How God Ruined Church For Me: A Post-Evangelical Apologia

Ancient-Future Faith: Rethinking Evangelicalism for a Postmodern World (Ancient-Future)Sunday, we had one of those moments of feeling so spiritually homeless that it was a tearful, sad morning. Here’s the fruit of that sadness. As with so much of my writing, I write in the knowledge that I’m not alone.

It started innocently enough. His name was Tim, and he was a Christian at my high school. There weren’t many of us, and we made friends despite those denominational differences that were supposed to matter so much. Tim invited me to a charismatic prayer meeting at a Catholic church.

I’d like the music, he said. I did, and as a side benefit, God ruined church for me for the rest of my life.

These Catholics were reading the Bible, singing worship songs and praising Jesus. They prayed for people with trouble and need. They welcomed me as a brother. They loved the Lord.

None of this was supposed to be true. They–“they” being my Baptist elders and teachers–had told me that all these Catholics were lost, enslaved to superstition, praying to statues. They didn’t tell me that some of them acted like they’d just gotten saved at a revival meeting.

It didn’t stop here. Tim introduced me to Jim, Marty and Billy: all Methodists. They asked me to be on a “revival team,” and we went around to different churches preaching, testifying and singing. All Methodist churches, by the way. Another group of people I’d been told were lost and didn’t believe in Jesus.

Pretty soon things fell apart.

I dated a Catholic girl….and a Methodist girl. I went to all kinds of churches that I’d been told weren’t for real Christians. I met people from every denomination you can think of who loved Jesus, believed the Gospel and wanted others to do the same: Episcopalians, Disciples, Methodists, Catholics, Presbyterians, United Church of Christ, Crazy Church of Christ, Pentecostals, Charismatics, mongrels, mutts, whatevers. I prayed, worshiped and witnessed with these folks.

It ruined me, and it was God’s fault.

You see, it’s supposed to work like this: The world of churches is like a big mall, and there are many different kinds of stores. You choose one store–ONE–and you go there for everything you need. You are LOYAL to that store. You BELIEVE in that store and what it’s all about; in the way it does things. You persuade others that your store is the one and only store real shoppers patronize. You buy name brand merchandise at every opportunity. It’s your store. Yes, there is a mall, but you only need one store.

Remember when your dad said he was a “Chevy” man? And you mom said we buy all our groceries at the Blue Bell market? Remember when you decided your school, this college, that team were all “yours?” And you were ready to argue the point of your loyalty? Churches are like that. You choose, and you stay with your choice.

Here’s something I’ve noticed: It felt good to know what you were. It felt good to have a team, a brand, a store, a school and a church. You knew who you were and what you were all about. Things were simpler. Lots of decisions already made; lots of questions already answered.

I know many people who still live in this world. They are shopkeepers in the mall. They are employees and customers of their chosen store. Presbyterianism. Roman Catholicism. Southern Baptist fundamentalism. TBN Pentecostalism.

When you come in to shop, they are very happy. But when you say you are leaving and going to another store, or several other stores, they are unhappy. They want to persuade, convince and bribe. They may be nice or angry. They may insist that it’s wrong to go to another store, that you’re making a terrible mistake and wasting your money and time. They can make you feel very guilty and uncomfortable, like you are doing something wrong.

They believe, you see, that Jesus came to found their particular chain of stores. Jesus was the founder of their store. It’s right there in the Bible as they read it, and they can prove it to you if you’ll just stop and listen to their favorite teacher. There are people I know who have bought into this in one store, and another and then another. They are on their third or fourth final choice of a store to patronize. Why shouldn’t you do the same? Don’t you want to be right?

And then there are those of us who, because God has ruined our shopping trip by showing us the good and the not so good in all these stores, are trying to shop in the whole mall and get back home. When God ruined everything for us by showing us the value and the limitations of all the stores, he didn’t give us the gift of feeling great about never really having a “home” of our own.

Do you know that feeling? Denise and I were tearfully talking about it today. It’s grown and grown over our lives. We’ve been Baptist and we are Baptist, but we can’t go all the way with Baptists. We’ve been Calvinists and Presbyterian, but we can’t go all the way. We love the Anglican and Episcopal churches, with their wonderful worship and liturgy. We find ourselves in Catholic churches a couple of times a year, and we’re deeply drawn by what we see, hear and experience, but we can’t go all the way and buy into it. Not with any of them.

The more these various groups contend that Jesus is the exclusive sponsor of their stores, the less I want to do more than visit them. I love the whole mall. I feel I belong, in some way, to all of these traditions, but not wholly to any one of them.

When I was a college student, I picked up a book by Robert Webber called The Majestic Tapestry. It’s now out of print, though much of the material is reproduced in his Ancient-Future books. In this book, Webber asked if you ever felt you were on a journey through all of the church in all of its expressions in all times and places, and that you, somehow, belonged to all of it. He asked if there were parts of yourself that were drawn to evangelical revivalism, and other parts to liturgy, and other parts to social action, and others to contemplative prayer. Did you feel that the church was a majestic tapestry, and all the strands were, in some way, part of your spiritual experience?

Yes. Yes. Yes. I did and still do. I knew exactly what he was talking about. When I discovered the voice and practices of the ancient church, and the language of the ecumenical church, I resonated deeply. All of the church was my home, but no single room within it made me so comfortable I wanted to stay there and there only.

Webber said that this experience was not always a happy one. The Christian world seems to work better when we find our niche and stay in it. Every kind of Christian with his/her kind and staying in the paths laid out by those who go before you. I grew up in that world, but God ruined it by showing me that all Christians are sinners and all Christians are vitally connected to Jesus. Jesus is the sponsor of the church, but he is not the creator of everything the church is doing or claims is the right thing to do.

I deeply value my Southern Baptist tradition. I “amen” its emphasis on scripture, preaching, congregationalism, simplicity, prayer, missions and evangelism. These are all part of the mission of God that flows from the Kingdom of Jesus.

But in that same tradition there is much that I cannot affirm, even as I work for a Southern Baptist entity. I cannot affirm revivalism and invitationalism. I cannot embrace the unethical manipulation of emotion. I do not affirm the shallow, truncated, man-centered Gospel and the rejection of the larger Christian family. I reject the endorsement of the conservative culture war by our leaders. I do not affirm the inherent goodness or necessity of the grand denominationalism Southern Baptists have built.

There are many SBC churches in which I could happily be at home, and there are others I could not support or worship in with a clear conscience.

I could write the same paragraph for any portion of the body of Christ that has influenced me. I love liturgy, but not liberalism. I love Merton, but not transubstantiation and papal infallibility. I love Anglicanism, but not apostasy. I want a Catholic church with Anglican theology, Presbyterian government and the Baptist view of the sacraments.

The work of bringing unity in the body of Christ isn’t a work of structure and institution. I doubt if God cares how many different ways we gather, worship, work or do mission. The work of unity is a work of the Holy Spirit in my heart, bringing me to love other Christians and to see Christ in them and for me.

As Webber said, this isn’t always a happy experience even though it is a rich and stimulating one. He also said this is the journey many of us are on. We are living at the end of denominationalism and seeing the birth of an emerging church. We are, many of us, almost homeless in this post-evangelical wilderness.

It is particularly hard for those of us who have been raised deeply rooted in the local church. We never feel entirely right if we are not part of a church. We’ve grown up on preaching that presented and defended church membership as identical with discipleship. (If you are a Southern Baptist of my generation, you know what church activity you should be at most every day of the week.) Even with a more honest reading of the New Testament’s view of the church as an outpost of the Kingdom and not a franchise of a denomination, it is uncomfortable to feel exiled and away from a local church.

One one side is the possibility of being part of any local church and receiving what Jesus provides through his people. On the other is the demand to accede to a particular church’s agenda, theology, program, schedule and need for resources. It is hard to be “part” and yet say “No” to so much of what makes up a church.

