Sunday, April 04, 2010

Not Ashamed

The title of this post is the same as that of Evangelical supergroup Newsboys' first big hit. It was the first of many slogan-styled lyrics the group would pen and broker into a lucrative career. Many of the subsequent tunes would return to the theme of "Not Ashamed," championing the outspoken proselytizing characteristic of North American evangelicalism. It is a Christianity born of perceived persecution, one that assumes a bold demeanor must be adopted to 'win' converts to the faith. This was the Christianity I grew up with, and the one I served as a professional minister under.

As I pass into the final year of my '30s, I am convinced of neither of these propositions. I do not see Christians persecuted in North America unless they choose to be; nor do I think a bold approach the best for presenting the ostensible message of Christianity.

To the first point: I see Christians persecuted when they're being obnoxious, or advocating for political positions that advantage our faith or beliefs over others', or committing acts of public protest that do more to fuel oppositional invective than to "win souls." I have never been personally persecuted in North America. At the worst, NA Christians are inconvenienced. We have to travel to other countries to understand the meaning of the word persecution. The local school board banning public prayer is not persecution, it's an inconvenience. In my last year of high school, I formed a prayer group: our school permitted us to do so. Even if they hadn't, we would have been free to sit and pray together in out cafeteria or on the front lawn. None of us would have been beaten, tasered, or shot. Losing sanctioned time to pray in schools is not persecution: being caned for praying on school property is.

Getting in hot water for getting in people's grill doesn't count either: if you go out of your way to be an obnoxious bugger and someone reacts poorly, that's not persecution. I had an elderly couple 'witness' to me on a flight once--witnessing in this case having something to do with telling me how Obama was a communist and this last election was likely going to be the last. All this was delivered at a volume better suited to a Rugby field than the cabin of an airplane. Had I responded to the elderly man's tirade against the Democrat party with colorful colloquialisms, it would not have been persecution, though if he were anything like some other believers I know, he'd have seen it that way.

In some ways, I've already covered the aggressive approach to 'outreach,' or what I like to refer to as evangelical mugging. My first post-professional ministry social event was my first steampunk convention, and I found myself filled with the realization that I was free to just talk to people, without feeling guilty if I didn't crowbar Christianity into the conversation.

I can already hear some of the responses to this: "but if we deny Christ before men, he'll deny us before the Father." I'm not denying my faith, as I'll explain shortly. Refusing to verbally assault strangers with my opinion on life, the universe, and everything is not the same as denying Christian affiliation, despite how I often feel that much of organized Christianity is like that uncle who does all the really ridiculous shit at weddings: you know he's family, but you wish he weren't.

Despite all this, I am genuinely not ashamed of the gospel. I am still a believer, just not the one I was ten years ago. I am unashamed of what I still think of as, to quote Rob Bell, the best way to live. I am aware of the role my faith has played in some of history's ugly moments, but as I have said before, Christianity does not have the monopoly on sheep or shitheads; those are as well-represented among the atheists as they are among believers.

So on this Easter day, 2010, I'm ending my unsuccessful attempt at regular Lenten blogposts with the confession that I still believe. It's just a very different animal than it used to be.

Is he risen? I'm no longer as certain of that as I once was, but I'm okay with the uncertainty. If God really needed me to prove His existence, the enterprise entire would be screwed. I have become like the father who asked Jesus to help his "poor faith." My faith might be poor, but it's my faith, and I'm proud of it.


  1. Anonymous11:40 PM

    But can I still greet you with the usual 'Christ is Risen'? ;)

    I completely agree, of course. And, though I'm becoming a quote machine, your comment on "if God needed" immediately reminded me of a particularly devastating one-liner from Hauerwas' Cross-Shattered Church.He writes:

    "When theology mimics philosophy ... you have an indication that the theologian may be unable to resist the prideful attempt to make theology something more than a servant. In modernity it has been very hard for theologians to resist the presumption that their task is to provide more determinative accounts of the truth of what Christians believe, accounts that are more basic than the beliefs themselves. Thus my observation: if you think you need a theory of truth to underwrite the conviction that Jesus was raised from the dead, then worship that theory — not Jesus."

  2. I've been working with YoungLife this past year, and one thing I like about their approach is the concept of earning the right to share the gospel. As of yet, I have not had opportunity to talk much about God or anything of the sort, and tough as it is to realize (because I too had for so long been of the mindset that you gotta go in guns blazing shouting out the gospel) that is perfectly fine. Indeed, as St Francis (I think) is oft quoted as saying "Preach the Gospel always. Use words if necessary".

    Interestingly, as I re-read the statement about uncertainty, I find that it resonates somewhat with where I have been faithwise as of late. I was looking so hard to demonstrate concretely to myself that what I believe is not a sham, and I was not finding much for "concrete" evidence... But as prayed about it, God seemed to be whispering "Be Still and Know that I am God". I don't have all the answers I was hoping for (although I do hope to find some of them), but for the time being I am content with not having all the answers/proofs. In a non-empirical way, I know in my heart that he is God (hmm... I guess that by definition is faith).

  3. Thanks, this was very well said.

  4. Mike, that quote definitely echoes where K was coming from in that last paragraph. Calvin, glad to hear I can still occasionally serve as some form of encouragement! And Aka, it's funny that everytime I think, "Okay, that's it, I've walked off the map this time," you've been among the comments, saying thanks. Thanks to all of you: getting more and more honest here at the blog has been very healthy, but also a little scary at times.

  5. Mike (not Michael), that is something I have always appreciated about you: you're willingness to be real with us about where you are at with life and faith and stuff.

    And as a side note, take a listen to "Doubting Thomas" by Nickel Creek. I think it beautifully reflects the uncertainty we experience in our walk with Christ.