My Evangelicalism: God is Out There, Too

Way back in the day, like a million years ago in internet years, by which I mean three weeks ago, I posted an outline of the kind of evangelical I want to be (My “Evangelical Manifesto“). Here is another point I’ve been thinking about, and it’s probably connected to yesterday’s post on social justice.

6. Evangelicals Can Celebrate the God Who Is At Work “Out There”. Too often evangelicalism slips into fundamentalism by imagining that the mission of God is about bringing everyone out there into the safe walls of our communities, because the church is the place where the reign of God is being made manifest.

In my ideal world, this is correct, or at least mostly true.

The church is the bride of Christ. It consists of the prophets and teachers who have been entrusted to make the word of the gospel known to the nations. It is the place on which the Spirit has been poured so that the presence of God and the reality of life in the resurrected Christ might come to all.

But on the other hand, the church is not the kingdom of God. One of the surprises of the New Testament is that the reign of God is too capacious to be contained within any one people, even a people so diversely defined as the church.

One of the most important stories for our understanding of the mission and dominion of God is the Good Samaritan. That story is so powerful because it undermines even our own expectations about how the reign of God works, though we’ve been so dulled to the story through repetition and exposure that we too often miss it.

Jesus is talking to a scribe about what must be done to inherit eternal life. How do I live the life that will confirm me, for all eternity, as an insider, one of the people of God? Love God and love neighbor.

Ok, but who, then, is my neighbor?

Jesus tells a story in which a priest keeps Torah–by avoiding an unknown dead man on a heavily trafficked road. It is a story in which a Levite preserves his cleanliness so that he can continue loving God by serving the temple and loving neighbor by keeping up the worship of God.

And it is a story in which the outsider, the Samaritan, not only shows mercy, but thereby shows himself to be the loving neighbor. The thing that must be done for eternal life bursts beyond the bounds of the people of God. The person not defined by Torah, the person who will not be restrained in his love–even by the word of God–is shown to be doing the thing needful for inheriting eternal life. The outsider is the insider. The story is turned on its head.

In evangelical Christian circles we continually face the temptation to demarcate the people of God by means of the truth we hold dear. We are tempted to say that, because we are the insiders, ours is the community to which you must look to know how God is at work in the world.

But the story of the Good Samaritan (as part of a larger biblical narrative) tells me differently. It indicates to me that we are always going to be faced with the possibility that God is at work beyond our walls. We are always going to confront the reality that someone who does not profess that Christ is Lord is going to be a more faithful-looking embodiment of the coming kingdom that we are. We might have to have our eyes opened to the needs of the world around us and what it looks like to love, by our non-Christian neighbors.

And in such cases, the evangelicalism I want to be a part of will not pretend that we do what we do and say what we say simply because we got it from the Bible. My evangelicalism will say that I watched my neighbor and was humbled then to learn what it is to love.

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