Love in the Post-Evangelical Wilderness 1: “You Are Complete In Christ–Aren’t You?”

423529_10150586640952700_404624921_nToday, and for the next couple of posts, we are going to talk about love.

If you are familiar with the sort of blogs where I hang out regularly, then you are probably familiar with the term “post-evangelical wilderness”.  But for me, this “post-evangelical wilderness” is not simply a fanciful creation of young punk bloggers living in their parents’ basements with nothing better to do with their lives than sit all day in front of their computer screens and write whatever strikes their fancy.  For me, the post-evangelical wilderness is reality.  It is where I have lived for the better part of the previous decade.

I am an evangelical.  Evangelicalism has been a home to me and has formed me deeply through much of my collegiate and young adult existence.  Yet some things inside of me have shifted–due to professional challenges, relational challenges, coming to terms with certain developmental issues in my life–and things in the larger world of evangelicalism have shifted as well, and I no longer feel quite as much at home in evangelicalism as I once did.  As a result I have gone and am going through a lengthy process of deconstructing much of what I had once accepted as certain, and attempting to get rid of anything that is not vitally connected to Jesus.

In this and in the next couple of posts, I am going to turn a critical eye to much of what evangelicalism has to say on the subject of love, sex and dating.  You are all welcome to come along with me for this ride if you wish.

Evangelicalism does a poor job of dealing with the already-but-not-yet aspects of the Christian faith.  Certain things are promised to us by virtue of our relationship with Christ.  We will receive the fullness of what is promised to us in the age to come, when Christ returns.  But we want to believe that we already have the fullness of what is promised to us in Christ.  For example, we want to believe that we receive the fullness of God’s Spirit upon conversion and are thereby able to resist sin, as a result evangelicals have considerable difficulty in dealing with the question of ongoing sin in the life of a believer.

But if we already have all that is promised to us in Christ, what is the point of hope?  Who hopes for what he/she already has?  What is the point of faith?  Where is the virtue in believing and trusting for what you already have?  Isn’t that kind of like the scalper at a football game with a handful of tickets in one hand and a big sign that says “I Need Tickets” in the other?

So it is when evangelicalism says “You don’t need a woman (or a man), because you are already complete in Christ.”

True enough.

I am complete in Christ.  BUT…

I am a physical creature.  I live in a physical body, in a physical world.  I want to experience the actual, physical touch, the actual, physical attention, of an actual, physical human being.

Ours is not the religion of the Gnostics, where only the spiritual matters and the physical doesn’t count for jack shit.  Ours is the religion of a God who created an actual, physical world and then took on an actual, physical human body and came to live in our actual, physical world.  Ours is a religion of actual, physical things–water, bread, wine–which represent underlying spiritual realities.  God attaches physical things to spiritual realities–water to the death and new life which we experience in Baptism, bread and wine to the body and blood of Christ which we receive in the Eucharist–because He knows that we are physical creatures.

So don’t give me any of that claptrap about how we should think of ourselves as “spirits having an occasional human experience rather than humans having an occasional spiritual experience”.  It’s a lie.

I can’t sit there in my room, trying to manufacture some sort of feeling which could be described as closeness to Christ, and expect said feeling to fill the yearning in my heart for the actual, physical touch, the actual, physical attention, of an actual, physical human being.  I refuse to believe that this yearning counts for nothing because I am, in some vague, spiritual sense, “complete in Christ”.

Being “complete in Christ” is something we are promised by virtue of our relationship with Christ.  It is something which we will receive in fullness when Christ comes again at the end of the age.  But it is the height of foolishness to believe that we already have it.  No, we have an advance deposit on it, and we wait in faith and hope for the fullness of it.  We trust in the One who promised these things to us, that He will, at the proper time, make good on all He has promised us.

But in the meantime, we wait.

Is it so wrong for me to want someone to wait with?  To know that she and I are waiting for the same thing, that we can keep each other company, do what we can for each other, be what we can for each other, as we wait together?  I don’t think so.

This is a real, human desire of mine.  I refuse to accept some vague, spiritual feeling of “completeness in Christ” that I am able to work up in a quiet time, or that may come over me in the moment as a poignant worship song is being performed, as a substitute for this.  And I refuse to believe that God expects me to do the same.