I have a line up of articles I hope to get to this week, but I think I will just take a few minutes to answer one of the kinder comments left on my post from Sunday. I did delete more comments than I normally would, because I think, at the very least, a tone of respectfulness is appropriate from those who disagree with what I’ve said.
This is an awkward moment for the evangelical world. It is a moment long coming, and one that many Christians who have lived through the quiet earthquakes along the fault-lines within mainstream Christianity have dreaded, knowing how it goes, but one that cannot be avoided any longer. I suppose we should even welcome it for its ever increasing clarity.
If the election of Mr. Trump was one kind of evangelical crisis, the death of Rachel Held Evans is another. Both brought into the light the deep-rooted troubles that have been long growing. Both are forcing Christians to show to themselves, and to each other, and to the world, their true theological cards.
So here is a very kind comment, shortened a bit:
She helped me face and work through my fundamentalist upbringing in which I became a believer out of fear of hell rather than the love of Jesus. She reassured me that my doubt was survivable. She introduced me to liturgical praying (lots of BCP) as a way to talk to God when doubt had taken the words from me. And I could go on. Did I always agree with her? No. Did I ever doubt her love for Jesus and his word? Never. So I was quite distraught, liking you and all, to read the last paragraph of this post in which you seem to be inferring that Rachel wasn’t a Christian and hoping she’d made some sort of death bed confession. Perhaps I read too much into what you said. Anne, we’re all in Christ, eating at the same table, though perhaps you and Rachel are at different ends of it. I hope you’ve been reading the deluge of tweets from people who decided to stay in the church or who went into ministry or learned to love others better because of Rachel. It’s an astounding testament to God’s speaking through her…All of this to say that I’d really like it if you’d reconsider your take on her. She’s one of us.
And so here we have a deep and tragic divide within the visible church. There are two kinds of churches—biblically faithful, orthodox churches on one hand, and on the other churches where the Bible is subject to revisionist reading, and where church doctrine is measured by the cultural doctrines of the day.
In other words, some churches cease being true biblical churches when they willingly and purposefully embrace teaching contrary to that same bible.
This isn’t to say that everyone inside of those churches is then not a Christian, nor that no church can have any error to be a real church, but rather that some teachings are big enough to set a church, and certainly individuals within the church, outside of ‘the bounds of orthodoxy.’ Which is to say they are no longer truly Christian.
I think there is a great deal of confusion for evangelicals right now about what constitutes real error with regard to issues of race. But that is a topic for another time. What is very clear is that the biblical gospel does not allow for the “radical inclusive love” that Rachel espoused. God is love, of course, but that love is not defined by modern 21st century inclusivest, intersectional categories. It has to be defined by the Bible itself. It is agape—the self giving love that characterizes the Godhead and is the foundation of the created order. It is holy, perfect, and does not desire the death sinners but that they should turn from their wicked ways and live.
And so an unapologetic embrace of the LGBTQ agenda is not biblically Christian. Those who teach and preach it can be said, without any confusion at all, to be outside the visible boundaries of biblical faith. The church, in its true and biblical sense, cannot embrace that agenda. Can it embrace individuals caught up in that life and offer to them the way of repentance, the hope of salvation? Yes it can. And it should. And I think one reason why Rachel had such a far reaching message is that it had not.
I left the Episcopal church—probably as Rachel was entering it—for this reason: it looks inviting to say that everyone is welcome as they are, no questions asked, but it is actually cruel. In so far as inviting someone in out of a snowstorm, but then opening all the windows and doors, so that the furious icy snow comes in with them, is cruel. There is a reason the human heart longs for the warm shelter of the church—because inside the heating fire of God’s atoning grace binds sinners together in one holy fellowship. But the sin has to stay outside, and we can’t change the definition of sin to make it easier.
And so we are not sitting at opposite sides of one long table. We are not eating of the one bread and drinking out of the one cup. We are talking about two different faiths, two different kinds of love, two different lords.
Christians who love sinners, as Christ has commanded them to do, must speak the truth about who that God is, and who we are as his creatures. Moreover, we ought to pray that those who are walking away from his warm and gracious mercy will turn around, will repent, will walk back toward him. And that when they come to the haven of the church, the church does not throw away that mercy by saying that it is something other than what it really is.