Friday, July 3, 2015

An Image Problem or an Essence Problem: What is wrong with us Christians? – Part Three, Why I Am an Evangelical – and Why I Am Often Reluctant to Say So

Paul Louis Metzger
As part of our doctoral studies at Multnomah Biblical Seminary, we have been intensely exploring The Beatitudes, the statements of blessing Jesus pronounced at the very beginning of The Sermon on the Mount in the fifth through seventh chapters of Matthew’s gospel. To say they are considered to be counter-intuitive would be an understatement. But for some of us, certain ones seem to make more sense, to reflect our experience, or to explain our perceptions more resonantly than others. As a certified Thanatologist (Thus being “Death Pastor,” studying, teaching and counseling in death, dying, bereavement, grief and mourning.), I get the “blessed are those who mourn,” since I often work with those who have been told to suppress any expressions of grief following their loss. Being allowed to openly mourn would be a great blessing for many of us.

But Jesus starts with what seems to me like a direct contradiction. Being blessed suggests receiving spiritual equity of some kind. So, being “poor in spirit” would be involve a very brief interlude of “spiritual poverty” before a blessing replenished the account. In discussing this Beatitude, Paul Louis Metzger contrasts our tendency in the 21st Century North American Church “‘can do anything’ attitude” that embodies a “sense of optimism and an unconquerable spirit.” I share Dr. Metzger’s perception. I regularly face the frustrations serving those whose spiritual arrogance deludes them into selectively proof-texting from scripture and drawing from multiple, conflicting theologies in order to support whatever beliefs and behaviors they seek to rationalize.

Marvin Lee Aday
(aka Meat Loaf)
It is possible, however, that I so readily recognize their pride because of my own sense of spiritual poverty. In hopes of helping you to understand my struggles in this area, let me share a few things that resonate with me.

One of them is a song, “Objects in the Rearview Mirror,” by Jim Steinman. In it, the performer Meat Loaf (originally Marvin Lee Aday) sings of those memories that reach out at us from our past. Of a tragically killed High School friend: “There are times I think I see him peeling out of the dark; I think he’s right behind me now and he’s gaining ground.” Of his “dangerous and drunk and defeated” abusive father: “And though the nightmares should be over, some of the terrors are still intact; I’ll hear that ugly, coarse and violent voice, and then he grabs me from behind and then he pulls me back.”

Mark Hall of Casting Crowns
Another, more recent song written by Mark Hall and Bernie Herms and recorded by Casting Crowns is entitled “East to West.” Contemplating how “the chains of yesterday surround me,” the lyrics haunt me every time the chorus proclaims, “I can’t bear to see the man I’ve been come rising up in me again,” which only reinforces my frequent feeling that “I’m just one mistake away from You leaving me this way.”

Then, just last week, I read a film review by the late Roger Ebert in which he discusses the genre “film noir” and writes, “The noir hero is never good, just kidding himself, living in ignorance of his dark side until events demonstrate it to him.” That is my fear. And it is two-fold.

The late Roger Ebert
One way that my fear of my “dark side” manifests itself is in the potential for sudden, unanticipated temptation. God promises a way of escape so that I can endure any temptation (I Corinthians 10:13), but I also know that I have made impulsive decisions before. I am not immune to the excuse, “It seemed like the thing to do at the time.” And although I am aware of many areas in which temptations of my past try to use the long-abandoned tracks, I occasionally find myself drawn to the bright light of what I know from sad experience to be the same oncoming train.

"Misty, water-colored memories..."
of what I fear may be "The Way I Still Am"
But here is another “dark side” where the manifestations seem much more frequent and severe. And the fact that I don’t see them in myself worries me greatly. As I’ve been contemplating Jared Champion’s blog post (here’s the link again), I’ve acknowledged that there is much in Evangelicalism that does exhibit a “message of anger, intolerance, and fear.” My greatest concern, however, is not that I might be found guilty by association with others claiming to be Evangelicals. (That is, of course, something I’m used to experiencing. But similar issues would apply to whatever label or category might apply to me.) What I fear most is that I remain oblivious to stereotypes, prejudices and preferences that color my devotion to God, my study of scripture and my service of others (which I am careful to note is to be Christ’s service in and through me toward others—II Corinthians 4:5).

And yet, I cannot help but see that I am being transformed
more and more each day by the One on Whom I choose
to fix my gaze.
But to conclude this episode in my contemplations, I do need to clarify for some that I am an Evangelical. Whatever that term may mean to others, and whomever may misappropriate the term for their own socio-economic, political, or other uses, the definitions of Evangelical apply to me. I might choose other words in some cases. And I definitely believe far more than what is stated in the shorter versions. But I do understand that they must often be minimalist in order to be inclusive of all Evangelicals. If you’re interested in specific details of what the term means, perhaps the most comprehensive is that of The Lausanne Movement, and among the shortest is that of the National Association of Evangelicals.

Here's hoping that you, too, may see the King.
An upcoming teaching series called “Stumpers” will provide an opportunity for those attending Adult Bible Study at The Glenburn Community Church to inquire about my stance on the Trinity, Jesus Christ, the Holy Bible, the Atonement, the Holy Spirit, the Afterlife, and the Unity of The Church. If you’re not within a Sunday’s drive to the heart of the Fall River Valley, please feel free to ask about any of those issues, or others, in the comment section below.


But my hope is that more will ask about how it is that an Evangelical who believes in the exclusivity of the gospel of Jesus Christ is able to reconcile the inclusivity of doing theology-in-community, much less engaging in community-service ministry. If someone asks, there’s probably a blog-post to be said about that as well.

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