Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Evangelicalism: Roy Rogers style (or, Reason #697 for Why I Am Not an Evangelical)

I am sure you will realize which song, popularized by Roy Rogers, I have in mind when you read the following snippets from Rachel Held Evans's blog.  They come from the two-part reflection on her week of silence.  The week was part of her "year of biblical womanhood" project.

RHE, on visiting a Benedictine monastery:

My inner voice was right. Sure I tell the news media I’m an evangelical, but the truth is, I don’t know what I am. I’m a religious misfit. I don’t have a home.


At lunch I confessed to one of the monks, Brother Brenden, “I know it doesn’t work this way, but I wish I could take the pieces I love from each tradition—Catholic, Orthodox, Mennonite, Methodist, Evangelical, Anglican—and cobble them together into a home church.” He smiled sympathetically, but in a way that said, “Yeah,it doesn’t work that way.” 

Kacie wrote, in response:

 I'm cobbling together bits and pieces from here and there. And you know where I end up? As an evangelical. Because an evangelical is undefined. Whereas in all the other corners you clearly know when you're in and out and I'm out because I don't totally agree.... I feel like Evangelical is sort of a Christian who doesn't fit any other boxes. We're the misfits. We don't always like each other because we've all cobbled together our faith differently and we don't fit. Evangelicalism is undefined. I think we sometimes fall into it because no one else takes us.

RHE, part 2 on a Quaker meeting:

As we sat in silence together, I remembered something William James said: “Our lives are like islands in the sea, or like trees in the forest, which co-mingle their roots in the darkness underground. Just so, there is a continuum of cosmic consciousness, against which our individuality builds but accidental fences, and into which our several minds plunge as into a other sea or reservoir.”

It occurred to me that the distinctions between Catholics at Quakers that seem so pronounced on the outside are but accidental fences in the endless continuum of God’s grace. Perhaps my frantic search for a denominational “home” was an attempt to build fences where there needn’t be any.


I think that ever since our church plant failed, I’ve been trying to recapture the sense of belonging…no, control… I had when I was such an integral part of creating our community’s identity. Now, when I visit other churches, all I can see are the fences—the doctrines, traditions, and idiosyncrasies that rub me the wrong way and make me feel isolated from my fellow Christians.

But the truth of the matter is, I can’t make my own tradition in my own image. I tried that, and it didn’t work. However, I can connect to the Holy Spirit and to the people with whom the Holy Spirit resides at every wayside shrine I encounter along the way. And I can cobble together an eclectic assemblage of favorite hymns, rituals, images, service efforts, and theology to adorn the little sanctuary in my soul.

The point of the Church has never been uniformity, but unity.

Respondent Dustin comes closest to the problem with RHEs imaginary fences:

Yes. In fact, I think that's true for most of us. What do you think is the key to moving past these imaginary fences? And, on another note, how do you tell the difference between an imaginary fence and a REAL fence?     


The problem Evans is unable to recognize is that the fences are real.  Does she imagine the fences around her marriage are imaginary?  Unnecessary?  When was the last time she encouraged Dan to sleep with another woman to explore the unity between people prevented by the imaginary fence of marital monogamy?

I'll eat my socks if that has ever happened.  Why does she imagine God is any less jealous of His church than she is of her marriage?  In fact, marriage is the overriding biblical image of God's relationship with us.  His pursuit of us is woven throughout the Bible:  from his calling Abram to Hosea's marriage to the unfaithful Gomer.  And then there is our establishment as Christ's body, His Bride, and refinement during the Church Age -- at the end of which we will celebrate a wedding feast. 

As Chesterton has reminded us, we ought not go about tearing fences down until we know why they were put up in the first place - nor should we pretend they are imaginary.  Quakers deny the sacraments, Roman Catholics hold a high view of them and the fences between the two groups are very real and proper.  Evangelical churches have a lower view of the sacraments, but even there the communion table is fenced against Buddhists and Zoroastrians.  The fences exist to define what is before us, and instruct us about its significance.

The fences of Christianity are the fences of a playground.  Without them, we run the risk of running into road traffic in our enthusiasm for play. 

**emphasis as in original in quotes from RHEs blog.

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