Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Those Other Evangelicals

In reading the Doug Paggitt Reimagining Spiritual Formation, I was struck again by how many in the Emerging Church come with irritation from strict evangelical backgrounds. This time, however, I noticed that the church experiences they had come through were not that unusual or terrible. Yet I recognised those churches, pastors, and parents, nodding agreement that they were indeed irritating. I could see how one would want out.

I forget that not all evangelicals go to Covenant (or similar) churches, where disagreement and questioning are allowed, and A & H children are valued. The teachers and parents that I found irritating at my sons’ Christian schools are more common than I generally remember. I get to select my evangelicals by what websites I go to, what books I read, where I go to church, and who my friends are. From this I develop a picture of “what evangelicals are like” that is probably unrepresentative and too rosy.

The fundamentalists operated from a words-based faith, believing that if they could just get their doctrine absolutely pure, everything else would flow from that. This leads inevitably to schism. Evangelicals have a strong streak of that themselves, but I don’t have to participate in it much. That is a liberation the congregants of many evangelical churches don’t have.

We got to build the spiritual environment we wanted for our children, putting in all that non-traditional or non-verbal worship, exposure to Christian variety and secular arts & letters. This was built on a base of Covenant churches, a creative supportive community that was separate, and Lutheran camp – high shoulders to be standing on in terms of flexibility. Had we not had those, I think we would have had to do what the emerging churches are doing now – build something new.

From the pieces we had to work with, the right spiritual environment could be crafted. Minus a few of those pieces, parental energy might have been better spent in rethinking the whole ball of wax and starting over.

Christmas celebration provides a good example. As the holiday becomes increasingly secular in the surrounding society, it takes more and more energy to make it a religious holiday. With our energy and devotion to the things of Christmas (and standing on the shoulders of giants) we were able to keep it as a religious holiday. Some groups think the celebration has become so secular that it is no longer worth the effort to improve it. They may be right. More importantly, they may be increasingly right as we go forward in time. I would be saddened if any grandchildren of mine had to give up Christmas because there was just so little left worth keeping spiritually, but that could come to pass.

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