Recently I had a conversation with Michael, my son, who sent me an article written by a contemporary of his. The experience described by this person explains the plight of a number of young evangelicals or former evangelicals. As Michael notes, this differs markedly from his own experience, for which I am humbled and grateful to the Lord. I thought including this dialogue shared between Michael and me regarding this shift would be helpful.
Michael wrote: “This is an interesting and very strongly written article on someone who “left” evangelicalism: Confessions Of An Ex-Evangelical, Pro-SSM Millennial Their experience is almost the opposite of mine and saddens me that they didn’t make their faith their own.” (Michael also responded: “Confessions of a Current Evangelical.”)
It would be interesting to see and experience what he now remembers and describes of his past to see how similar his description of it is in comparison or contrast to what actually occurred. Though our memories are our memories, and though most of them contain some elements of what actually did occur, many of those memories are interpreted and remembered through our own personal lens. It does not make then untrue, but they are subjective and have a bias. This is not to call the person or his recollections into question, or to read this merely with suspicion. This is actually the experience of us all. Rather I state this as a reminder to read it with this awareness.
Though I disagree with this young person’s solution, he raises some legitimate issues. Here are a few thoughts/responses, based on his observations.
- He is young and has limited experience, and it appears his experience was mostly in a similar kind of service in what sounds like mostly one church.
- It was marked by anti-intellectualism and emotionalism. This has more fundamental and revivalist influence, than evangelical, though I don’t deny that some evangelicals move in this direction as well.
- This was made evident in that every service was virtually the same with the same end-goal – an emotional response of “salvation” or “rededication.”
- Doctrine or theology was equated with the Bible. This does not call into question the Bible but my understanding of the Bible and how to move from the Bible to theology. This is a major problem with many. What often happens is that in order to defend, support and bolster one’s view or position and its accompanying claim that it is biblical, there is a huge overreach such that one ends up undermining the Bible by what one intends to support using proof-texts from the Bible. There must be a unwavering, non-negotiable commitment to the Word of God and a humble commitment to theology, recognizing the former is inerrant and the absolute authority, while the latter is important but revisable.
- There is a reality to an ick factor in ethics. But it generally arises in light of what culture determines to be taboo. The problem with basing an ethic on an ick factor is that one’s ethic is based on cultural mores, not unchanging biblical truth. This is precisely what he explains happened.
- He is right to say that meeting one who is gay has been a game-changer for many. But the fact that they might be nice and kind does not change the fact that they are still sinners in need of repentance and the saving work of the Savior. This is true for any and all apart from Christ. For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). And if I truly love them, it does not result in simply concluding they are nice and kind but sharing the gospel with them in hopes they will be saved. This, again, can be traced to the problem of those who have created the boogey man which is a straw man argument. This sort of argumentation can work for a while (I am not saying it is right, just acknowledging it can work) until one actually meets a real person that fits the description of the sin but without being the boogey man as portrayed.
- There is a temptation to fall off one side of the horse or the other, either hyper-rationalism or hyper-emotivism. This is why I teach that the best of evangelicalism affirms the truths of the Reformation along with the truths of Pietism/Revivalism, viz. rational and relational, head and heart.
- Sadly, too much of evangelicalism has treated any history of the church or Christian doctrine as suspect, at best, and from the antichrist, at worst. This is why when young people may be exposed to the teachings of the great tradition (or Great Tradition of the Roman Catholic Church or Orthodox), they conclude the only answer the first time they are exposed to this is either Canterbury (Anglicanism) or Rome (RCC). It grieves me. I ask, where are the pastors who ought to be teaching this?
Michael described briefly his experience: “My opposite experience was that some people over-emphasized the intellect to me at the expense of emotions. I had to learn that I could connect to God emotionally, which revolutionized my faith. It was amazing to me that I could connect emotionally to the Bible and to God and saw that my faith was both/and not either/or.”
I concluded our dialogue in the following way:
You will not generally find anyone who has all of the Christian life in “perfect” balance, apart from the Lord Jesus. This means that one needs to extend grace recognizing we are all in process and will be until we reach glorification. All believers generally know more and better than they live. The “damned disjunction,” as noted by Carson, is doctrinally disastrous and results in the truncated view of the Christian life as one applies doctrine to life.
Carson writes (Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church: Understanding a Movement and Its Implications [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005], 234), “So which shall we choose? Experience or truth? The left wing of the airplane, or the right? Love or integrity? Study or service? Evangelism or discipleship? The front wheels of a car, or the rear? Subjective knowledge or objective knowledge? Faith or obedience? Damn all false antithesis to hell, for they generate false gods, they perpetuate idols, they twist and distort our souls, they launch the church into violent pendulum swings whose oscillations succeed only in dividing brothers and sisters in Christ.”
This is partly why some wisely focus on dead people as models because dead people don’t sin! There is truth to that. But if we only focus on dead people something important is also missing!
Remember Jaraslov Pelikan’s fitting words: “Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. And, I suppose I should add, it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name.” (The Vindication of Tradition: The 1983 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities)