What is an Evangelical? II
A tension arises for Evangelicals, however, who believe that God is RIGHT THERE and wants to communicate with them. The tension is that it is never quite possible to be clear on what this God is trying to say. A case in point is an Evangelical woman who confessed to me that her recent marriage to "John" was going down the tubes. The biggest problem she had, as she explained it to me, was not that John didn't do things that satisfied her but that she had "prayed" about getting married very fervently and had felt a "great peace in her heart" about John being the right person for her but now she knows that is not true. The dissonance she now feels arises not from being unloved but from the sense that she has misheard God.
So it must be with all Evangelicals. But it should be stated positively. They overstate God's presence because they believe firmly in God's power. But once you have put all your eggs in the basket of God's limitless power on your behalf, you have a difficult time explaining why it is that God is such a cipher, at best, or an unclear communicator at worst. The God who is RIGHT THERE seems not to be always or even often working things out to the Evangelical's benefit. That should cause a crisis in the Evangelical mind.
Second, the Evangelical has a unique view of time. To put the matter theologically, for the Evangelical every moment is a potentially "kairotic" moment. Every Evangelical pastor, even if he has never or barely ever studied Greek, knows the word "kairos" (just as he knows the word "koinonia"). He will tell you that Greek has two words for time, one of them measuring time in a chronological fashion ("chronos") and one from the perspective of meaning ("kairos"). A "kairos" moment is one that is full of meaning, drenched with deep significance, laden with possibilities. Because God is so close and so powerful, every instant can be the occasion for the revelatory work of God. Every moment can bring a fireworks of the soul, a blinding inspiriation, a moment of intense intimacy with the Creator of the Universe.
Thus, what can be a doctrine leading to an unhealthy view of the passage of time, must become such a doctrine because otherwise one might subtly be undermining the power of God. That is, who are YOU to say that this VERY MOMENT God might not be revealing something of ETERNAL SIGNIFICANCE to you or someone else? It creates a humongous tension in the mind because the true Evangelical then needs to EXPECT that every moment will be full of meaning. If one does not EXPECT deep and full meaning at every moment, one is questioning the power of the living God.
Thus, the true Evangelical becomes torn. S/he becomes torn because the weight accorded to God through their view of space and time becomes too heavy to bear. A God THIS CLOSE and THIS POWERFUL should really cause constant upset in one's life. It is like living next to an explosives factory that detonates charges all the time. Sooner or later one is going to get shellshocked.
I was an Evangelical for more than 20 years. Well, Evangelicalism was gradually eroding in me for about 15 of those 20 years. But I finally gave it up, despite the tremendous warmth of feeling generated by memories of my deep past, because the nearness of God became too dissonant for me to believe. Near in what way? For what purpose? Perceived how? I became exhausted with trying to maintain a belief in this kind of God when life seemingly belied it at every turn. But I have discovered that it is easier to get Evangelicalism out of one's belief structure than out of one's system. Once the Evangelical dye has seeped deeply into the soul, its stain is well-nigh ineradicable.
So, how does it continue to exercise its influence? That is the subject of the next essay...What is Evangelicalism? Mini-essay III.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long