Sometimes I feel like I need to belong to a 12-step program to help me deal with my issue. I feel compelled to stand up and confess that I’m an evangelical (much like an alcoholic stands up and confesses in front of his/her group), as though about the only thing one shouldn’t be in the United Methodist Church is evangelical. I’m also getting the sense that it’s not just in the UM world that being evangelical is frowned upon. Unfortunately, when I say “evangelical,” too many folks hear, “right-wing, bible thumping, turn-or-burn, divisive, hard-line, hate-filled, intolerant, mean-spirited, and homophobic.” These are all terms I’ve heard or read to describe evangelicalism in recent months. I sure hope that doesn’t describe me!
I don’t know what others mean when I say “evangelical,” but I can tell you what I mean. When I say I’m an evangelical, I mean that I believe a relationship with Jesus Christ is THE most transformative event in a person’s life, and that every person needs (yes, I said “needs”) to know Christ in a life-transforming way. Okay, call it “born again” if you want (Jesus didn’t have much problem calling it that when he talked to Nicodemus), or call it “justification” since we’re being good Wesleyans, but whatever we call it, call it accepting Jesus Christ as both Lord and Savior.
I spent over eight years as a deputy sheriff for the Jackson Parish Sheriff’s Office. I entered law enforcement because I wanted to help people. I soon discovered, though (and perhaps this is what put me on my journey toward ministry), that the type of help most people needed was not the type of help law enforcement can provide. I discovered, in small town law enforcement, that we were dealing with the same people over and over again. A change in their circumstances didn’t equal a change in them. I discovered most of the problems people had were heart problems—spiritual problems. Change a heart and change a life. I also discovered along the way the primary heart that needed changing was my own. An encounter with Jesus changes our hearts. It changes us. He saves us. Yes, from our sins, but also from ourselves. My “evangelical” nature also means that I believe it is the cross of Jesus Christ that makes a life-transforming relationship with Jesus possible. He died to redeem fallen humanity and reconcile us to God, the Father.
Acknowledging that one needs to be transformed by the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ would, I think, also be an acknowledgment that following Jesus is a life-long process (yes, I said “process,”), and if life-long, then sanctifying grace becomes an important companion along the journey. Change is not something that happens only once. Following Jesus affects every area of our lives. It impacts the job we have. It influences the car we drive. It determines how we utilize the resources entrusted to us. Children, go where I send thee, takes on a whole new meaning when Jesus is Lord. I sing with the hymn writer, “All to Jesus, I surrender, All to Him I freely give. I will ever love and trust Him, in His presence daily live.” Unfortunately, I too often find myself singing “Some to Jesus, I surrender, Some to Him I freely give…I surrender some.” That’s because, as an evangelical, I believe following Jesus is a process, and I’m still in process.
Being “evangelical” also means that I have a high regard for God’s Word, the Bible. I’m sorry that I don’t believe it’s just another book, or just another in a long line of religious writings. I believe that God has something to say to us, and for whatever reason, God has chosen to speak most clearly through His Son, Jesus, and through His Word, the Bible. I am Wesleyan to the core, but at the core of my Wesleyan theological framework is scripture–you know, scripture, tradition, reason and experience? Foundational for me is scripture, and it becomes the starting point, or should I say the lens through which my view of life begins. I said it was the starting point, not the ending point, but I don’t necessarily believe that tradition, reason and experience hold the same influence as scripture. I hope one doesn’t find that “hard-line.” I certainly don’t mean it that way.
I’d like to say that because I’m “evangelical” that I am always obedient to the Bible, that I always get it right. My experience has taught me otherwise way too many times. Sometimes, I just blow it. You don’t have to follow me around very long to discover that. But, being “evangelical” doesn’t mean I’m perfect. No self-respecting evangelical I know would ever say that. It only means I can’t rely on my experience alone to interpret right from wrong, or understand God’s will, or speak definitively about what should be the course for humanity and the church. Experience, jaded by sin as it is, is far too unpredictable to be that definitive.
As a committed evangelical, I also believe that God desires to use us to transform the world, that there must be a commitment to social reform and social justice, that missions matter, and they matter greatly. I believe that life transformation happens in relationship, and our lives are changed greatest when we’re engaged with the least, the lost, the hurting, the lonely, the broken and any who are on the margins (we could have a real discussion about who is on the margins, but that should be another blog, and you’d likely call me “mean-spirited” and “divisive”).
There, in a few words, is what I mean when I say I’m an “evangelical.” Sometimes, I get the sense that a person can be anything he/she wants to be, just don’t be “evangelical.” I am, though. I can’t help it! So…
Hi, my name is Lynn, and I’m an evangelical!
Until next time, keep looking up…