Re-habilitating (and recovering from) my own evangelicalism

Last time I was looking at some of the reasons why evangelicals get a bad press, often unjustly. I suggested that some dislike evangelicals because of their theology, their stance over certain issues, or because of feeling written off or looked down on by them.

I can identify with all of these, but in my case there’s another and more important reason for my anti-evangelical bias. It’s that for quite some time I was an evangelical (or thought I was and tried to be), but over the past few years have started emerging from evangelicalism – and reacting (maybe over-reacting) against it in something not unlike a teenage rebellion.

I’ve written plenty before about the idea of stages of faith development, and how an early black-and-white fundamentalist phase can often later give way to a period of doubting, questioning and perhaps rebelling against the authorities that you once trusted. This has certainly been the case for me.

My journey into – and out of – evangelicalism

So I found, or rather re-found, Christian faith 20 years ago and joined a charismatic evangelical Anglican church which was vibrant, alive and exciting. Having been brought up in an ultra-‘high’ Anglo-Catholic tradition which I never really connected with, this felt like a breath of fresh air; the real thing. And in plenty of ways I think it was, sort of; I don’t want to knock it now.

But over the years I found that there were elements within the wider evangelical and charismatic traditions that I felt increasingly uncomfortable and unhappy with, not to mention parts of the Bible I struggled to accept as ‘God’s Word’. I tried hard to accommodate all these things, but cracks started to appear in my watertight theology.

Finally, maybe about 10 years ago, I began to realise that I simply couldn’t accept a lot of the fundamental premises or worldview of evangelicalism. It seemed increasingly clear to me that the Bible wasn’t inerrant, and that there were other and (I felt) better ways to interpret it and to understand crucial aspects of faith such as sin, atonement, salvation, hell and so on.

Reacting against evangelicalism

So I began to react against evangelicalism. I felt that I needed in some ways to ‘recover’ from it, or perhaps recover my faith from it. I was (am) seeking a new, different way of being Christian – a way that radically reinterprets my former evangelical beliefs while remaining to some degree grounded in them.

So a lot of what I’ve said in this blog is a reaction against aspects of evangelicalism that I’ve found personally unhelpful, unhealthy, restrictive, not life-affirming… or which I simply don’t like.

And I’ll admit that quite often my reaction is irrational and disproportionate. It’s something of an allergic response. Particular evangelical phrases almost bring me out in a rash – for example ‘God’s Word’; ‘sharing (or preaching) the gospel’; the adjectives ‘biblical’, ‘scriptural’ or ‘sound’; certain Bible verses quoted out of context. I hear these red rag phrases and I want to shout rude things – doubtless a sign of my spiritually parlous state.

Something else that often unreasonably annoys me about evangelicalism is a tendency to take everything (not just the Bible) too literally and seriously, and so to miss out on symbolism and metaphor, complexity and ambiguity, humour and playfulness. I’ve complained before about an evangelical lack of imagination. I don’t actually think that’s a fair assessment. But even if it is, it’s not wrong to be that way; it just doesn’t work for me.

Evangelicalism suits a particular type of person

So I wonder whether evangelicalism may simply suit certain kinds of people and personality better than others.

My theory (for what it’s worth) is that evangelicalism is a brilliant system for people who like systems. It’s ideal for those who like things well-ordered, neat, correct, clear, systematic, logical, watertight. And I think it can also be great for activists, people who like to get out there and do faith rather than spend ages thinking about nuance, complexity and alternative possible interpretations.

I’d suggest then (at the risk of crass generalisation) that evangelicalism may be particularly well suited to lawyers, engineers and physicists, maybe even librarians, and rather less well suited to poets, artists or philosophers.

So the main reason I’m no longer evangelical is not that evangelicals are nasty, nor even that they’re wrong necessarily. It’s simply that I don’t feel at home within evangelicalism; don’t feel that’s where I truly belong, where my personality best fits.

Evangelicals are not baddies

I’d suggest that the vast majority of evangelicals are simply ordinary folk who love Jesus, love the Bible, and love people. They’re doing their best to follow Jesus (as they understand him through the Bible), and to care for people in the way they believe to be right (according to the Bible).

I would query some of their ideas about what Jesus wants, how to interpret the Bible and how best to care for people – but their care, devotion and dedication often put me to shame. And where we disagree, I’ve no real guarantee that I’m right and they’re wrong.

