In which both my harsh and soft side comes out in responding to this question.
I asked myself the same question the other day when I read Chaplain Mike’s post My Post-Evangelical Wilderness.
Basically Mike is explaining what life is like as a Christian in an environment he feels is dysfunctional and theologically shallow.
This is how Mike put it:
For years, I’d had a growing dissatisfaction with evangelicalism’s lack of tradition, historical perspective, reverence and order in worship. I resisted its programmed approach to spiritual growth, its bourgeois commitments that blatantly disregard the NT emphasis on sacrificial service and inclusion of the poor and disenfranchised, its “temple” mentality that has little sense of serving Christ in daily life and instead revolves around what happens in the institution and its programs.
Can you relate? I can. But I didn’t at first.
Yes, his commentary splendidly sums up my feelings of the evangelical church. But I don’t really feel like I live in a “post-evangelical wilderness.” Let me explain.
A Problem with Independent, Local Churches
Mike’s angst isn’t rooted solely in his disappointment in the old evangelical order. He’s also a pastoral casualty of an independent church.
He mentions and I think rightly puts his finger on the ecclesiastical problem of independent, local, non-denominational churches: no overarching governing body to lend support when a church goes under or a pastor needs a job.
It’s a rough and lonely world, indeed. You are on your own.
Mike learned this lesson firsthand and found himself without a job–and a church home. No wonder Mike feels like a stranger in a strange land.
And at the end of his post Mike explains this is what living in the “post-evangelical wilderness” means to him. [By the way: He’s since found a job he loves but not a church he loves.]
He then goes on to ask “What does it mean to you?” That’s when the hair on the back of my neck stood on end.
My Harsh and Compassionate Response
Even though I relate to Mike now, at first I couldn’t. I knew he got one thing right: There is a generation parting. Call it “evangelical” if you must and I certainly feel like I live a wilderness…
But I wouldn’t identify it as “post-evangelical wilderness.” There’s just way too much going on to tie up our Christian life in this neat package.
Also, by saying “post-evangelical wilderness” we are implying there once was an “evangelical paradise,” a notion I think will make us all snicker.
Mike’s post was a bold one. He opened up. Became vulnerable. But you know what? I kind of thought Mike was whining.
So I mentally hashed out my response–I isolated his problems and presented the solutions in my patented curt approach.
So very man of me. And unregenerate.
But fortunately my conscience wouldn’t allow me to leave it at that. I knew God was nudging me to go further…to step into Mike’s shoes.
So I did my best at proposing a second, compassionate response. I can’t say I succeeded. You be the judge. Here are my original thoughts:
Couple things come to mind when I hear “post evangelical wilderness.” First, cop out. Second, phase of life.
Cop out: I think we’re all pretty much frustrated with the dysfunction of the human race. Paul’s approach to dealing with dysfunction in the church? Laying down the truth. Believers in persecuted nations would love to have a dysfunctional church to worship in. As you can probably tell, this is my harsher side coming out.
Phase of life: This is my softer side coming out. I can only imagine Paul got very, very disillusioned with the persistent dysfunction of the church, too. Indeed, you can sense that in his second letter to Timothy. And I imagine all of us go through phases in which we feel lost and let down by the “church.” But let’s not forget the invisible church. Elijah was reminded when he experienced his lonely, dark winter of spiritual discontent that God had preserved 7,000 others just like him. Fortunately we live in an age that allows us to connect with vibrant, merciful believers around the world who can encourage us when our own local church isn’t.
Chin up, Mike. God loves you and wants you to fight.
Don’t get me wrong: I love neat phrases like “post-evangelical wilderness.” And as cognitive beings who love solving problems, we have a bent for them.
[See this Dug Down Deep review for another example.]
But anytime we align ourselves with a movement–whether post-evangelical or Emergent or New Calvinism–we are in danger of becoming dogmatic, entrenched and ultimately dysfunctional in the eyes of the next generation…something I’d love to avoid…if possible.
So tell me…am I dead on? Or way off? Also, do you see yourself in a “post-evangelical wilderness”? And what does that mean to you? Also, got any solutions for the independent, local churh? I’m curious. Leave your thoughts–brutal and all–in the comments.