The Jesus I Love: Confessions of a Post-Evangelical

I’ve been thinking a lot lately. Thinking and reading. Listening and talking. And thinking some more. I’ve been an evangelical for 50 years, and, while I’ve been in a slow evolution for the past 15 years or so, accelerated by national and world events and cultural shifts, especially within evangelicalism over the past 7 years, I have finally come to the conclusion that I have to start calling myself a post-evangelical.

My spiritual director calls this my “coming out.”

And I have to admit, I have been kind of in the closet about it. I have known what I believe, but have been reluctant to say it out loud, to step into the light and just say it. I am a post-evangelical. It’s taken me a while to be able to articulate what that even means to me. It’s becoming clear to me in principle, though not yet entirely how it will work itself out in practical effect in my life and ministry.

But the most important thing is, I’m still a Christian. I’m even still committed to the beloved community of Jesus-lovers, because most of all, I love Jesus. I mean, I really love Jesus. More than I ever have. I want to be a Jesus follower in a truer way than I ever have been.

I’m backsliding from evangelicalism
right straight into the arms of Jesus.

The thing is, that means something entirely different to me as a post-evangelical than it did as an evangelical. As an evangelical, following Jesus meant being separated from “the world,” dividing everything into black and white, in and out, us and them. I could love the Other, but only in order to change them, to make them one of us. If that didn’t happen fairly quickly, then I was supposed to drop that friendship, to let it fade into mere politeness. My heroes, my admiration was supposed to be reserved for leaders of my tribe. I was supposed to avoid listening to contrary voices, to maintain a basic stance of mistrust. “Others” were supposed to remain Other.

But the thing is, Jesus didn’t do that. At all. Who was his tribe supposed to be? People called him Rabbi. His tribe should have been the religious establishment of his people at that time and place. But for whom did he reserve his harshest judgment? The hypocritical religious leaders, the Pharisees. And whom did he embrace? Samaritans. Sinners. Lepers. Women. Children. Criminals. Fishermen. The despised, the rejected, the marginalized, the powerless, the poor, the shamed.

That’s the Jesus I love.

Over the next few posts, I’d like to introduce some thoughts and stories about the Jesus I love. You don’t necessarily need to tune out if you’re not a Christian. There are plenty of non-Christians who also love Jesus — or would if they heard more of his stories. There are plenty of former Christians who have left the church but still love Jesus — or would if they just listened to his stories again, just his stories, and let Jesus heal their church-wounded hearts.

Why do I feel it necessary to talk about Jesus? Is it to make converts? No, I honestly think it’s first of all to help me to strip away all the churchy baggage, center on the one who started it all, and in the end, to re-convert myself. I’m backsliding from evangelicalism right straight into the arms of Jesus.

In Jesus’ most famous teaching, the Sermon on the Mount, he reveals the heart of his message in a poem called the Beatitudes. Found in Matthew 5:1-12 and also Luke 6:20-26, this series of statements declares who are the blessed ones and why. And in Luke’s version, Jesus also turns over these golden coins to display the flip side, the “woes” upon those who fall in the opposite categories. Having heard them for so long, we Christians can forget how radical, how countercultural, how downright subversive the Sermon on the Mount really is. But I believe that Jesus reveals his heart in these teachings, as well as living it out in his deeds and interactions with people.

In my next several posts, I’ll be using the Beatitudes as my framework to talk about Jesus and his values, to tell his stories, and to explain what I mean about becoming a post-evangelical. Together we can explore Jesus’s heart for the poor, the brokenhearted, the meek, the hungry, the merciful, the pure, the peacemakers, and the rejected.

Next post: Jesus and the Poor

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