Indeed, perhaps some of my dislike or fear of evangelicals as a species (not as individuals) is because, deep down, I have a nagging fear that they might actually be right after all. And as my hero Albus Dumbledore once wisely observed, it’s much harder to forgive people for being right than for being wrong.

And if I’m really honest, some of the things that most wind me up about evangelicals are traits and tendencies I dislike in myself and wish to distance myself from.

Of course it’s all too easy to form groups and take sides, to define ourselves as not evangelical and then (by a small leap) anti-evangelical. As humans, we so often forge our own identity by attacking, dismissing or excluding others who aren’t like us (or who we wish to dissociate ourselves from). But that’s never Christ’s way. It’s not about goodies and baddies.

So if you hate or despise evangelicals and evangelicalism, I’d ask you to reconsider.

And if you’re an evangelical and have felt got at by this blog in the past, I’m sorry. I will try to do better (forgive me when I fail). And I’d ask you in turn to consider that evangelicalism may not be the only way to be truly Christian.

Despite all I’ve said, evangelicalism will probably always remain a part of me. I’m no longer truly an evangelical, but I can’t reject it completely. So for now at least I’m an Evangelical Liberal – an odd marriage of opposites that kind of works for me.

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About TheEvangelicalLiberal

Aka Harvey Edser. I'm a web editor, worship leader, wannabe writer, very amateur composer and highly unqualified armchair theologian. My heroes include C.S. Lewis and Homer Simpson.
This entry was posted in Evangelicalism, Liberalism, Stages of faith and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

62 Responses to Re-habilitating (and recovering from) my own evangelicalism

  1. jesuswithoutbaggage says:

    The evangelical world you describe is very familiar to me. I lived in it for many, many years. In fact, I still consider myself an evangelical–with progressive theology–though many evangelicals would disown me. I don’t dislike or despise evangelicals, and I agree with you that, ‘The vast majority of evangelicals are simply ordinary folk who love Jesus, love the Bible, and love people. They’re doing their best to follow Jesus.’

    However, I don’t think the misguided beliefs of evangelicalism are insignificant, and I have no thought that they might be right after all. These beliefs are harmful and should be exposed and corrected as you so often do. The people are dear to God, but the harmful doctrines? I don’t think so.

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    • I certainly very much hope that the evangelical beliefs I find abhorrent aren’t right, and I do mostly believe that they aren’t. But occasionally (actually, quite often) I’m assailed by nagging doubt – what if I’m completely wrong after all?

      I suppose it’s partly because evangelicals are often so certain in their beliefs, and can back them up with plain passages of Scripture and acres of Received Orthodoxy; whereas I’m often uncertain and my own reading of Scripture is more of a ‘minority report’. I can’t go back to evangelical beliefs, but I think they will always haunt me. But sometimes that can be useful, prodding and prompting me to evaluate what basis I have for the views I hold.

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      • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

        I know what you mean, Evan. It took me years to work through the major problems of evangelical belief; and I did have grave doubts along the way as to whether I was straying from the truth. But as I began to read the Bible afresh outside the constructs of the fundamentalist-evangelical worldview, I found that the Bible does not even teach the things they think it teaches–such as: inerrancy, hell, legalism, angry God, creationism, and so forth.

        In my opinion, there is no sound basis for these misguided and harmful beliefs. However, I agree with you that we need to continually evaluate the views we hold–whatever they are.

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        • I don’t seem to have a ‘like’ button on my WordPress comment settings (mental note to look into that), but if I did I’d have used it for your comment! 🙂

          I think the Bible does to some extent teach some of the things that evangelicalism teaches (though definitely not legalism or inerrancy!)… but that that’s only one side of the story. And where it does teach these things, I think there are always other overriding considerations, primarily that God is love.

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          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            “Like”

            I hope you are able to add the like function to comments. I would find it useful. On my Word Press ‘Edit Post’ page, there are boxes at the VERY bottom that enables me to enable or disable Likes and also Shares.

            What evangelical beliefs do you think the Bible teaches that you find troubling?

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            • Ah thanks, I’ll look out for the enable Likes/Shares boxes.

              That’s a complex question and I don’t have a simple answer… I wouldn’t say that the Bible teaches anything straightforwardly – rather some parts of the Bible appear to teach (or strongly suggest) certain things, whereas other parts appear to say something quite different. So I would say that God’s anger and vengeance do appear as troubling strands in Biblical teaching (both OT and NT), and the idea of eternal torment in hell for sinners/unrighteous/unbelievers does also appear as a strand of Hebrew apocalyptic thinking. However, I do believe that there are other (I think better) ways to interpret and understand these ideas in context – but I can’t prove that my understandings are correct.

