think that some American Evangelicals forgot when they dived into the Donald Trump debate that they have a wider audience and what they said about Trump affected how they.  were heard across the Atlantic and around the globe on other matter. Sometimes I’ve been part of conversations where it’s become clear that the Americans participating hadn’t realised that some of us lived outside of America and even if they realised that point they still didn’t seem to click that this meant our contexts were very different.

So, just as it’s important for British evangelicals to recognise our difference and connectedness with American Evangelicals, so too  from the US perspective. There are differences but there are also connections. We hear American voices here but Brits are also heard in American. Some even read my blog but we also have British pastors who have moved to the States to serve and British theologians are read there. Then you have American Evangelicals who have served this side of the pond. Recognising difference and connectedness may alert them to how they are heard and seen outside of their immediate context.

More than that, more positively, connectedness and difference might actually help us learn from each other.

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