Do you want to read a school assignment that I wrote last night while so sleep-deprived that I yearned for death just so I could finally get some rest? Good, because that's what you're getting. An additional four hours of sleep between 10:30 last night and 9 this morning hasn't prepared me to write anything else, and besides, multitasking with school work is just smart. I will add a few annotations of additional insights in bracketed italics, though. You can skip these if they disrupt the flow of my poetry for you. Conveniently, the assigment was defined as a 600 word "blog post" despite not being a blog post, but now it is a blog post and I've made an honest man out of Dr. Dengah.
The evangelical movement covers many different Christian denominations with their own theologies. It has no centralized leadership, though there are several well-known preachers and scholars. As recently as last spring, Andrew T. Draper referred to a growing “lack of consensus among evangelicals about their own identity” and laid out a detailed proposal for “a more robust theological, biblical, and Christological account of hope” based on a syncretism of various past theologians. (Draper 345) There's a lot of wiggle room for different beliefs and interpretations – I once saw it explained in a little cartoon of a train where each train car represented a different denomination, separate from each other but all going to the same place. One scholar summarizes, “As an international, trans-denominational fellowship of some one-half billion believers around the world, evangelicalism is in its very existence an amazing ecumenical fact.” (George 100)
[I had to use three academic sources. So these are my first two. I enjoy deep theological stuff so much that I might even read them someday if I ever get sufficient sleep. Unfortunately, because I was so tired I didn't think to find the cartoon and include it as my third source.]
There are of course some unifying doctrines or concepts that virtually all evangelicals would agree on, and I'll get to some of those in a moment. First, let me get the controversial stuff over with. Evangelical Jay Green writes, “A populist impulse fueled by deep suspicions of secular elitism is baked into evangelicalism. Evangelicals have long drawn strength from feelings of marginalization and embattlement.” (Green 337) He hastens to add, however, that this is not without reason, as evangelicals are often looked at with contempt and negative stereotypes about their beliefs, politics, and intellects.
[Of course, one of the first things I learned in college was that most stereotypes exist because they're true. Just not in every instance. I've seen evangelicals who are living embodiments of every negative stereotype, and in my opinion, the "Christian Right" of American politics is kind of an abomination against God. But I'll be the first to acknowledge that all religions including my own have their share of jerks, morons and/or hypocrites as well. For example, me.]
Although I have a few evangelical friends, I've struggled with some prejudice of my own, in large part because evangelicals are historically at the forefront of Christian attacks on my own church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which, some regard as a “cult”, believing in a “different Jesus”, etc.). In recent years, though, their own space in Western culture has become so marginalized that atheists now fill this role and see one religion criticizing another as laughable hypocrisy. I've been hanging out with LDS apologists for years and been increasingly frustrated that most continue to devote their time to arguing with evangelicals who pose very little threat to the Church anymore, and sometimes their noble intentions bleed over into actual mockery of beliefs they perceive as silly compared to ours. They become the evil they swore to destroy, and that environment rubs off on me sometimes.
[Okay, but you know what really grinds my gears? When Latter-day Saints don't know there's a difference between trinitarianism and modalism. Most evangelicals do not believe that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are one person who prays to Himself. You look like an idiot if you think they do. I looked like an idiot when I thought they did. The Trinity is three distinct and separate persons who are each God - and honestly, no matter how many times it's explained to me, I won't understand how that differs in any significant way from the LDS doctrine of the Godhead.]
I also have a great deal of animosity toward creationism, which many or most evangelicals embrace, because I spent a few years as a creationist myself and now I resent the people who lied to me about evolution. At least because of this experience I recognize some of the psychological reasons for belief in creationism and try to remember that (most) creationists aren't stupid. Incidentally, for a few months I participated on a creationist message board with several like-minded Christians, mostly evangelicals. They were staunch allies in a war against science – until they found out that I and another guy were Mormons, after which they devoted all their posts to explaining why our religion was false.
[This was on Facebook, back in the day when Facebook pages had message boards. I'm very old. The other Mormon, or Latter-day Saint as I now have to call him, and one of the evangelicals who managed to establish a respecful dialogue with us miraculously haven't unfriended me eight years later. In hindsight, maybe I owe an apology to the atheist trolls who frequently stopped by to mock us and must have been very frustrated by my displays of scientific illiteracy. But they were jackasses, so nah.]
Recently I've tried to root out my prejudice as I've gotten to know and admire my evangelical classmate [Redacted McRedactedton]. She accepted Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior at age twelve and was baptized as a Christian the next year. Though she doesn't go around preaching at people, external signs of her devotion include two tattoos – a cross behind her right ear that's visible when she ties her hair back and a peace sign on her toe that I've heard about but never seen – and a quote from Proverbs on her Facebook wall: “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” Coming from someone with an abundance of charm and beauty, such humility is impressive.
[I had to interview someone from a faith other than my own and use that as the main basis of the assignment. But I wrote all this? I don't remember writing all this.]
