Evangelicals Lack the Language for Slow Transformation

Evangelicals know about discipleship, which is often synonymous with accountability and learning.

Evangelicals know about conversion and revival, going from blindness to sight.

Evangelicals don’t have language for slow, gradual transformation. It’s not surprising then that we generally lack the practices that can lead to slow transformation.

I love the charismatic gifts and teachings. I’ve had intense moments that were deeply transforming and meaningful.

I’ve also wondered, “Now what?” after the moment passes.

I’ve immersed myself in Bible study and had life-changing insights as the Spirit used the scriptures to reshape my thinking and choices. I’ve also hit the point where I’ve felt like I’m just cramming information into my brain and God appears distant, if not non-existent.

My own assessment of my place in the evangelical subculture is that I have lacked the language and guidance into the full spiritual tradition of the Christian faith. I have found renewed hope by taking part in the contemplative tradition.

Incorporating the contemplative tradition isn’t a contemporary trend of self-help spirituality or a complete replacement of Bible study, revival, or the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. By bringing contemplation into my daily spiritual practice, I’m putting something into place that should have never been lost in the first place.

While my evangelical tradition looks for revivals and enlightening moments, the contemplative tradition warns us against seeking frequent spiritual highs. These “highs” can become obstacles in the loving pursuit of God. Yes, intimate moments with God can happen, but God is present in both the silence of waiting and in the intense awareness of God’s love.

While my evangelical tradition tends to put pressure on us to seek God and to make spiritual epiphanies happen, the contemplative tradition teaches us to rest, to be still before the Lord, and to wait for his salvation.

While my charismatic background puts great emphasis on dramatic moments of deliverance and conversion, the contemplative tradition gives a space for the slow work of transformation as we place ourselves in the loving care of the Holy Spirit day-in, day-out.

Sitting in silence before God remains jarring to my evangelical sensibilities where so much emphasis was placed on study, praying with fervent sincerity, and working toward measurable results or spiritual emotions. The contemplative tradition gives me a basic spiritual practice of 20-30 minutes of silent prayer before God and few immediately measurable results—although the impact of this type of prayer is very apparent over the course of time.

This is the slow transformation that occurs through contemplative prayer. It isn’t the type of thing you can share during a testimony service on Sunday evening. It’s hard work, forcing us to face our darkness, our false selves, and our fears. The “results” take time to materialize, and even when they do, they often end up being things like, “I’m more compassionate toward others” or “I’m more aware of God’s love and presence daily.”

These are surely good things, but they’re not going to turn heads during testimony time. However, these are the practices that have carried me through the silence, the lows and highs, and the anxiety of life. They have grounded me and given me a place to rest in God when the revival folded and the emotions dried up.

God so loved the world…

Be still and know that he is Lord…

Wait on the Lord…

The Lord is gracious and compassionate…

These are the words we can turn to in silence each day in faith and hope.

Braveheart, Richard Rohr, and the Future of Evangelical Men

No blue face paint required for Richard Rohr to draw a crowd.

If you pulled me aside during my college years and asked me how the followers of a crucified religious leader ended up idolizing a military leader in Medieval Scotland as the pinnacle of manhood, character, and leadership, I probably would have thought you were just trying to start a fight. William Wallace, the Scottish military leader depicted in the film had everything a guy could want: charisma, character, convictions, and courage, just to name a few of his qualities that made him a favorite in the 1990’s evangelical male subculture.

I wasn’t necessarily immersed in the teachings of books like Wild at Heart or the more aggressive pastors who relied on military metaphors for their messages, but I had certainly spent enough time in the evangelical subculture to get the message: real men are tough fighters who fight for things.

Men fight for their marriages.

Men fight for their children.

Men fight for their communities.

Men fight for their country when necessary.

The literature surrounding evangelical men relied heavily on military or sports metaphors in order to illustrate the struggles, battles, and competitions that men face every day. Lust was every man’s battle. The spiritually equipped wore the full armor of God (which was actually all defensive in nature, but still, it had the right ring of “battle).

While evangelical men were immersed in militaristic fighting metaphors that turned Braveheart into our narrative of choice, there’s been a notable shift among evangelical men today. In an interview on the Liturgist podcast, Richard Rohr shared that one of his largest segments of readers are these evangelical young men.

Richard Rohr is about as far away from William Wallace as you can get. This peaceful, cheerfully celibate Franciscan Friar speaks about holding tensions, finding a third way, and responding to even our worst enemies with compassion and prayer. Rohr challenges us to move beyond dualistic thinking that pits the world into black and white sides or categories. If you stick with his daily newsletter long enough, you’ll start to catch on to his contemplative, peacemaking vibe.

If you’ve read Rohr’s books such as Falling Upward and Immortal Diamond, you’ll know that he associates dualistic thinking with our younger years. Youth need to think this way as they sort the world into black and white, right and wrong. However, he also challenges us to move beyond that reductive mindset as we age so that we can see the world with greater compassion and unity in light of the love and mercy of God.

If Richard Rohr ever used a military metaphor, I can only presume it would illustrate how to be a bad soldier.

While I can’t draw a straight line between the popularity of Braveheart for evangelical young men in the 1990’s and Rohr’s popularity among the same cohort roughly 20 years later, I have a theory that Rohr appeals to many evangelical men who are weary of fighting, proving themselves, and splitting a gray world into black and white sides. While, I’ve always been more disposed toward peacemaking in the first place, I’ve noticed that the tough talk for evangelical men that I uneasily accepted in the 1990’s just doesn’t work for me or for many of the men I know. We know that loving God and loving one another doesn’t require learning to fight for things, and we can actually hold ourselves back by sorting life into sides we are for or against as we strive to prove ourselves worthy with flawless character.

Even among the men I know who hunt, lift weights, or dominate in sports, there’s a greater desire to find unity, health, and compassion in their Christian commitments. They’re interested in building rather than fighting. They want to know how Jesus can help them love others rather than preparing for the next battle against the latest enemy. The pursuit of contemplative prayer resonates with this group because this practice helps us discover that God has already accepted us and is already present. That is a far cry from proving ourselves as men, and it’s enough to make guys like me want to cry.

I recognize that these sketches aren’t true for every evangelical man I know who grew up in the 1990’s. However, I suspect there’s a sizeable number of evangelical men today who would much rather skip William Wallace hacking English soldiers to death.

It’s tempting to say that Rohr is the anti-Wallace, but then that would venture into the dualistic thinking he avoids. The truth is that deep down in our hearts, every man wants to belong and to be accepted. God’s love is more than able to meet that need. We’re all wired differently, so we may receive that message in different ways. If anything, Richard Rohr encourages us to wipe off the blue face paint, lay our weapons down, and dare to believe that God’s love is the freedom we don’t have to fight for.

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