Tag Archives: Evangelicals

How did SHOULD get into my meditation?

It is wonderful to watch the Evangelicals catch up with the rest of the Church when it comes to experiencing that personal relationship with God they always talk about. I had to desert them, for the most part, to have one.

I spent my first years of faith with the Baptists as they fought with the charismatics, who scared the pants off them (recent example). I felt a little guilty about my thrilling charismatic dalliances, because I was taught people like me were following feelings not facts and undermining the authority of scripture, thinking the Spirit was going to begin something already settled. The way I looked at, and still do, the Evangelicals arrested their development because of their Eurocentric and Enlightenment-dominated theology. They had to have the Bible front and center and had to interpret it in a way they considered “literal.” Only their “literal” was a pseudo-scientific, supposedly “innerrant” set of principles that still resemble a textbook to me. I suppose that’s why so many of them are still fighting about textbooks.

But I think a lot of Evangelicals are now catching up with last century’s main spiritual movement. Their development  parallels the translation development of a familiar Bible verse I was taught as a youngster — Proverbs 23:7 in the King James Version (KJV):

For as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he: Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee.

My preachers regularly skipped the meaning of this Proverb to concentrate on the first eleven words, which I was assigned as a memory verse: “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” I got the idea, being male and all, that what we think is paramount. When CBT was invented, Evangelicals liked psychotherapy a bit more, since the modality was all about think-> feel-> behave.

But when boomers go looking for their memory verse in the new Evangelical Bible, the New International Version (NIV), they can’t find it. It has disappeared into a much more accurate rendering:

Do not eat the food of a begrudging host, do not crave his delicacies; for he is the kind of person who is always thinking about the cost. “Eat and drink,” he says to you, but his heart is not with you.

The extricated bit the preachers emphasized in my youth has appropriately become part of the previous sentence. The readers have begun to find out, like the Bible really says, that true discernment is all about the heart and right relationships, not just about how excellent one’s thoughts are.

The staying power of should

The Evangelicals are, more and more, turning toward developing hearts. But as they do, they often bring their heresies with them and undermine the process.

I stumbled on an example of this undermining when I explored the  Pause app. It is part of John Eldridge’s latest reinvention as a spiritual director. The app is a generous free gift that encourages us to buy his book and other things, as most apps do. I have friends who are enthusiastically using it. As with most Evangelical things, it is wordy and teachy. But the heart of it is good: Please pause and center in on God with you.

I decided to try the app to see if it is a good thing for my tech-connected spiritual companions. Normally I feel like relating to God through a machine is dangerous. But that is arguable. Even though I was holding my app fears at bay, I did not get far until I ran into a problem that made me not want to run into any more.

I had a Bible isssue. The whole thing is coming from the Bible, assuming it is the essential way God is revealed and our primary means of forming a relationship with Him. The Bible does not teach itself as that, especially in the passage in question. But I love the Bible and I think studying it is fundamental to following Jesus. So what does the Pause app give me? The New Living Translation (NLT). It is the revised Living Bible from the 1970’s. I had one of the originals with a cool handmade leather cover. I tried to find it so I could take a picture but I think I threw it away when I downsized since I hadn’t cracked it in 30 years.

The very first entry centers on a beautiful key passage from Ephesians 3 which opens up an expansive picture of all it means to know God through Jesus Christ. The NLT says:

I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God

Pause and let God speak to you through that! It is a wonderful statement and very accessible writing.

The NLT has merit, but I don’t think it is a good translation. It gets rid of things that might trouble postmodern sensibilities and adds things that fit modern evangelical preferences. Maybe it is still more of the paraphrase it started out as. I found it hard to meditate on it because I love relating to the Bible writers and couldn’t get over disputing what the translators considered revelation. I was also concerned about those less suspicious than I am.

I also had a heresy issue. This is my main reason to write today. Perhaps I learned to attend to clauses too well since one in this sentence bothered me:

And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.

For one thing, nobody else translates the verse this way. The Greek implies to me a great celebration of the already but not fully realized place we stand in Christ, where we are one with God and growing into our fullness. Paul knows he and his readers have an eternity of revelation to relish; we are incomplete. But he also believes we are already risen with Christ, living in Him right now, and are fully entitled to know and love Him as we are known and loved. We don’t need to wait until we are dead or deserve it.

This most offending sentence includes the word SHOULD: “[M]ay you have the power to understand ” (as if you don’t ), “as all God’s people should.”  I was too irritated by the ever-present Evangelical “should” inserted, at the very beginning of the app’s program, no less! I could not even get started! I don’t think that “should” can be construed from the Greek. The paraphrasers just had to get it in there. I don’t think Paul is looking at his readers ruefully as if they should get their act together. Nor does he think God looks at him that way.

l am particularly sensitive to the overriding should my Evangelical directees bring to their development. They got the point. They get arrested by it. When they look inside they see guilt. They are always an aspiration, never acceptable, never enough. Their hope is often based on getting better, thinking better, behaving better, not on pausing to experience being better by being with Jesus, as Paul is praying they will know.

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/