There are churches that contain much of what post-evangelicals like myself are longing for. Many congregations in the ECUSA, PCUSA , CBF and the UMC in particular have held on to much that is good in the broadest kind of evangelical catholicism. Yet, these churches have given away far too much of the core of the faith. One can go and hear the scriptures and the liturgy, and even a good sermon. But then you go away knowing that, in many situations, that church has embraced stands on homosexuality and the uniqueness of Jesus Christ that amount to an abandonment of the faith you treasure.

I truly plead with Bible-believing, Gospel-believing evangelicals within these churches to believe that many of us are longing for the kind of home they could provide. I despise these denominational wars, because they are the antithesis of the “great tradition” that I value, but there are some battles that must be fought for the sake of the truth and for future generations.

The emerging, missional church, in all its various forms, is also responding to post-evangelical concerns. But here, there is still much in process. No clear picture has come together. No one knows what direction an individual emerging church will go. As I have said elsewhere, we resonate with Brian Mclaren’s questions and analysis, but few of us can embrace his ecclesiastical answers. Increasingly, it appears that the worst of the mainline left is co-opting the emerging church, making the exceptions to that pollution all the more significant.

Others of us are experimenting with our own expressions of post-evangelicalism. This is also a difficult way. Most of us come from traditions and denominations that haunt us. The church down the street wonders what we are doing. We look too catholic, too much like a cult, too childish and contrarian. When we have to explain what we are, most of our time is explaining what we are not.

Yet I am encouraged and press on, because, as I said, it is God who ruined church for me. Abraham met one man in his lifetime who worshiped the God he was following. God works in his own time, and those of us who find ourselves unable to buy into denominationalism are seeing God do a great thing in his church. We need to nurture it in ourselves and pass it on to our children. And yes, blame God, for he is the author and finisher of our faith and of our journey in the post-evangelical wilderness.

36 thoughts on “How God Ruined Church For Me: A Post-Evangelical Apologia



  2. Monk,
    I don’t think that he was asking you for you to counsel! I saw some pretty interesting questions there. What about Joyce Meyers?
    I do understand why his wife is on fire for God but a balance is necessary and family is priority under God’s blessings!!!


  3. Mark…..I simply can’t give personal replies to these kinds of situations. Please understand that I can’t get involved over the net in people’s marriages. I have to recommend they seek out a pastor or counselor where they are. I am not dissing you, but the net is not a place for pastoral or marriage counseling.



  4. Hello!
    My wife and I were born and raised Catholics and we now split into different views of spirituality and religion. I became an Agnostic borderline Atheist and she became a full blown fanatic Baptist.Do you see where this is heading to?

    I respect her choice and would like to have the same,which doesn’t happen. Well the reality is that I feel like I am leaving with a walking zombi,who are getting more and more detached from the World we live in.

    Watching herself repeating “Joyce Meyers” lines (When the Bible clearly says not to pray in repetition mode ,like catholics for example) everyday, drives me nuts! Talking about Joyce Meyers, what is her denomination? What is her motto other than make her empire grow??

    I heard part of her speech on yesterday’s show that absolutely made me sick when I hear her grouchy voice:

    ” Do not worry about education,they don’t teach about God” (Sure ignorant people is easier to control)

    ” Depression is a state of mind,you don’t have to stay depressed or go to a doctor,ask God to heal you.” Sure that sounds wonderful but Joyce herself went to a doctor for a procedure couple of years ago. What happened to ask God,you don’t need a doctor ???

    Anyway, I am sorry,I didn’t came here to bash Joyce or any religion. However ,I am extremely frustrated and worried as my wife now have other priorities than husband and kids. The church and “Jesus” first she says. We are getting further apart every minute and her motherly touch is dissipating. My little kids can sense that. Do you know what is scary to me? All of the “associates” of the “Jesus store” she goes to seem to be just fine with that, as long as they keep selling to my wife.

    If anyone knows of any links for help please let me know. I don’t want to divorce her!!!


  5. “One one side is the possibility of being part of any local church and receiving what Jesus provides through his people. On the other is the demand to accede to a particular church’s agenda, theology…” Bullseye, Michael! You’ve just summed up why I’ve never been able (save once, in another city, when I distinctly sensed the LORD nudging me into it) to “sign on the dotted line.” Regular worship, yes; regular offering, yes; contribute my talents (“have a ministry,” as they say in Evangelical/Fundamentalist circles), yes. But get lassoed into a bureaucratic vortex? Nope, no way.