“There is only one crucial basic for Evangelical Christians,” she told me. “It is by Grace that we are saved. Nothing else. Every human has sinned, and the punishment for sin is death, therefore every human deserves death. Every single one. Jesus is the only exception. But God loved us enough that he didn't want heaven without us, so he sent his son to live a perfect, sinless life and die a sinner's death so that we can be saved. The only way to heaven is to accept this gift of Grace. All the most wonderful and charitable works are nothing, baptism is nothing, going to church is nothing without accepting God's Grace.” This is one of the points of tension between Latter-day Saints and evangelicals. We also believe in Christ's grace and agree that works can't get us into heaven, but we believe that works are necessary to accept grace into our lives. Evangelicals believe that works are a natural product of having already accepted grace. Tomato, tomahto.
[Literally nobody says tomahto.]
[My friend] says that her faith affects her everyday life. “When you're truly Christian, it bleeds into every action, religious or not.... The one that leaks into my life the most is loving your neighbor as yourself. That is so hard to do, but it changes the way I act around people all the time. I find myself often living by a quote that Abraham Lincoln said, 'I do not like that man. I must get to know him better.' As a result, I have always been a peacekeeper. I believe in walking in peace and spreading peace on others.” I can vouch for that in personal observations. She is very sweet, friendly and kind, and while I'm absorbed in my own thoughts she'll reach out to someone else that I barely noticed. She's the sort of Christian that I wish I was.
[I have nothing more to say here.]
Knowing the prejudice that evangelicals face, I offered [my friend] a chance to dispel any misconceptions or stereotypes about them, but she seemed less concerned about how others might perceive her as a believer than about their understanding of her actual beliefs, which of course carry weighty eternal implications. She said, “I would like to dispel the belief that good people will go to heaven and sinners go to hell. That's not true. Good people will go to hell if they don't accept the gift of salvation and sinners go to heaven if they do. I would also like to dispel the belief that Christians hate sinners. That's not true (not for real Christians). We are taught to love the person but not the sin.”
[Well, actually, believing that sin is even a thing makes you automatically hateful. Haven't you heard? Silly Christians. This is where another point of tension comes in, which I didn't ask about because I didn't want her to think I was challenging her beliefs: what about the billions of people who never heard of Jesus before they died? I hope at some point we'll be comfortable enough with each other for me to get her thoughts on this issue.]
I have to admit that my initial reaction to a couple of her responses was that she sounded dogmatic and like she was reciting from a script. I quickly realized, however, that Latter-day Saints often come across the same, even to me and I'm sure especially to outsiders. We have our own lexicon and most Saints borrow liberally from it to sprinkle their testimonies with heartfelt cliches. I know from my interactions and observations with [this friend] that she's very intelligent, sometimes intelligent enough to make me feel stupid when she makes incredibly thoughtful comments about things that go right over my head. Not just intelligent, but thoughtful and open-minded, best friends with an atheist and able to objectively interact with secular culture and (in our Magical Realism class) literature from Muslim or Hindu backgrounds. She isn't the type to look down on anyone or attack their beliefs or tell them they're going to hell.
[Okay, but you know what's literally the worst? When sacrament meeting has already gone five minutes over and the last speaker decides to conclude her talk by bearing testimony of every principle of the gospel she can think of, one by one. She was like, "I know... I know... I know..." And I was like, Do you know how to read a clock? Not out loud, of course.]
I have a more favorable impression of evangelicals now, which I want to continue improving. I believe that people of faith should focus more on their commonalities and their differences, now more than ever, as we increasingly face mockery of our beliefs. I admire [this friend]'s devotion to God and I'm very interested and hopeful to continue religious discussions with her well into the future. In my interview with her I found that I agreed wholeheartedly with some of her statements and kind of agreed with some others from a different point of view that I'm sure isn't what she had in mind. I think that's fertile ground for discussion and respectful disagreement with this “amazing ecumenical fact.” I'm trying to work up the courage to ask how she feels about evolution.
[I actually made an attempt to broach the topic once in a subtle, roundabout way. I was like, "Have you ever been to Science Unwrapped?" And she was like, "No, I hate science." And I was like, Oh ----. Not out loud, of course. Desperately trying to get an exegesis of this statement that didn't mean what I didn't want it to mean, I asked why. She said she just doesn't understand science. She only understands art and literature and math. Fair enough, by that definition I hate science too and that's why I stopped majoring in it. But I implored her, "Dinosaurs? Don't you like dinosaurs? Everybody likes dinosaurs." She said, "I like 'The Land Before Time'." So there's hope.]
Draper, Andrew T. “Christ the Center: An Evangelical Theology of Hope.” Christian Scholar's Review, vol. 47 no. 3, Spring 2018, pp. 345-352.
George, Timothy. “Toward an Evangelical Ecclesiology.” Evangelical Review of Theology, vol. 41 no. 2, April 2017, pp. 100-118.
Green, Jay. “On the Evangelical Mind and Consulting the Faithful.” Christian Scholar's Review, vol. 47 no. 3, Spring 2018, pp. 335-339.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.