I don’t self-describe as an evangelical very often but I think it may be time – if just for a moment.
I grew up in a church that changed its theology and worship tradition every time a new man in a collar walked through the door.
We were, intermittently,
Moderate Liberal Low Church,
Moderate Evangelical Low Church and
Very Liberal High Church (bells & smells and everything.)
Then I fell in with the Moderate to Conservative Evangelicals and there I stayed my adult life until I decided to drop the “conservative” in light of the damaging attitudes of the Mark Driscolls and John Pipers out there. (Click on his name to discover why.)
So what? Well, I’ve been inundated lately, mostly on social media but also to my face, with negativity from fellow believers about evangelicals and evangelicalism. I’m very well aware of its short-comings but I’m equally well aware of its treasures.
Every Christian theology and tradition of worship on earth has its treasures, baggage and garbage.*
- The greatest treasure of evangelicalism is its reverence for the Bible – though some would challenge my commitment to that given my last post. But they would be challenging in vain because, without the Bible, I don’t see a difference between church and an ancient social club. It’s hard work but worth having as a foundational and guiding document.
The garbage side of this is believing that there is only one way to interpret scripture.
Or believing that it’s possible to live the Bible one verse at a time or without reference to the context of the original readers.
Or proclaiming that you believe every verse of scripture while having no concern for the poor.
So much garbage around this wonderful, holy and life-changing collection of complex, ancient and often mysterious documents.
- Another great treasure of evangelicalism is its breadth of theology – something I experienced for years and years in different churches. I’m may not be happy with Driscoll, Piper et al but I quite like the company of Scot McKnight and Rachel Held Evans.
The garbage comes in when one particular brand of evangelicalism suggests that it’s their way or get out of town – and making the litmus test what one believes about certain difficult passages of the Bible.
Equally garbage is the idea that your political persuassion is somehow linked to your permission to enter the Evangelical camp.
- Another treasure is that, historically, evangelicals have been immersed in social justice – the belief that a Christian is to be salt in a world prone to rot and light in a world that prefers dark.
The garbage is a tendency in some areas to focus on “personal salvation” over right living – that the goal of the Christian is to get people to confess that Jesus is Lord – then move on.
- And the baggage? Oh there’s so much baggage – the language of evangelical prayer, the “Like if you love Jesus” facebook memes, (though the “proud to be Christian” meme is utter garbage – seriously – think about it), the lack of robes and candles, the music. These things really don’t matter – they’re about culture and tradition and preference. If they feel like treasures then maybe they’re actually becoming garbage.
So here’s what I want to say to those who dismiss evangelicalism for not embracing things fast enough. Be patient. Making angry or dismissive comments might actually stop someone who was beginning to see the world more your way. It takes time to change. And things are only obvious once they’re obvious – and not before.
From The Message: “Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you.”
So back to self-describing as a believer without any particular brand attached.
*Don Posterski, Reinventing Evangelism, IVP 1989.