I wish I was an Evangelical

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I took a road trip with my friend, who is an Evangelical Christian.  Normally, if I’m in a car with someone other than a fellow Presbyterian, I am with an Atheist, or a Buddhist/Christian, or a “Spiritual but not Religious” person, Rarely am I in the car for a long period of time, with an evangelical.

She came to faith in college at Campus Christian House. She was not born into her faith, she came to it. Today, she is part of a church community that acts out the mandate of the Great Commission, to go out and make disciples.

She said she lives by this acronym: JOY

  1. Jesus
  2. Others
  3. Yourself

Everything her small group does is based on the priority of helping people grow in their faith and bringing more people to know Jesus.  Her small group is not a support group, it is a faith formation and outreach group.

As we drove through a downpour on a busy highway, and she talked about her love for Jesus and her commitment to outreach,  I felt like a wimpy Christian. I thought,

“I wish I was an evangelical.”

I was not raised in an evangelical home. My mother was drawn toward the mystics and contemplative prayer. My Dad taught critical thinking.  My faith formation was rooted in feeling but measured in critical thinking.

My best friend in junior high was Mormon. She and I walked home from school together every day and when we weren’t talking about boys, we would often talk about Jesus. She seemed to know a lot more about the Bible and Jesus than I. I hadn’t heard about the Second Coming, or the Book of Revelation. Somehow, my Sunday school class seemed to stay with miracle stories from the Gospel and a few “child friendly ” Old Testament stories. My friend would use words like, “rapture,” and “second coming,” leaving me puzzled and confused.  I loved talking to her about her faith. I admired her conviction. I struggled with my beliefs as she so firmly stated her own. I had a feeling about God, but I was afraid to say what I believed, in the likelihood that I would say it wrong.

When I got to college, I tried Intervarsity. One day,  I told the leader of the group that I wanted to speak or offer a testimony  to the large group and they said only guys were allowed to do that, so I left and joined the Newman Catholic Center. I loved the Newman Center.  We talked about world issues, poverty, women’s rights, eco-justice and AIDs.  Images of Jesus were everywhere. The hands on work of ministry fed me. I loved the Catholic community and yet, I still wasn’t sure what I believed.

It wasn’t until seminary, and I read Barth and Calvin and Niebuhr,  that I found a foundation for my faith. It wasn’t until seminary, that I really studied the Bible.  It was in my little seminary room, that I read the Bible without judging myself or it. I came to it, embraced it, discovered it. I realized that the Word, Logos and God, Theos were intertwined. I fell in love with the Word.  For the first time the Word became Flesh. It became real, living, life giving and redeeming. It was in the safe conversations with fellow seminarians that I felt I could start to speak for myself and not rely on quotes from CS Lewis or Beuchner or Bultmann to speak on my behalf.

It was the time in my life that I could not get enough of Jesus. I miss it. I recall it when I need to remember who I am and whose I am.

And yet, as I was driving with my evangelical friend, I still felt that the strength of my convictions and the measure of my faith was tepid. I realized that the church can so easily become a social service agency, another program in the week, a product to be applied. I realized that as a pastor, I can easily slide into the role of CEO, life coach and motivational speaker.  Jesus can get lost in the junk drawer. Joy becomes diluted by self-satisfaction and personal preference.

If the mainline church is going to survive, we are going to need to embrace joy. We are going to need to be strong in our convictions.  We have to be willing to put the discipline of loving God and neighbor before ourselves into authentic practice. We have to be drawn back to the Word made Flesh and not be afraid that we will get the answer wrong.

Let us not be afraid to be evangelical.

