aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

Inquiring minds (well, one mind) want to know

I responded to a post on the Confessing Movement FB page that after a whole career spent as a nominal member of the evangelical subculture, I am heartily tired of evangelicals and evangelicalism. A friend was surprised by my comment and asked for clarification. Such as I can briefly provide, here it is.

I am an adult convert (or, as I sometimes say, a church orphan). My parents (literally) stomped out of the church when I was eleven years old. My religious connections thereafter were pretty catch-as-catch-can. Mostly, I heard/felt God in Scout camp chapels and in the books I read. Finally, through the witness of a friend in college, I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior a little shy of my eighteenth birthday, all alone in my dorm room.

Everything's supposed to change from there on out, right? Well, no. You see, I didn't have anybody else to belong to or belong with; I was just all by myself trying to figure this out. And nobody -- repeat, NOBODY -- ever invited me to church. I had all sorts of religious friends: people active in Campus Crusade and the Navigators, the President of the Newman Center, a Lutheran pastor's daughter; nobody ever asked me to be part of their worshiping community. And I didn't know how to ask.

After Deanne and I got married, we finally decided that we really needed to get this figured out. My parents were reconciling with The United Methodist Church in their current hometown, and I read a booklet their pastor gave them. It was the doctrinal excerpts from The Book of Discipline. After reading The Articles of Religion, I said, "I'd like to belong to a Church that believed that." There happened to be a UM church just a block and a half from our first apartment. So, one day we crashed the doors of that church cold and announced that we were there. We were tired of waiting to be asked. We joined some weeks later on profession of faith.

I was already trying to figure out the ginormous lightning bolt style call experience I had had the previous winter (once again, all alone). My pastor and the DS helped me enormously with what to do next. I was a member of that congregation when I went off to seminary. When I was ordained Deacon, my membership was transferred to the then South Indiana Conference, which means that Terre Haute First UMC is the only congregation of which I have ever been a member.

From there, I went off to Asbury for seminary. I knew nothing of the controversies that wrack the Church; certainly, I knew nothing of the fault lines between evangelical and liberal (or progressive, or whatever they call themselves these days). I went off to Asbury ready to learn, looking to find myself, wanting to belong.

What I found was a whole alien subculture that didn't recognize itself as such. For the true evangelical, all other religious subcultures are more or less inauthentic. I had people tell me (with utmost sincerity) that their preferred style of church music really was more spiritual than other forms of music played in church. I was flabbergasted at first. I thought, surely they can (at least, intellectually) separate their tribal mores and religious code from the essentials of Christianity? Nope. At least, not many.

I have to say, that I believe all the right things, and I am a faithful practitioner of the ancient Faith. I pass muster as an evangelical among evangelicals. And I don't look down on them; many of them, perhaps most, are far holier than I will ever be. But they are not me, their experience is not mine. I come from a different place, a place they do not value and only dimly comprehend. And I am not weighed down with some of their weirder ideas and subcultural tics. In recent years, the evangelicals have united with other traditional or orthodox believers in wider groupings like The Confessing Movement, and I am happy to stand with them, vote with them, and work with them. But still, I don't really consider myself an evangelical.

For one thing, I can't buy the evangelical view of the Bible. I believe the Bible, but I don't "believe in" the Bible the way they do. I accept its authority, but I don't put it into some special category. My epistemology and my understanding of how to approach ancient texts is from another place. This means that I usually reach the same conclusions as my evangelical friends, but I don't usually use the same reasoning to get there. I have ceased to try to explain this to them, since they are either baffled or launched into immediate polemical mode by the way I come at things.

For another thing, I think that most of the evangelicals I know are fairly ignorant of history, and not much interested in wrestling with questions that arise from it. The past is a foreign country, and to enter it requires some preparation, which they think unnecessary. They think that if they ran into St. Paul on the street, he'd be right at home talking in their religious code. They have various views on "primitive Christianity," but they don't realize how "nineteenth Century" those views are.

As regards worship, evangelicals worship in many different ways, but whatever they're enthusiastic about, I notice they're usually uninterested in other folks' approaches and practices. Even among those who have rediscovered the power of the sacraments, there tends to be a subordinationist kind of view of worship: it's something we craft to suit ourselves, or to accomplish certain purposes. It's all about us, in other words, even when we're confessing that it's all about God.

Finally, regarding the question raised in the original post I was commenting on -- that young evangelicals seem not to get excited over the question of "homosexual marriage" -- my observation of today's evangelicals, young and old, is that many of them are not into questions of morality much. They root for Jesus like some people root for the Colts, and do not want to make distinctions between the lifestyles of their fellow fans.

No doubt I am being unfair to many, many good people here, but I've got to say that these are the experiences I've had as a pilgrim in the evangelical kingdom. My experiences are as valid as anybody else's and have to be reckoned with, at least by me. I remain a naturalized citizen of evangelicaldom, but I have retained my roots (such as they were), and have never really felt as if I belonged there -- and not for want of trying.

I love ya, guys, but you wear me out.


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