This was not the post I logged on to write today. However, I just had a brief scan over a few of my previous post titles, and I remembered a point that I made in passing here on a recent post, so I spontaneously decided to write this post.
You know, I have criticised evangelical Christians a lot, like so much, over the last few years. I cannot deny that has largely come for a place of immense anger, in a way that is not very Christian at all. This anger is not a good thing, and I am not going to make excuses for myself. It is deeply unholy, and unbiblical.
Once again, I would really like to thank everyone who has been praying for me. The anger in my heart has shifted so much that I can scarcely believe that I was ever angry. And all this in a matter of months! So once again, thank you (all?) so much.
So firstly, in this post, I am going to do something that I don’t think I have ever done before.
That is, I am going to explain what is right about evangelical Christians. Previously I never acknowledged that there could be anything right about them but while writing that last post, I had a revelation.
So here is the thing. Evangelical Christians have some correct theology. I am going to think carefully about how I need to qualify that phrase. I am not sure just now that I can say that their theology is mostly correct – or perhaps it is mostly correct, but all the same built on a foundation that lacks an implicit understanding of the nature of God, or the nature of community. I think it is fair to say that the Bible was written in cultural settings that would be considered quite traditional. So, and I know this is controversial, I can’t help thinking that there are some things that those of us, like me, from more traditional communities, just instantly “get”, or implicitly understand, which, to my astonishment, my British evangelical colleagues just did not get. This is not about skin colour, because I am sure that there are some European countries, like for instance Italy or Greece, where community is still a very big thing, and I am sure those communities would also implicitly understand the community aspects of the Old Testament and the New Testament Church. (And yet, painfully, these British Evangelical Christians apparently assumed that they were the ones who implicitly understood the subtext of the Bible…) I can’t really think of many examples off the top of my head to illustrate my point, but here is one: these people apparently thought that the whole point of the Bible was for them to produce intellectual sermons – or rather pseudo-intellectual sermons – I am trying to find a word that conveys the intellectual gravitas that they tried to convey through these speeches. And yet, I implicitly understand that the whole point of the Bible, and our faith, is the way we actually live. And I cannot understand how people could fail to understand this… So that is only one example, but that probably encapsulates the whole thing in a nutshell.
So what I would say that they get right is this: they have some (largely?) correct theology, and they are very insistent on that theology.
What I would say that they get wrong – and very very wrong at that – is this: they don’t cultivate the character to back up that theology. Off the top of my head, the one thing that they talk about endlessly or care about is this: sex. Sexual propriety, especially other people’s sexual propriety. But because they fail to cultivate other aspects of Christian character, this emphasis often comes across as being extremely judgemental and self-righteous. And then, to make matters worse, they apparently assume that if you do not adhere to their theology, then you cannot be as committed to sexual propriety as they are, so you must be living in sexual sin.
So this is the one thing that they seem to be obsessed with. However, the way that they express this is itself not very Christian. And if we are to go there, just because they constantly cast aspersions on other people, that does not in itself mean that they are living in sexual propriety. At all. You know, it occurred to me after some people made some completely ungrounded insinuations against me, that they were simply projecting their own failings onto me.
And there are so many other things that fail to match up to Biblical standards in their conduct. To be fair, this is not exclusive to evangelical Christians. I believe that the problem with Christians generally is that we on the whole do not invest enough time into our faith with God to truly develop Christlike character. This is true across the board with Christians of different stripes, denominations, flavours, including the two branches I identify with: evangelical Christianity, and Pentecostalism. There is significant overlap between these two branches, so, like me, many Pentecostals are also evangelical Christians. And yet Catholics can also be Pentecostal. Where most Christian denominations have exactly the same problems caused by members failing to adequately pursue Christlike character, I focus on it so much in evangelical Christians for this simple reason: they love to shout that they are “right” and they have a heightened and superior understanding of the Bible relative to other Christians. They have absolutely no problems showing disdain for people who fail to believe the “right” thing, as they believe themselves to do.
So that is all that I wanted to write in this post. And you know what, it really brings home the importance of humility, even when you think you are right, even when you are absolutely sure that you are right. I have countless examples that I could reel off, right off the top of my head, about the ways that Evangelical Christians, both Pentecostal and non-Charismatic, have behaved shockingly badly. And not just in a “no-one is perfect” way, either. And I just have not been able to help myself from pouring disdain straight back on them, that they should be so flawed when they think of themselves as being so excellent. But you know, exactly the same thing is true of me too. You know, I have a sinful nature which is just as real and just as big as anyone else’s, especially if I feed it with pride. I hope it is fair to say of me, I hope it will always be fair to say of me that no matter how much I want to lord it over people, I prefer to actually be excellent than to claim to be excellent. In fact, I honestly don’t want to lord it over anyone.
You know what, humility is not just a once-off thing. Rather it is something that I need to be constantly revisiting. I need to be constantly doing battle with myself. A thought that occurred to me just now is this:
If you know that you are outstanding – go one step further in being outstanding by humbling yourself.
If you know that you are not outstanding, take the first step in getting there by humbling yourself.
Additionally, it has long occurred to me that the bigger you want to go, the more humble you need to be. I dream of being so big that I need to daily cultivate profound humility. I need to drink it like water.
I also recently realised that pride and humility are both meditations, things that you fill your heart with by constantly focusing on them. If I fill my head with thoughts of how amazing I am, which to be fair I do quite often, then that will result in pride. If however, I try not to think of myself but rather focus on God, and how amazing and altogether perfect, wise and holy He is, then that will lend itself to a humble outlook. So my next stop would be to recognise those self-flattering thoughts and weed them out while refusing to focus on them.