Saturday, January 10, 2009

2.0 There is the Big Room: Growing Up an Evangelical

Are you familiar with the Four Spiritual Laws? You would most likely have received them in a tiny booklet, pressed into your hand by a tidy-looking young person (or maybe a feral-seeming older person) as you walked through downtown and not paying attention to the strangers around you. I learned the Four Spiritual Laws as a child and at my most earnest looked forward to (with a little anxiety) the day when it would be my turn for street evangelism in Harvard Square or Downtown Crossing. However, my teen years brought me a bit more doubt and despair than fervor for the LORD; I never did hand out tracts.

The Laws outline, in short statements and line drawings , God’s good will, man’s disobedience and subsequent distance from God, God’s sacrifice of his “only begotten son,” and man’s faith in the son’s death and resurrection as the only means to reunion with God. A prayer at the conclusion prompts the reader in “asking Jesus into your heart.” (Bill Bright, 1965) It’s a simple story of alienation between God and man and the one means to reconciling the two. This tiny little document tells us rather a lot about the community that distributes them.

For starters, they are called “laws” not guides or recommendations or promises or secrets. Evangelical Christianity asserts that there is an objective external reality that was made by God and can be known by humans. The tradition recognizes natural laws, designed by God, and spiritual laws that are equally real. It is a key element of evangelical apologetics that the faith professed is the truth. It is not just a story. It is not one way among many ways. It is a system of cognitive statements describing objective reality. (Pearcey, 2004) Furthermore, “Christianity is the only theoretical system that accounts for the truths we know by pre-theoretical experience. Those truths make sense only within a Christian worldview.” (Pearcey, 2004, p.313)

The evangelical Christian faith is, almost paradoxically, also about the subjective experience of a personal relationship with Christ, via prayer, reading scripture, the revelations of the Holy Spirit, and participation in a faith community. Drawing from these two approaches to knowing God, His laws and a personal relationship with Him, the evangelical believer strives to fulfill a multi-level mandate to resist temptation personally, to save the souls of other individuals and to transform culture, facilitating redemption at the collective level.

This summarizes the evangelical truth but leaves out a lot of the details and emotion that makes the facts significant. The rest of the story is fleshed out through the integration of rules and relationship in daily living. Boundaries and guidelines developed to support the believer’s aspiring to holiness, the means to pleasing a holy God, as well as to protect and embody a life reborn in Christ. It’s supposed to be something more filled with spirit, life, and authenticity, than the liturgy and rituals of the older Christian traditions. Yet it has its own rules that one must uphold and adhere to in order to be within the fold. As a child, I sincerely believed that the rules were a way to honor God. I took it all in earnest and without question, at first.

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