I ran across an article on Facebook this past weekend that got stuck in my craw a little. I responded, then scrolled on by, but the article and the comments following it kept gnawing at me like a scratchy tag in a T-shirt that HAS TO BE RIPPED OUT NOW!
The article was about the new wave of liberal Christianity. You know, the kind that says “Love everybody, don’t take the Bible literally, we’re all going to heaven, Jesus is one way to God, but hey, to each his own.” The kind that only takes literally the part where Jesus said to sell all your possessions and give the proceeds to the poor, so to be a true disciple, you should leave everything behind, go off the grid and live in a yurt on the side of mountain — or a rundown apartment in the projects — while you feed homeless orphans and run a home church in your living room.
Okay, I’m exaggerating a tad. But only to make a point.
Because I’m one of the (I believe many) who are stuck between the proverbial rock and hard place.
Evangelicals and the Fear of Christianity Lite
I don’t buy into the new ultra-liberal brand of “Christianity Lite” that reduces Jesus to a human-only “savior” and says we need to do all the good we can do, but in the end everybody wins because God loves us all. I agree with some of the theology behind it — especially the love part. But I think universalism removes the human option — this thing instilled in us from the beginning that lets us choose whether or not to walk away. I do believe God still gives us that choice. We are free to walk away from Him if we choose.
But I sure as heck don’t buy into the rigid evangelical “Ameri-Christianity” that’s been masquerading as the gospel for 40 years in this country. It’s a false gospel if I’ve ever heard one.
So it peeves me that so many adherents to this particular brand of religious-right evangelicalism act so shocked by how the pendulum has swung. That a new brand of liberal Christianity would have the audacity to emerge from our particular social and political landscape.
“Haven’t they read the Bible?” they cry. “Why don’t they believe? They think they can just pick and choose? It’s heresy I tell you.”
Why So Surprised?
I know these people. These are the people of my generation, my demographic. These are people I went to school with, work with, go to church with, share a neighborhood with.
This change surprises them.
But some of us have seen this coming for years.
You see, back in the 80s, the evangelical Christian movement — as a collected whole — made the decision to hop into bed with ultra-right wing Republican politics. And it then proceeded over the next 30 years to get all tangled up in the sheets with said political movement.
It’s an ugly analogy, but a pertinent one.
Evangelical Christianity and Republican politics in this country — after 30 years of raucous canoodling and mingling between the sheets, finally gave birth to their love child: a Donald Trump presidency.
So is it any wonder that a newer, younger generation are running as fast and as far away from traditional evangelical Christianity as possible?
Evangelicals are so tied into the brand of “Ameri-Christianity” that now they’re floundering, like fish out of water with mouths agape.
They worn born and raised in these tepid, comfortable waters where their way was the right way and everybody else was going to hell, thank God.
And now suddenly, Frankenstein’s monster is president, and their beloved “inerrant Word” is twisted and contorted into something they don’t recognize. Because it doesn’t remotely resemble their own twisted and contorted version.
Evangelicalism is in shock. She’s just woken up, bedraggled and hung over from the longest one-night stand in history and she’s offended that there’s a new whore in town.
Pardon my crass analogies but I told you this whole issue was stuck in my craw. And it’s something I’ve got to cough up before I choke on it.
The whole political and social climate of the country I call home sickens me now. Whether I like to admit it or not, the election of our now current president last fall got to me. And I had to retreat.
I’ve been like a grade school kid, doing my best version of duck and cover during a tornado drill, just hoping the worst of it would blow over. Trying to mind my own business, take care of my family, keep my opinions to myself.
You say you are shocked?
I can’t even.
You’re Right About This
I’ll say this, evangelicalism. You are right about one thing.
The new version of “Liberal Christianity,” or as some of you passive-aggressively refer to it, “Christianity Lite,” is not the true gospel. It’s a rebellion of sorts. It contains nuggets of truth, just as your version does, but there is much of it that doesn’t jibe with what we know about the God of the Bible and the Jesus who walked this earth.
But here’s what you’re missing — where you’re still seeing all kinds of trees and missing the forest: your version is just as wrong.
- You say they pick and choose, but you invented picking and choosing.
- You say they ignore truth and read into scripture what their ears want to hear. Yet you’ve done this exact thing all along.
- You say they are mingling their religion with their liberal ideology, but hello, Pot! That’s calling the kettle black for sure.
The ancient prophet Jeremiah spoke these words to the chosen people of God:
My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water. Jeremiah 2:13-14
Can you open your eyes a little and try to glimpse it? Can you consider that maybe your version of Christianity as well as your disdained “Christianity Lite” are both nothing more than broken cisterns? They don’t hold water and they never have.
The Importance of Story
We went to see The Shack last week. Boy, that movie’s got some of the religious right going, doesn’t it?
