When the Spirit Speaks…

As a follow-on to my rants from the past couple of posts – and perhaps as God’s response to them in a certain way. I just bought a new “album” (of MP3s) from a band called The Ember Days – which is very good, by the way. While of late I certainly have found myself drawn to the theological heft of hymns and the contemplative mystery of Taize, I still have a soft spot in my heart for a well-crafted bit of emotional praise music. And while The Ember Days mix things up with a bit of indie, atmospheric, rock, this album is clearly a praise and worship album.

In any case, while reading N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope (the chapter where he discusses concepts such as hell and purgatory – completely engrossing) and listening to The Ember Days, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the Spirit of God and compelled to cross myself (another one of those “strange” post-evangelical practices I have taken on).

I can only say that the sense of the Lord’s presence and his peace was overwhelming as I prayed through the remainder of the song – “you’re holy… you’re holy… you’re holy.”

Maybe there’s a way to reconcile all of my contradictory feelings about Evangelicalism after all. Certainly, the Lord seems to be willing to combine my evangelical past with my post-evangelical present in surprising ways!

Living in Fear

A while back, I wrote a post where I said that “I basically live in weekly fear that people will find out what I really believe about God.” This is the real root of what I wrote yesterday in response to Richard Cizik’s forced resignation from the National Association of Evangelicals. His resignation is exactly the scenario that I was pondering when I wrote those words about living in weekly fear.

And it’s not an idle fear. It’s a fear which is rooted in the facebook profiles of my fellow church members who link to stories condemning people who see the scriptures as I have come to. One based in conversations with members of my church who cannot fathom that anyone who was a “born again Christian” could vote as I have voted in the last election. One founded in the ways that I have heard members of my church question whether the Pope is really a follower of Christ.

Unfortunately, as God has been leading me to embrace what Brian McLaren termed a “generous orthodoxy” – in essentials (the creeds), unity, in non-essentials, liberty, I find myself stuck within a movement which is known for its imposition of extra-credal requirements: inerrancy of scripture, believers’ baptism, and at times such things as support for the legal outlaw of abortion and gay marriage and a mandate to vote Republican.

It’s quite a sad situation, actually, as there is so much about Evangelicalism that I truly admire. The commitment to scripture study, the passion of its members, the willingness to contextualize the gospel for the sake of reaching groups of people who would otherwise never hear what Jesus really said – these are all strengths of Evangelicalism as a movement.

But there are a few things that I have to say which would probably make about half the people in my own church consider me to be unsaved:

  • I strongly doubt that scripture is inerrant, even in the original texts.
  • I believe the cross brought forgiveness of sins for everyone, whether or not they become a follower of Christ. This means that at least I believe that anyone who finds their way into hell will do so of their own choosing, not as a punishment from God, and quite possibly that everyone will be saved in the end.
  • I do not believe in pre-millenial theology. I don’t actually think we need to look around for the anti-Christ because he already came, almost two thousand years ago, in the form of the Emperor Nero. And while I do believe that Christ will come again and renew the heavens and the earth, I don’t think he will do so by destroying the current ones.
  • I don’t think the scriptures make an iron-clad case that homosexuality is a sin. In fact, I believe the case is so weak as to imply that it probably isn’t. I support gay marriage and wish that my church did not keep pushing people away from Christ by opposing it.
  • I believe that Catholics love Jesus as much as Protestants do and believe that I have much to learn from my Catholic brothers and sisters.
  • I believe that the devout of other religions love God just as much as Christians do and that God will save many if not all of them whether or not they confess Jesus as Lord in this life.
  • I don’t think outlawing abortion is the right way to stop it from happening; and that appointing right-wing justices who will allow the President to torture our enemies is definitely not the right way to stop it.

Those are just a few of the things that I wish I could say to certain members of my church without having them, at least in their minds, de-church me. But, alas, I can’t.

Which is why I still think I have to leave.

The End of the Line?