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            • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

              The ‘like’ box might be for the post rather than comments. I really don’t know.

              It is true that we must do our best to interpret the Bible correctly, and you are right that we don’t know for sure if we have done that. But I am convinced by Jesus that doctrines like angry God and hell are not true.

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            • I suppose, as with demons, my small difficulty in writing off the idea of hell completely is that Jesus does seem to refer to it rather a lot! Or at least to Gehenna and Hades, or ‘Eternal Fire’ and being cut off from God, in ways that make them sound pretty unpleasant. I do now tend to interpret these passages metaphorically, or as Hebrew hyperbole to make a point, but I rather wish Jesus hadn’t said them!

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  2. Two things:

    I tried hard to accommodate all these things, but cracks started to appear in my watertight theology.

    “There’s a crack in everything – that’s how the light gets in” L. Cohen.

    The problem with “Biblical inerrancy” is that it relies on my interpretation of the bible being inerrant..

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  3. Interesting. I would consider myself Evangelical, and a Baptist, but there are so many Evangelicals and Baptists with whom I strongly disagree that I wonder what meaning these terms really hold, beyond the very basic and obvious implications. This is why I tend to shy away from labels. I don’t like the term ‘liberal’ because it implies a kind of wishy-washy, laissez faire attitude that I can’t relate to, neither can I relate it to anything other than Fluffy Bunny Jesus. I don’t like ‘conservative’ either because it seems too restrictive. God is not conservative in His love for us, nor would I describe any of His actions as conservative. He is abundant. But I do get where you’re coming from and have probably been through a similar journey myself.

    I am reminded of Paul’s words: ‘By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ I appeal to all of you, my friends, to agree in what you say, so that there will be no divisions among you. Be completely united, with only one thought and one purpose. For some people from Chloe’s family have told me quite plainly, my friends, that there are quarrels among you. Let me put it this way: each one of you says something different. One says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Peter”; and another, “I follow Christ.” Christ has been divided into groups! Was it Paul who died on the cross for you? Were you baptised as Paul’s disciples?’
    1 Corinthians 1:10-13 (GNT)

    Mind you, if I read those verses in their truest sense I’d probably be Roman Catholic.

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    • I like the idea that God is abundant not conservative – absolutely agree.

      Like Terry, these days I tend to see myself as Anglican if I’m anything – but also like you, I’m not too comfortable with labels of any sort. Even the generic label ‘Christian’ can be so loaded with negative connotations that I sometimes prefer to avoid using it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • tonycutty says:

        I got pulled up for not using the label on another forum last week.

        “It is also fishy when one makes a claim of Christianity, yet refuses to freely admit to have been Born Again by the Holy Spirit. That says much more than you can even imagine. I would guess you would also refuse to publicly be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ as well.”

        Too late, bucko. Mine was in 1981 and in a proper Baptist chapel too.

        Twerp.

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        • Yes, puts me in mind of that well-known saying of Jesus: “They will know you’re my disciples by the vicious way you attack and insult anyone who doesn’t fit your personal definition of a Christian”… 😉

          I suppose the faintly reassuring (and humbling) thing is that we’re all twerps in one way or another, but still loved by Jesus. There are vast untapped reservoirs of twerpishness in my own life, some of which I only realised were there after becoming a parent!

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Jim Pruitt says:

    Harvey,
    I am one of your followers from California and you have always answered me respectfully even though we typically disagree. I am an American Republican who is not an evangelical, just a lukewarm Protestant.

    A few years ago, I challenged the name of your blog because in my view it was false and misleading.

    I wrote you that I didn’t see you as an evangelical, holding to the tents of evangelicalism, but just one who was pretending to do so while advancing Labour beliefs. My note was probably intemperate and you responded graciously that you saw yourself as an evangelical and I let it go at that.

    As I have read you in the past few years, I see you as leaving evangelicalism and now the break seems total.

    I don’t impute bad faith to you anymore, but it’s time to resurface my question from a few years ago: Shouldn’t you change the name of your post? I suggest: The Christian Liberal.

    Also: I have written a book this year on Christianity. I think that although you and I have different styles, we probably now have a lot of overlapping (religious) beliefs. The book is called “Good News For Moderns.” It can be purchased on amazon.com under my full name: Nero James Pruitt.

