It’s been 3.5 years since I originally coined the phrase “Evangelical Reject.” And a lot has happened in those years, in my life and in the culture of the church in America.
For one, when I originally wrote “You Might Be An Evangelical Reject If…,” the word “evangelical” still had authority as a label for millennials like myself. Many of us were desperately clinging to what we could to prove to our more “conservative” friends, church members, and family members that we were still passionate about Jesus. Often to no avail. We were Evangelical Rejects.
1) the centrality of the Scriptures for understanding God and life,
2) a belief in the efficacy of Christ’s death and resurrection for personal salvation,
3) a commitment to missional (oops…still a “cuss” word in some churches) living because of the teachings of Christ, and
4) the conviction that God transforms us into Christlikeness from the moment we accept God’s invitation of discipleship
–many folks who were/are wrestling with difficult questions about the bible and life in the world were essentially rejected as “heretics.”
Interestingly, heresy seems to historically mean a rejection of a central teaching of the church as embodied in the two Creeds (Apostles’ and Nicene), but has come to mean in certain (*not all*) evangelical communities ‘anything that doesn’t fit what we’ve believed during the past few generations.’ Quite unfortunate.
Most of us who were feeling the angst of rejection no longer cling to the label “evangelical.” If what I described above places me firmly in that “club” then count me in. But I’m no longer worried about descriptors. I simply want to follow the resurrected Jesus of history and the cosmos wherever he takes me and my community of friends. That is NOT a plea to “reject” the sorts of evangelicals who have rejected you: but to not allow that pain to define and stunt your spiritual growth.
If you are reading this article, it is highly likely that you’ve been reading my blog for some time. Perhaps you remember that original “reject” post and it spoke to you. Honored.
And others are reading about this “evangelical reject” idea for the first time but might also resonate. This post is especially for you. It seems to me that God is the God of the rejected…now that is affirming.
So, what I want to do for the remained of this post is remind folks that find themselves in difficult church, family, and friendship situations that they are not alone. We, Christians from all around the world, are with you: even when you feel alone.
Here are 8 signs that you might be an Evangelical Reject:
1) You are nuanced in your understanding of “heresy” while believing that Jesus Christ is the source of all Truth.
In other words, judging folks who are wrestling with difficult questions about God and the bible, or those who come to different conclusions is off the table. Of course, heresy is a real thing–truth exists–but the honest truth is that we can’t know truth with absolute certainty.
The only truth we can know, we grow to know, which is Jesus the Truth. But even here we see things like St. Paul: “Now we see a reflection in a mirror; then we will see face-to-face. Now I know partially, but then I will know completely in the same way that I have been completely known” (1 Cor. 13.12 CEB). Absolute certainty is a myth. Heresy matters, but it shouldn’t be defined by those who have “all the right answers.” Sure, if someone rejects the foundational statements of the Apostles’ Creed, this is technically heresy. For most Evangelical Rejects, that isn’t a big issue. It’s theological reflection and missional practice that gets us into trouble.
2) You can live in tension, not having every answer, but are enlivened by the mystery that emerges as you ask hard questions.
This second point connects with the first. Perhaps you used to think that all the answers about God and the world were a simple matter of research. You might have even thought that being a Christian, in the way that you were a Christian, was the only logical way to see the world. How could anyone be so ignorant? you exclaimed as you WROTE YOUR CLEAR RESPONSES TO FACEBOOK POSTS IN ALL CAPS TO PROVE HOW SMART YOU WERE.
But then something changed. You found yourself in love with Jesus in a new way. New questions rose up out of that relationship with the God of the universe and you realized just how small you actually are. The only response was to either give up on faith or live in tension. And in some odd way, the tension and the mystery actually fostered spiritual growth. This is a tell-tale sign of someone who might become an Evangelical Reject.
This is the case over and over again. I have heard numerous stories, including my own, where young (usually, but not exclusively so) pastors/leaders have been forced out of a church setting for quietly pondering new things about God. One day, you were at a youth retreat and the next day, upon your return, you are summoned into the senior pastor’s office.
