I grew up in the Evangelical mainstream. My music as a pre-teen and teen was Contemporary Christian Music, the Newsboys, DC Talk, etc. The church I went to with my parents had drums as far back as I can remember. Though under the shelter of evangelicalism I wasn’t sheltered from other Christian perspectives. Through my teens years I came to understand that the Evangelicalism I grew up in was not a synonym for Orthodoxy, a word I did not know at the time, but a concept I could grasp. Now I have been able to look at Evangelicalism from the inside and the outside. He is a critique of one aspect of that tradition.
Evangelicals are fantastic at sharing the gospel and leading people to Christ. Conversion is the goal. It is this emphasis on evangelism that is the source of their name. One can see this in the testimonies which Evangelicals enjoy most. I have heard my share of stories about people being saved from “glamorous” sins, drug-dealing, juvenile delinquency, living for partying and sex. The climax is the point of coming to Christ with a lesser amount of attention given to the post-conversion experience.
I became a Christian when I was six years old. The greatest sins that I remember pre-conversion were lying to my parents and hitting my baby sister with a toy metal combine. My testimony growing up was never glamorous. Neither could I tell about the experience of “being on fire for Jesus,” a typically brief but much desired experience that followed the conversion of many “hardened sinners.” Reality quickly sunk in when my mind began to mature with early adolescence. I discovered that Christians still sin after being born again, even mature ones. And that state of “being on fire” that baby Christians experienced and I was encourage to recapture, those that burned the brightest often burned out the quickest. Dissonance existed between what I was taught and what I observed. How was one supposed to live as a Christian?
The evangelical teaching I grew-up on emphasized two points in this regard. First, is the need to evangelize, the primary aim of a Christian is to make more Christians. However, for all the emphasis I heard on Evangelism the number of people I saw converted tended to be dismal. Beside, this didn’t really answer the question of how someone was supposed to live as a Christian, that was better tackled in point number two. In Sunday school and sermons I have witnessed a lot of teaching on the importance of living a moral life. Don’t have sex until marriage, do be faithful to your spouse, don’t skip church, do read your Bible, don’t steal, do pray, and don’t watch certain movies. The emphasis bordered on moralism, where the goal of life is all about avoiding sin and being a good person. Living free from sin is good, but Christians in the past have recognized that there is more to being a Christian than not sinning, reading your Bible, and praying. In comparison to other eras of Christianity Evangelicals have an immature understanding of what it means to live as a Christian and as a result saves into an immature faith.
I’ve mentioned this in my blog a lot, but salvation is not just a thing that happens at one point in time. Coming to Christ is not the destination, it is the doorway to something more. Since Jesus came to save us from sin, as long as we still sin we are not fully saved. We are secure in my opinion but our salvation is incomplete. Our total salvation is a process, usually a long one. (In case anyone wants to know, the first time I realized this was when reading the book True Spirituality by Francis Schaeffer which I found in my parent’s bookshelf. I was thunderstruck by the concept Schaeffer introduced me to called sanctification, which if you know some Christian theology then you know it was ancient by the time Schaeffer wrote about it). Just as we are incapable of saving ourselves from sin, so we are incapable of living a life free from sin with our own strength. Both happen by grace through faith.
The situation is comparable to a country ruled by a tyrant and over run by outlaws. When Christ comes into our lives he disposes the tyrant and takes over the throne. However, he has left the tyrant, his henchman, and outlaws in the land. They will never be able to dislodge Christ from his rule but they can still make trouble. In this country is a village where your emotions live. They are still under the control of anger. There is also the garden of your sexuality which was created to be something beautiful. Lust has made camp there and let it grow wild and untamed. Sanctification is the process by which the King drives out the brigands and wrests territory from their control. Christ wants to plant his flag in every area of your life, no matter how small or insignificant. It is a life long process and sometimes you lose a hill over and over again before it is finally secure. Only after death will the tyrant and his men be expelled from the land, never to return.
You were not intended to limp along as a Christian but to thrive. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10).” When you accept Christ’s death for your sins God not only removes your sin, but infuses you with righteousness, canceling your debt and adding extra to your account, an event called Justification. So too living life as a Christian is not just a matter of not sinning or living a moral life, it is having life in abundance. Every part of life, no matter how mundane, takes on a holy significance. The person who is working a job to put food on the table is no longer doing just that but that and working for God. The writer is no longer writing a masterpiece but writing a masterpiece for God. All of this I had to go outside mainstream Evangelicalism to find. I critique not to tear down, but to attempt to fill up what is lacking. For I long for an Evangelicalism that can save people into a saving Christianity.