  6. To borrow your mall analogy, the Anglicans are a giant department store that honours the competitors’ coupons. It gives a believer a lot of room to grow and be. Unfortunately, the dangers of this kind of openness have become painfully obvious lately. It might not be pretty, but I believe one way or another the faithful will sort it out. It’s what they do.

    I like that. What makes me an Anglican has much more to do the central focus on the Scriptures and the Sacraments, but I do appreciate the attitude that we cannot allow any divisions in the church to be any fault of our own.

    Catholics may not recognize our holy orders, but we recognize theirs. Baptists may not recognize our faith, but we recognize theirs. Pentecostals may not recognize our apostolic succession, but we recognize and welcome their apostolic gifts.

    OK, maybe it isn’t really that ideal in every case, there is still a lot of pride and theological inbreeding in Anglican churches, but I do think this is the approach to take.


  7. “Now….if we didn’t have churches, but the CHURCH in differing, generous and humble expressions, we’d all have a home.”

    If you aren’t having the CHURCH in all of its expressions, what are you having?


  8. Well done. I’m not sure why I’ve not found my way here before, or at least not in a long time, but a thanks to Molly and her weekly meanderings at for sending me here.

    I too am an SBCer. I too grow weary of exclusion and the placement of an institution above following Jesus and His ways. I believe that many SBCers however will quickly dismiss your words as being me-centered and making church all about what the individual wants it to be. This, of course, turns your criticism on its head and is Alice in Wonderland from this reader’s perspective, because what I see you saying is that you are trying to follow Jesus, the God Who Is, and as a part of that you are participating in the Christiam community. Unfortunately, all too often in the Christian community you have found that the institutions aren’t pointing people to the God Who Is; instead, they are pointing people to the idols of Institution, Doctrine, Doctrinal Distinctives, Spiritual Pride, Etc. While that may be driven out of spiritual pride on your own part from time to time, being human and all, (I say because it is true for me), I’m excited to see a fellow believer who is convicted about following Jesus no matter the cost.

    Thank you for a thought provoking and encouraging post.

    Bryan Riley


  9. I think that it’s often easy to lose sight of the church — including the local church — as being composed of people (Jesus being the head person), as opposed to being composed of doctrinal statements and traditions. As I’m sure many of you have, I have learned over the years to be reasonably tolerant of expressions that I disagree with in order to help maintain and contribute to the church community that i am committed to. When healthy relationships prevail among the members of a church community (and the church and its surrounding community) are in place, I believe it creates life that then opens the door towards deeper truth. I suppose what I’m saying here does not have clear ecclesiological implications, but it’s something to keep in mind.


  10. I just wonder if perhaps North America churches tend towards more characteristic (extremist would be perjorative) expressions of their particular denominational stripe than is the case over here in the UK, with Episcopalians being particularly prone, and mega churches being a denomination all of their own.

    This thought was originally prompted by a discussion here on worship practices – where the overwhelming opinion seemed to be that contemporary worship had gone to far and needed to be swept away rather than reformed (I elide) – Whilst this left me puzzled at the time, later review of my experiences of NA expressions of Christianity led me to be more sympathetic towards some of the arguments.

    Christianity in the UK has many faults, but there does seem to be a core of churches which are fairly solidly (and mildly) evangelical. More importantly, this evangelical core crosses denominations and extends quite far into the established Church of England (the contrasting styles of the last two Bishops of Durham are a very good indication of the state of Anglicanism in the UK). This tends to lead me towards a ‘post evangelicalism’ that is reformist, rather than revolutionary. Perhaps the ‘parlous’ state of the Christian retail industry over here also helps. In the small industrial town I live in, I have the choice of two evangelical churches a Baptist church and an Anglican church; spiritually equivalent, staunchly evangelical, mildly charismatic and with different expressions of traditions.

