Can the Fallen Church Fall to Grace?
Do you think this will still be an issue ten years from now?
It will still be an issue, yes, but there will be more of a balance between those who are affirming and willing to admit that we've made mistakes as the church, and those who are still digging their heels in. But, who really knows? I meet countless people who are very open theologically, who have great churches and do great work, but for some reason they can't get past the gay issue.
You've seen the evangelical church in America change a great deal in recent decades. Your own story is intertwined with the story of that change. Where do you think the evangelical church will be twenty years from now?
I think the evangelical church has an opportunity to do some great things and make a great difference in the world. But the evangelical church is held back by its hang-ups: theological disagreements, fighting the Emergent church, fighting over new ideas. We need to be a community where we can agree to disagree and still be a community and discuss these things charitably.
If things continue to go the way they are, however, in twenty years the evangelical church will have continued to lose influence. Some want to appear tolerant and inclusive while still condemning gays, but people see through that. No matter how good our intentions are, at the end of the day people want to know whether we love and accept them. We need to humble ourselves and realize that we are not the ones who do the changing. Our job is to love people and allow grace—not us—to change their lives. Otherwise the evangelical church will continue to become more and more irrelevant every day.
That's sad. I saw what a force for good my parents had when the evangelical church was at the height of its influence. But now there is so much infighting, even amongst progressives. Can it last? I don't know. As Jesus said, a house divided against itself cannot stand.
By no means do I see myself as a part of the solution. I might be a part of the problem. It's hard to know when to speak and when to hold your tongue, or when to take a stand and when to keep your peace. Does it help when someone like Scot McKnight writes what he wrote about Brian McLaren? Or does it create an us-versus-them environment? Or does it help when I write critically about Mark Driscoll? We believe very different things. How do we allow the truth of those differences to be out there in the open, without falling into warring camps? In the midst of our differences, we must become more of a church, more of a body. How do we do that?
Dr. Timothy Dalrymple is the Associate Director of Content at Patheos, and writes weekly on faith, politics, and culture for Patheos' Evangelical Portal. Follow him at his blog, Philosophical Fragments, on Facebook or on Twitter.