The other day I published a piece (if you didn’t catch it, you can here) that was a reflection of my own inner journey with much of Evangelical culture. The piece personified my difficult, often painful, relationship with Evangelical Christianity in America, comparing it to a difficult interpersonal relationship. The piece seemed to resonate with thousands of readers, for which I am happy that I was able to put words to your feelings. I wanted to do a brief followup post to (a) show the other side of my relationship with Evangelicalism in America and (b) respond to one of the critiques of the piece that I thought was quite valid and worthy of response (unfortunately, most of the critiques were not response worthy as folks who clearly do NOT follow the blog jumped to some assumptions without having familiarity with the totality of my process or positions).
The reason why I chose to personify my relationship with Evangelical culture is that my experience has been much like a personal relationship– there are things that work, things that don’t work, things I love, and things that push me further away. Obviously, the original piece was all geared toward the latter without mention of the former. However, I think it’s important for me to continue to work this out because while so many of you connected with the piece, I think that like me, it’s not always a negative relationship we have with Evangelicalism– there are things I (dare I say we) love about it as well.
I think the reason why the relationship has resulted in such a flurry of emotions with me is because of the fact that this is not a one-sided relationship. Were it all negative, I’d be able to walk away without too many feelings or regrets at all, but the truth is there is a constant set of push and pull factors that seriously complicate this relationship– often leaving me without ever having total peace on one end or the other.
Perhaps, it’s that way for you too.
While I’ve already played out the factors that push me away, I also wanted to take a moment to talk about some of the factors that always seem to pull me back in, at least to some degree:
Lively worship (the music type) is perhaps the single most factor that will probably always pull me back in to an Evangelical oriented church. I’ve always been the type who emotionally connects to music, and worshiping with music has always been a powerful experience for me. So powerful in fact, that the absence of it would create such a longing that I will likely tolerate aspects I don’t like, in order to have this need fulfilled. If you’re like me, good corporate worship can have really powerful and profound effects on your innermost being. One of the things I miss the most about the church we left in Massachusetts was worshiping with our friend Shelby at the helm. Shelby is one of those singers who leads worship in a powerful way and has a voice that would put most contestants on American Idol to shame. When we’d worship with her leading, it was one of those experiences where you become so emotionally overwhelmed that you just weep– in a really good way. I’ll always long for worship, and to be honest, even considering all of the aspects of the culture I don’t like, this aspect alone will keep drawing me back in.
The aspect of community is one of those things that I both love and hate about the way I’ve experienced the culture. In some places, people REALLY get how to do community and live in authentic, transparent, relationships. Again, this is perhaps the thing I miss the most about the years we spent in Massachusetts– we just happened to be in the right time and right place to connect with others who were dedicated to living in community and actually made it work. Community is one of those things that once you taste it, you always want it– which is why when authentic community is absent, you begin to experience the culture negatively. We were never intended to do this journey alone– as I discuss in my upcoming book Undiluted, even Jesus himself lived in the context of community with a few close friends. While it is my contention that in many areas authentic community can be hard to find, the quest for community will be one that will likely continue to pull me back into Evangelical churches in spite of the other stuff.
Dedication to the Bible
While I often end up with a different perspective on certain issues, Evangelicalism and I do share a common passion: the Bible. My love of the Bible is something I’ve given years of my life to– two masters at Gordon-Conwell and now having spent two more years doing doctoral work at Fuller, and yet I always want more. I love that even when we don’t agree, a love for the Bible and understanding it is firmly planted in Evangelicalism. Like worship and community, my craving to always understand the Bible better and to broaden my understanding of various aspects within it, will likely continue to draw me back into Evangelical type churches.
There are other areas that I actually love Evangelical culture, such as the dedication to youth programing and the desire to share the “Good News” of Jesus, and also plenty of reasons why I am hopeful for the future.
However, it’s the constant vacillation between the aspects I love, and those which drain the life out of me, that keep this a “difficult” relationship. Where will I land? It’s hard to say. One thing that will better help you understand this blog is that much of it is simply me playing out my own personal spiritual journey in front of thousands of readers, in real time. 99% of the time, the article you’re reading is in your newsfeed because that’s the issue I’m wrestling with in my personal life at that moment. The article in reference, was no different– it was insight to my personal process at that moment.
Now, to quickly respond to what I felt was the strongest critique of the article:
“We’re not all like that”
Several commenters, especially Evangelicals from outside the US, weighed in with essentially this comment in various forms. This is perhaps the most encouraging affirmation that I took away from the comments on the piece. While most of them were written as a critique, it was encouraging to be reminded that Evangelical culture isn’t the same in all places at all times. I have experienced this to be true as well– in Massachusetts, we belonged to what could likely be called an “Evangelical” church, and it was nothing like what I experience in other parts of the country (but again, context is key: you’re reading a blog about a real person who’s often processing his faith in real time). It was also encouraging to be reminded that Evangelicalism outside of the US is so very different and often does not have the same mesh between following Jesus and conservative politics, etc. This also reminded me of one of my true hopes for the movement– the younger, emerging voices. With some of the voices we’re seeing rise up, I actually do think there’s hope. Why?
Because I received dozens of e-mails that all said essentially the same thing:
“I’m so glad I’m not alone in feeling this way”.
Clearly, there are thousands of us out there who are all feeling very similar to one another, and who have hope that a new day will dawn. Together, I think we can do that, as evidenced by some of the emerging movements we’ve seen cropping up around the margins (my favorite place to hang out).
So, be encouraged! You’re not alone, and I’m not alone. Your frustrations, your hurt, your rejection… so many of us have experienced this relationship in the exact same way. But I hope that on the flip side, I’m not alone in having some things that I really do love about Evangelicalism, and which continue to draw me back in… in spite of everything.
Time to catch a plane to Denver for C21– hope to meet some of you there!