Over the past few years I’ve toyed with the idea of converting to a different Christian denomination. There are a lot of obvious reasons which prompted this desire: watching friends/family convert and having transformative experiences, resonating with other theological views (i.e. Liberation Theology), wanting a connection to ancient spiritual practices and liturgy (as found in Eastern Orthodoxy), and most importantly– searching for a place where I could raise my daughter around people who really knew how to love each other and the world around them.
If you’re like me and have considered such a move, here’s a few good reasons to stick around:
1. The Evangelical Church seems to be on a threshold. Older right wing and conservative leaders are either dying or retiring. Focus on the Family is a great example of an organization that seems to be on the decline and garnering less influence (as evidenced by the last presidential election), while groups like Sojourners seems to be on the rise. Individuals such as Shane Claiborne and Richard Rohr are gaining more and more of a voice– emphasizing ecumenism, contemplation, and social action.
2. The Evangelical’s spirituality is deepening. We are learning and practicing exercises such as lectio divina, centering prayer, and even how to walk a labyrinth. Our spirituality is becoming more than just praying for a parking spot. Thanks to Parker Palmer, Henri Nouwen, Eugene Peterson, and others, we are developing a language to articulate the ways of the soul. Its no longer about whether or not your going to hell. Its no longer some flimsy how-to guide on getting into heaven. We’re starting to care about real spiritual growth.
3. We are becoming less evangelical, or better said, we are proselytizing less. We are trying harder to love people without an agenda (as Rob Bell would say) and are less concerned with trying to fix people through religious conversion. We are developing a greater respect for other religions and are seeing how they can also be followers of Jesus.
4. Two of the biggest issues that need attention in the Evangelical Church are the acceptance of the homosexual identity and feminine equality. Holy smokes there’s a lot of work ahead of us here, but there are quite a few younger Evangelicals who have a lot of energy around these issues and there seems to be some possibility for positive change in the coming years.
5. There is a new connection to poverty. Evangelicals are beginning to see the need to be in relationship with under-resourced and oppressed people and how it’s intimately connected to our own spirituality. The ministry at City House is a perfect example; where people with labels like “rich” and “poor” are brought into relationship with each other for mutual spiritual growth.
6. The music is improving. The likes of Michael W. Smith, Third Day, and Mercy Me are giving way to folks like Derek Webb, Jon Forman and Robbie Seay. The theology of the music is much more grounded and easier on the ears (for instance, check out the lyrics to Foreman’s “Instead of a Show”). It is sometimes raw and uncomfortably real, just as God intended artistic expression in my opinion.
7. We can wear t-shirts to church. One of the pastors at my church once joked, “What do you call someone with a shirt and tie on Sunday morning? A VISITOR!” We’re starting to care more about the condition of our hearts rather than our appearance and social standing.
8. Lastly, this is my heritage. It is what I was given, and what I was born into. When I take communion, I feel an intense connection to my Evangelical brothers and sisters and the Jesus who unites us (both to himself and the larger body of Christ). There is a mysterious love that sustains me and gives me hope in the midst of my frustration and our dysfunction.
A lot of the above is unique to my experience with a few people at my church. Some of it is probably trendiness and capitalism capitalizing on whatever it can get its hands on. But something is definitely happening. It’s slow change– which is hopefully a sign of some authentic growth. If the greater trends continue, and if it is Spirit-inspired, I want to be a part of this clumsy group as we figure out what it means to really be “Christian” in the Evangelical tradition. It could possibly be the greatest redemptive work since the stone was rolled away.