“Sooooo… we’re gonna have to let you go. We found these on your bookshelf and now realize that you are not compatible with “orthodox” Christianity.” (To which your eyes come up from the spot on the ground you were fixating on in nervousness to see books by N.T. Wright, Brian McLaren, Greg Boyd, Rob Bell, and Brennan Manning.) #EvangelicalReject
4) You have no problem simultaneously affirming biological evolution alongside an authoritative view of Genesis 1-11.
Many have been rejected over the conviction that the Bible doesn’t tell us “how the heavens go” but “how to get to heaven” (well, the renewed creation). For you, genre matters when approaching the Scriptures. The Bible didn’t fall out of the sky one day but is embedded with cultural and stylistic markers of any ancient book.
Yes, God was involved in the process, but you have no problem seeing that God accommodates for culture to teach them deeper truths–including in areas of science. So did God create the world? Yes! Does the Bible describe how this happened? Not really…especially not in a “literal” sense. Fighting the anti-evolution war is counter-productive and leads many young people to eventually reject God. Evangelical Rejects get this.
5) You hate culture wars and wish certain Christians would stop wasting their energy and giving God a bad name.
Chick Fil A. Atheism. Supreme Court rulings. Enough already–you shout! Let’s love our neighbors rather than defend some innate rights we think we should have. Let’s promote equality. Let’s create an alternative culture of inclusion and love. Let’s stop bickering. It’s mean. It’s judgmental. And it’s counter to God’s mission in the world to restore all things.
6) You think nationalism (specifically in the USA) is killing the church and her witness.
You might be like me, committed to Christian nonviolence. Jesus taught it. You follow Jesus. Makes sense. Well, not to the many Christians who believe that America is God’s gift to the world. Apparently we were founded on Christian values like
slavery and genocide freedom and democracy. Christians that believe in the “myth of a Christian nation” (thanks Greg Boyd) continue to force Christ into the center of our public life and as a way to justify violent foreign policy. This Jesus is cool with bombing innocent people as long as the ends justify the means… especially Muslims in other countries.
And as patient as you want to be with these folks, you one day let this slip out: “This isn’t a Christian nation!” This, of course, was prompted with the uneasiness you’re recovering from after the church service happened to fall on July 4th. This day, having been given the same priority as Christmas, left you dumbfounded as videos of flags, bombers, and crosses celebrated nationalism rather than the unique Kingdom of God that transcends borders. You are done–and on the brink of rejection. Toppling over this sacred cow of conservative evangelicalism will make you an Evangelical Reject. Bringing up nationalism and/or nonviolence really ticks certain Christians off–that saddens me.
7) You tell your non-Christian friends as often as it comes up that “I’m not that kind of Christian.”
You already broke a cardinal rule of evangelical culture: you have non-Christian friends and your primary goal in life isn’t to merely convert them. In fact, your view is that you would still be friends with these “pagan” folks even if you knew that they would never assent to you belief system. And to these friends, you’re a radical. “You’re a Christian and you care about that…” Those kinds of comments warm your heart.
However, when asked about these friends that you hang out with, certain evangelical friends ask: “Have you talked with them about heaven and hell yet?” You try to respond honestly to which you get told that their eternal soul is in your hands if you do not walk them through the 4 Spiritual Laws or some other evangelism tract. Rejection from church friends may result. Bummer. Here you are trying to be a neighbor-lover through authentic friendships (meaning without a coercive agenda of conversionism) and you get scolded for it. And hey, it’s not like you don’t want your non-Christian friends to become followers of Jesus, but you know that this is only a possibility through being authentic, not a salesperson.
8) You think God’s primary posture toward the universe is love.
God became a human to die for the brokenness of the cosmos. That is a big deal. God doesn’t hate non-Christians. God is passionately “for” them. Loves them. And loves us all.
Here’s what is beautiful about the God I discover in the face of Jesus of Nazareth: he shows us what God is truly like. This Jesus taught virtues like generosity, justice, humility, nonviolence, and love. This is the sort of guy/God that Evangelical Rejects make it their goal to emulate, a “God [who] so loved the world that he gave…”
So, have you experienced rejection from segments of the church, your family, or your friends? Know that you are not alone. These 8 signs that you might be an Evangelical Reject are only a few. The bottom line is this:
How will you respond to rejection–like the Christ who was rejected to a Roman execution device or in anger?
These two can exist together to some extent, but my hope for all Evangelical Rejects is that we will choose the former and not the latter.
Any signs of your own to add?