    A thought experiment; for those of you claiming that what you want is a synthesis of various traditions – how happy would you be in a church with a slightly different mix of traditions [for instance imonk in jwblair’s ideal church, and vice versa], because if the instinct is always to differentiate and separate then there will always be a belief that can serve as a proxy for doing this.


  11. It grieves me, too.
    I am touched by your blessing for my family this New Year. We have started off with the death of my sweet mother-in-law, who passed away on Dec. 12th. As I write, I’m talking to my husband while he checks into a Hilton in Durham, NC, to attend her memorial service. I am staying home with our 4- and 5-year old sons.
    May God bless you and your family, too, this New Year and always.
    We have the love of Christ in common. So I will hope, more than I grieve.
    Susan F


  12. Susan: I truly appreciate your persepctive. I can’t agree with it, and it grieves me that so many of us who have so much in common are divided over what scripture says.

    God bless you and yours this New Year.


  13. Dear iMonk,
    I don’t agree. Experience and reading of Scripture invite us, not to make it up all on our own but to repent and strive for the kingdom of God. As you say, you are not defined as a white male heterosexual. I won’t ask why (oh, tired subject)others’ membership in the kingdom must be based on homosexuality.
    Susan F


  14. No sarcasm at all.

    There’s simply no way for me to fit that great 22 year relationship into any reasonable reading of scripture. And if I ignore scripture based on my experience, especially the kind of experience you describe, I’m completely out to sea and just making it all up on my own.

    It’s painful all the way around.


  15. Dear InternetMonk,
    Please tell me you weren’t being sarcastic about the “applause”. If I had enlarged upon my appreciation of your post, perhaps you’d have understood how wonderful I thought it was?
    Truly, I admit to a personal axe on the gay thing- Hebrews 13:4, etc. I want no one to be defined by cultural identity politics, so please don’t misunderstand that. My best friend (since I was 16 years old) has been a gay man, now in his 22nd year of monogamous partnership with his man.
    I met my friend in Advanced Spanish in high school (graduation: ’81 for me, ’82 for M.). I’ve been married now for 7 years…. my friend has been with his partner for 22 years.
    I know that you do understand, in your heart, the difficulties that a lover of Jesus encounters when given this example of enduring love…as opposed to a celibacy requirement for the unmarried.
    Another thing I like about you, IMonk, is that when I listened to one of your podcasts, you sounded EXACTLY like my dear ‘ol Dad from NC. You are younger than I am, I think, but for this DC-suburbanite, you are a refreshing sound of home.
    Susan F


  16. Susan:

    Thanks so much for the applause.

    How is it compatible with Christianity to define a person…

    1) By any sexual orientation? It’s dehumanizing. I am not defined by God as a heterosexual white man. I am a person created and loved. Period.

    2) Therefore when someone says that, in spite of Hebrews 13:4, I am to welcome them into the church as a “gay” person, gay being defining a person by a sexual act that is condemned explicitly in both testaments as wrong per se, they are requiring me to abandon what my faith says is sacred, i.e. Biblically defined personhood (exp in marriage and sexuality.)

    The church welcomes confessing sinners. Single sinners. Married sinners. Celibate sinners.


  17. Oh, InternetMonk! I can’t match the eloquence of some of my fellow nomads who’ve posted above. But thank you.
    I do have to press one point for those who “hate liberalism”: Those of us with no wish to deny the unique mission of Jesus may yet believe that welcoming gay people into the FULL life of the church is God’s will.


  18. Outstanding post, Michael. I agree with Dan – this should be the post of the year.

    Although I’ve been a United Methodist all my life, that does not mean that I agree with some of the “stuff” that is going on within my denomination. Some of the changes (and one or two of the traditions) make me cringe. I am a member of my local UMC, and am active in it, and I especially enjoy the “small group” that I belong to – we are all members of our local church, but we all come from different backgrounds (UMC, Church of Christ, SBC, Nazarene, RCC, Episcopal, and one of those odd ones that I never heard of and can’t remember the name of).

    I also have a Catholic background (through my father and his parents, who always insisted that we attend mass when we visited them, which was often), and I have been involved in the SBC and several SBC-affiliated organizations (college groups, prayer meetings, groups, Bible studies – even revival teams!) – but I find that I disagree with much of the theology and “church rules” in those groups.

