Evangelicals? Mainliners? Conservatives? Progressives?

If you’re looking for some good dialogue on worthwhile subjects, check out Patheos.com (where I’ll begin a weekly column next month) …
Frederick Schmidt asks what Evangelicals have that Mainliners don’t – here:
And Tony Jones doubts whether “progressive” is the best term for folks who feel excluded from/unwanted in the Evangelical/conservative community – complete with a survey (that you should take) – here:
Tony has also been engaging in some conversation about the term “emergent/emerging church,” as has Roger Olson:
On the “brand” identities of Evangelical and progressive, I have a few random thoughts:
1. Southern Baptists have temporarily at least re-branded “Baptist,” so that anyone who claims to be a Baptist needs to clarify whether they’re neo-fundamentalist or not. My sense a few years ago was that the same group of Southern Baptist ultra-conservatives who gained control of the denomination twenty years ago then set their sights on the term Evangelical. They wanted to “own” Evangelical as they owned Baptist. Declining statistics may have reduced some of that ambition more recently – I’m not sure. But the term “Evangelical” is becoming more and more aligned in the public mind with the term “Southern Baptist,” so that Richard Land or Albert Mohler would be seen as Evangelical spokespeople, not just Southern Baptist ones. That’s another reason more moderate (and non-Calvinist) Evangelicals would be wise, in my opinion, to speak up and avoid complacency. Their status as centrists may be less secure than they think.
2. I wouldn’t be surprised if, over the coming years, conservative consolidators like those who ascended to power in the SBC might try to launch the same kind of purge among Evangelicals – gaining control of colleges, seminaries, and related educational organizations through board nomination processes, and then purging faculty (especially in biology, English, and Biblical studies departments, often basing their power in systematic theology departments). Similar purges would extend to publishing, media, and mission organizations. If that’s the case (and it may be already in process in some quarters), then the Evangelical community could become even less hospitable to diversity and fresh thinking than it is now. Again, this would not bode well for moderate Evangelicals – who will be the next on the list to either be labeled liberal and squeezed out, or pressured to conform to an increasingly strident agenda – hostile towards Muslims, anti-evolution, unwelcoming towards gay people, against foreign aid, hyper-nationalistic and militaristic, etc. The election cycle over the next fourteen months will no doubt involve a re-flexing of the Religious Right’s muscles (maybe a last gasp and grasp?), which will probably accelerate this process, at least temporarily. All this is to say that the term “Evangelical” is not likely to become less contested in the near-term future.
3. I’m continually intrigued by the deep antipathy that many Evangelicals have for Mainliners, Liberals, or Progressives, whatever they’re called. I’m also fascinated by the way that label simply wipes a person off the map in terms of serious consideration among Evangelicals. It’s a kind of semantic excommunication. This phenomenon deserves a few PhD dissertations, I think. Why such hostility, fear, distaste, opposition, etc.? (The reasons, I’m sure, are many, complex, and highly important as well as interesting.) Why isn’t there a corresponding concern about the wilder (and growing) fringes of their own movement? What reasons do those who feel this disdain give for it – and how accurate are those reasons?
4. I’ve sensed from some conservative Evangelical leaders the wish that people like me would simply declare ourselves liberal so that they could finally be done with us (Farewell, liberals!). (I suppose that would be like me asking them to finally declare themselves fundamentalist.) Anyway, my understanding of Evangelical does not assume an eternal hostility towards liberals, nor does it assume the word “conservative” means “absolutely good.” In my understanding (as I tried to explain in A Generous Orthodoxy, reflecting “liberal” Hans Frei and “evangelical” Stanley Grenz) both sides have notable strengths and weaknesses, and the future lies in mutual learning and collaboration, not ongoing vilification and misunderstanding. I want to learn from both strengths and weaknesses of both liberals and conservatives … what does that make me? (Hence Tony Jones’ quest for an appropriate label.)
5. … All of which brings me back to Frederick Schmidt’s article above: Do Evangelicals ever have serious discussions about what could be learned from Liberals/Progressives/Whatever? That would be a highly worthwhile conversation. Maybe some Evangelical bloggers will take it up?