Tag Archives: Evangelicals

Theorists in casual Friday dress wreck evangelism

christian theory for theoristsSome of my cohort were intrigued when I was aroused from my inattention last week during our final  intensive. My professor (who I like very much) was, for some reason, veering into theology. I considered it practicing outside her expertise so I had to say, “I just don’t believe that.” She had already told us that when we consider God we need to start with a theory, “Everything starts with a theory.” That was supposedly from the Bible and not from Enlightenment rationalism. She went on to write a subject on the board, draw a line under it and have us fill in the subtopics, like we were the first scientists labeling the world. Only she was working on the concept “sin is sin,” working on the theory that anything not righteous is sin and blaming her kind of thinking on the Bible writers.

Theorists are theorists

I did not really dispute her conclusions too much, although I was afraid she would soon need to put mass murderers in the same category as fibbers because that is what her theory demanded. What I objected to was ignorantly applying a theory to the Bible and calling it revelation. She pinched the evangelist in me and I said “Ouch” (rather too loudly and strongly, perhaps incoherently, as I recall it now). Several friends rushed over to inspect the theological boo boo on my scraped soul. When the Christian experts, liberal or fundamentalist (like my teacher), keep passing out Christianity in a 17th century wrapper, it is very hard to make an actual, Bible-following, Jesus loving, Spirit-filled convert these days.

Modern Evangelicalism has been seduced into secular rationalism and still doesn’t seem to know it.  Evangelicals surrendered the soul to intellect and began to try to play their religious game on a rationalist field. Their time and energy was spent proving that God fits right in to materialist philosophies, and documenting the factuality of the Bible as applied to every possible discipline, as if the Bible were actually considering all the myriad specialties invented by scientific rationalism. Now they are church planting as the “neo-Reformed,” delivering the “word” while softening the fundamentalist packaging with work shirts and nice production values.

Jesus is better than rationalism

For Jesus, the Kingdom of God is a kingdom not of this rationalistic world (my expansion of John 18:36). The “soul life” or “psyche” Jesus does not want us to lose feeds on the Spirit, and on revelation it does not produce. Freud and other scientists intellectually colonized the territory by proposing that dreams are neurobiological phenomena. But the Bible writers know better. They are not talking theory; they are talking about the experience of God that Jesus brings into human dialogue. We live in a kingdom suffused with the Spirit of God. We swim in a sea of revelation. It is a bit like being a receiver in an atmosphere full of radio waves.

I think people were sick of Christians fighting about their words and theories a long time ago. I know I am. Thus I confronted my teacher with my unbelief and protested the imposition of the teaching as if it were straight from God. When I was in the maelstrom of rationalism in seminary, I wrote one paper that has always stuck with me. What could Paul be talking about when he says,

“What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.  This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words?” (1 Corinthians 1:12-13).

It surely can’t be charting out a simplistic theory of reality on a white board!

In the name of evangelism, Christians theorists have fed back the spirit of the world dressed up like the Bible. It did not make believers understand the words taught by the Spirit. The faith landscape is littered with the lives of former believers who ultimately couldn’t buy the arguments. The whole church is arguing itself to death on the battlefield of 18th century thinking as we speak! I still want to do something else by responding to the great revelation I have received.

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Burned-out Evangelicals and Millenials

As I was praying this morning, I realized I might be overly preoccupied with two groups of people I seem to love more than others — even though God does not show favoritism (Acts 10:34).

I am very concerned with the burned-out evangelicals I meets who are super sensitive to being marched around by narcissistic leaders.

I am also concerned about the slavish millennials who are like hunter-gatherers living in small tribes feeding off the cast-offs of society, with little hope of the future.

Of all the people who were worshiping with me last night: successful professionals, immigrants, hard-working teachers, dutiful parents, etc., I tend to hone in on these two subgroups. I think that is because they need to be saved and are oh so close to getting there but often have the deck stacked against them.

"If someone tells you that you are “on fire,” and your first thought is not to stop, drop, and roll...you might be an evangelical." -- Elizabeth Kaeton
“If someone tells you that you are “on fire,” and your first thought is not to stop, drop, and roll…you might be an evangelical.” — Elizabeth Kaeton

I’m not a burned-out evangelical because I never really was one. I had plenty of opportunities to travel with them (I was even trained by Campus Crusade before they coolified their name to Cru), but when I was making a decision about who were my people, I found the Anabaptists. I liked the Brethren in Christ because they added on “Pietist” and “Wesleyan,” to their Anabaptist roots, and basically refused to be too strongly affiliated with some past description because old labels don’t make that much sense in the present. But even though I don’t live in the mainstream, I still meet many skittish people who grew up in a mega church or a conservative, little, strangulation-by-Bible church. They don’t always have a live relationship with Jesus, but they do know a lot of Christian stuff. It is often like they are inoculated against any real relationship with Jesus because they were trained to be suspicious of every wrong way one might have one!

They need to be saved rather than just be deserters of the bogus faith of their past, or mere critics of what others say.

Click pic for positive look at the "millenial" generation
Click pic for positive look at the “millenial” generation

I’m not a millennial, either (according to Pew, I am a GenXer). But nobody really knows what a millennial is, anyway, which is probably what makes someone a millennial. They appear to be less “white;” they can’t remember a time without the internet; they can work devices and act technologically savvy. They don’t care as much about success, and that is good, since they will probably be less well-off than their parents. Under their parents’ watch, their future wealth was stored up in the 1%, the government became more like a corporation and started selling off public assets to businesses, and people became so fearful of terrorists and of losing their jobs that they stopped trying to change things. The younger one is, the more likely she is to feel like it is “all up to her” and maybe she will be helped by a few close friends. For many of these people, the church is just another huge institution they sometimes hover around looking for scraps of meaning to put in their personal identity backpack.

