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Do I want to be an Evangelical? (Part 2)

Posted by thethousandmarch on April 14, 2008 at 2:11 PM

    Recently I saw the movie There Will Be Blood. If you haven't seen it, do. In it the main character Daniel Plainview, an oilman, needs to lease a piece of land in order to build a pipeline. But, the owner of the land will only lease Plainview the land if he will repent of his sins and be baptized at the local church. Plainview tells the man that he is already a Christian and has already been baptized. That doesn't matter, the man says, Plainview has to be baptized in his church. The movie got me thinking about Evangelicals. Why do we so often assume the only real Christians, or at least the good ones, are Evangelicals - the ones who go to our Churches, the ones who have been 'born again' and received our church's baptism.
    I always hear how Europe is only 1-3% Christian. What that really means is 1-3% Evangelical. We send a lot of missionaries out to convert Christians to Evangelicalism. I'm perfectly happy being identified as a Christian. I don't mind being called a Christ follower, or a follower of The Way. But, I don't know if I want to be called an Evangelical. I don't like that level of exclusiveness. Of course, we have to be a little exclusive. I think it's okay to question if someone's really a Christian if they, for example, are a 'Christian' Serb involved in the practice of ethnic cleansing -killing Muslims. As one gospel song says "You don't love God if you don't love your neighbor".
    I'm also disturbed by the results of recent Evangelical political involvement, which have not endeared us to the broader populace. I can't make any judgments upon the personal character of George W. Bush, or members of his administration. I don't really know their motives. But, I do think that many of the Bush Administration's political maneuvers have damaged the reputation of Evangelicals. (check out "The Audacity of Government" and "Habeas Schmabeas" in the archives of This American Life at: 
http//www.thislife.org/Radio_Archive.aspx). Interestingly enough the way Bush has been operating is the way many pastors have begun to operate. They want to act like CEOs. They push for more and more unquestioned control and power. Elders/Congress have their place, but they should not question the President/pastor and can be ignored. 

    So, I just don't know if I want to be lumped in with Evangelicals. I never tell people I'm a 'Born Again Christian', though I do believe I have been received spiritual birth. I don't go around saying I'm Evangelical; that's never been how I labeled myself. The more I realize I might be identified as one, the more I consider making a conscious effort to distance myself from that identity. But, Should I tell people I'm not an Evangelical? Can I really do that?
    Evangelicalism has become more than a theological stance, it's a culture. It's a culture that is part of my upbringing. It's part of me and I can't just leave it behind. I have a strong distaste for most modern Evangelical culture, but I have a deep love for the Evangelical culture of the 50's and 60's, a culture I encountered in the country church I was raised in. I love gospel music and old hymns, men's quartets, church camp, and potlucks. More importantly I love the people in the Evangelical church. There are many people - young and old - that are a part of my life and my identity, who I can't turn my back on. Oddly enough, although Evangelicalism was supposed to be about individualism it has become about corporate identity. It is an identity that is not easily rejected. There is a lot I can easily leave behind - things I never appreciated, like Christian rock - but I can't leave my family.
    Furthermore, I don't know if I have the courage to leave Evangelicalism. I spent much of my adult life in an Evangelical bubble, which saddens me. Most of my friends are Evangelicals. My life has revolved around ministry and church, the Evangelical church. If I actively deny that I am an Evangelical, it will probably damage some of my friendships, Multnomah could possible revoke my degrees, and I may never find a church that would let me volunteer, or that would support Jessi and I in church planting. I don't know if it's worth it.

Categories: Am I an Evangelical