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    • Hi Jim, very good to hear from you again!

      I do take your point about the name of your blog – but to me that question takes my chosen blog name too literally. I mean the name to be playful, provocative, paradoxical. I keep both terms ‘evangelical’ and ‘liberal’ in there precisely because they are opposites which make no sense together; each is meant to challenge and qualify the other. I don’t see this as pretence or mendacity – simply creative wordplay to make a point.

      I’m still not a classic theological liberal and probably never will be – I still broadly believe in a literal resurrection and virgin birth, I still accept some divine inspiration for the Bible (though understood rather differently from most evangelicals), I still accept the possibility of miracles, I still broadly believe in Christ’s atoning sacrifice (in some sense). So though I’m not a true evangelical, I do retain a number of evangelical beliefs and perspectives, albeit often somewhat re-interpreted.

      If I wanted a truly accurate label, it would probably be ‘The broadly Anglican, slightly confused Christian’. 🙂

      Well done for getting the book finished and out there! I will have a look on Amazon.

      All the best!

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      • James Pruitt says:

        Harvey,

        I think you are an evangelical, if you believe some of the things you just listed but I will go back to my rule of letting people describe themselves.

        But one question: I am sure you know that political liberals – let’s say members of the Labour Party in your country or Democrats here – can be evangelicals yet you posit the two terms as opposites.

        Can you clarify?

        Thanks.

        Jim
        “Mainline Protestant/Conservative”

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      I very much agree with Harvey’s use of Evangelical Liberal. I am also an evangelical, though I am probably even a bit more theologically progressive than Harvey. I know that many evangelicals would disown me, but evangelicalism is in my blood; and there are many evangelicals, including biblical scholars, who think as Harvey and I do. Evangelicalism has always been broader than those who want to define it narrowly would like.

      I think all labels are inadequate. But evangelical is not something I am willing to have taken from me.

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      • James Pruitt says:

        To: jesuswithoutbaggage
        Harvey has listed some beliefs that he has which seem (to me) to qualify him as an evangelical although often he suggests that he is not.

        I understand that your views are more progressive than Harvey’s and that you still consider yourself an evangelical and I not surprised that some biblical scholars hold views similar to Harvey and you. But are they evangelicals or do they even consider themselves as such?

        Full disclosure: I once was an evangelical and no longer am but I love evangelicals. If you want to be one, go right ahead. It’s a good thing to be. But what does that require of you?

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        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          James,

          The beginnings of today’s evangelicalism go back to the last third of the 1800s–the time of Dwight Moody, A.B. Simpson, Phoebe Palmer, and many others. It was an exciting time of energy, enthusiasm, and openness of new ways of understanding the Bible. This was before dispensationalism impacted evangelicalism, and also before the fundamentalist controversies of the early 20th century, both of which introduced rigidity and exclusiveness into evangelicalism.

          In the mid-20th century, a movement began against this rigidity and exclusiveness in fundamentalism which resulted in much more openness for evangelicals. Unfortunately, since then much of evangelicalism has reverted to an essentially fundamentalist mindset.

          However, there are other evangelicals who continue to engage with openness in attitude and to more progressive theological issues. These are the evangelicals with whom I now most identify. My roots are in the 19th century evangelical movement, the mid-20th century openness, and the current theological progressiveness.

          In addition, I very much identify with the underlying foundation of all evangelicalism, even though it is distorted among some of them: enthusiasm about the good news of Jesus and the desire to share it with others. This enthusiasm regarding Jesus is the only thing evangelicalism requires of me.

          I hope this is helpful in addressing your question.

          See my posts:

          19th Century Evangelicalism https://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/2013/12/04/19th-century-evangelicalism-why-is-it-important-today/

          The Hope of Theologically Progressive Evangelicalism https://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/the-hope-of-theologically-progressive-evangelicalism-strength-for-today-and-bright-hope-for-tomorrow/

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          • James Pruitt says:

            Thanks. Very interesting. I read those posts and have bookmarked your blog. I think I will continue to read it. It is very informative. Our beliefs are similar, if not identical. But I sure don’t see you as an evangelical.

            Of course I do see you as a Christian and one who is exceptionally knowledgeable and articulate.

            But you do see the problem don’t you? If we define evangelicals the way you do as someone enthusiastic about the news of Jesus and anxious to share it, that might be overly broad. That could cover people from Pope Francis to a lot of good atheists.

