A Caution To The Enraged

 

fistA friendly warning to all believers reeling in America’s Great Evangelical Hijacking, where partisan bullies bray over a microphone once yielded to genteel Billy Graham: At first, bitterness feels like a cozy sweater. But it soon itches. We scratch so hard we flare welts and our screams drive people away.

Trust me. I’ve been there. I know – and my jaw remains slackened as many in my beloved back-to-the-Bible movement sink into the Trump-fawning quicksand. Still, I must remember Michele Obama’s words: “When they go low, we go high.”

The hijacking has spawned the invasion of two closely-related exotic species: the “disaffected evangelicals” (they still hold to the theology but scold their wayward brothers and sisters in every blog post, tweet, and Facebook status) and the “disgruntled former evangelicals” (they’ve fled evangelicalism and yell at it from afar). Functionally, they’re barely distinguishable and can be clumped for discussion.

Many gather in the twitter flocks surrounding John Pavlovitz, Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, and Rachel Held Evans. Their tweets often begin with “if only evangelicals would …” and “why do evangelicals think ..?”  They’re unaware of Scott McNight, Katelyn Beaty, Timothy Keller, Beth Moore, Richard Mouw, Russell Moore (no relation to Beth), the Creation Care Network, and Christians for Biblical Equality, all of whom resist the bully onslaught. They’ve forgotten that traditional evangelicalism spans a theological range from Arminiasm to Calvinism to Dispensationalism – not to mention German Pietism. Perhaps those 81-19 election-year results left them too dazed to see the facts beneath the statistics: Most of those self-identified white evangelicals rarely attend church and disagree with the tradition’s historic beliefs. They’re evangelical in name only.

I knew a few now-popular disaffected-disgruntleds before they wrote books and complained of flight delays between speaking engagements. Common threads weave through their stories: Many grew up in a hermetically sealed neo-fundamentalist subculture, feathered with its shibboleths like so many chicks in a nest. They knew nothing but their fundamentalist and neo-fundamentalist worlds until calamity unveiled the horrible truth: Evangelicals aren’t always nice and, shock of shocks, there’s a vast universe of committed Christians beyond their coalition’s pale. They discover dedicated Catholics and Eastern Orthodox believers who sincerely praise Jesus. They even unearth supposedly evil “secular humanists” who are deeply humanitarian.

They sicked-up their grim neo-fundamentalism and now heap poxes on the entire evangelical house. They fail to grasp that they lived in one of the movement’s cobwebbed closets, usually painted in strict Calvinist and Dispensationalist hues.

I remember one in seminary before he became well-known. I’ll disguise him as I describe him: He was a die-hard Calvinist, reared in a neo-fundamentalist home, and a darling of the school’s more stringently Reformed faculty. He was no fun. He hinted that people like me, who did not grow up in evangelical families and did not en-scripturate the Westminster Confession, teetered over heresy’s cliff.  He got his PHD and joined the faculty of a neo-fundamentalist school, where he challenged some of its most cherished assumptions. Surprise-surprise, he was shown the door. He now lobs verbal grenades into the evangelical camp from his supposedly enlightened perch. My own Arminian-Wesleyan theology hasn’t substantially changed since seminary, so I’d still be suspect. Back then, I was a potential heretic. I’m now a Bible-thumping yokel.

He’s enwrapped himself in bitterness’s sweater and flares those welts. He’s even less fun than before.

I know others. They were scathing neo-fundamentalists back in the day; now, they’re the caustic enlightened ones. They’ve skipped past Calvinism’s more gracious streams (think Keller and Mouw) and didn’t bother with Pietism or Wesleyanism.

And yet, I sympathize. Again, I once wore that sweater. I lost a pastoral job at the hands of fundamentalist bullies and, I readily admit, I burned hot (one observer described my writings as “rants”). I sought spiritual sustenance beyond my evangelical tradition: I read Catholic and Eastern Orthodox literature (which I still relish) and mingled among Protestant liberals (theological liberalism, I rediscovered, still turns me off).

But something strange happened: I listened to podcasts from evangelical institutions like Asbury and Fuller theological seminaries; I heard Keller and the debaters in the Veritas Forum; I listened to the preaching at Vineyard Christian Fellowship of Evanston, Illinois, an inter-racial congregation that resettles refugees and implements the so-called charismatic gifts. All reminded me that historical evangelicalism is a broad alliance that’s neither anti-science nor politically right wing. Several of my favorite outlets are Reformed, which forces a smile: God is compelling me to learn from those with whom I disagree.

So yes: I am, indeed, an evangelical – as that term has been historically understood. Like Keller, I normally don’t use the “e” word in everyday banter because it’s lost its meaning. I usually call myself a “Classic Christian,” which ties me to creedal Christianity but frees me from long explanations beginning with, “No, I didn’t support Roy Moore …”

I’m still angry over the hijacking of the evangelical name and I know there’s a place for legitimate severity: Jesus, after all, chased out the money-changers. But he didn’t do that every day and he found room for grace.

I’m glad I no longer wear bitterness’s sweater.  A welt-riddled life is no fun. And I see the wisdom in Mahatma Gandhi’s satyagrahi resistance philosophy: “The satyagrahi’s object is to convert, not to coerce the wrongdoer.”

We’ll convert no one if all our words always burn like acid.

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About Charles Redfern

Charles Redfern is a writer, activist, and clergyman living in Connecticut with his wife and family. He's currently writing two books, with more in his head.

View all posts by Charles Redfern

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4 Comments on “A Caution To The Enraged”

  1. Dennis DuPont Says:

    ty

    Reply

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