I have been very blessed to have spent most of my life in the state of Minnesota. Minnesota is the epicenter, in my opinion, of Evangelicalism. We have what seems like hundreds of mega churches is a small dense area. We have four Evangelical universities. Within a 20-mile radius we have everybody from John Piper (Bethlehem Baptist), Greg Boyd (Woodland Hills), Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones (Solomon’s Porch), and Leith Anderson (President of the National Evangelical Association), all of which have been connected to some form of Evangelicalism. All of this to say, we have a wide tradition within our small area. It has been a blessing to me because it opened me to such a wide stream of not only what we call Evangelicalism, but Christianity in general.
One of my earliest memories of being an Evangelical was hearing James Dobson attacking Eminem after his release of his album The Marshal Mathers LP. Shortly after that, I remember hearing my local Christian radio station attacking the Harry Potter books. This March, I was reminded once again when Rob Bell released Love Wins, Evangelicals don’t like it when you stir the pot. We Evangelicals love our way, our history. But after all these years, these incidents have me questioning, “What do we love Truth or tradition?”
The Left Behind series reemphasized a current popular belief in a the rapture. The belief holds that in the last days, God is going to snatch all of the Christians away from the earth. When we understand the history of the theology of the rapture, we realized it wasn’t really conceptualized until the 1800s. This belief really gained steam in a 1970s movie called A Thief In The Night. For most living Evangelicals, the history and the culture has indoctrinated this into our beliefs. So when we have people like N.T Wright casting doubt upon this belief, we aren’t very pleased (deep down inside I don’t think we like it when they go after our man crush Kirk Cameron). The rapture is a perfect example of how we love our tradition. This belief is part of our modern belief structure.
Is tradition necessarily best? If we stuck to tradition, what would Christianity be if Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and Simons hadn’t broken away 500 years ago? What would have happened to Evangelicalism if Billy Graham hadn’t distanced himself from the angry fundamentalists of his day? What would have happened if Jesus would have stuck to the traditions as interpreted by the Pharisees and Rabbis? Our traditions are necessary for us to build our religious identity and worldview, but sometimes our traditions get it wrong. Having traditions is okay, even necessary, but one must realize that the tradition isn’t the journey, God is. This is why the wisest of teachers will teach us to unlearn as much as they teach us to learn. It is a matter of seeking and questioning. This is why faith doesn’t demand certainty.
Seeking God who is truth means asking God for the very thing he promises us in the book of James, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” God will give himself, which means we may have to step away from our tradition. Because sometimes our tradition looks more like us than him.