            Why cling to saying you’re an evangelical? Why not just say you’re a Christian?
            These questions are purely rhetorical. You have explained your views well.
            Sincerely,

            Jim

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            • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

              James, I respect your question. I think the problem is that many people have a narrow view of evangelicalism. When they think of evangelicals, what comes to mind is the loud, pushy, judgmental, and often arrogant voices of the very conservative evangelicals. But that is not an accurate view. There is a strong element of more theologically progressive and less confrontational and judgmental evangelicals like me; and there are evangelicals of other stripes as well. We are not represented by one faction.

              The label ‘Evangelical’, just like all labels, has a lot of baggage. But so does the label ‘Christian’; it has a lot of negative associations that do not represent me at all. It is also too broad to identify much about a person. That is why I almost never use the word ‘Christian’; I prefer ‘believer’ or ‘follower of Jesus’.

              I don’t care for labels much because they never really communicate what a person is, but ‘theologically progressive evangelical’ is the best one I have found. In addition to my enthusiasm about following Jesus, I also identify with evangelicals historically. To my knowledge, there is no better label to describe what I am.

              Often, I am confused as a progressive Christian, but there are at least four categories of progressive Christians, and I don’t fit any of them. For example, I believe in the uniqueness of Jesus as the son of God, and I believe in the resurrection.

              I realize I don’t fit your concept of an evangelical, but perhaps your concept is too narrow due to limited exposure to other kinds of evangelicals.

              What label do you use for yourself?

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            • James (and Tim), I do respect the label ‘evangelical’ (which was what this last post was about) – but it isn’t how I now choose to identify myself. By calling my blog and my screen alter ego ‘Evangelical Liberal’, I’m not identifying myself as an evangelical or indeed as a liberal, but as a hybrid with some evangelical aspects and some liberal; a bit of both and neither. As I said before, it’s meant as a provocative and playful name, not as a hard-and-fast label to categorise my beliefs into any particular box.

              With any label, be it ‘evangelical’, ‘liberal’, or simply ‘Christian’, there will be a diverse range of views and versions that could broadly fit within the label, and also a range of negative connotations which we might wish to avoid. For myself, I don’t find the labels ‘evangelical’ or ‘liberal’ entirely helpful on their own, but in combination they start to form something that holds more promise for me.

              I’m not sure I do posit political liberals as opposite from theological conservatives – indeed, one of the points I was trying to make is that evangelicals are much more politically diverse than we often give them credit for. However, in my own country at least, theologically-conservative evangelicals are certainly more likely to adopt socially conservative positions on things like equal marriage, assisted dying, abortion etc. And they are therefore probably (on balance) more likely to support politically conservative parties which represent these positions. But there are always exceptions.

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            • James Pruitt says:

              This is out of order only because somehow I can’t reply to Harvey’s last message. Two points:

              • To Tim: I label myself Protestant and I’ll start to read your blog.
              • To Tim and Harvey. Thanks for the good discussion.

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            • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

              James, I also enjoyed the discussion, and I hope you like my blog! Feel free to comment there.

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  5. Alfiethedog says:

    I agree very much that ‘churchmanship’ is often at least as much a matter of temperament, and indeed of aesthetic taste, as it is about theology. But not least for that reason, it seems to me important that, as far as possible, people should be encouraged to work out their own theology for themselves, rather than encouraged or manipulated into adopting a party line. It’s important that we all keep an open and independent music, and that those of us who have the extraordinary and almost always ill-deserved privilege to preach should do all we can to follow Jesus’s lead in genuinely opening the scriptures to people, rather than in any way limiting them or closing them down.

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    • I like ‘independent music’ – your text predictor clearly wishes to be a poet!

      I completely agree that people should be encouraged to work out their own theology for themselves. I do think that maybe for younger or newer believers, it’s perhaps okay to be a bit more black-and-white if that seems appropriate for their level of understanding and engagement – with the proviso that as they develop they are encouraged to question and challenge these ideas.

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  6. Alfiethedog says:

    For ‘music’ read ‘mind’. Another absurdity perpetrated by the text predictor.

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  7. Terry says:

    Independent music’s fine with me, Alfie. And Harvey – you do realise that ‘sound’ is a scriptural term, don’t you, found in God’s inerrant Word? You can’t be sharing the Gospel without knowing sound biblical truth, can you?