Evangelical “leaders” have come out and condemned the movie because it’s not “true” to scripture. They say it misrepresents God and the Bible.
Once again, thousands of trees, but no forest in sight. It’s a classic case of missing the point.
The Shack is a story. It’s a movie based on a work of fiction. It was never meant to be factual. Instead, it’s a story that — at it’s core — has the amazing capability of possibly drawing real live human people into a way of seeing God, or experiencing Him (or Her) in true, honest relationship that many have never considered before.
I read the book several years ago, and that’s how I came away from it. It wasn’t the greatest writing ever, but the story drew me in and made me — a born and bred Bible-believing Christian — re-imagine my relationship with God. It pulled me closer to him, helped me better understand how much He loves me.
It’s what the Bible does for me as well. I’ve already admitted I’m a Bible nerd, but here’s the reason why: The Bible always draws me closer. I continue to read it, study it, learn from it, because it tells me the story of God and his relationship with me. It constantly offers new truths I hadn’t seen or understood before. It affirms me as God’s beloved creation, it shows me who He is, who I am, why I exist.
At heart, the Bible is a story. It’s the never-ending story of God’s love with the darlings of creation — His people. He loves us. He loves you. He loves me. And I can’t help but fall head over heels with a story like that.
“Just the Facts” Doesn’t Cut It
But there are people who don’t like stories.
There are people who prefer statistics. And they’re all over The Shack like a chicken on a June bug. They prefer to read their Bible as one might read a dictionary. Just the facts, ma’am. They sleep better at night as a result I guess. To them the Bible “clearly says” the exact stuff they already believe, so they tie it up with a pretty bow and carry it with them every Sunday, in order to reaffirm themselves about how right they are.
But nobody’s ever truly been transformed by statistics. Nobody experiences life change after reading the phone book.
We were created for story. We crave it. It’s how we passed on our history back before we — as a species — formulated written communication. We told stories.
It’s how Jesus ministered when he walked on earth. He told stories. Lots of them.
His stories weren’t facts. They wouldn’t hold up as evidence in court. In fact, he went to court didn’t he? And his stories were part of what they used against him.
But his stories pointed people to truth. His stories showed them grace, love, mercy — and God — in a way they hadn’t considered before. These were “gospel” stories. Stories of good news, the kind that seems impossible but turns out not to be.
The Good News Is Already Here
What does all this have to do with these two versions of “Christianity?”
In a nutshell, everything.
You see, the true Gospel is with us all along. Deuteronomy says this:
Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’ No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.” Deuteronomy 30:11-14
And Romans says this:
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Romans 1:20
And our beloved Jesus offers this:
Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:13-14
Christianity isn’t something we have to create ourselves. The way to an eternal, abundant relationship with God is right in front of us. It’s simple enough for a child to grasp.
But we — as human beings— prefer to be independent and do things our own way. We like to “improve” upon things, tweaking and reinventing as we go. We take pride in digging our own cisterns, never mind if they leak. We just keep digging, keep patching, keep deceiving ourselves into thinking one day our personal renditions of “the gospel” will hold water.
And we’re stuck staring at all these trunks, bare and peeling bark — one by one by one — and wondering where the forest has gone.
You Lost at Your Own Game
Conservative evangelical Christians are shocked and baffled because they’ve lost at their own game. They made it up on a whim, decided on the rules, then changed the rules when necessary to turn the game in their favor. Then they lost.
They lost to a bunch of beanie-wearing, tattooed, Bernie-supporting hippie “socialists” who — in their mind — don’t take the Bible seriously or see the importance of going to church every time the doors are open.
And to that I say, don’t be shocked. Be a grownup.
Own up to the fact that this new “twisted liberal Christianity” you hold in such disregard is just the flip side of the coin. It’s not true gospel any more than your warped “Ameri-Christian”, Trump-supporting, “it’s all about the Supreme Court” nonsense-spouting “gospel.”
All of the constant bickering about Christianity is wearing the rest of us down. It’s why I’ve been hiding under my figurative covers for the past few months.
It’s because I’m a lover of Jesus and all things Jesus-y. And the clamor and the noise doesn’t have anything to do with the true gospel or the God who loves me.
The Pharisees and Sadducees were flip sides of the coin as well. If you read your Bible you know that. And yet, they came together to destroy Jesus. They joined forces and had him crucified — Him and his so-called “truth.” They couldn’t handle him.
So they killed him.
And guess what? He rose again. Why? Because He loves us. Because we mattered. Because He wanted us to have real life.
That, my friends, is the true gospel. He’s alive and real and still speaking volumes through His stories.
Please stop standing there with your mouth open. Stop criticizing and condemning your fellow searchers for being wrong. Stop being so shocked and offended.
Jesus wants to share a story of good news.
And it just might do your soul and body good to pull up a chair and listen.