My turn to do a month's worth of opinion pieces for the Baptist Times' "Outside Edge" column has come round again. With the agreement of the editor I'm posting my BT article here. To check out the Baptist Times as a whole click here.
Am I the only person who thinks that evangelicalism could do with a generosity transfusion? Well, actually, no, I’m not. I know I’m not because I’ve read Brian McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy and I remember Nigel Wright’s splendid chapter on the subject in his. The Radical Evangelical Also I know I’m not because I recently read a blog post form Krish Kandiah on the same theme.
Krish speaks of his experience of meeting with church leaders while travelling the country on behalf of the Evangelical Alliance. What struck me was Krish’s description of how he often feels when he is introduced to a new group: guilty until proven innocent. I know exactly what he means. We evangelicals can be a suspicious, defensive bunch. And it’s not pretty.
It wasn’t pretty when a fellow church leader with whom I had worked closely for a number of years came to see me because he had heard that I held a different point of view to him on what he regarded as a key evangelical shibboleth. “If that’s what you believe and teach then I can no longer be your friend.” It would seem that loving your enemies is one thing but loving your brother who has suddenly become non-kosher is a different matter.
Now, in part, I think I know where this attitude comes from. One of the strengths of the evangelical movement is its refusal to capitulate too quickly to pressure to conform to the spirit of the age. I like this. What’s more I realise that maintaining a minority world view takes a good deal of effort but the trouble is, if we are not careful, it can also make us pretty mean spirited not unlike the kind of Pharisee we meet in the gospels.
To view truth and holiness as delicate things, brittle, in need of our protection is profoundly unhealthy. Militantly patrolling of the border fence of evangelical orthodoxy is less a sign of concern for the truth and more an evidence of profound insecurity, or, in other words, a lack of faith.
It seems to me that it would do both us and our witness to the gospel a power of good if we asked the Holy Spirit of our prodigal God to bless us with a lavish does of generosity. You know the kind of attitude that gives people the benefit of the doubt that makes us more likely to welcome them in than to rule them out; the sort of good grace that enables us to embrace those with whom disagree.
One of my United Reformed Church colleagues here at Luther King House doesn’t hover over the same patch of theological territory as I do. Just yesterday he introduced me to one of our external examiners. “This is Glen, he’s an evangelical, but we are praying for him.” To which I replied, “But you’re a liberal which means there’s no chance your prayers will be answered.” The external examiner only hesitated briefly before joining in the laughter. It’s one of the things I like about this place. I get to work with people with whom I disagree quite profoundly but we somehow seem to manage to like each other.
Now of course I’m not saying that either my colleague or I have got this thing sussed. But I am saying that on those occasions that I stumble upon generous acceptance on the part of those who see things differently it does feel an awful lot closer to stumbling across Jesus than it does when I bump into the mean spirited orthodoxy of some of my fellow evangelicals.