    There is no perfect church or denomination or religion, save the Church Itself – God’s Church. Think how much more effective our witness would be – to those who do not know or choose to not know Jesus – if we could just get past the differences and work together as One Church.

    My faith is in God, my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and not in the church.


  19. Michael,

    Probably the post of the year, in my opinion. I have experienced and resonate with almost all of it. Always longing for home, seeing glimpses of home in so many places, but never home. Maybe God created this denominational dementia to increase our longing for the Day when we will be fully home, worshipping fully in spirit and truth. In the interim, we learn to practice cross- denominational Christ-centered unity and hope that we can experience some of the wonder of the unity of the faith Christ promised.

    This Christmas we opened our un-renovated worship space to a Love Feast with a completely different body of believers from Freedomize Toronto. They hosted us at our space, cooked for us and organized the event. They are artists and students, an eclectic mix of artistic, eco-aware, emerging, Acts 29 (originally), Pentecostals. We are a PCA, young professional Banana Republic crowd. We ate on the floor, on carpets, Moroccan-themed and so out of our comfort zones we had to catch a plane to get back – and it was one of the best things we did this year. The awkwardness, the beauty, the weird wonder of diversity, and the longing for so much more of this.

    As I am meditating on Colossians, I am reminded of Paul’s prayer for us, that we may be ‘knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.’

    Sigh. May it be. Come Lord Jesus.

    Dan MacDonald
    Grace Toronto


  20. To borrow your mall analogy, the Anglicans are a giant department store that honours the competitors’ coupons.

    What a great phrase!! I haven’t explored the Anglican tradition yet much at all, but this statement made me smile, and piqued my interest!

    steve 🙂


  21. I hear that. I was a good little high-churchish Anglican choir-boy until I dated a pentecostal girl. That led to the sudden end of my comfortable denominational bubble. Next thing I know I’m a regular at Pentecostal evening services, working youth programs at a PDC Alliance church, and spending a summer with the Catholics. Today, I’ve settled into calling an evangelical Anglican church home. One of the reasons I decided to stay Anglican was because of their breadth of traditions and ecumenical values. To borrow your mall analogy, the Anglicans are a giant department store that honours the competitors’ coupons. It gives a believer a lot of room to grow and be. Unfortunately, the dangers of this kind of openness have become painfully obvious lately. It might not be pretty, but I believe one way or another the faithful will sort it out. It’s what they do.


  22. I have slowly felt this way for the past 9 years. I thought I would find a home, and tried, but each time, something happened. It came to the “sticking point” and there was simply something that I could not make stick for me. It is indeed sad to me – this ‘not belonging’ when I want so much to belong. I have not wandered from God, though as you say, when you leave a given church body, there are many that think that you are now a ‘prodigal’, and I have even been called that, and certainly treated like that when I decided to try and go back, since there was no other place that I really seemed to fit.
    Now I am in a large non-denominational church because my son and daughter like to go there. I greatly appreciate the pastor, attend a small group regularly, and volunteer for the church newsletter. But still, I feel ‘apart’… because I am.


  23. Peace be with you!

    I just finished reading “A Generous Orthodoxy” by McLaren. It brings up some very interesting concepts.

    Right now, on January 1, 2007, I’m thankful that I’m an Old Catholic.

    I can relate to the experience of being raised Southern Baptist, meeting the ‘fire’ at the Assemblies of God Church, playing the keyboard at a ‘Brothers & Sisters’ Jesus People meeting that turned into an independent Charismatic Church, then back to the A/G for a little more stability, but attending a Friday night Word of Faith – Rhema Bible group, graduated from a Methodist College… and all this before 20 years old. Then off to work as a youth pastor / music minister at another Indie Charismatic Church in another city. Somehow got into Amway and the prosperity message. Served as a Chaplain at a hospital. Worked in the advertising business, played organ at a Word Church, graduated Rhema Bible Training Center. Came back to the Word Church and got burnt out! Didn’t go anywhere! Bad idea, by the way! Then started seeking to be a Christian without the ‘high brow’ know it all attitude. Started seeking and found out about St. Francis of Assisi and the original Church – the Orthodox Church. Somewhere in all of this I discovered the Old Catholic Church of North America (sacraments open to all baptized Christians, not under papal jurisdiction, and more Orthodox in Theology). My studies included Anglican, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox readings.

