I’ve been wearing my heart on my sleeve around here, all torn up. It’s no secret that there’s been a lot of anger, swirling confusion, throbbing frustration. I’ve metaphorically stomped around the house slamming doors, yelling till my throat was raw. Mostly yelling about the Church.
I want to talk about this again a bit quieter, drag it into the light and let the anger bleed out. Will you join me?
It started a few years ago when I began to realize that there’s so much more to the “gospel” than avoiding hell and trying to rid my life of sinful actions. As I’ve had my eyes opened to a Gospel and a Church bigger than those I have always known, I’ve felt deep joy take root in my heart. But alongside that joy, anger. And beneath the anger, sadness.
I feel betrayed, you see.
I feel betrayed by the those who I trusted to show me the way to Jesus. Yes, by those in the fundamentalist churches and in the Bill Gothard cult. But also, in the evangelical churches. For most of twenty years I stumbled around in evangelicalism, and yet somehow missed all this.
All along there was so much more to the Christian faith, and nobody ever told me.
Nobody told me about NT Wright or Frederick Buchner or Anne Lamott or Walter Bruggeman.
Nobody told me that Catholics and Anglicans and Lutherans were real Christians.
Nobody told me that theistic evolution or feminism was an option (except for one guy at teen camp once, when I was 18).
Nobody told me that the rapture isn’t real, that Left Behind wasn’t an accurate depiction of events that would happen in my lifetime.
Nobody told me that much of what passes for evangelicalism these days more closely resembles gnosticism.
An evangelist told me that it doesn’t really matter whether or not following Jesus brings you peace, because the main thing is that it gets you out of hell. He said Jesus was like a parachute on a crashing plane – it really doesn’t matter how following Him affects your life, only that He saves you from hell when you die. Nobody told me that was bullshit.
More importantly, nobody told me that God deeply cares about the restoration of all things.
They told me that God did all He could to save people by sending Jesus to die for our sins, but it was up to us to us to do the work of getting them saved.
They told me that sin separates Man from God, and then they drew a little diagram wherein Jesus was reduced to a two-dimensional bridge for stick figures to walk across.
They told me that the Roman’s Road was the Gospel, that the great message of the Bible is that Jesus was “born to die so we might live”. Nobody told me there was so much more.
Nobody told me about Christus Victor.
They told me that it was a relationship, not a religion, but then they piled on religious expectations until I could barely stand.
They told me that I’m not a body with a soul, but rather a soul with a body.
Nobody told me that we truly hope for a physical resurrection.
They told me that Jesus was just being patient the first time he walked the earth, but that soon he’ll back back to slaughter all his enemies at the end of time.
Nobody told me that Jesus wants to make his enemies – all his enemies – his friends.
Nobody told me that Jesus came to reveal God, not just satisfy God.
Nobody told me that God is just like Jesus, can you imagine that?
Nobody told me that the church is more than just a institution for evangelism and discipleship, that the Church really is the Body of Christ.
Nobody told me that baptism and communion are more than just symbols.
Nobody told me that Jesus himself, not the Bible, is the Word of God.
Nobody told me the Kingdom of God was really at hand.
So when I’ve discovered all of this bigger Gospel in the past few years – first through wandering the post-Evangelical blogosphere and then through the preaching at Renovatus – there’s joy, yes, but also a sense of betrayal. And then anger, and sadness.
I trusted them to give me bread, and too often they gave me stones.
Of course there are good churches, good people, and good teachings in evangelicalism. Don’t think for a moment I’m discounting that. Many of these things I’m talking about, the ones I somehow missed out on, are being preached and taught by soundly evangelical folks. I don’t believe everything that everything within evangelicalism is insufficient or flawed, no.
Instead of the Gospel of King Jesus, I was given an anemic message of hell avoidance and moralism. Instead of “Repent for the Kingdom of God is as hand!”, I was given “If you died right now would you go to heaven?”
I’m sure somewhere along the way people said these things in my hearing. Somehow I missed it. Completely immersed in Christianity for twenty years and I missed it. And if I was the only one, we could chalk it up to fundamentalism, I could sort out my baggage, and we could all move on.
But look around you; it’s an epidemic.
We have a wholesale failure within contemporary evangelicalism to preach and teach the whole big, beautiful gospel.
As Scot McKnight — a prominent evangelical himself — has written: “I sometimes worry we have settled for a little gospel, a miniaturized version that cannot address the robust problems of our world.”
Why else would Jonathan Merrit have to write a book telling us about how Jesus is better that we imagined? Why else would Jeff Bethke have to write a book that says Jesus is about more than trying harder and doing more?
Why else are so many evangelicals of my generation saying “I thought Christianity was about getting into heaven, getting saved, getting good — No one ever told me that Christianity was about staying in love”?
When so many evangelicals are having to rediscover the good news of Jesus as if for the first time after decades in the Church, how can we not say that evangelicalism as a whole has failed to preach the whole Gospel?
We need evangelicalism now more than ever.
Not a four-step plan to get into heaven, not lines in the sand of never-ending culture wars, but the spine-tingling life-changing dead-raising power of the Jesus-is-Lord gospel.
It was right there in your name all along! Evangelicals, are you not good people of good news?
Please, for the love of God, for the love of the people who are walking out your doors in search of Jesus, for the love of us waiting, hopeful… be people of Good News.
Fling open the doors and windows, chase out the dust and the cobwebs, dip your buckets deep into living water, and pour it out on the thirsty. Start with the ones sitting right here in your pews.
God, we’re so thirsty for good news.
[ image: waitingfortheword ]
published April 17, 2014
subscribe to updates:
(it's pretty much the only way to stay in touch with me these days)