I’ve been attempting to both give and receive unmerited grace and unconditional love for years. This journey with Jesus has made me increasingly generous toward others in my self-described ‘orthodoxy’ – even extending to folks from various beliefs and traditions and backgrounds, with everlasting implications – just as I believe Jesus taught.
That path has led me to all kinds of conclusions about not only how to live my own life, but how to think about the lives of others, as well as the mind-bending concept of eternal life as talked about by Jesus, and then by his fan club in the centuries that followed.
2, 000 years removed from the time of Jesus, I suspect we’ve lost in translation much of the original proclamation of ‘good news’ – just look at what our bad theology has done to people who publicly claim to follow the guy, and you’ll see my point.
Everyone, Jesus said, would know we learn from and follow him by our love for one another (in spite of all of our differences). Yet it seems – at least for those who identify as ‘evangelicals’ – the rest of the world knows us by some other things – and more than a few of the things we’re known for aren’t very good news at all – just a lot of infighting on who’s in and who’s out of this elite religious club of ‘Christianity.’
Still, I can confidently say, ‘Yes, I’m an evangelical.’
Self-appointed gatekeepers within the broader evangelical community may declare that I’m not ‘evangelical’ enough because of my evolving views on matters of faith and life – everything from the narrative of the bible, the person and work of Jesus, the doctrines of hell and salvation to what that all means about the way in which God has been presented in scripture and by the church and how all of that relates to the Jesus story.
Yet I must defer to what I see in the stories of the incarnation of Jesus – something the original ‘good news’ proclamation in the second chapter of the gospel according to Luke makes clear :: this good news is good news for everybody…and increasing numbers of us believe that if it isn’t good news for everybody, it isn’t good news for anybody.
And here, many self-identified ‘Evangelicals’ may disagree with us. Many declare this good news is available to everybody – so long as they subscribe to a particular set of beliefs and align all theological perspectives to their own; so long as they pray a particular prayer or live with a specific set of like-minded values; so long as they see each of the ancient documents collected in the biblical library as a divinely inspired sacred text, and view the modern day and future world within a strict and literal interpretation of that text; so long as they are never doubting, but maintain a laser-focused faith in all truths propagated by their own institutionalized religious system.
For some, these and other litmus tests make up what it means to be an ‘evangelical.’
I’m reminded of the words by Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride ::
‘You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.’
What it means to be an evangelical – or a Christian, for that matter – is not an altogether new conversation; in fact, years ago my friend Tony Jones, among others, asked if it was past time to hang up the boots on that term, including dropping the label ‘progressive’ and suggested ‘Incarnational Christian’ by popular vote of his readers and some theological musings of his own. I liked – and still like – the term, for various reasons.
Yet I’ve been often asked if I identify as an evangelical – and it seems that question is becoming increasingly more common as I’ve partnered with a few friends around an effort we call OPEN – a newly created network seeking to organize and optimize progressive evangelical and non-denominational churches, organizations and people.
While my response to that question somewhat depends on the person and circumstance, I quite often find myself summing up this post in which I admittedly acknowledge enjoying how Rob Bell once responded to that same question ::
‘What do you mean by that word?
Do you mean someone who believes the good news, the gospel, the open tomb – that there’s a whole new world bursting forth right here in the midst of this one?
Someone with a bouyant, hopeful vision of what’s possible because of the truth that God is up to something in the world and every one of us can be a part of it?
Because if that’s what you mean, I’m in…’
The term ‘evangelical’ – which has been hijacked and taken hostage by a very narrow voting block with a few very narrow policies and perspectives – needs to be reclaimed, repostured and reoriented toward its original meaning as a declaration of ‘good news’ – not the false good news of empire (whether secular or religious); but instead reframed as the good news of a new creation being made possible, right here and now – in and through and amidst and among and from each and every one of us. In the words of the video ::
‘I say we take the word back – evangelical means good news – and it’s good news for everybody who doesn’t fit in; it’s good news for everybody who’s hungry and needs food, everybody’s who thirsty, everybody who just needs a home; it’s everybody who needs a helping hand to get them up out of the dust and to brush off that dirt so they can have some worth and dignity.’
I too believe the good news of God’s love for everybody – and am convinced as a bearer of this good news – as an evangelical – I have an opportunity to extend the good news of that love in both word and deed – as personified in the person, teachings, work and life of Jesus of Nazareth – to every single person.
‘I’m an evangelical. and I believe in good news…for everybody.’