    So here I am at the beginning of 2007 with a mission to bring Jesus to the community (neighborhood), connect the Clergy in the city, preach with Gospel at all times (and use words when necessary), take care of the orphans and widows, the poor, the divorced, the stressed-out and the stranger, not forgetting my own family. I’m to do this by starting house churches – imagine Holy Mass in a living room – reaching out to cultures (nations) with the love of God, through the power and demonstration of the Holy Spirit; flowing with the Tradition of the Church and avoiding the tradition of men.

    Lord have mercy!

    Peace and Happy New Year!

    Fr. Wade Fahnestock+


  24. So much of what you said resonates with me. I, too, feel like a spiritual nomad, not at home in any denomination, and this saddens me greatly. I don’t really see the emerging movement as any kind of rescue, though. It seems to me that this new movement will work out like others before it (great awakening, pentecostalism, charismatic, to name some recent ones). It will bring some healthy understandings and attitudes and some unhealthy ones, just like all the movements, denominations and anti-denominations that have come before.

    Like you, I feel that I can’t go all the way with the various denominations. But it makes me feel as though I’m just left here in the wilderness with my own opinions, happy to bump into others who agree with me on one point or another. I don’t think that’s the right place to be. For some reason, I’m also dissatisfied with my own opinions on the Bible or on theology, because I know how much they’ve changed over the past couple of decades (my opinions haven’t changed willy-nilly, but they have developed and morphed too often for me to consider them perfectly reliable).

    I don’t think I’m alone when I desire to submit to the authority of the Church on many points where it has had longstanding consensus. I want to be in accord with ancient Christians, and by that I don’t mean just New Testament Chrsitians. But this very often leads me away from a Protestant theological mindset, past Roman Catholic thinking and on to Eastern Orthodox thought, whose dogma embraces much mystery and doesn’t attempt to be exhaustive or scholastic, whose understanding is supposed to be based on the consensus over the centuries of the saints led by the Spirit (something different than democracy, but which still leaves room for differences of opinion on countless subjects). It resembles what some post-evangelicals seem to be aiming for, but it comes in trappings that seem encrusted with history.

    I was raised in multiple strains of evangelical Protestantism, so I guess I have always felt most at home in that milieu, but the more I align myself with ancient theology, the less at home I feel in Protestantism. I also don’t always feel at home in Eastern Orthodoxy. But I especially don’t feel comfortable with what seems to be an a la carte or experimental Christianity in the emerging movement (even though I don’t condemn out of hand what they appear to be doing).

    I think all this comes from the desire for a unified Christianity that isn’t just an amorphous patchwork tapestry of competing theological claims and denominations (where each is sometimes right and sometimes wrong), but is an actual organized Church that all the world can see, that makes some human mistakes but that speaks with a unified voice on central matters of belief. It seems like the Church was exactly this for quite a few centuries. I know the church isn’t going to be visibly unified in my lifetime, but a major question in my head is, what can I do to hasten such a visible organizational unity?

    Anyway, I guess all I can say after all this is that the post-evangelical wilderness really does feel like a wilderness. But, Michael, I found your final paragraph in particular to be an encouragement.

    Thanks for leaving room on your site for long-winded commentary.


  25. Well….I don’t have much problem saying “No.” 🙂 And there’s always lots to do. Plus, many churches today are making ESSENTIAL statements of faith and teaching requirements either more generic or able to be excepted. (i.e. I take exception to some portion.) Note, for instance, Piper’s attempts to navigate the credo/paedo business.

    I also think that the better portions of the emerging church is seeing how to affirm the larger church without overstressing the local.

    I could be part of an evangelical PCUSA or a moderate Founder’s SBC with equal ease, even though in both instances there are some stopping off points. As I said, unless I had to affirm everything to sing in the choir or serve the homeless, I could do fine.


