The Path to a New Christianity
- ISBN: 9780664266110
- Published By: Westminster John Knox Press
- Published: August 2020
With thoughtfulness, clarity, wit, and vulnerability, David Gushee offers his most recent addition to the post-evangelical conversation. A text intended for those who “used to be ‘evangelicals,’” After Evangelicalism: The Path to a New Christianity constructs a theology of Christian humanism. From his personal faith and academic work, a path is illuminated for those uprooted from evangelicalism but seeking space to retain faith and/or begin again. Those who are familiar with the landscape and voices of and ex/post-evangelicalism and the social media movement of religious deconstruction will encounter a familiar cast of scholars, pastors, authors, and the like. For those who are newcomers to the conversation, Gushee successfully provides lampposts and trail guides through the maze of post-evangelicalism as he thoughtfully articulates many of the issues plaguing evangelicalism and theological alternatives that remain attentive to scripture, tradition, and humanity. In critiquing the inconsistencies and failures of modern evangelicalism, Gushee continues a conversation ongoing for decades, and most recently inflamed by the 2016 election (this book was published in 2020). Unreserved with his opinions and convictions, he develops a path focused on care for humanity and creation. This Christian humanism builds on the work of Erasmus who “combined a Jesus-centered Christian piety with rich classical learning and a humane and pacific spirit” (60).
Organized into three main sections, “Authorities,” “Theology,” and “Ethics,” the text flows intuitively from one topic to the next, almost anticipating the reader’s objections and inquiries and resolving them in turn. After taking the “Are/were you an evangelical?” test, the reader explores the foundations evangelicalism in the United States beginning with the neo-evangelicals of the 1940s. This movement sought departure from fundamentalism while still retaining its conservative theology in a more culturally engaged and palatable way. Gushee later qualifies that even the roots of this movement began much earlier. Following this necessary history, the reader moves on to confront doctrines of scripture and inerrancy, demonstrating the necessity to access additional resources accessed in the reconstruction of Christian faith. In other words, Gushee continues to elevate scripture, but in a way that makes room for experience, tradition, and reason. Relying on the Wesleyan quadrilateral here, Gushee pays additional attention to church leadership, intuition, and relationships. He encourages curious engagement with a variety of resources beneficial for faith-formation and Christian living.
Moving on to a biblical theology in support of his overall thesis, Gushee walks through the story of God’s people, pointing out the theological movements he has encountered in his own life and study. This strategy provides hints for others who may be interested in learning more about any of his key influences (i.e., Kingdom of God theology, social gospel theology, holocaust theology, liberation theologies, Catholic social teaching, and progressive evangelicalism). A well-prepared seminary student likely has encountered these theological streams, but for someone whose theological education came primarily through their former evangelical ties, these alternative paths might be faith-preserving.
Gushee’s final section on ethics digs into the practical realities of contemporary evangelicalism that have caused immense harm, and therefore remain critical ethical considerations. A large majority of post-evangelical dissent and critique can be categorized into the topics of sex, politics, and race, which often overlap. The chapters in this section are brief and make no attempt to offer a comprehensive treatment of these topics. They demonstrate, however, that the subject of concern for those leaving evangelicalism continues to be topics that have created much conflict and harm (i.e. sex, politics, and race). Gushee’s suggestions offer critical summons to action as well as cautious steps forward. In fact, the text itself is indicative of his own openness to change, challenge, and growth, and serves as a call for others to embrace the same.
Echoes of the evangelical subculture resonate throughout the text, making the book strangely familiar, but simultaneously fresh and thrilling for its intended audience, which includes ex-evangelicals, dissenters, conscientious objectors, and exiles, to name a few. Each of these terms is useful in defining those who have moved beyond evangelicalism in search of new places to land. The use of the term “exiles,” in the biblical narrative at least, occasionally carries a connotation of disobedience or punishment. Gushee acknowledges on multiple occasions the trauma and abuse experienced by those leaving evangelicalism, and describing people with language that may imply fault could be perceived as counterproductive. Similarly, it would be helpful if Gushee had provided a more precise definition of sin on this post-evangelical path. This is treated more robustly in his other works outside this text, but for many post-evangelicals, “sin” is difficult to disentangle from toxic shame. Ultimately, Gushee provides insights from his own journey beyond evangelicalism, and he demonstrates how “the path to a new Christianity” referred to in the book’s subtitle is a fearless embrace of curiosity, tradition, and faith. Along the way, one can hope new words will emerge to begin to define people for who they are (and are becoming), and not what they have left.
For some, Gushee will have gone too far, and for others, not far enough; regardless, he demonstrates to post-evangelicals that there is the possibility for faith beyond the conservative evangelicalism to which they can no longer be bound. What is more, he proffers theological foundations that prioritize the life and ministry of Jesus for thoughtful reflection and action in society today. His constructive post-evangelical theology will likely enliven those who have been gatekept from the richness of the Christian tradition and the varieties of scriptural interpretations that empower a life lived to love God and neighbor.
Emma Feyas is a PhD student in practical theology and the associate director of the Community Transformation Center at Palm Beach Atlantic University.Emma FeyasDate Of Review:July 27, 2023