The kind of conversation I like is one in which you are prepared to emerge a slightly different person.
He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” [Mark 16:15]
I became an adult under the influence of evangelical Christianity. Quite willingly – it was my idea, or at least my assent to someone else’s idea, and it was based on a primal epiphany. And as I re-evaluate my life and my choices, as we all should do, I see good and bad in what I took on.
The key tenants of the church culture I made mine, were those of the evangelical. To quote Wikipedia,
Evangelicalism is a theological perspective, most closely associated with Protestant Christianity, which identifies with the gospel … most adherents consider belief in the need for personal conversion, some expression of the gospel through evangelism, a high regard for Biblical authority, and an emphasis on the death and resurrection of Jesus to be key characteristics.
The word evangelion means literally Good News, eu is “good”, and angelion “message”. An early precedent for the phrase is found in Isaiah 52, where it is recorded, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news…”. What that is predicting, and what constitutes this message, is the work of G-d through Jesus: liberation and transformation were available to all who want it. The key component to the whole shebang, can in my opinion, be reduced to one central thing: The power of Love.
But of course it’s nowhere near that simple, in the minds of most people. We have 2000 years of religion to deal with to decode the straightforward message, “G-d loves you.” [Just as a reminder, I spell it that way to acknowledge the indefinability of the Divine.] Many people today can not take this simple truth seriously because of a host of reasons; bigotry, hypocrisy, stupidity, abuse, fear and control amongst them.
In any case, once a term gets appropriated by Global Corporations, especially ones who are trying to sell “Lifestyle”, surely it must be outmoded? I refer to Microsoft’s quite blithe hijacking such that a “Technical Evangelist” is now a quite normal, unironic, job description.
One of the aspects of my early adult culture that I have come to discard is the idea that “I have come to preach the good news to you.” The assumptions wrapped up in that version of Jesus’ “Great Commission” include:
- I know God. I am born again. I know the truth.
- The “good news” has one correct expression: mine.
- If you are not conforming to this, you should be.
- If you don’t buy my message willingly, I can scare you into it … with hell.
It’s chauvinist and hypocritical, to say the least. These sorts of attitudes end up doing quite the opposite of what was originally intended. It’s a very big ask, but we have to rediscover the original spirit of the texts we have come to know as “The Bible”.
So – can we subvert that which is represented by evangelicalism in such a way as to reclaim the truths of the life and words of Jesus? Subversion is a great tool, and I would say one of its masters was Jesus himself. He turned the values of “this world” – in his case, the Roman Empire and the Hebrew Tradition, and in our case, maybe Globalised Profiteering, Individualism or Materialism, on their heads. Jesus – Dissident, Subversive, Lord of Lords.
One of the values that hallmark the new “emergent” culture is that of conversation. Not merely the physical act of people yakking away – yada yada yada – but at a deeper, more fundamental level. The key question is – are you open to a conversation, where your truths may be challenged, or are you really unwilling to change? Theodore Zeldin says,
“Conversation is a meeting of minds with different memories and habits. When minds meet, they don’t just exchange facts: they transform them, reshape them, draw different implications from them, and engage in new trains of thought. Conversation doesn’t just reshuffle the cards: it creates new cards.”
To repent, a well worn term often implying compliance and subservience to the evangelical system, actually means to “turn around, to change ones heart and mind”. The penitent, is in fact the one open to a conversation, open to being changed, and participating on a process of transformation. A true penitent is not a convertee to a dogma, as some would have it, but rather a seeker who is opening up to possibility, and overcoming fear. Any preaching of a Gospel motivated in any way by fear, is not in my understanding the gospel of Christ.
Truth as arbitrated by authority, represented by a single point of view, is outmoded. We might understand how based on certain views of the cosmos, such as “The Earth is the centre of the Universe”, or “every action has an equal and opposite reaction” (Isaac Newton, implying that the universe is a closed system, implying it is ultimately explainable), people accepted a single Authority such as the church, the pope, or even “Reason”.
But we live in a universe we now know to be far more complex, and much weirder than this. We know that light has a dual nature – at times like a particle, at others like a wave. We know that we don’t know – there are currently subatomic particles in the “Standard Model” which haven’t even been discovered yet (now THAT’S faith), and we are starting to understand that chaos, that is unpredictability, lies at the very heart of things. Evangelicalism, like many Modern paradigms, hates this fact (and is as we speak in serious denial).
In my mind, the new physics is good news, and is far more consonant with the message of the gospel that what preceded it. It places man as dependant, in a good way, on the Earth, and if you want, the Creator. It humbles our proud delusions as masters and subduers of the universe, it facilitates awe, and it creates the potential for worship.
So am I still “evangelical”? Well, I believe in the good news. But I don’t buy the tradition. So I am trying on a new idea : “ambivangelical©”. “Ambi” is a prefix meaning “both, on both sides.” So the ambivangelical still holds to good news, but finds it not in the telling but in the listening, processing, and re-telling.
The word “ambivalence” may come to mind, in the sense of “lack of commitment”. By defining a term such as ambivangelical, are we not creating doubt which undermines faith? Well a truly ambivalent stance is not about lack of passion, but about the ability to hold opposites in tension – it requires in fact more commitment than its opposite : would that be “univalence”?
So how does this hold up in the light of our traditional definition of evangelical?
- Personal conversion. The ambivangelical seeks transformation, based on the taking of personal responsibility. They reject the pseudo transformations of conformity to an imposed authority. In Jung’s parlance, we need to be “individuated”, and this is not merely a psychological stage, but extends to accepting our place in things as co-creators with G-d, as well as humbling ourselves and being able to both forgive and be forgiven for our transgressions.
- Expression of the gospel. The ambivangelical is enthused by “good news”, takes part in conversation, and discovers God by engaging with the world rather than by enforcing a view on the world. They acknowledge that their view is limited, and that everyone, regardless of religion or culture, has a valid contribution. The goal is not to convince, but to converse, build trust, and to allow Love to do its work. This Matthew 10 injunction (The Message translation), indicates an interesting approach to conflict, “When you knock on a door, be courteous in your greeting. If they welcome you, be gentle in your conversation. If they don’t welcome you, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way. You can be sure that on Judgment Day they’ll be mighty sorry—but it’s no concern of yours now.” Ah yes – the ambivangelical holds to Judgement. But how they do so is another story.
- Biblical authority. The ambivangelical is inspired by the traditional books of what is known as the canonical bible, accepting their authority. But their interpretation, their hermeneutic (to use technical jargon), is artful, reading the metaphorical, and the literal, where appropriate. The scourge of fundamentalism is an inability to read, to grasp that certain texts imply facts, while others are poetic expressions. But furthermore, the new breed acknowledges truth as coming from many a source, and is unthreatened in the interfaith space.
- The death and resurrection of Jesus. The ambivangelical bases their pluralistic views on the freedom granted them by the work of Christ. They have been saved from the mortifications of religion, modernism, and fear, amongst other things, by the death-defying Grace displayed in the resurrection.
OK now I’ve written that I have already grown tired of the neologism. On to the next thing…