Rethinking Evangelicalism Pt. 8

Growing up in an Evangelical Church I was taught that much of life was a slippery slope. We were told never to say words like crap, or dangit because it was to close too words swear words (I find this very funny now because of the word skubalon that Paul uses in Phil. 3:8, which translates into a vulgar version of manure). I was told that a person is one drink away from becoming an alcoholic, one cigar/cigarette closer to addiction and lung cancer. I was told I was not allowed to dance with girls because dancing is sex in motion. I was told that I had to take the Bible literally, because one denial of a literal creation story, Adam and Eve not really existing, no actual flood, or Mary not actually being a virgin (just common modern examples) meant that I was this close to falling out of the grace of God.

When I look back at the past churches I grew up in, there was so much fear. There was fear that they would fall into what they deemed a “sinful life.” They feared that if you questioned the Bible, then you would lose the Truth of God, and fall into worshiping an idol. The slippery slope protects us from the other side. The conservatives I grew up with told me it was a slippery slope into liberalism. I wonder if liberals would say it’s a slippery slope into being to conservative. We make the other side the enemy. I wonder if the slope is the way we build walls into protecting ourselves from one another. This type of binary thinking and polarized living doesn’t produce quality thinking, truly free living; it produces fear, anger, and despair.

I don’t think all of this fear produces good Christians. If perfect love casts out fear, then perfect fear casts out love. If love is the mark of being a Christian, then how is any of this any good? If we fear one another, then how can the world know God? They are supposed to know him by the way we love each other, aren’t they? If we are watching our feet every step of the way, to make sure we don’t fall into sin, then how can we see the road in front of us? If we are trying to manage our sin, then how can we live our lives, and live our lives in love? What would an Evangelical Christianity look like if it didn’t live in this fear?

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10 thoughts on “Rethinking Evangelicalism Pt. 8

  1. Nice post! I said this more crudely

    Lots of Christians can’t handle the truth, just like Einstein couldn’t handle quantum theory. Darwin is not someone to be feared, but I think some christians are afraid sometimes.

    Hopefully, the grace and humility of the biblical Jesus might become apparent to you, in spite of His well intentioned followers, who, like me, sometimes distort when we mean to clarify.

    yesterday, here:

    http://www.jonacuff.com/stuffchristianslike/2011/10/sclq-saying-i-pray-that-you-will/

  2. krista says:

    word. this a very relatable story. for myself and for many others, i presume. one on hand, I chuckle at the silliness of it all.. and on the other, it brings me great sadness that these issues and topics are the ones that weigh (or did previosly weigh) us down and consume our energy. it’s time we stop operating out of fear and start operating out of a deep seeded hope and love. but… when these traditions have been so deeply rooted in us, how do start? how is the cycle broken?

    truth be told, i couldn’t say shoot or crud growing up either…

    • Mike Friesen says:

      Krista, I don’t think we can deconstruct without having been constructed. And, I don’t think we can reconstruct until we have properly deconstructed. I think the answers of transition happen, when you are ready to leave that stage. What have you learned in deconstruction?

  3. Amy says:

    This whole series on evangelicalism has been fantastic. I’m grateful for the foundation the evangelical church gave me, but I wish it hadn’t come with such a high price tag. There is still such a heavy emphasis on personal purity over social justice. How can we really show love to others when we fixate on perfecting ourselves?

    • Mike Friesen says:

      How can we fear ourselves and love ourselves? How can we love others if we don’t love ourselves? Can we give away something that we don’t have?

      What do you think about that Amy?

      • Amy says:

        That sounds right. I think maybe we fear ourselves but try to love others, except it’s not working out so well. The doctrine of total depravity certainly hasn’t done much for the church. It’s misapplied so often. Too many people believe we have to clean ourselves up before we can reach anyone else. Instead of leading to real change by way of grace, it leads to a lot of lying (to ourselves and/or others).

        Good thoughts.

  4. vickikendall says:

    Mike, I totally get where you are coming from. I know the church uses things to condemn others who are different. We have done a terrible job representing Christ to the world. But what I’d like to caution folks about is this: Christ calls us out to be different, to be a people set apart, to be ‘in the world, but not of the world.’ Where are the lines, who determines what is wrong and right? When it gets to the point where Christians live and act in the world the same way that non-Christians do, to the point where you can tell them apart, something is not right. On the other hand, we can’t wall ourselves off from the world and throw “love Jesus” messages over the fence from time to time and expect to be living a life that makes a difference.
    My faith tradition is Wesleyan, (I’m Nazarene), and ‘holiness’ is a big issue with us. BUT! people who fear it don’t understand the process. People get hung up on the word itself. It’s not that one is expected to be saved and never commit sin again; what happens is past sins are forgiven and we become free of the guilt of sin. It’s that guilt thing that I was never able to get past in my youth. When it finally ‘clicked’ for me it was a freedom like no other. We grow in Christian grace and love from that point. Where the lines are between sin and holiness depends on where you are along the journey. It’s a process.
    What I fear the church has done to itself is to so present holy living more as ‘fire insurance’ than as the grace that it is. We have shot ourselves in the foot. People are now so turned off by the ‘hypocritical, judgmental’ Christians that the church has made it an order of magnitude harder to communicate. Wish I had an answer to how to fix it.

    • Mike Friesen says:

      Vicki,
      thank you for your response. My tradition being raised in (Evangelical Free) is the tradition that I claim, or some form of Evangelicalism, but I have been deeply changed by Anabaptists. My theology has been influenced by people like Greg Boyd, Stanley Hauerwas, John Howard Yoder. So, this being set apart has deeply shaped me.

      My transformation has been, my freedom, my “set apart” was an existential reality. When I think of “Sin”, there are certain sins that I still deeply struggle (I don’t hate myself for that), but the sins that I have found freedom in, it is a freedom that I literally can’t go back to those sins. I have found the resurrection.

      You are right, who gets to decide who is right and wrong, that is a problem in Evangelicalism. It’s a struggle of the ego, to think we are right and everyone is wrong. This is the difference between Truth experienced and Truth lived for me. Truth experienced sets you apart. God is so good, that nothing is quite as satisfying. Truth simply believed creates an empty war inside of you, where you don’t get to taste freedom and you kill yourself over not having it.

      What do you think about that?

      • vickikendall says:

        Your thoughts here are so beautiful!

        Your last line:

        “Truth simply believed creates an empty war inside of you, where you don’t get to taste freedom and you kill yourself over not having it”.

        That’s the life before, the life the church seems to try to push. “Just try harder.” Then there’s that truth lived and experienced that sets us apart and makes us free. You would make John Wesley proud. 😉

        We’ve been having a discussion along these lines in one of my classes. I want to share what you’ve said!

        thanks!
        Vicki

  5. Dancing is sex in motion. HA! Love that. Oh those crazy evangelicals…:)

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