Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. This song, so familiar to generations of Sunday school children, distills the true heart of evangelical Christianity. The truths expressed – a personal relationship with God and confidence in God’s word are so central to evangelicalism, that all of us kids sang it in the church basement, even as the pastor of our Presbyterian church was preaching upstairs on double predestination. I am so glad that Jesus loves me, Jesus loves even me is another familiar refrain that captures the evangelical ethos – that wonderful assurance of a loving Savior. I could go on, but limit myself to a cherished hymn sung as our own kids were baptized:
Children of the heavenly Father safely in his bosom gather;
nestling bird nor star in heaven such a refuge e'er was given.[i]
An indelible strain of pietism – in its best sense – resides in the evangelical DNA; this sparrow-like trust, being cupped in the loving hands of Christ. The synoptic Gospels are univocal in recording the words of Jesus that one must enter the Kingdom of God as a little child, as if to emphasize its importance. Evangelicalism is not just about knowing God, it is knowing God as one’s closest friend and constant companion – and passing that love outwards. This is the beauty of the evangelicalism that surrounded me as I grew up in the 1950’s and 60’s. But if infant is to infancy, is adult as to adultery? In many respects, as evangelicalism has matured over the decades, it has become so. As the movement has corporatized itself, a child-like faith has often come to be seen merely as childish. We are no longer the Children of God; rather we act like grown-up adolescents.
There is much to be admired within evangelicalism; much vibrant faith carried forward from its Reformation roots. There is much dross and lost direction. In that sense, this blog is a jeremiad; a lament which echoes Francis Schaeffer from his earlier years. “What is the use of evangelicalism seeming to get larger and larger if significant numbers of those under the name of evangelical no longer hold to that which makes evangelicalism evangelical,” he asked.[ii] His voice was one of many who saw that the term had become so nebulous, that many who profess to be evangelical contradict not only themselves, but the faith itself.
[i] Carolina Sandell, “Tryggare kan ingen vara” (“Children of the Heavenly Father”), trans. Ernst W Olson, Covenant Hymnal , Chicago: Covenant Publications, 1996, #87.
[ii] Francis A. Schaeffer, A Christian View Of The Bible As Truth, Wheaton: Crossway, 1994, p. 147.