A few years ago I remember reading a blog post over at InternetMonk.com, a blog I still read today…some could say “religiously.” It was by Michael Spencer and was called “Alone, and Not Alone: Meditations from the Evangelical Wilderness.” And it struck a chord with me.
See, Spencer, and a lot of the folks who have read his stuff, came from a fairly conservative evangelical background. And, from this Methodist’s perspective, “fairly” means “very.” But, at some point, he found he didn’t really fit in with what was happening in the evangelical world. He found that, although he took Scripture seriously as the Word of God, he was having trouble taking it literally any more. While he had been raised in an environment where persons were called to “make decisions for Christ” he was finding that the church church he was part of to had difficulty “making disciples for Christ.” While he had been brought up to minister in an evangelical worship service, he felt a calling to be part of a more historically grounded faith with more historically grounded music. And he found himself out in the wilderness, in some ways theologically wandering away from traditional evangelicalism.
But Spencer’s story is not my story.
Neither is my story the story of Rachel Held Evans, another blogger I enjoy who, while identifying with evangelicalism for much of her life is not trying to understand how she fit into the Evangelical witness as some around her question whether or not she’s evangelical at all.
And my story isn’t like that of Shane Claiborne, who studied at Eastern University and Wheaton, finding a home in the evangelical Willow Creek Community Church for a while and then going off to become an activist in community-building.
And I’m not like David Fitch, who was raised evangelical, wandered away, and is not calling for renewal within the evangelical movement.
But, for some reason, I am drawn to all of these authors and many more. Even though I was raised United Methodist from my early years and am very at home in the theology of John Wesley and the structure of the United Methodist denomination (yes, including the appointment process where clergy are assigned to churches), I am drawn to these authors who have very different backgrounds from me. I am drawn to their theology. I am drawn to their emphasis on discipleship and Christian community.
It is true that within my denomination there are many who identify with the evangelicalism that these persons above, in some way, have left. Many of my colleagues in Indiana, where I left 15 years ago, very much believe in traditional evangelicalism within the structure of United Methodism. But I don’t. I really don’t. I don’t identity with many characteristics of contemporary evangelicalism — the Biblical inerrancy, the role of women in the church, the close-knit relationship with American politics, their understanding of sexuality, their understanding of salvation as a one-time decision for Christ, their rejection of historical liturgical witness and their rejection (eternally) of anyone who veers from their narrow theological interpretation.
But I also have trouble fully identifying with some of the liberal Methodism I was raised in during my formative years. I want to take the Bible seriously in spite of the fact that some question the authority of Scripture or read it as literature. I want to live in and proclaim the importance of a saving relationship with Jesus Christ while still calling persons to living lives of faith. I want worship to strike an emotional chord and I want church to be more than a “country club” which is how I kind of picture the church of my teenage years whether or not that’s an accurate potrayal. I want my sermons to be a proclamation on the Word of God and not a feel-good illustration only marginally connected to Scripture. And I want to bring in some video and contemporary music occasionally and have a good time during worship.
I can’t say I’ve left Methodism by any stretch of the imagination. It’s the language I speak. It’s my history. It is, really, my theology. However, I am finding that this Methodist is becoming more an more at home in the wilderness with these other travelers. And, reading them, I believe I’m finding myself delving deeper into the faith.
Perhaps this is why I can have a great appreciation for both the liberals and conservatives in our midst. Perhaps this is why I feel I can learn from those who have viewpoints that differ from mine. Perhaps there are some pastoral plusses to being at home in wilderness.