Friday, November 21, 2014

The Annoying Assurance of Evangelicals – “Believe what you want to believe, but how dare you insist that others believe it, too?”

In two previous posts on Evangelicalism, I have defined what I understand to be my responsibility as “an Evangelical” in contrast to those who would apply that term to something entirely different. (That post can be found here: I then addressed the implications of being Evangelical as it pertains to the unique, singular, and exclusive stance regarding the gospel of Jesus Christ, while still pursuing conversation and understanding with those outside the ranks of that designation, and beyond the boundaries of Christianity as well. (It’s here:

"Of course I'm right. Even the real killer can't disagree."
In both posts, I am very sure that I come across as being very sure of my position. This is, in part, due to my conviction that inviting discussion requires a clear statement of my position, in order to encourage others to state their position(s) with equal clarity. But it is also due to my conviction that, not to put too fine a point on it, I am right.

How can I presume such a confidence, one easily mistaken for an air of superiority? As an Evangelical (in what I think is the highest sense of the word), in emphasizing a high value on God’s written communication, I cannot escape a Trinitarian and Incarnational perspective. Interpersonal relationships and the benefits God makes available through Jesus Christ are paramount to my life and ministry. Among many implications of this commitment: placing a very high value on every other human person is essential to my practical devotion to Jesus Christ. As Christ’s servant, I demonstrate my devotion by serving others. Yet to be concerned for other persons is to be concerned for evangelism in the assumption that it leads others to the best possible fulfillment of the life for which they were created. And so, my focus and investment is not entirely about benefitting the other human persons with whom I seek understanding and relationship.

"Of course I'm right. Why else wouldn't I explain myself."
If I am, first and foremost, a friend of Jesus Christ, I necessarily share His interests. As Creator, He wants to have the relationship with each person for which we were designed. As Redeemer He wants to see the effects of restoration and renewal from the brokenness of our sin and its damage upon the world in which we live (including our damage by and to one another). He seeks for a “born-again” regeneration to be accepted by every person, which He has demonstrated through His incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and continued intercession.

But where do I fit into all that? I am, admittedly and badly, broken by sin’s damage in the world, and by my own participation in that damage (as perpetrator and as casualty, predator at least as much as prey). How could I presume to prescribe an improvement in belief and behavior for anyone else? I find my answer in II Corinthians 4:5. Being called by Christ means I am the servant of all other persons, seeking the very best for them amidst their present circumstances and toward their ultimate fulfillment, and that can only be accomplished in and through the gospel.

"You're welcome to take this road whenever you choose."
Clearly, though, there is still the valid objection that all this puts me in the position of “knowing what’s best” for another person. And, because I do hold the beliefs described above, I accept those charges and plead guilty. But I also accept that my perceptions of the implications and applications of those beliefs are uniquely filtered and colored by my own experience and perspective. Therefore, I try to encourage others to share their reactions and/or responses to those beliefs, in order to understand what I believe God to be doing in their lives, whether their beliefs coincide with mine or not.

My purpose, then, is not to validate my perspective, position, or passion for the gospel. Neither do I ask others to validate their beliefs to me. But I do hope to learn how to more clearly communicate the gospel, the whole gospel, and nothing but the gospel. It would be too clever, but not inaccurate, to end here with “So, help me, God!” So, I will add that I intend to continue those efforts by learning more from those who want only part of the gospel, or something beyond the gospel, or anything but the gospel. In order to communicate at that level, however, I must be willing to hear others communicate their beliefs clearly as well. Only then might we overcome the misperceptions, misunderstandings, and miscommunications that not only distinguish our beliefs from one another, but which prevent us from pursuing even our essential common interests.


Pastor Greg said...

I am willing to stipulate to your being the degree that you agree with me!

Seriously though, honest and valid post and props for the photo of Perry Mason!

Anonymous said...

How willing are we to serve the needs of people of other faiths? It is a good thing that the slave girl told the captor's wife how God might heal her slave owner. She saw past his title and his power, and looked past the distance between she and he as poor vs rich, Jew vs Gentile, female vs male. She saw his need. She offered him a spiritual solution.
blessings! jp

Wm. Darius Myers said...

Thanks, Greg. To some extent it's because I could never live up to Perry Mason's conviction record (especially since he was getting a confession per episode, even as a defense attorney!) that I ended up turning aside from the law-school path to enter the pastorate. True story.

Wm. Darius Myers said...

You mean, like in a real, interpersonal connection emulating the Trinitarian relationship of one God eternally existing in three persons? Hmm...seeing people as though they were truly persons. Radical thought, that. (Thanks for the excellent comment, JP!)

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