For the Learning Christian - Beyond Evangelical
On April 10th, I sent out the following tweet:
I'm thinking of doing a long series of blog posts (more than I can tweet thoughts on) entitled "What Christians Get Wrong." No attack or insult. A space of curiosity and learning (which hopefully feels familiar by now). What topic would you include?
There was a good response, and each tweet showed a desire for the church to be better. I especially appreciated the ones who pushed back against the idea of "wrong." Sometimes I choose particular words because I don't give it enough thought. Other times, I realize a few might misunderstand, but the majority will know what I'm asking. Words are tough, even when you're a writer. These tweet responses and this series don't point necessarily to a wrong thinking so much as an incomplete one. Think how much better we could communicate with one another if we kept this in mind. I often say, the highest compliment I can receive is when someone tells me I made them think. Post by post, tweet by tweet, I want us to think through these topics, and consider ways we can show the love of Christ within them. Because for a Christian, that's the bottom line. Our foundation.
I want to share my initial thoughts here, not my well-researched, edited words meant to be published in a book someday. I've learned a lot about Christianity in my years of talking with others on social media, and I want to share what I've learned. In story form, not academic expertise. I'm setting a timer on these posts, so they'll actually be my thoughts, and not turn into a research project. Feel free to teach me about the things I don't have quite right. My inbox, comment sections, and private messages are always open.
Evangelical exclusivity. Namely, their notion that they're the only ones that love Jesus and teach the Bible.
I grew up evangelical. I think. We never used that term, but when I read about American Evangelicals, I recognize them as the Christianity I knew as a child, into my early adult years. We loved Jesus and taught the Bible, just as the tweet mentioned. Other things crept in though, and that's what I recognize this person wants to address. I can relate. One by one, I've looked at every piece of my religion (I do recognize it as such) and examined what it is I can identify as Christian, and what is man-made. What brings the freedom Christ offers us, and what instilled fear and legalism.
Today, many would call this deconstruction, but I never look at it that way. Not that I think there's anything wrong with deconstruction. Mainly, I buck at using any labels. They always seem to do more to divide us than bring us together. When I look at my own experience moving out of evangelical into a position within the greater body of Christ, the whole Church, is more an expansive decision. I've carried so much of my childhood faith with me. It has changed, certainly, and I recognize errors, ranging from harmless to dangerous, but it's still a part of me. In the purest sense of the term (I especially like redeeming terms by taking them back to their original intention), I am still evangelical. I still want others to know about the saving love of Jesus Christ. I want to bring Good News.
Christianity's origins are not in America. The roots of our various church traditions are not found in our soil. For far too long, we have preached and taught an exclusive Christianity that honestly seems a little silly in my mind today. Christianity is beautiful and amazing because of its history and its worldwide perspective. We've been gifted with an international space called the internet, where we can meet Christians who don't look just like us, and they're still godly and Christ-seeking. Tying our churches to our love for country is selling Christianity way short. I still believe you can show devotion to both, but Christianity reigns supreme. Jesus Christ is the King of kings.
I'd encourage you to get to know a wide range of Christians on your social media feeds. In my forthcoming book, "Shaky Ground: What to Do After the Bottom Drops Out," I joke that I use social media like a search engine to find Christians who aren't like me. The proof from there, as they say, is in the pudding. A Coptic Orthodox sister who respects me enough to email me audio clips of her chanting psalms. An invite from a Scottish man whose church took to the hills of Scotland to share thoughts on advent.
Early on, I was fearful to do some of this exploring. A person who doesn't read the Bible literally cannot be in good standing with Jesus, can they? Is it wrong to have more than sixty-six books in one's Bible? What if they teach me wrong? Evangelical teaching left me fearful in many ways. As I met these people online, and asked them questions with a posture of humility and true curiosity, I began to learn from their perspective. I'm not going to take the time to answer each of these questions I asked here. Mostly because I'd like you to find some people who can explore the answers with you. Also because I've run out of time. My guess is we'll return to these questions, and more, as the series continues.