I also begin by thanking Brian. Let me say from the outset that Brian is my brother in Christ—no doubts about that in my mind. I very much appreciate him and the influence he’s had on my life. Over the years, through his blog posts, our emails, and in the get togethers we have had in Portland, Brian has been instrumental in helping me think through and form my views. It is no less the same in this dialogue.
I appreciate the evangelical movement. Many evangelicals I know have a tremendous love for God and do a wonderful job of living out the gospel. I went to an evangelical seminary and thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it. I can agree with the evangelical ethos of which Brian wrote; I would even say that such an ethos describes me. So here is why I am not an evangelical. Let me just say that the points below are not necessarily a critique but that these are why I did not become evangelical.
Again, let me begin with some background. The closest I became to becoming evangelical was when I played music for the International House of Prayer Northwest (IHOP). At that time I was transitioning out of Oneness Pentecostalism; I wanted to branch out into the larger Christian world so I joined a group that was charismatic but was unlike Oneness Pentecostals in that IHOP believed in the Trinity. I did not always agree with they way IHOP expressed some of its beliefs but I enjoyed the opportunity to be a minstrel to God and to others while contemplating on the mysteries of God from 10 pm to midnight every Friday. To me, IHOP was quite evangelical but to others IHOP was considered heretical even though they all believed the same core doctrines. This leads me to my first point:
Ultra-diversity in Evangelicalism
I think diversity is a great thing, but great things can be taken too far. One of the reasons evangelicalism did not appeal to me is because within the evangelical umbrella there appears to be groups with distinctly contrasting views. For instance, some evangelical groups do not believe music in a church setting is biblical but some other groups do. Other groups believe that tithing is necessary—and sometimes even a matter of salvation—but others do not. Some evangelicals teach a health-and-wealth prosperity gospel and and others would say God never promised temporal prosperity in the New Testament. Furthermore, it seems evangelicalism encompasses even those like T. D. Jakes who espouses a modalist view of God, and of course, some evangelicals would consider Jakes a heretic.
The term evangelicalism itself is used in ways that are ultra-diverse. For example, I have heard Oneness Pentecostals lumped into evangelicalism. It seems that it is difficult to define with precision what evangelicalism is as it appears that everyone has her or his own version of who evangelicals are. I am not sure if I would enjoy continually explaining what type of evangelical I am when others ask and then having to answer any charges of heretic that might appear at any point of my explanation. At least as a Catholic, I can be prepared to be called part of the Whore of Babylon.
Lack of Daily Worship
I do not mean to say that evangelicals do not worship God personally every day. What I am referring to is the lack of daily community worship. IHOP is the only group of which I know that has daily prayer and song and perhaps some evangelical groups do have a daily service but weekend services seem to be the norm—and maybe a midweek evening prayer. Since becoming a committed Christian in 2002 worship has been an important part of my life. The Catholic church offers daily Mass and so that appealed to me. I understand that not everyone, even Catholics, has time to convene to sing praise together, hear Scripture together, pray together, and meet Jesus together daily, but the Catholic church offers such an opportunity to do so every day.
Aversiveness toward Intellectual Pursuits
I have noticed this trend more in conservative circles, but even among some moderates. In Oneness Pentecostalism, there were many anti-intellectuals. Many pastors were against having an education from a secular college or university and some pastors were against even their own Bible colleges (stepping into their shoes, I do not blame them as many of their flock who went to Bible college never returned). Even in seminary I had noticed a few who, although not anti-intellectual, were ambivalent about things like exegesis, even though they were thinkers. The intellectual life is important to me, and having been brought into the faith by priests of the Dominican order, the Catholic church is a place where I am able to nurture that life. Just last Sunday, the priest mentioned in his homily that John’s Gospel had two endings. He believed the both endings were written by John, but, of course, having been influenced by Paul Anderson, I mentally disagreed with him. My point is not that I think he was wrong but that I think that in an evangelical setting to have heard about John’s two endings in a sermon or homily would have been unlikely. The priest mentioned that because his homily had to do with love (reading was taken from John’s Gospel) and the second ending of John was reemphasizing what love is like.
Breaking from Tradition while Having a Tradition
Some evangelicals like to throw away tradition as if all of church history up until the founding of their particular group or denomination was false. Part of the irony to me is that within their respective denominations or groups there is an established or becoming established tradition. For instance, some groups’ tradition is to wear the Sunday’s best to church. I myself enjoy donning a suit (sometimes with a tie), but I also appreciate that I can show up to church with a nice pair of jeans and shirt and not be judged by that or thought of as an outsider. Then there is service order which often becomes predictable, and so forth. I can understand why some would like to consider themselves as having no tradition except that of the Bible but in practice that is hard to avoid. The worst that happens when a group decides that all of Christianity around them is part of the wrong traditions is that group becomes sectarian.
Of course, Catholics are not immune to the above points, with the exception of the second point. Some Catholics believe that the throne of Peter was vacated starting with Pope John Paul II and so there is the real Catholic church and the false Catholic church. I am sure some Catholics are anti-intellectual and some reject some of the Catholic traditions. In my experience, however, these seem to be on a lesser scale than within evangelicalism. Nonetheless, I do love my evangelical brothers and sisters (and schismatic Catholics siblings, too) no matter how and where we may differ.