    I do find it interesting what you say about personality, and I think there’s some truth in it – though it’s also, as I’m guessing you’d admit, something of an overgeneralisation. I like systems, but can no longer identify with Evangelicalism in a ‘big E’ sense. (I’m happy to accept ‘open evangelical’, but more and more I see myself as a card-carrying member of the Church of England with no further or significant qualifications.) As you might expect, the ecumenical creeds play a major part in my faith, and what I see in Evangelicalism is a tendency to use creedal statements as fences to keep things in or out, whereas for me creedal statements function more as a musical key or a piece of music, where nothing is absolutely ruled out but some things fit the key or the piece better – and often, much better – than others.

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    • Secretly I quite like systems too. But don’t tell anyone.

      I’m an odd mixture – almost all my family are scientists who could/should have been artists, and I’m the only one who ended up studying for an Arts/Humanities degree (after failing dismally at Mechanical Engineering). Maybe that’s why I’m happy with being ‘Evangelical Liberal’…

      I’d probably just call myself Anglican too if I had to be strictly accurate. It’s a broad enough term that I probably fit roughly in there somewhere!

      I love the idea of creedal statements functioning as a musical key. Though as I think you’re drawn to atonal and dissonant forms of music yourself (e.g. Penderecki), as I am, maybe not so much is necessarily ruled out…?

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      • Terry says:

        Probably not as much as anyone who prefers not to listen to atonal stuff. I guess one can only tell what’s atonal by knowing what notes and chords should be played in any given key. But there’s probably also a musicological reason why certain intervals (e.g. augmented fourths) are deemed dissonant, even outside of frameworks such as keys.

        Okay, I’m waffling.

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        • You’re probably right – my own favourite works are ones that use atonality (sometimes to the point where you’re not even entirely sure what key it’s meant to be in), yet retain a deeper sense of being rooted in tonality. There’s probably a theological point in there somewhere…

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  8. tonycutty says:

    Gosh, this whole thing is so ‘me’. I’ve been there – except it took me fifteen years to detox from the evangelicalism. Still they were fifteen good years! Here’s how I felt: http://www.flyinginthespirit.cuttys.net/2014/04/22/the-dark-night-of-the-soul/

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  9. tonycutty says:

    In fact I think I will reblog this. Simply brilliant.

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  12. tonycutty says:

    Harvey, I’d like to ask you a question. You’re a worship leader, which of course implies that you lead other believers in worship. As do I. I’m wondering how a) you cope with others’ beliefs outside your own and b) how they cope with yours. Clearly they must accept you – and your ‘heresy’! – else you’d not be allowed to lead worship! The reason I ask is that I was guest worship leader yesterday evening at another church’s housegroup, where some dear friends of mine lead the group. The Bible study was pretty legalistic, and I asked some pretty awkward questions of course. Being Aspergic, I just can’t leave it alone…. but anyway these are lovely people who clearly love Jesus, He shines through them, but they have not yet emerged from the ‘chrysalis’. Some of them never will. They are so secure in their ‘safe’ area of being in relationship with the Bible that they don’t have the freedom of flight that you and I have. So how do you cope with each other? How do you sit still in a Bible study where legalism is being preached and you personally know there’s so much more to life? How do they cope with you? Genuine questions….

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    • Hi Tony, these are actually quite complex and difficult questions (for me), so I’m going to make a stab at an initial answer and then might come back with more later!

      So the short answer is that these are things I do struggle with, and my approach rather depends on the context and whether I feel safe with the particular people.

      Being a classic introvert, I’m pretty private – I find it much easier to explore my thoughts and feelings in writing on a blog read by strangers than I do out loud in a group of people I know! So there are people in my church and even my wider family (most of whom are evangelicals of a sort) who still don’t know much about the journey I’ve been on away from traditional evangelicalism.

      I’m perhaps not quite as honest (or at least as open) as you. if I’m with people who I feel won’t understand where I’m coming from, I may well opt for staying quiet, or maybe just gently challenging one or two of their more extreme views.

      However, I’m lucky to be a member of a church that’s generally fairly broad and accepting, while officially charismatic evangelical Anglican. And within that, I’m in a small group where I do feel safe to express my ‘heretical’ thoughts and still be accepted (even if others in the group are mostly a bit more evangelical).

      I’ve actually stepped back from leading whole-church worship for the past year or so – partly just for practical reasons (we were moving house and didn’t have much time), but also because I wasn’t sure I could honestly lead others where they (or the leadership) wanted to go. I’ve wrestled with this quite a bit and think I’ve come to a place where I feel a bit happier about it. But this is one I might need to think about some more and get back to you on later!

