Thursday, July 2, 2015

An Image Problem or an Essence Problem: What is wrong with us Christians? – Part Two, An Evangelical’s Admission to Anger, Intolerance and Fear…Primarily toward Evangelicals

This is the simplest, easiest, and most problematic
way of looking at Christian unity and diversity. We're all
playing, but usually against each other.
Following up further on Dr. Jared Champion’s first post in his new blog (you can find it here), I want to explore his perception (which I share) that the Evangelicals he refers to as “mainstream Christianity” exhibit a “message of anger, intolerance, and fear,” in contrast to progressive Christians’ “patient grace, unwavering love, and critical engagement.” As a doctoral student in Cross-Cultural Engagement, I might object slightly to the mutual exclusivity of the dichotomy he poses. But I am too much in agreement to do so. Additionally, I recognize too much of one and too little of the other in myself.

In my confrontation of the anger, intolerance and fear too prevalent among Christians, I grow impatient and can fail to be gracious toward my fellow Evangelicals. My love does waver when I must wearily persist in pointing to Jesus’ pairing of both the great commandment (i.e., love for God and love for others is stated as a single commandment – Matthew 22:36-40 – “the second is like it,” in the sense of being of the same character and substance as the first) and the great commission (Matthew 28:18-20 – in which the result is to be that others follow that single commandment).

Here is what Christianity begins to look like when we begin
to recognize the diversity of backgrounds, traditions, dogma
and ritual among our brothers and sisters.
As much as I want to critically engage anti-intellectual demagogues among my own tribe (I am an Evangelical, after all), I can barely pretend to tolerate the proof-texting and cherry-picking and socio-economic, cultural, and political filtering of scripture by those who seek justification for the oppression and exploitation of other human persons (not to mention the rest of God’s creation). Further, I do fear that we, meaning mainstream, Evangelical Christians, often obscure the message of Jesus, whether in passages anticipating the Messiah yet to come (the Old Testament), or the Messiah who came (as told in the New Testament).

The message of Jesus—this gospel, the good news—was first proclaimed, according to Genesis 3, in the Garden of Eden, and is the consistent message of scripture up to and including the final judgments and eternal state described in the last chapters of Revelation. My anger, intolerance and fear, then, are directed primarily at those who claim to be Bible teachers who teach only “how the Bible supports our beliefs.”

To me, this is the primary reason I have such difficulty in accepting
the diversity among Christians, even as I claim to seek unity
among the congregations and denominations in the body of Christ.
I may be projecting my own perspective onto Dr. Champion’s thoughts. But I see him offering a confrontation of both progressive and Evangelical Christians regarding one of very few issues in which they would agree. My experience is that both progressive and fundamentalist Christians discourage a robust engagement with the text of the Holy Bible. For progressives, the fear seems to be that we will emulate parts of the scripture that are extraneous, or even contradictory to what we perceive to be the core message of Jesus. For fundamentalists, the fear seems to be that we will emulate parts of the core message of Jesus that, in their theology, are only applicable when fulfilled after the end of history.

Progressives seem afraid to find that the scriptures are more complex than we’d prefer. This would suggest that we are responsible for more than simply loving others in whatever way we choose to define love, refusing to acknowledge that our definition of love is often limited in service of our own selfishness, given our fallen human nature. In contrast, Fundamentalists seem afraid that we’ll find the scriptures are more comprehensive than the proof-text memorizations that support “what we all know the Bible says.” Were we to acknowledge that God’s love applies more broadly than we allow, our redaction of the text, omitting so much that disagrees with our preconceptions, would confront the service of our selfishness as well.

Multiply the complexity of this image by something like BILLIONS of
times, and you might have some parallel to how God sees The Church.
The solution for both camps: study the scriptures, acknowledge the fullness of Jesus’ message, and recognize our reluctance to either narrow our focus or broaden our love as rooted in our own self-protection, self-provision, and self-ishness—all of which stem from a lack of trust in the benevolence of God’s sovereign justice, mercy, and grace.

But returning to answer Dr. Champion’s primary concern, the public relations crisis facing Jesus’ followers (whatever banner they may camp under), I would suggest that popularity has never been Jesus’ concern. Still, though, when the public relations crisis results from misrepresenting the good news He lived and died and rose again to bring us…that is what we should work toward fixing!

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