Snapshots of My Post-Evangelical Life: A Greater Presence

Every once in a while we do this around here at Everyone’s Entitled to Joe’s Opinion: Pick a topic and keep on talking about it until there is nothing left to say.

If you have been tracking with me on this blog for any length of time, or any of the other blogs where I hang out regularly, you may have heard the term “post-evangelical wilderness”. Despite what you may think, this “post-evangelical wilderness” is not simply some fanciful construct created by young punk bloggers living in their parents’ basements with nothing better to do with their lives than sit around all day in front of their computer screens and write whatever strikes their fancy. This post-evangelical wilderness is a real place inhabited by real people with real stories. These are people who have grown up in evangelicalism or invested a significant season of life in evangelicalism, but who now, for whatever reason, feel seriously out of place in evangelicalism in its current state–people who are, to borrow an oft-used (around here, at least) quote from Rachel Held Evans, “caught between who we once were and who we will be, the ghosts of past certainties gripping at our ankles”.

It occurs to me that some of you may not have any idea what I am talking about when I speak of the “post-evangelical wilderness”.  Toward that end I am offering snapshots of what this looks like on the ground in my world.

There is an old gospel song, of which some of you may have heard, which goes like this:

This world is not my home, I’m just a-passin through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore

To my African-American friends out there, should any of you find your way to this page:  You crafted this and many other gospel songs as anthems of defiance in the face of a massively unjust and oppressive social/cultural/political order (which still persists to this day, on some level, at least) – as a means of clinging to some shred of hope that the awful things spoken over you and done to you by your oppressors are not the final word on who you are and whose you are.

I get it.  Well, I’m trying to, at any rate.  To whatever extent that is possible for me as a white person.  I may revisit this in greater detail at some point later on.

But the powers-that-be in white suburban American evangelicalism have co-opted this (as they have many other things) and made it say something altogether different.

In our present world, that song is representative of a kind of Christianity that is very world-denying and other-worldly-focused.  This life is seen largely as a grueling but necessary ordeal that is merely practice/rehearsal/preparation for the real deal, which begins after you die.  (Kinda like Alabama football, where the real season begins in the postseason and the regular season is basically just three months of exhibition games to prepare for the postseason.  This year’s Alabama team is seeing the limitations of that approach.)

Of course this approach to Christianity is frequently tied up with certain views of prophecy and the end times.  There is something about the idea of God intervening in history at the end of the age as presented in Revelation and depicted in evangelical culture (Left Behind, or–for those of you out there who are above a certain age–Hal Lindsey) that captivates the imagination.  Many have come and built sizeable followings claiming to know the exact date and/or time of Jesus’ return, such as William Miller in the 19th century or, more recently, Harold Camping.

Of course it is distracting to speculate on how it will go down at the end times.  But there is a larger problem with this other-worldly-focused approach to Christianity.  We in evangelicalism are trained to filter everything through a so-called “eternal” perspective.  All around us in this world is a great symphony, yet we treat it as merely echoes.  Everything is all about the somewhere-else and the not-yet instead of the here and now.  As a consequence, we go through life holding each moment at arm’s length.

God loves the world.  He calls us to love it, to be fully present in it and not treat it as something we are just passing through to get to our heavenly reward.  To take care of the world, its creatures, and one another.  To find value in our daily lives, our work, and in all our relationships.

Our hope is not in some far-off heaven where God lives and to which a few–a very few–of His chosen will escape to be with Him for all eternity while all the rest of creation burns.  Our hope is in a renewed heaven and a renewed earth, to which God will come to dwell with us for all eternity.  Thus we are to immerse ourselves in this world and be fully present in it, living by faith and doing good works that will resonate in this age, and ultimately, for all eternity.