Michael Raiter reserves his final chapter for examining current evangelical practice as he has experienced it — specifically the way we talk about God and the good news, the place of experience and emotion in our relationship with God and their expression in church life.
I particularly enjoyed this chapter because Michael Raiter gets fired up about what he believes is appropriate evangelical practice, and what is not:
Rightly understood, the gospel will be deeply felt. This is a hallmark of evangelical piety, and while continuing to eschew false expressions of emotionalism, which are contrived, we ought to recognize that the gospel of Jesus Christ will evoke a response of love and gratitude from the whole person, their heart, soul, and mind ... too many evangelicals have taken shelter under the canopies of personality and culture and, in so doing, have justified a degree of stoicism which may be appropriate for adherents of pagan philosophies, but is quite inappropriate for those who have encountered the living God in the person of his crucified and risen Son. (p 250)Surrounded by the dangers of false teaching and apostasy on every side within the church, and of persecution and paganism from outside the church, it is evangelicals’ faithful intention to speak the gospel of Jesus plainly, honestly and forthrightly, not giving any cause for misunderstanding or the charge of unfaithfulness. But as Raiter rightly points out, when dissatisfaction among committed evangelicals grows, we cannot attribute the cause entirely to these outside influences, as persuasive and tempting as they might be. It’s also important for evangelicalism to search within for possible contributing factors, especially as they relate to our life together as Christ’s body, the church.
As an aside at this point, I am surprised that Michael Raiter didn’t look more closely at the responsibility of evangelical Christians as individuals to reject the influence of the postmodern culture in which we live. It’s too easy for western evangelical Christians — thoroughly accustomed to ‘hopping and shopping’ — to be impatient with the hard work of spiritual growth. Like our culture, we want the potted version, gift-wrapped and delivered express because it’s convenient, efficient and labour-saving. But spiritual growth is counter-cultural; inconvenient, messy and labour-intensive. I think this is a significant reason we are tempted to look elsewhere for answers to spiritual thirst.
However — returning to Michael Raiter’s internal investigation of evangelicalism — there’s a lot I recognise in what he observes about the current state of evangelical church fellowship. Most of what he observes could be summarised in the following way: called upon time after time to defend the truth, uphold the truth and proclaim the truth, against many and varied opposing forces, evangelicalism is in danger of becoming suspicious and narrow, slipping into an emotional and experiential straitjacket. I’m mixing my metaphors now, but it seems we are so concerned to be faithful, and to argue against false representations of the gospel of Jesus, that we have boiled our message down to a concentrate. It’s true to the original and derived directly from the original, but drinking it straight is becoming unpalatable; not because it needs watering down, but because it was never meant to be a concentrate.
There’s a breadth and depth and height to the good news of Jesus that is expansive, creative, celebratory and just plain mind-blowing. If those words make us nervous, perhaps we need to remind ourselves of the God we serve. Life in the Lord Jesus is cause for celebration — for joy — and it has a beauty that is as irresistible as a flame to a moth. Or, as Madeleine L’Engle once said:
Rather than arguing about why Christianity is superior to other world religions, I’d rather put forth a light that is so lovely that all in its presence would be drawn to it.Thanks for joining me on this ramble through Michael Raiter’s Stirrings of the Soul. I hope it’s encouraged you and given you food for thought.