I grew up in a conservative evangelical home, where my father led me to the Lord; his dog-eared Bible in hand. Typical among evangelicals, I have a ‘time and date stamp’ for my own cathartic experience, akin to St. Paul’s bolt-out-of-the-blue conversion. “My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.”[i] Soon, I became active in youth groups, summer camps and rallies, and was an eager badge-winner in our gospelized equivalent to the Boy Scouts. Baptized as an infant, as a teen I publically “rededicated” my life to Christ. By the time college came around, I’d read through the Bible several times. I went to Wheaton College – where else? I studied for a time at Fuller Seminary. I’ve served the local church in every lay office imaginable. I’ve worked for several overseas missions and parachurch organizations. I could boast my evangelical pedigree as Paul did of his own tradition, “a Hebrew of Hebrews”.[ii] As such, I am the product of mixed parentage: Puritan Calvinists – who “started” church history for us, the transformed fundamentalists who first styled themselves neo-evangelicals, together with pietistic revivalists who all seemed to finish each other’s sentences. I am also a Boomer, and have fallen prey, to one degree or another, to the temptations and idolatries characteristic of my generation of American Christians. I interpret being evangelical through my own locatedness in that experience.
Before the halcyon days of the Moral Majority, Fox News, or Rush Limbaugh, we evangelicals were patriotic, but didn’t draft Jesus into wars of cultural identity. Admittedly, we supported America’s wars, whether right (those we won) or wrong (those we didn’t). Political persuasions didn’t determine who we’d sit with at potluck dinners. We used to avoid something called sin, and we were more concerned about the wages of death than the wages of success. Now, many bypass the Good Friday cross of obedience and death en route to their exurban megachurch of Easter entitlement here and now. Growing up evangelical, our awe (and dread) of God’s mysterium tremendum meant avoiding practices that encouraged contamination by “worldly” values. Today there is anodyne rapport with consumerist society, and we glibly hang out with a good-humored god whose only wish is that we unlock the latent happiness in our lives.
To be continued….
[i] Charles Wesley, “And Can It Be”, Psalms and Hymns, 1738.
[ii] Philippians 3:5 (NET Bible).