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2 thoughts on “I wish I was an Evangelical

  1. None of us who claim the word “Christian” should have any difficulty claiming the word “evangelical” to describe ourselves. Too frequently we give this word over to fundamentalists or biblical literalists, and then, find ourselves embarrassed when they claim it for themselves and withhold its use from describing Christians who differ from them. This point was first driven home to me when the merged Lutheran churches consisting of the American Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Church in America, and a group related to the Seminex movement from the Missouri Synod Lutherans called the newly formed church the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. In part this move was prompted by a desire to identify more openly with European Lutherans who included the words “Evangelical Lutheran Church” in identifying themselves. But it was also an intentional move to reclaim the word “evangelical” for Lutherans living in America.

    The word “evangelical” is, of course, a very biblical word. It is used to refer to the good news that Christians possess and proclaim to the people with whom they interact: the good news that God has revealed his love through Jesus Christ, and that in him all of us can find redemption. We can overcome our estrangement from God and with others, and move into fellowship not only with God, but with all those who profess that Jesus Christ is Lord, and fully as important, with all those who walk on the face of the earth. Clearly, when the root meaning of this term is understood, no Christian can eschew the word.

    But let’s get back to your friend who could be described as “a Christian who never lost an opportunity to give testimony to the faith that resided within her.” Many of us who are legitimately evangelical lack either the will or the courage to act in a way that would allow us to describe ourselves with this phrase.
    Why is that? In some cases it is because we fail to grasp what I consider to be the strong point of more fundamental Christians. Most fundamental Christians are quick to speak of “having a personal relationship” with Jesus Christ. Those of us from more mainline traditions do not speak much of a personal or experiential relationship with Jesus. The reason for this, I believe, is that we prefer to keep ourselves hidden behind the shield of doctrine, or even worse, a shield of apparent secularity. We hide behind doctrine when we prefer to speak with others about what in some abstract or possibly creedal way we believe about Jesus. So we say things like “I believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that he was born of Mary, that he lived in what is now Palestine as a teacher and healer, that he was crucified, dead, and buried…and then? Oh, yes, he arose from the dead.” (and under our breath we add, “whatever that means.”) In all of these statements there is little reference to our personal relationship with Jesus. But if Jesus is not dead, but living, and present to us, then, not only is a personal relationship possible, or desirable, but it is essential for daily living. All of the hymns about walking with Jesus, or hearing Jesus speak to us, or feeling the touch of his hand involve more than just a possibility. They refer however sentimentally to the reality through the power of the Holy Spirit of life in and with Christ. Each of us is called to be ready both in deed and in word to provide testimony to what it is like both to seek and experience a closer walk with God in Jesus Christ.

    What is, perhaps, more disturbing is our efforts to hide behind a shield of apparent secularity. True, we are enjoined by Jesus to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. (Matthew 10:16) At one point Jesus tells the parable of the dishonest manager who is commended by his master for having a “shrewdness which exceeded the shrewdness of the children of light.” (Luke 16:8). It is characteristic of those of us who identify with mainline denominations that we do not wish the world to perceive us as naïve, especially, when it comes to matters of faith. And so, in order to preserve a reputation for worldly sophistication, we maintain silence on matters of the heart. We need to remind ourselves that real sophistication only begins when we recognize that “there are things not dreamed of in our philosophies.” “that our little systems have their day,” and that when all is said and done a comprehensive wisdom about this world begins not with the head, but with the heart. Thus, we must become more courageous in discussing matters of the heart with others. Even if being called an “evangelical” might get us a little nervous about our reputation, we must, nevertheless, act evangelically, even if we are hesitant to proclaim the evangel, i.e., the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.

    Recently, I was struck with the possibility that there may be one individual, if not more, for whom my life, or one of my actions, or one word that I speak may be the only evidence that that person has that God not only exists, but is present in the world as Love in the flesh. It was an awesome thought to entertain. I have no idea whether I am capable of living up to such responsibility for one day, or, even for one moment. But when we look at the world around us, and witness that it is both a troubled and troubling world, how can we fail to do less than witness to God’s love for that very world. And whether it is our strength to witness in deed or in word, to the extent that we do so, we are “evangelical.”

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