“You’re not an evangelical anymore, are you?”
The question caught me off guard. To be honest, I almost replied, “Of course I still am!”
But then if you compare the sorts of things I write about with the kinds of “evangelicals” who get quoted in news stories or who make a splash in the headlines, it’s understandable why there is some confusion. From the political court evangelicals that apologize for their favorite politicians, to the Bible teachers who promise answers and solutions, to the self-help Christian authors who focus on helping people with their busy, cluttered lives, I don’t feel like I fit in much with this group at times.
Of course, I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about labels and my identity within a particular group. Who even has time to keep up with all of the latest feuds, fads, and fits among evangelicals?
I’m primarily concerned with remaining faithful to where God has called me to be and avoiding the foolish extremes that I have mistakenly adopted in the past. I don’t want to exchange one set of judgmental dogmatism for another.
It’s tempting to debate whether certain folks are too progressive, not progressive enough, truly evangelical, or traitors to what evangelical used to mean. I’ve gone down that rabbit hole plenty of times.
Once you go down that rabbit hole enough times and find out that it hasn’t done anyone much good, it’s understandable that you’d begin searching for alternatives. Is there another way to exist as a Christian without defining yourself against someone else?
I think this is why I distinguish my own evangelicalism today from my previous anxious evangelicalism. As an anxious evangelical I needed something to defend, a group to defend, and a person to attack.
As I continue to step into my journey into contemplative prayer, I’m far less certain about particular answers I used to rely on, but my faith is also far more secure. As if answers were a prerequisite for faith in the first place!
I won’t say that we only have silence, mystery, and love, but these three things sure feel like they take up a lot of my time right now, and it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if they were all we had to go on.
Silence before God because there’s so much I don’t know, and I’ve made my fair share of mistakes when I let my mouth run.
Mystery because it’s true that purity of heart and obedient action are important, but those serve as starting points before the mystery of God.
Love because the love of the Father and love for neighbor were the two highest priorities of Jesus, and when we finally surrender ourselves in silence to the mystery of God and confess our inadequacies, we will find loving presence more often than we’ll find solutions.
Who knows what else God may bring into our lives or what else may speak to us. I’m not concerned about being dogmatic about this. Rather, these words are three of the most important sign posts that I’ve found as a kind of evangelical refugee.
Truth be told, silence, mystery, and love can be found in the roots of the evangelical movement. They are often obscured by other causes and priorities. They’re easy to miss if you don’t hold a place for them and let God quietly work through them.
They don’t contradict the Bible, but they do call for a different way of considering it and using it.
They don’t neglect the cross, but can exist without scrutinizing of the mechanics of salvation and atonement theories.
They don’t prevent us from sharing the Good News, but they offer a very conceptions of sharing the loving presence of God with others.
They can appeal to many of the commitments of evangelicals, but they also don’t feed the modern movement’s anxious, defensive tendencies.
Silence, mystery, and love may not be “ALL” that Christians have today, but they can prove foundational for making space for God’s love, remaining open to the what God is speaking, and allowing God to transform us into his beloved people.
These three things can calm our anxiety about God and our Christian “commitment” could be delivered from the endless temptation to measure and to report progress.
Embracing these three things haven’t produced an immediate life-changing revolution that left my life unrecognizable. Rather, they are part of a lifelong process of becoming aware of God and allowing God to transform my life. I’ll take my chances on the fruit that comes from the slow and steady presence of God.
Read More about Contemplative Prayer…
Based on my own experiences with contemplative prayer, I’ve written an introduction to this practice. I tend to tell people that this is the book you give someone before passing along a book by Richard Rohr or Thomas Merton. The book is titled:
Flee, Be Silent, Pray:
Ancient Prayers for Anxious Christians
On sale for $8.49 (Kindle)