They need to be saved rather than left isolated and suspicious, being injured by the huge forces that use them like raw material, like slaves sent to make bricks without straw when they speak up.

My life is filled with students, children, parents, and Christian leaders — all sorts of people. I love them all. But these two groups seem to make my heart break and my conviction stir. I think they represent what is hardening the hearts of the next generation. One of the things I want to do most with my days is work with God as he softens us up for love and truth. Most days I am not sure what I am trying to do makes a bit of difference. Most days I am content to let God make of it what he will, since he is part of every generation and his mercy is new every morning.

Overcoming the fear of getting out there

Do YOU have something to say? You could be a guest contributor, too. Here is a piece from Howard Pinder struggling with how to make connections when his Christian friends have strict rules of engagement.

I remember the first time I got thrown out of Starbucks for trying to post a “religious” flyer. I was devastated. I thought I was a bold person, but being rejected like that got to me. The employee wasn’t particularly rude but all sorts of feelings rushed to the surface as I awkwardly left, until I was practically in tears on the sidewalk. I was suddenly awash in doubts and thought I might just be too afraid to put myself out there again. I took heart though. My mentor reminded me that evangelism is about looking for people who are looking for Jesus. And they are out there. I had been out there once too.

Lately I have been working on an events team. Hosting events is another way I am trying to put myself “out there.”  Our team has had some good ideas. I loved advertising the “unorthodox art” show we had last Saturday. It’s fun. There are a lot of reasons we’re doing it, but the main reason is because we want people to find out about Circle of Hope and we want them to know Jesus. We’re not screening them at the door for receptivity, but we’re making friends and we’re friends with Jesus. It is a simple connection. At least I think it is obvious. Recently someone questioned my wisdom because I wanted to promote Jesus and Circle of Hope in our own events. They were afraid we’d offend somebody. Their questions offended ME! They’d promote any unorthodox artist in the neighborhood, but don’t let Jesus get in there because promoting him would be offensive.

I explained why I thought we should promote Circle of Hope and Jesus in all of our events in one way or another. My main argument was: “Knowing Jesus and helping others to know Him is the most important thing about life.” My friend told me that my thinking puts me in the minority. (Is that true?) Their main argument was that bringing out Jesus was not being sensitive. They said if I was really conscious of others I would see that dropping Jesus on unsuspecting people was not the best way to express my faith.

Well, I can imagine having a problem between Jesus and people. But why would I predict that? Besides, sometimes when we claim we are being sensitive we are actually being fearful – fearful of being labeled, fearful of rejection, fearful of turning someone away from faith because we are fearful we are just that bad! It’s not like I was suggesting I get on a soapbox and preach condemnation and promise people hell (I’m not even sure where one gets a soapbox, these days!). What’s the problem with being who I am?

I hear a lot of fear when I talk about revealing my faith right out there in public. We have all heard about the stereotypes of Christians causing more harm than good. Maybe we don’t want to be associated with that type of expressing. But I don’t want to live my life as a reaction to misguided Evangelicals, either. I want to live through my relationship with Jesus. My fears run deep, but I want to take heart and overcome them with Jesus, not just get run around by them. I want to act out of a deep assurance that I am safe, and out of my new security in the fact that I will spend eternal life with God. What could make us afraid after knowing that?

Let me be clear here. I’m not saying, “Let’s get out there and see how many people we can  coerce into being a Christian!” I’m talking about speaking freely about the truth of Jesus as it has been revealed to us.  How does your relationship with Jesus make a difference in your life? What, exactly, are you protecting people from by never talking about that? Do you really love the people you claim you are being sensitive to if you aren’t willing to tell them the truth?

Maybe my experiences are a big anomaly; maybe they aren’t indicative of the state of your faith. But what do you think? I think we’re too afraid to get out there. I’m afraid, too. I don’t want to condemn anyone who is digging in their heels, since I suppose there are more reasons than I could imagine for that behavior. But I do feel held back when you hold back. I feel out on the limb when you tell me I shouldn’t get out there. I think we need to confront this compulsive fear in ourselves.

Jesus does not condemn us for messing up his mission. When I came to Jesus after feeling like a failure outside Starbucks, he was tender with me. I felt like He took my hand and said, “All will be well if you keep following me.” That’s the Jesus I want to show people. I feel compelled to get out there and show them. I echo Paul when he says that he must express what he’s received and express it boldly. We are all grappling with this in our own way. When, in our grappling, we tamp down someone else’s enthusiasm, we might be acting out of fear and blocking Jesus’ mission. The only way through our fears is to get out there, with Jesus right beside us.

These older posts might interest you, too:

Getting Out There in the Face of Fear http://rodwhitesblog.wordpress.com/2013/01/14/getting-out-there/

Henry Tanner Lets Jesus into PAFA: http://rodwhitesblog.wordpress.com/2012/02/06/henry-tanner-lets-jesus-into-pafa/

Winning the Right to Be Heard: http://rodwhitesblog.wordpress.com/2012/01/16/winning-the-right-to-be-heard/