One of my all time favorite books is The Nine Nations of North America by Joel Garreau (published in 1981). [summary article here]
His theory was that by any measure of culture, there were at least nine of them in North America. As someone in the newspaper industry in the 70s and 80s, he was commenting on how things worked and what priority is evident where.

The three most important ideas for our conversation are these.

– The Nine Nations are broken down as  New England (including the Maritime provinces), Quebec, the Foundry (the rust belt), Dixie (the Southwest), the Island (centered in Miami), The Breadbasket, The Empty Quarter (around the Rockies), Mex-America (in the southwest) and Ecotopia (on the Pacific coast).

– The borders dividing the United States, Canada, and Mexico nearly disappear when one re-examines according to  values, money, lifestyle and other factors. A person in Calgary, Alberta has far more in common with someone in Denver, Colorado than she does someone in Ottawa, Ontario.

– There is no such thing as the Midwest. It doesn’t exist. Chicago is the western boundary of the Rust Belt (the Foundry) and west of it is the Breadbasket. Chicago is a border-town and not a Capitol. The concept of the midwest has no actual base in reality. The cornfields of Ohio and the wheat-fields of Kansas are part of two different systems.

Earlier  this week I blogged about the definition of Evangelical. I think that we are in danger of the label ‘evangelical’ being as undefinable as the ‘midwest’ is geographically. We need to re-conceptualize how the landscape really looks and develop a better map that  reflects how things actually function.

In this diverse group called ‘Evangelical’ we have a large and varied collection of groups that may qualify: Conservative, Fundamentalist, Holiness offshoots , Charismatic, Pentecostal, Anabaptist traditions , Congregationalist, Free Church folks, progressive protestants who attend Mainline churches , and potentially some Neo-Reformed perspectives, etc.

I suggested starting with Bebbington’s definition (4 emphasis).

My Hope: is to updated these 4 a bit with a more progressive emphasis – or more a generous perspective.

New Life – expectation of transformed self and community
Bible – I follow N.T. Wright’s ‘ongoing play’ narrative here [How can the Bible be Authoritative?]
Activism – faith in Christ should be emboddied and proclaimed to impact /transform culture
Cross Centered – the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus is central to the Christian message.

My Fear: is that they will be replaced by four other issues that will become the new litmus test for this unspoken imagined orthodoxy.

  • Biblical Literalism / Inerrancy
  •  Substitutionary Atonement Theory
  • Anti-abortion stance
  • Anti-homosexuality

If the latter set of four prevail then I am afraid that evangelicalism will become as unclear and unhelpful as the Midwest is in geography. It would become a generic area absent of any real coherence that fails to provide any continuity and thus lacks any real constituents. It would become a citizenship not worth having and which provides no tangible benefit for its citizens.

I look to Mark Noll and Stanley Grenz as examples of the historical and theological richness of the Evangelical tradition. If it becomes merely political, then perhaps the title deserves to fade into irrelevance and to be abandoned. I pray that is not the case.