It's been a while since I've blogged but something has been running through my mind for the past week and I wanted to be able to give it some thoughtful consideration. I'm aware that I may prompt a number of questions here, I'll answer as many as possible through comments and may choose to answer others through future blogs so look out for both...
I've been working through some discomfort about a certain type of evangelism that is rooted in a fundamentalist mentality and that explicitly disdains other forms of Christianity (let alone what it says about people of other faiths or of no faith).
Firstly, let me say that I see myself as an Evangelical but not necessarily an evangelist. There's a technical distinction there that I won't bother with for the moment, but it is fair to say that I am interested in sharing my Christian experience with people and I want to invite people to be a part of Christian community and to actively participate together in the transformation of this world towards the image of the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed and inaugurated (more about that another time).
I also need to put on the table my very clear interest in something that becomes a 'side issue' if evangelism becomes the one thing that all Christians must focus on: I have a deep passion and interest in the social services of The Salvation Army. My initial conversion to Christianity was rooted in a desire to see a better world and I believed (and still do) that Christianity provided a valid framework from which to see and work towards this objective. I began working in social services in The Salvation Army nearly 20 years ago and it has changed me more deeply than anything else - personally, philosophically, politically and theologically.
The problem I see is both simple and complex. At its foundation is a desire to simplify everything to a binary decision - black or white, good or bad, heaven or hell. It becomes complicated when you add some theological overlays - the nature and authority of the Bible, the meaning of God, the purpose of Jesus life and death, the relationship between the human soul and the idea of eternity.
Many people find the simplicity of black and white choices highly attractive. To illustrate how easy it is, I myself have begun to wonder whether there is a psychological tendency for humans to fall into two categories: those who see everything as binary options and those who don't. I think there's a joke in there somewhere.
I find the reality of life to be a whole lot more grey than black or white. I am pretty sure this is largely because of my involvement in social service delivery, perhaps I have been sucked into the post-modern mindset, or maybe I just have deep trauma from a lifetime as a Collingwood supporter. I think this is why I can't be a fundamentalist. I tried to be for a while, but it didn't take - real life got in the way. I couldn't believe the things I was supposed to believe about the Bible after I'd read it (several times, the whole way through, eventually much of it in Greek and Hebrew). For a while I thought that my apparent dissent would marginalise and isolate me, maybe even make it impossible for me to stay a Christian. However, I soon found (and continue to find) many people who feel as I do. I also have come to understand through an appreciation of Christian history that the noisiest voices are not always the ones in the centre - though they might like you to think that they are.
I believe that many of us are losing, or have lost, the capacity to appreciate the value of metaphor and story as vehicles for communicating truth. We might even say things like 'that person's life must be Hell' without taking seriously how right we might be. Why do we have to be forced into choices between Hell on earth or Hell as the burning fires of eternity; salvation as rescue from an existential predicament or salvation as eternal insurance for the soul; Jesus as a human being or Jesus as the definitive manifestation of the Hebrew God? The denial of these choices is rooted in a recognition of the concrete experiences and expressions of salvation throughout the Bible: the Exodus from Egypt, the return from exile, Jesus' feeding, healing and reconciling people to themselves, their communities and their God.
I refuse to believe that because I can't be a fundamentalist therefore I can't be a Christian and I refuse to be forced into making false choices that don't reflect my experience of life. I'm also not very good at being quiet when something upsets me... but at least I'm learning to take my time in responding.