Thursday, November 19, 2009

The New Samaritans

As I was sitting in a meeting of evangelical church leaders last week, it occurred to me that the group most antagonistic toward evangelicals may not be liberals, secularists, or even denominational leaders. Rather, it may be those who see themselves as "emerging" or "recovering evangelicals," and as such seek to warn the unsuspecting world about the embarrassingly simplistic tenets of evangelical Christianity. As we were being lectured by a well-known (and I believe sincere) speaker on the great failures of the evangelical segment of the church (which are real and many), it dawned on me that those who are former or "progressive" evangelicals would likely be the first ones to turn me over to the authorities should my evangelical faith ever be deemed too intolerant to be tolerated in a tolerant society.

The person speaking during my epiphanous occasion is a well known author who was very careful to tout his own "evangelical credentials." The problem was that his only pejorative words were reserved for describing evangelicals and no one else. He identified himself with Brian McLaren, whose books I enjoy reading and who provokes a lot of good thought. However, Mr. McLaren's writings are marked with a ferocious antipathy toward his "fellow" evangelicals, who he sees as shallow Christians who seek convenience in their faith commitments and who do not wrestle with difficult social/political issues. Mr. McLaren, like Sojourner's Jim Wallis and Solomon Porch's Doug Pagitt, all claim to have been once shackled by the burdensome chains of simplistic views of God, Bible, faith, and grace that kept them from seeing the activity of the Spirit in others beyond their faith circle. Now that they have jettisoned dogmatic belief for a more open and relative view of truth, they can now see the dangers of their former evangelical worldview (or any such faith, Christian or otherwise, that claims to have real objective content and real objective articles of belief). Of course, it goes hand in hand that if the evangelical worldview is dangerous, so are those who carry this infection, that is, evangelical Christians.

With the recent scuttlebutt regarding Presbyterian professor Mark Achtemeier's embracing a liberal position regarding gay, lesbian, etc. orientations, it became clear that Professor Achtemeier has also adopted the idea that evangelicals are not just misled buffoons, but are actually dangerous in their beliefs. As he states, "...I can no longer close my eyes to the spiritual and psychological damage that flow from this well-intended but tragically misguided teaching." No finer gauntlet has ever been tossed, and it is this divisive impasse that is helping to lay the foundation for going beyond critical words to active deeds of opposition and prevention.

These actions presently may be expressed in the simple subjugating of evangelicals in so-called tasks forces, the ostracizing of evangelicals in denominational hierarchies, and even outright ridicule in societal venues like politics. However, as laws are on the verge of being enacted in federal legislation that may actually prohibit the expression of some evangelical views, such as support for the traditional family or the call to pray public prayers in Christ's name, punishments could become as severe as court pronounced fines and, in worst case scenarios, imprisonment. I think now I realize that it will be my "fellow" evangelicals who have gone on to more enlightened views who will be willingly and enthusiastically pointing me out to the those appointed by whatever authority there may be to curb and contain unsanctioned thinking and belief.

In the United States and Europe, evangelicals are becoming the present day "Samaritans." Like the Samaritans of old whose culture and beliefs were disdained by the Jewish people as bastardized forms of true belief and proper religious practice, so are the evangelicals viewed by liberals and "progressive evangelicals" as backward and unenlightened in their "less than generous" expressions of Christian faith and life. Yet, like the Samaritan in Jesus' parable about who is my neighbor, it is the evangelicals who are engaged in actively seeking to live out Christ's life in the world. Organizations like Samaritan's Purse, World Vision, Compassion International, Every Home For Christ, and many more are filled with people who are primarily populated by evangelicals. Much of the outreach in local missions throughout our cities are supported and staffed by evangelicals, and the majority of missionaries in the PCUSA and other protestant denominations are motivated by their evangelical zeal to see people come into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Ecumenically, it is the evangelicals who enjoy many points of mutual faith and mission with the Roman Catholic and Orthodox expressions of Christianity.

Actually, when one thinks about it for awhile, it is really an honor to be part of the "new Samaritans." Jesus told us in his ironic words (Matthew 5:11), "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me." It's not the part of following Jesus that we (or should I just say "I") enthusiastically embrace, but it is crucial in molding us into Christ-like persons who live out God's truth in humility. We know the certainty of this divine reality when our hearts impell us to stop and become neighbor to all who have fallen along the road.

1 comment:

Jim Rawlings said...

While I agree with you that evangelicals are doing the "heavy lifting" in Protestant Christianity, it is true that evangelicalism has become too at home with dominant culture. I think the emerging/recovering bunch is reacting to the lack of self-reflection and commitment found in many so-called evangelical groups. Regardless, evangelicals do suffer from an image problem.