      By the way, hats off to you for being able to see Jesus shining through people you disagree with 🙂

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      • tonycutty says:

        Something else has occurred to me when I re-read what I’d posted about my friends being ‘in relationship with the Bible’. It’s like a sad middle-aged man still living with his parents, even though he’s met the girl of his dreams. The Bible leads us to Christ; once we have the relationship with Christ, it should ideally become the main relationship, not completely superseding the Bible relationship – which still exists – but still it is the main relationship. The sad man moves out of his parents’ house and marries the girl. He still has a warm, loving (and somewhat relieved!) relationship with his parents, but now his main focus is his wife. And so it is with Jesus. He is now the main focus and the Bible has done one of its main jobs which is to direct us to Him. Trusting a living person rather than a book is far harder; with a book you know where you stand. The thing is that you stand, and you stand, and you continue to stand. There is no moving forward as God is not allowed to say anything that is not either ‘in’ the Book, or at least closely related to it, in that you hear evangelicals all the time saying that the Spirit will not go against anything that is in the Bible. That is neither Scriptural nor true. He will definitely go against things like hamstringing donkeys and battering children, killing all the inhabitants of a city – and even against the stuff in Job where the ‘friends’ are supposedly proclaiming God’s word but in fact they are doing nothing of the sort. Jesus said’ “There is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now” (Jn 16:12) and this sort of thing is precisely (but not exclusively) what He was talking about.

        So it’s time for them to trust Jesus, both with their own lives, and with others’ too. That way we can avoid judging others too, for that way lies the Dark Side, yes, hmmm.

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        • Agree with you most wholeheartedly do I, hmmm!

          Top-class analogy there – must remember to blatantly plagiarise that at some future point 😉

          It always makes me smile wryly when people say God won’t/can’t go against or outside what is in Scripture – a view which the Bible itself doesn’t appear to support! God can’t act against his own nature, for sure, but the Bible is far from a perfect or complete representation of God’s character.

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          • tonycutty says:

            Please feel free to plagiarise :). Really, please do. I do it myself often enough…. I will possibly be using it myself at some point but if you think it will speak to someone, you go for it!

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  13. tonycutty says:

    Hehe thanks 🙂 He was pretty obviously there, tbh. I have pondered many hours on why/how God works/shines through people who are not ‘right’ – and I think it’s because it’s He Who is right, not us! Each of us is at a different stage in our faith journey, and some people never feel secure enough in their relationship with Jesus to let go of their safe cage. There’s lots of stuff on my blog about my ponderings in this regard. And you too, in your blog, have said ‘Evangelicals are not the bad guys’, and indeed they’re not. I wonder if God is calling me to a season of prayer for those still in their chrysalis….

    Interesting how parallel our journeys have been. I too am in a Charismatic Anglican church, where I can indeed discuss my ‘heresy’ with my friends – we call ourselves the ‘Men of Honour’ – but I have not led worship there, partly because there are already many talented musicians there but also because a) God has not opened the door yet, and b) I hope He doesn’t as the current morning service does not fit my flowing, ‘free-fall’ worship leading style. Funnily enough the HG I was at last night are a from Baptist church (just across the road from my CofE church) where the worship has more of a ‘ceiling’ than our church does, and yet in HG they are open to charismatic gifts….although even then I don’t tend to do any ‘Thus saith the Lord’ stuff, I make it a bit more subtle than that if I have a prophecy or something 😉 But the worship style in the HG is right up my street.

    But thanks for your thoughts on how it works for you. You probably don’t realise how helpful it is, what you’ve put 🙂 Sometimes being quiet is the way forward – interestingly we were studying the James passage (1:19ff) where he writes about being slow to speak….but I could feel the sticky fingers of the safe, secure legalism web actually reaching out and touching me….and I don’t want to go there again! I love these people and I want the very best for them, but it is not really my place to preach at them; instead I show glimpses of the freedom and hopefully it entices people 😉

    Leading them astray I am, yes, hmmmm…..

