In a recent post to his blog (“Bait and Switch” at “Uncommon God; Common Good” found here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/uncommongodcommongood/2012/05/bait-and-switch/), Paul Louis Metzger responds to those who would assume that any commitment by Evangelical Christians toward other persons is merely a function of their desire for recognition on account of their success in evangelism.
|To be an Evangelical means to do...what?|
I would add another factor in the equation. Some with whom I am acquainted seem desperate to validate their own beliefs by convincing others of their perspective on the truth. Failing to convince others, those engaging in these attempts will then turn to those, they believe, are already convinced. Thus we often seek to “evangelize” those who are already Evangelicals. It’s called “preaching to the choir,” a reference to pastors who punctuate their sermons by turning to the loft behind them and asking, “Can I get an Amen?!” Sadly, what has frequently become strident argumentation with others has been replayed to me by otherwise kind and compassionate Christians, ridiculing the beliefs of those who disagree, even with minor doctrines, even from within our own Christian traditions. It is sometimes as though I, as a pastor, must ally myself with a particular position in order to reassure the reporter of their relational security with Jesus Christ.
In those conversations, as well as those with others outside my particular heritage and tradition, and especially with those outside the Christian faith, I confess that my interests are not only those of mere curiosity and/or diplomatic dialogue. My concern for other persons is always framed by my desire to see the very best for them in their current circumstances, their continuing development, and their eternal destiny. As with Dr. Metzger, this is part of what makes me “an Evangelical.” (Note: that term, for me, carries implications of both “guilt-by-association” and “pride-of-ownership”—depending upon one’s definition of “Evangelical”—which point I belabor in the first post in this series, found here: http://deathpastor.blogspot.com/2014/11/when-you-say-evangelical-youve-said-lot.html)
|Whatever you do is likely to be criticized. (It belongs on the counter.)|
I would hold that an Evangelical is responsible to carefully study scripture as the basis for the discussions I would qualify as “doing theology in community.” That discussion must include the depths of twenty centuries from our historical community as well as a breadth of sources within the faith today. In order to communicate as clearly as possible, the current cultural and social realities of our day must also be as fully understood as possible. This requires dialogue with those outside the ranks of Christians, and certainly beyond the narrower designation of Evangelicals—and I can understand why they may not wish to talk as openly with me as I would prefer.
There will always be, for me, two key components to these conversations. First, I need to understand others’ perspectives in order to more clearly communicate (and even refine, as necessary) my own positions. Second, I seek to more clearly communicate my perspective so that others may have opportunity to accept or reject an accurate representation of the beliefs and behaviors of Christ’s gospel, instead of the accretions and adulterations that the gospel regularly attracts, even in my own presentation of it.
Again, this view is influenced by my deep dissatisfaction with so much of the misrepresentation of the gospel, especially by those who seek to abscond with the term Evangelical as a label for their socio-political manipulation, exploitation, and oppression—but even in that, I would hope to persuade you of my position’s accuracy. Why? Well, you’ll have to read about that in the next post.