I took a road trip with my friend, who is an Evangelical Christian. Normally, if I’m in a car with someone other than a fellow Presbyterian, I am with an Atheist, or a Buddhist/Christian, or a “Spiritual but not Religious” person, Rarely am I in the car for a long period of time, with an evangelical.
She came to faith in college at Campus Christian House. She was not born into her faith, she came to it. Today, she is part of a church community that acts out the mandate of the Great Commission, to go out and make disciples.
She said she lives by this acronym: JOY
Everything her small group does is based on the priority of helping people grow in their faith and bringing more people to know Jesus. Her small group is not a support group, it is a faith formation and outreach group.
As we drove through a downpour on a busy highway, and she talked about her love for Jesus and her commitment to outreach, I felt like a wimpy Christian. I thought,
“I wish I was an evangelical.”
I was not raised in an evangelical home. My mother was drawn toward the mystics and contemplative prayer. My Dad taught critical thinking. My faith formation was rooted in feeling but measured in critical thinking.
My best friend in junior high was Mormon. She and I walked home from school together every day and when we weren’t talking about boys, we would often talk about Jesus. She seemed to know a lot more about the Bible and Jesus than I. I hadn’t heard about the Second Coming, or the Book of Revelation. Somehow, my Sunday school class seemed to stay with miracle stories from the Gospel and a few “child friendly ” Old Testament stories. My friend would use words like, “rapture,” and “second coming,” leaving me puzzled and confused. I loved talking to her about her faith. I admired her conviction. I struggled with my beliefs as she so firmly stated her own. I had a feeling about God, but I was afraid to say what I believed, in the likelihood that I would say it wrong.
When I got to college, I tried Intervarsity. One day, I told the leader of the group that I wanted to speak or offer a testimony to the large group and they said only guys were allowed to do that, so I left and joined the Newman Catholic Center. I loved the Newman Center. We talked about world issues, poverty, women’s rights, eco-justice and AIDs. Images of Jesus were everywhere. The hands on work of ministry fed me. I loved the Catholic community and yet, I still wasn’t sure what I believed.
It wasn’t until seminary, and I read Barth and Calvin and Niebuhr, that I found a foundation for my faith. It wasn’t until seminary, that I really studied the Bible. It was in my little seminary room, that I read the Bible without judging myself or it. I came to it, embraced it, discovered it. I realized that the Word, Logos and God, Theos were intertwined. I fell in love with the Word. For the first time the Word became Flesh. It became real, living, life giving and redeeming. It was in the safe conversations with fellow seminarians that I felt I could start to speak for myself and not rely on quotes from CS Lewis or Beuchner or Bultmann to speak on my behalf.
It was the time in my life that I could not get enough of Jesus. I miss it. I recall it when I need to remember who I am and whose I am.
And yet, as I was driving with my evangelical friend, I still felt that the strength of my convictions and the measure of my faith was tepid. I realized that the church can so easily become a social service agency, another program in the week, a product to be applied. I realized that as a pastor, I can easily slide into the role of CEO, life coach and motivational speaker. Jesus can get lost in the junk drawer. Joy becomes diluted by self-satisfaction and personal preference.
If the mainline church is going to survive, we are going to need to embrace joy. We are going to need to be strong in our convictions. We have to be willing to put the discipline of loving God and neighbor before ourselves into authentic practice. We have to be drawn back to the Word made Flesh and not be afraid that we will get the answer wrong.
Let us not be afraid to be evangelical.