I’ve had a curious phenomenon happen twice in recent weeks. I’m not sure what to make of it, so I thought I would put it out on the internets and see what others thought about it.
In my theological conversations with various and sundry people, it is often my wont to bring up an example of someone who presents a contrary point of view. On two occasions, I gave an example of a local evangelical Christian congregation as a group that didn’t share my dialoge partner’s point of view. Both times, the response was the same, “Yes, but that’s not Christianity.”
(I should point out that I am using the term “Evangelical”in its modern American context and not in its historical context where it simply meant Lutheran as opposed to Reformed.)
It is certainly true that every religion has groups that regularly self-identify as the authentic version of their faith. It is also true that finding someone that self-identifies as “evangelical” means finding someone that has little knowledge of the basic tenets of the historic faith about 90% of the time. (It’s actually a fun game to ask an “evangelical”if they can name a single author or event that happened between say 100 C.E. and 1517 C.E.)
However, something about the whole thing makes me a little uneasy. I think the main reason I got uncomfortable was that both times I received the response, “But that’s not Christianity,” my immediate thought was, “I know. I was using it as a straw man. I don’t really see much relation between what they are doing and the historic faith either.”
Of course, I’ve just done what people are always accusing “evangelicals” of doing. I’m in the club, and you are out. I’m doing the real version of the thing, and you are doing your own made up version. Wherever those thoughts are coming from – and they are certainly coming from real places of hurt and frustration – they are not very reflective of a God who has reconciled the world unto himself. The fact that it was so easily verbalized by friends in different parts of the country means that it’s a growing sentiment.