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    • tonycutty says:

      (said in a Yoda voice, of course)

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      • Yoda voice good for all occasions is… Actually, I wonder how that would go down in a worship context…? 😉

        The trouble is, though I do really feel that I’ve found a better path now, I’m still sometimes ‘haunted’ by the old evangelical ways and occasionally fear that I’m completely barking up the wrong tree! Old habits of thought die hard… and I don’t find it as easy to hear God’s voice as it sounds like you do. I quite often feel a strong sense of his presence (sounds like we’re back to Star Wars again 😉 ) but not any specific instruction or guidance as such. Though in a more hidden and indirect way I do feel that he’s guiding me…

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        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          I believe we often receive guidance as we question and ponder our situations. Usually, I feel a significant sense regarding which way to go. But it does not seem like something outside myself leading me, and there are no voices. Yet I cannot deny the God truly leads in this subtle manner; at least this is my experience.

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          • tonycutty says:

            Well I think each of us hears His voice in our own way; everyone hears Him differently. I was at a worship conference back in February (never again!) and the speaker there said something along the lines of, ‘Want to know what God’s voice sounds like? He sounds just like you!!’. No wonder she talked such tripe, then 😉 Seriously though, it is different for everyone. I don’t hear an audible voice but a very strong ‘leading’ is all I can describe it as, plus a strong sense of His presence – but interestingly, not so much when I am actually leading. On one of the few times I felt the Presence when I was leading, I was so overcome that I had to go and lie down at the back once the worship was over – a bit like being ‘slain in the Spirit’, but that too has never happened to me – and anyway I got told off for being overcome by the Spirit at the wrong time 😉 Another reason why I left fundamentalism….. jeez….! 🙂

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            • Thanks Tony – that’s helpful to hear.

              I too rarely feel such a strong sense of God’s presence when I’m leading worship myself, though I do quite often experience it when I’m participating in worship led by others. (Of course the sense is subjective and it may just be emotional, but I think it’s more than just that.)

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          • Hi Tim, yes, that’s largely my sense too – though I often see the guidance afterwards more than I feel it at the time!

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  14. Alfiethedog says:

    The idea of receiving guidance without it feeling that ‘something outside is leading me’ raises the relationship between praying and simply thinking. I’ve seldom found the former easy (hard to rid yourself entirely of the thought that you’ve taken into adulthood the idea of an ‘imaginary friend’), whereas thinking reflectively has always come naturally and often seems very constructive. If God is indeed in our heads and in our understanding, then maybe sitting down and thinking things through is a kind of prayer-like communion with him. I’m sure there are some wise monks and nuns who would have interesting things to say about this.

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    • I’m reminded of the possibly apocryphal quotation: ‘I know I’m God, because when I pray to him I find that I’m talking to myself’.

      I do find the whole lack of direct two-way communication in prayer somewhat problematic – I blogged about it a while back here. But on the other hand, if God did communicate more directly I suspect I wouldn’t like that – it might feel too controlling, as it’s rather hard to say no to a direct word from God (though Jonah famously tried!).

      Nonetheless, I’m generally quite content to chunter away one-sidedly to the Almighty! But like you I also find reflective thinking quite natural and helpful, and I see no reason why it shouldn’t be God-guided or God-involving in some way – a ‘prayer-like communion’ as you very nicely put it.

      I find myself rather drawn to the whole contemplative prayer tradition, the Thomas Mertons and Henri Nouwens and all the others stretching back through the centuries…

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    • tonycutty says:

      I told my psychiatrist that I hear voices, and she told me that I don’t have a psychiatrist.

      Just kidding.

      Alfie’s ideas are interesting ones. I would think that many people commune with God in just those ways. And indeed, especially the thinking/praying thing. I do think that my thoughts and God’s promptings do sound/feel similar; however, when I am thinking things through for a theological blog post, the ideas and thoughts flood in – and I don’t normally think like that. Or at least I don’t think I do…I will try to take more notice next time as to how it ‘feels’. Good point, then.

      I love the idea of an imaginary friend. Although I never had such a friend (and I don’t have many friends now; I’m a bit of a Billy-no-mates! 😉 ), I can see why having such an imaginary friend would be helpful with the suspension of disbelief that some people need when coming to faith. It’s like a movie or indeed any fantasy story: those who have less trouble believing in unseen things or fictitious/fantastic things or things that people generally hold to be imaginary, can often find it easier to believe in a God who is no less real just because we can’t see Him. I’m hoping to write another blog post on that sometime. Harvey’s other post here: https://evangelicaliberal.wordpress.com/2015/07/15/why-imagination-is-great-and-why-many-evangelicals-dont-like-it/ expresses this very well too. And lots of other things I think about too.

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