I am going to make an assumption that the audience over here at Life in Mordor has at least a nodding familiarity with the kind of blogs where I hang out regularly. In which case, you are probably familiar with the term “post-evangelical wilderness”.
For me, the “post-evangelical wilderness” is not some idle theoretical construct created by bloggers with WAY too much time on their hands and nothing better to do with it except sit there all day in front of their computer screens and write whatever strikes their fancy. For me, the “post-evangelical wilderness” is real life. It’s where I live, and it is where I have lived for the better part of the previous decade.
The dominant feeling in my life these days is a malaise caused by cognitive dissonance: Evangelicalism is my home. But because evangelicals are madly insistent upon embracing the worst aspects of low-brow American pop culture while doing the exact same stupid crap the mainlines were doing a few decades back that put them on a beeline toward complete and utter irrelevance, I am no longer at home in evangelicalism.
Why not convert? you say. I grew up in the Catholic Church, and I have several Catholic family members about whom I care very deeply who would love to see me “come home” to the Catholic faith. Also, I have been reading Lutheran blogs and listening to Lutheran podcasts lately, and I am finding that they express the Gospel in very compelling ways.
But I am not entirely convinced that another conversion experience is what I need at this point in my life. It would be nice to have a conversion story to tell, to be able to tell a tale of having wandered for so long out in the post-evangelical wilderness before finally coming into my new spiritual home. It would be nice to be able to enter into my new spiritual home and tell my conversion story loudly and proudly. Maybe I could write a book about it. Maybe I could do book signings. Maybe I could go on the speaking circuit and make obscene amounts of money. Maybe.
But conversion envy is a very dangerous thing. Being pimped by some other Christian tradition as their poster child is hopelessly overrated–even if you get a book deal out of it and get famous and make crazy amounts of money along the way.
Besides, as I progress in this post-evangelical journey, I am finding that my heroes aren’t necessarily the people with an awesome conversion story to tell, like Francis Beckwith or Franky Schaeffer. I am finding that my heroes are people like Thomas Merton, who sought to learn all he could about what monasticism looks like in other world religions and apply it to his own context as a Trappist monk in Kentucky. Or J. I. Packer, a well-respected conservative evangelical writer and thinker who served as an Episcopal bishop for several years. He sought to work with people, even those whom he thought were crazy, to work within structures that were already in place, to win people over with gentleness and respect, and to be a positive force for the change he wanted to see in his denomination. He is no longer an Episcopal bishop; I believe they finally excommunicated him a year or two back. But he stayed and dialogued and worked patiently, even as his whole denomination was throwing itself headlong over the cliff. They had to run him off.
So I am not convinced that what I need at this point in my life is another conversion experience. Rather, I think that what I need is to figure out a way to take the best parts of Catholic and/or Lutheran belief and practice and apply them to my own present context.
Recently one of my friends put up a post on her wall on Facebook which summarized her frustrations with the new Rob Bell book. (Those of you who don’t know which one: What rock have you been living under the last six months???) A lot of the responses to this post were back-slapping type responses which flippantly denounced the ideas in this book. I did not enter into this discussion, except to venture that Bell is asking questions that need to be asked and that we are foolish to dismiss them as out of hand.
I won’t get into my own thoughts on the Rob Bell book. I have written extensively about them over at my own blog.
As I read through this conversation, I wanted to grab these people and shout in their faces that the whole thing was a MASSIVE EXERCISE IN COMPLETELY AND TOTALLY MISSING THE POINT!!!!!!!!!! Then I remembered: These people are my friends. They are part of a community of believers that has been very good to me over the years. I would be a fool to throw that away lightly. Besides, these are people for whom Christ died, just as much as me. Surely I can afford to show them grace by restraining myself.
This is an illustration of the conflict that is inside of me as I pass through the post-evangelical wilderness. It would be nice to be part of a community of believers and friends who are all on the same journey as me. But such people are VERY hard to come by here in the heart of the Bible Belt, so I need to accept and live and work within such community as I can find. This community has its foibles and troubles, but it has been very good to me over the years and I am a fool to throw that away lightly.