I'm an Evangelical. There I've said it and I feel better for it. Others aren't so sure. A few years ago I was at a meeting with other evangelicals and expressed my dismay at some nonsense that had gone on, to do with someone singing in the cathedral of all things! I said sometimes it can be embarrassing being known as an evangelical. The next day I received an email from someone at the meeting saying 'don't worry Phil we haven't considered you an evangelical for some time'.
Of course, just because someone tells me I'm not something doesn't make it true and I still consider myself an evangelical even if others don't. It's the part of the family I grew up in, have many close friends in, by and large feel most comfortable theologically and ecclesiologically in. My father is an evangelical and along with my mother the greatest spiritual influence on my life. Most of dad's ministry was as a prison chaplain working with some of the most dangerous criminals in this country and people guilty of some of the most heinous crimes. How could he love, yes love, these people? It was a question he was often asked, sometimes by other Christians, and his answer was always the same; because of the love of God he had come to know and experience in his own life.
However, I recognise that we can appear a strange bunch. We sometimes don't appear very nice and sometimes our words and actions hurt others. That's not surprising because at the heart of our theology is an understanding that we are flawed, damaged, dare I say 'broken', people, in need of the grace of God, the forgiveness and love of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, as we seek to become the people God has called us to be as his children. We are a work in progress and we need to constantly seek the forgiveness of those we hurt, to pursue reconciliation in the peace that only Christ offers and to speak the truth in love to ourselves as much as to others.
But here's the thing, I reckon that what I've just said is true of all of us as Christians. It's something we acknowledge every time we share in the Lord's Supper, Mass, Eucharist, Holy Communion or whatever you choose to call it. I get tired of reading how evangelicals are a much nastier bunch than the rest. In my experience we are all in the same boat on this one. I have liberal colleagues who are some of the most illiberal people I've met but I also have liberal colleagues who shame me with the depth of their knowledge of the scriptures. I have catholic colleagues who have said and acted with awful misogyny towards female colleagues and yet I know catholics whose depth of spirituality I long for. As for all the other ways we can come up with for defining our church traditions, or 'post' church traditions, I think you'll find the same remains true.
One of the people I most respect in ministry is someone who on the surface appears to come from a very different tradition to my own and yet he is the most gifted evangelist I know. He's still flawed though, he supports Spurs!
So, here's my plea. Can we please stop telling each other how unpleasant the other lot are and get on with working out what it means to love one another. I'm sure someone once said that's how other people are going to know we are his followers.
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