Jared Witt l June 1, 2017
Alright, you’ve given up on trying to swallow the cold, inedible borscht which our culture feeds to us as “Christianity.” You've tried finessing your fork around barely identifiable chunks of blind patriotism, state-sanctioned violence, and small-minded tribalism hoping to get to the good stuff...only to find more unappetizing bits of bumper sticker sentimentality, insufferable moralizing, and some medieval fantasia about the afterlife.
Good. You’ve officially been de-vangelized, and you're ready to start de-vangelizing others.
Now, hang on. Calm down, all you good pious folk. I’m talking about deprogramming from the bad kind of evangelism. To “evangelize” someone, when the word is used correctly, is quite literally a good thing. It turns "Good News" into a verb. You “good news” someone when you share the story of God’s unconditional love and grace for the whole world without exception, evidenced and guaranteed by the raising of Jesus, the one who taught us how to love. If that’s what you hear when I say “evangelism,” then you’re good. That’s not a trip you need to come down from.
What I’m talking about, though, is the other meaning of the word “evangelism,” the one brought to us from bad misadventures in European colonialism and the “turn or burn” preaching of American revivalism. I’m talking about the false meaning, the bastardized meaning, the one that reinforces rather than obliterates our petty cliques and clans, the one that rubs our nose in our sins for eternity rather than forgiving them and moving on, in other words, the definition of evangelism which has come to mean the opposite of evangelism.
If that’s the trip you’re on, it’s time to detox. Or rather, de-vangelize.
It would be nice to start from scratch and just share the good news off the bat. The problem is, unlike say parts of Africa and East Asia where the Gospel is going gangbusters, our culture has had that flame doused in two millennia of porridge. There’s a lot of toweling off that needs to be done before we’ll ever see a spark.
The good news, no pun intended, is that sharing some news that's actually good in our culture is less a matter of presenting new content to someone and more a matter of affirming the suspicions and frustrations they already hold quietly in their heart. Humans are “fearfully and wonderfully made” as the Psalmist says. And perhaps the most fearful and wonderful parts of us are our conscience and our capacity for empathy.
Most Christians, who have tried desperately to stick to the program and uphold the party line, because they were told from a young age that that was a good thing to do, still harbor a skepticism hidden somewhere deep in their bones that something is off with the version of the story they were taught.
It turns out that most Christians secretly don’t accept that you’re punished for all eternity because you happen to have been born into a Buddhist family in Malaysia.
Most Christians actually do feel uneasy about how the almost Egyptian focus on the afterlife of so much pulpit pounding denigrates this life and this earth which God called “very good” and created us to nurture.
Most Christians aren’t really sure why “God” and “country” are always put right next to each other as if the two are synonymous.
Most of these Christians already have one foot out the backdoor of their small, graceless version of Christianity, because they suspect that the God of Jesus must surely be better than all that. So introducing them to the God of grace is really no introduction at all. It is simply a validation of what they already suspect. It is calling them back to the “God behind the god” in whom they actually trust—the one whom they know in a still deeper place of their soul, the one who is only hinted at in the muffled voices of a Wednesday night AA meeting or soup supper in a church basement here or there but who is rarely mentioned in the sonorous booming from behind the Sunday pulpit.
Congratulations on being de-vangelized from bad religion. And good luck on trying to de-vangelize others. For most of us, that's going to be the first step toward finding God.
Cheers and Peace,
Jared Witt (Twitter: @realjaredwitt) is a pastor in the ELCA and, along with Aaron Schmalzle, is a Founding Director of Castle Church Brewing Community and Castle Church Faith Community.
How Castle Church is stirring up a new spirit in the church from a brewery in Orlando, FL.