  26. I think if we ever do feel at home here on earth, even in our churches, we’re in trouble.

    I left my Southern Baptist roots soon after graduating from college. I just didn’t feel at home there anymore and I set out on a search for a church ‘home’ that lasted for 20 years–and 13 of those 20 were spent with no church home at all. During that time I attended several non-denominational Bible churches, contemplated a Catholic friend’s invitation to join her church, visited a Presbyterian church and other denominations, occasionally checked back in with the Baptists, and tried worshiping with some friends in our home. Nothing ever felt completely right.

    Then one day I knew we had to find and join a local church. We had been wandering alone in the wilderness long enough. It was time for us to rejoin and reconnect with a group of our fellow pilgrims and travel with them, together, instead of judging them and criticizing them from a distance.

    I have now been happily settled back with the denomintaion of my childhood for 4 years. I think the SBC has changed quite a bit over the past 20 years. But, I suspect that some of the change I perceive is like the change Mark Twain observed in his father: “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished by how much he’d learned in seven years.”

    It has taken decades for me to learn to be at peace wherever God places me and to extend the same grace to my brothers and sisters of various denominations that I need extended to me. In my own church I have to take a deep breath when certain topics come up or when things are done a certain way (I am still disappointed at sharing the Lord’s Supper only once every 3 months.) One of my sisters now attends a Church of Christ church. Sometimes she misses the musical instruments but at least there is little chance of controversy brewing over the worship music. Neither of us feels ‘at home’ but we are with family, traveling towards Home.


  27. “If I were in a large metro area where church choices were actually possible, I would find a church home quickly. If job didn’t define what church I had to join, there are a couple of directions we could go and be happy the rest of our lives….”

    But how? Seriously; based on your next paragraph. (I’m in a large metro area and struggle with this.)

    As you said, it’s hard to be “part” and yet have to say “No” to so much of what might make up a particular church.

    Also, many churches (thinking about nondenominational types) require you to adhere(?) or agree with all their statement of faith/belief in order to become a full member.

    – Craig


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  29. I agree that being reasonably educated, mature and intelligent should give some depth to the human experience, and that is certainly true when we look at denominational expressions of Christianity.

    In my situation, a decision to come to the mission field means my church choices are 1) mountain Baptist 2) mountain Pentecostal or 3) a small group of this or that. So far, I’ve opted for the small group of this or that.

    I stayed 12 years in one church and I generally walk up the road to the Baptist church. The worship that I lead here at school is generic evangelicalism. I realize that everyone who works here has to make a compromise to set through a worship service that I lead.

    If I were in a large metro area where church choices were actually possible, I would find a church home quickly. If job didn’t define what church I had to join, there are a couple of directions we could go and be happy the rest of our lives….

    But here’s the rub. At some point I have to get off all those trains. I can’t stay with the ECUSA and a female bishop denying the uniqueness of Jesus. I can’t stay with infant baptism or required revivalism. So at some point- like when being asked to serve as a teacher or ministry leader- I have to have integrity and say, “I can’t go all the way.”

    Now….if we didn’t have churches, but the CHURCH in differing, generous and humble expressions, we’d all have a home.


  30. I like my boss, but not the coworker across the hall. I like my mother-in-law, but not my brother-in-law. I like food but not exercise. But still, I have to stay employed, married, and healthy. I have to compromise on my preferences.

    Reasonably intelligent people find very few ideologies that they totally agree with.

    That being said, do we really have to become spiritual nomads? Can we not just pick the group that we think is closest to divine truth, then ignore their flaws, like any good family member should do?

    You may be doing that for all I know.


  31. Happy New Year, indeed. Truth hurts when it hits too hard. You said:

    I could write the same paragraph for any portion of the body of Christ that has influenced me. I love liturgy, but not liberalism. I love Merton, but not transubstantiation and papal infallibility. I love Anglicanism, but not apostasy. I want a Catholic church with Anglican theology, Presbyterian government and the Baptist view of the sacraments.

    Change the Baptist view of the sacraments with something like Lutheran, and you’ve got me. I think I’ll have to share this at our next theology pub night.



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