We’re familiar with the stereotypes of conservative Evangelicals as prudish heresy-hunters. White males, largely end-times dispensationalists, who obsess over controlling human sexuality and women’s reproductive systems, or so the caricatures go. But in the same way that conservative Evangelicals’ intentions are expressly overlooked or maligned, I’m beginning to wonder how the intentions of our neighbors over on the progressive channel have similarly been treated. And even if we disagree on the means (and goals), can we learn anything from some well-meaning folks on the Evangelical Left?
In a way this proves a bit difficult as the Evangelical Left exists along a wide spectrum of rotating beliefs and values. They have no unified mission statement. Some keep their orthodox beliefs, like marriage for example, discreet in order to appeal to a wider audience. Others seek to totally revise settled doctrine in order to accommodate a post-modern society instead of relying on God’s transformative grace. These efforts should never be taken lightly. (There’s also the post-Evangelical crowd which is part of the broader Religious Left.)
Full disclosure: I think there’s plenty wrong with the Evangelical Left’s distortion of Christianity and full-fledged allegiance to the Democratic Party. My day job is working to expose and confront their far-left political agendas masquerading as biblically-based justice over at the Institute on Religion and Democracy. I even wrote a book on the subject titled, Distortion: How the New Christian Left is Twisting the Gospel and Damaging the Faith.
Even so, by examining a few aspects of the Evangelical Left we can better our own Christian witness.
1) It’s good to ask questions about Christian doctrine
If there’s one thing the Evangelical Left does well it’s questioning. Let me be clear, I’m not talking about glamorizing doubting. In this case, I’m talking about putting Scripture and Church history under the microscope to understand exactly how it withstands reproach. How can we confront theological revisionists or winsomely share the truth of the Gospel if we haven’t honestly examined the Scriptures ourselves?
In certain non-denominational, Charismatic, and Baptist circles I’ve roamed, it’s apparent that many Evangelicals cannot articulate what they believe or why they believe it. A lack of catechesis leaves them vulnerable to the Evangelical Left’s distortions of Scripture. 1 Peter 3:15 instructs Christians about “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” We need expertise in Christian apologetics. How can we answer doubters’ questions if we don’t become familiar with the Church’s centuries’ old answers?
The trouble begins when the Evangelical Left doesn’t uphold much in the way of truth they like to seek, but aren’t too keen on finding. We need to distinguish between a search to find truth versus a denial of the existence of absolute truth.
2) Consider the weight of painful experiences in the Church
It’s wise to acknowledge some individuals who’ve left the Church or those who glibly mean-tweet us are motivated by the mistreatment from those who wear a conservative Evangelical label. Countless members of the Evangelical Left were raised in traditional Evangelicalism and have written about how their personal experiences drove them away from traditional Christian teachings. The lesson here is to better empathize with people’s past painful experiences in the Church.
But while this is a lesson gleaned from the writings of many Evangelical Lefters, it tends to stop short of one very important biblical lesson: People are innately sinful. Genesis 8:21 declares, “. . . the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”
This means human beings are fallible and will inevitably disappoint or hurt us. For this reason, we need Christ’s redemption. Empathy only goes so far before broken people must confront humankind’s sinful nature. Unfortunately, the Evangelical Left often leaves this part of the lesson out of their blog posts. This doesn’t make it any less true. Nor does the truth of the matter excuse the harm done. I’m reminded of the striking analogy of the Church as a hospital. Its sinful congregants are the patients in daily need the Lord’s restorative goodness and mercy.
3) Hyperbole doesn’t facilitate civil disagreement
Okay, so this lesson isn’t so much gleaned from Evangelical leftists’ efforts as drawn from their recent hyperbolic reaction to a new declaration citing longstanding Church doctrine.
I have my own statement on the #NashvilleStatement. It could be lots of words but honestly I could probably narrow it down to just a finger.
— John Pavlovitz (@johnpavlovitz) August 30, 2017
Need a popular way to avoid talking about race and greed? Keep focusing on sex. https://t.co/FHnDJfDY2l
— Brian D. McLaren (@brianmclaren) August 29, 2017
The fruit of the “Nashville Statement” is suffering, rejection, shame, and despair. The timing is callous beyond words.
— JenHatmaker (@JenHatmaker) August 29, 2017
Fearmongering reactions to advance an ideology don’t help anyone. It excludes people from the table who don’t agree with your narratives. Come to think of it, I have heard this lesson repeated by the Evangelical Left. Sadly it often fails to be implemented when opposing a pro-traditional marriage or pro-life message.
Not to pick on the Evangelical Left. This isn’t solely a progressive problem. It’s a human nature problem. A sin problem. Honestly, there are many days I badly need the Apostle Paul’s reminder, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)
It’s really good advice for all of us.