A while back, I read an article by my friend Paul Cumin in the MB Herald, and I find much in it that resonates with me as an MB pastor and theologian. It intrigues and saddens me that I see the reputation that many evangelicals have (in the US, but also in Canada) as judgmental, moralistic, and prudish. Here’s the tragic part: I think there are a lot of evangelical Christians (MB or otherwise) who don’t believe in many of the things that the author says he doesn’t support. But many of them may be reluctant to speak up, either because they don’t want to incur the ire of the people who do believe these things, or more likely, because they hope that if they ignore these things, they will eventually go away.
The problem with ignoring issues such as Paul and others have identified is like the problem of ignoring that funny noise your car makes on the way to work, the one you drown out by turning the radio louder. That noise is an indicator that something is not right, and things that are not right tend to become more so over time, not less. Ignoring what may now be a small problem will create a larger one over time. It should not surprise anyone to hear observations of sorrow, anger, disgust, or even revulsion at what evangelicalism is said to represent in North America. If being an evangelical motivates people to act in ways that seem inconsistent with their supposed commitment to be the embodiment of good news — and not just any good news, but the good news of Jesus the Christ — then it is easy to identify the disconnect between what evangelicals are doing and what the evangel actually is. I don’t want to be identified with a lot of what I read about, either.
If that is the case, then why do I feel discomfort about my brother’s inclination to disavow evangelicalism? In answer to that question, I am going to return to my automotive analogy. It is foolish to ignore the unusual noises that your car makes, and equally foolish to try to convince yourself that the strange sounds are actually evidence that your car has amazing new features. But it is equally problematic to decide that the problems behind the noises mean that you should simply get out of your car and walk, leaving it behind at the side of the road. I write this as the father of two young adult children who own old cars (each car is 20+ years old). Fixing what goes wrong with an old car is a common experience in my family.
Evangelicalism is broken. I will readily concede that point to critics of both Christian theology and sociological developments among Christians. But as tempting as it might be to discard the broken-down hulk of evangelicalism at the side of the theological road, I would suggest that the solution to the problem is to repair evangelicalism — and overhaul it if necessary — so that it once again appears and operates in conformity to its designer and model, Jesus Christ.
This begins with taking a closer look at the life and teachings of Jesus the Christ as laid out in the Scriptures, and taking them far more seriously than we have in recent times. Spoiler alert: it is better to assume that we are a long way from having arrived, that we have much yet to learn, than to assume that we are right and lacking nothing in imitation of Jesus. We may also consider more deeply the critiques of those who look at our collective example and fail to see the winsomeness that we assume is present.
Is the task of repair easy? Cheap? No. Is there a better theological vehicle to replace the good news of Jesus the Christ? Absolutely not. Are we returning to something we know well, or to something that we will discover anew? That is more of an open question. In formal terms, we may have an idea of what the good news entails. Materially, we may need a refresher — or more. Do we have a choice? Well, we cannot get where we need to go without the vehicle of the good news. If we reject it, we make our faith about us rather than God, and others. And we will find ourselves stranded.
I am an Anabaptist by choice, because I have found an Anabaptist way of being a disciple of Jesus too compelling to ignore. I am an evangelical because the good news of Jesus Christ has taken hold of me, and I have surrendered to it. Not because I am afraid of anyone or anything. That is why I am an evangelical. That is what I desire for others. That is why I will contend to overcome the lies being advanced in the name of evangelicalism, and work to restore it, so that people can see its goodness — but ultimately so they can see Jesus.