In college, I was introduced to Jesus – the real Jesus of the scriptures, not the one who wages culture wars and wags the finger, by a group of Christians in an Evangelical college fellowship. I am thankful for that face of Evangelicalism.

As a young adult, I was lifted into the stratosphere by worship that reached me musically and emotionally. I was blessed by the friendships of fellow believers who accepted me, the token white guy trying to cross racial barriers by attending an all Asian-American church. I am also thankful for that face of Evangelicalism.

But today’s news about Richard Cizik getting canned from the National Association of Evangelicals for suggesting – horror of horrors – that perhaps it isn’t the end of the world to have civil unions (we’re not even talking about marriage here) for gay couples – may be the end of the line for me and Evangelicalism.

Please know that I am not sweeping all Evangelicals under the same blanket. But my comments here are directed at the mainstream of Evangelicalism – the very mainstream that makes it difficult for me to continue being associated with Evangelicalism.

You see, I don’t want any part of the culture war.

When Christ met the woman at the well, he did not wag his finger. He became her friend.

When Jesus ate with Levi the tax collector, he did not tell him he was working to get laws passed to outlaw his profession. He accepted his offer of table fellowship and enjoyed his company.

And when he found the woman confronted by crowds legally justified to execute her, he refused to condemn her and convinced others to do the same.

This is the Christ of the New Testament. In many ways, the gospel can be boiled down to a few words he directed to the woman caught in adultery: “Neither do I condemn you.”

The Christ that I have come to understand from the scriptures and from the indwelling of his spirit is not the Culture War Christ. He is not about making people follow a list of rules to work their way into heaven, not about checking a bunch of boxes to ensure that politically you are on the “same side” as him, not about pointing the finger and waging political jihad against his “enemies.”

No, he’s the Christ of the cross. The Christ who loved the world – all of it and every person on its surface, not just some of them – enough to wipe the slate clean through his greatest act of love. The Christ who walks along side of us while we are still sinful people and helps us come after him.

I can’t find that Christ in Evangelicalism anymore. And that’s why I think I have to leave.

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For…

I think I understand Bono now.

I’ve got this church, with a fair number of friends in it, but nothing that actually resembles “Christian community.” The last vestiges of that blew apart when our small group suddenly, and without warning, imploded. It’s evangelical in most of the good ways and a few of the bad, and the folks in the church have good hearts and desire to follow God.

But I’m not growing there (though spiritually I have been engaged in perhaps the greatest growth-spurt of my life – outside of my church). And I also worry that in the end, my theology may find me outside of what is “acceptable.”

Then there’s this other church which I attend on occasion. Big church, but very friendly. Sermons are knocked-out-of-the-park fantastic. Great facilities, good children’s program, theological position which is much closer to mine than the church I go to. But I don’t know anyone there. And did I say it’s big? And it’s still basically evangelical, whereas I am finding myself more and more in the post-evangelical, ancient-modern, missional/emerging part of the Church catholic.

And yet a third that I have just discovered, though it has been around for more than a century in our city and many centuries overall. In fact, it’s about as close as you can get in the Protestant world to a direct line back to the early church. You know, the one with the Book of Common Prayer. I LOVE the liturgy, feel united with Christ in the Eucharist, and in general enjoy the flow of the service. But I wonder if I could really ever feel at home there, and seriously doubt that my wife could do so.

And finally there are my desires. My desires to be a part of a real community of faith – something which I have tried again and again to find only to be disappointed and disillusioned at the end of every experience – at times because I have let the community down and at times because the community has let me down.

I desire to find a place where I could be mentored in learning a spiritual rhythm to teach my family, rather than having to make stuff up as I go along.

I desire to find a place where two years isn’t considered a long time to be in the same “small group” and there isn’t the assumption that because you aren’t growing numerically it must mean you’re not growing.

I desire to find a place where we can love the poor and the lost, the outcast and the unloved, together.

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.