Why are evangelicals so scared? It might be more accurate to say risk-averse but I think scared does the job just fine. We are it seems, when it comes to new methodology, a people of fear rather than a people of faith.
Wait, stop, deep breath… let me explain. I am evangelical, in the best sense of that word, I hope, that is my tribe, I am happy to wear those colours. Theologically I am convinced of penal substitutionary atonement, the inerrancy of the Scriptures and all (?) the other touchstones of evangelical orthodoxy (hey I’m even a complementarian). Where I seem, rather perplexingly I must add, to depart from my brothers is in the area of methodology.
I do not hold to the sanctity of meeting together on a Sunday as anything more special than gathering together as followers of Christ on any other day. Nor do I hold to the privileged place of monologue as the only or best form of preaching in any given context. In trying to reach those who are far from church or God, I have given up any privileged place that a particular structure or method of church holds for me in particular. The structure of church must be shaped not by personal or cultural preference but by mission.
This to me is evangelical theology of the most robust and best form. The gospel shapes everything and everything is shaped by the gospel. I have taken this seriously. I have wrestled with the implications of this for my life, ministry, family and church. I have taken decisions and made plans framed by this theology. I am not asking anyone to agree with all my choices but only to recognise that these choices are driven by a deep wrestling with the gospel. And yet somehow I feel like I have not been given a rule book somewhere. “The gospel is all that matters” and “Our whole lives are to be shaped by the gospel.” This is the talk I was raised on…
So I took it seriously…
“Er, wait… what are you doing?… No, no you cannot mess with Sunday church!” (church is not a meeting or a building it is an identity. Our love of Sunday gatherings – in both our form and timing – often has more to do with our comforts than our mission)
“No monologue preaching!!!?… all ministry must be Bible centred you know!” (like I said I am evangelical – I eat this for breakfast, lunch and supper!)
What do you have against large gatherings?” (Nothing! Why can’t you live without them? I can take them or leave them for mission)
All of these discussions I could happily have in the context of mission. And in that context I quite frankly don’t care if you agree with me or not! (Ok maybe just a little) But most discussion I have with fellow evangelicals in these areas are more about my comfort (“I like Sunday church”), my preferences or my traditions (“Preaching has always been good enough for the church – what makes you think you are better than all that”) and little to do with a lost and dying world.
It is couched in a pseudo Biblical veneer of respectability and moderation but mostly I think it is the language of fear not faith. Fear of failure, fear of others, fear of loss of reputation, income or career. A fear of not being respected or successful or of being thought a failure or a heretic or a some other kind of “whack job”. This is often not so much a discussion, as it appears on the surface, about differing methodologies as it is about a distinction between “safe faith” and biblical faith.
I suspect many of us in the church today have unwittingly settled for the insidious myth of “safe faith” rather than the risky, messy, bumpy, itchy, awkward, and unnerving journey of Biblical faith. We need to recover a robust Biblical faith centred in the sovereignty of God, justification by faith, radical grace and a liberation dependence on the Holy Spirit
More on this in the next few posts.