Evangelical Is Not Enough 1

I purchased Evangelical Is Not Enough by Thomas Howard because Elizabeth Esther decided to host a weekly book club conversation on her blog and her description of the book sounded interesting. I’m sure it will be more interesting to follow the conversation on her blog (this week’s installment kicks off with a video), so I encourage anyone interested to read the conversation there. However, since I’m reading through the book, I thought I would capture some of my reaction to each chapter here as well.

Chapter One highlights some common distinctive features of the evangelicalism that shaped Thomas Howard in his childhood formation. He is not negative about that experience. Indeed, he adopts an attitude of thankfulness and points out the positive aspects of each distinctive without even really raising the less positive side of each. I think that’s a good way to begin a book like this.

Even though I can’t claim that this sort of perspective was a dominant feature of my childhood formation, I have been in a single evangelical church since the conclusion of my journey of conversion in my very early thirties. I could recognize most of the traits he outlines in my church. A couple of comments really stood out to me, though.

Evangelical spirituality centers, finally, on personal daily devotions, also called “quiet time.”

That nails it. If you ask anyone what discipline to practice, that’s what you’ll hear, and that’s pretty much all you’ll hear. I tried it, of course, for an extended period of time. It’s what I’ve always done within any sort of spiritual context. Practice it as recommended and see what happens. Personally, I’m stumped how this single discipline suffices for spiritual formation for anyone. I found it particularly ill-suited for me and began searching for anything with more depth fairly quickly. I suppose that’s one reason I simply haven’t read a great deal by “evangelical” authors. I still don’t grasp how this singular practice came to be the center and almost the fullness of evangelical spirituality. It’s one of those things that remains a mystery to me.

The acid test of vocal prayer came at the end of the prayer, however. If someone finished his petition or thanksgiving with a bald “Amen,” he gave everything away. He was not one of us. A true evangelical used the scriptural formula, asking it all in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, or, in the shorter phrase, “… in Jesus’ name, Amen.”

I had to laugh at that one. It’s one of those little things you pick up pretty quickly. I’ll also add that, even though we affirm the Trinitarian nature of the faith, heaven forbid if you close a prayer “in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.” You also won’t hear prayers opened addressing the Holy Spirit. There are lots of unspoken rules regarding “spontaneous” prayer within evangelicalism.

I also found it somewhat interesting that the book was published in 1984. At that point in my life I was not very open to Christianity at all. In fact, I had a great deal of antipathy toward Christianity and Christians. If you had told me then that one day I would consider myself someone who was at least attempting to become Christian, I would have laughed at you. I probably also would have taken it as a major insult. And I held a particular antipathy toward the sort of Christian Thomas Howard describes as “evangelical” in this chapter. Go figure.

The opening chapter really just lays the groundwork to describe the outlines of what Thomas Howard is referencing as “evangelical” in the book, but he does so in a generous and irenic fashion. He is not angry about his upbringing as some who are raised within evangelical confines can be. He just eventually found that it was insufficient. It was not enough. The rest of the book explores the reasons why that’s true.

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