September 21, 2020

Follow Up on the Conservative/Progressive Discussion with Rachel Evans

Today, we continue our discussion by listening to the personal perspective of someone who feels caught in the midst of the battle between a more conservative evangelical faith and a more mainline progressive faith. As part of her excellent post, “Liberal Christianity, Conservative Christianity, and the Caught In-Between,” Rachel Held Evans wrote the following about her “in-between” status.

I’m interested in getting your feedback on how she feels.

* * *

Meanwhile, I feel totally caught in between.

For one thing, I don’t “fit” in the conservative evangelical church:

  • I believe in evolution.
  • I vote for democrats.
  • I doubt.
  • I enjoy interfaith dialog and cooperation.
  • I like smells, bells, liturgy, and ritual—particularly when it comes to the Eucharist.
  • I’m passionate about gender equality in marriage and church leadership.
  • I’m tired of the culture wars.
  • I want to become a better advocate for social justice.
  • I want my LGBT friends to feel welcome and accepted in their own churches.
  • I’m convinced that the Gospel is about more than “getting saved” from hell.

But I don’t “fit” in the progressive, Mainline church either.

  • I love a good Bible study.
  • I think doctrine and theology are important enough to teach and debate.
  • I think it’s vital that we talk about, and address, sin.
  • I believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus.
  • I want to participate in interfaith dialog and cooperation while still maintaining a strong Christian identity.
  • I want to engage in passionate worship, passionate justice, and passionate biblical study and application, passionate community.
  • I’m totally down with a bit of spontaneous, group “popcorn” prayer, complete with hand-holding and references to the Holy Spirit “moving in this place.”
  • I’m convinced that the Gospel is about more than being a good person.

These objections represent generalizations, of course (and, it should be stated, this whole conversation is unique to Western—particularly American—Christianity). I know plenty of evangelicals who embrace the science of evolution, and I know plenty of mainliners who are passionate about both social justice and theology.  But the reason I struggle to go to church on Sunday mornings is because I generally feel like I have to choose between two non-negotiable “packages.” There are things I really love about evangelicalism and there are things I really love about progressive Protestantism, but because these two groups tend to forge their identities in reaction to one another— by the degree to which they are not like those “other Christians”—Sunday morning can feel an awful lot like an exercise in picking sides.  And often, when I find myself actually sitting in the pew, the pastor  or priest will at some point in the service, either subtly or overtly, speak of the “other side” as an enemy.


  1. She sounds like many of the 20-30 somethings that attend our church. I think her problem will solve itself as more of them graduate from seminary and take pastoral positions. As I have watched and listened to them I have wondered how the church landscape would change when they come into their own.

    • It’s been my experience as a 30-something that most of us who started out as being centrists often begin to blend back into right/left wing camps. For moderate conservatives like myself, conservative seems to become the identifier while moderate becomes the modifier. 10 years ago I was the other way around. I’ve also known moderate liberals who went through a similar change.

      It’s hard to swim upstream, especially when there appears to be some logic behind the current.

      • Her position is sufficiently nuanced that it would be hard to find a church which fits it exactly. The problem is that it’s impossible to tailor religion to the needs or desires of each worshipper (it would be impossible to sustain so many viable congregations, in order to represent all of the mathematical possibilities), and that many of the beliefs and practices mentioned above touch on matters of group identity.

        We hear the same complaints from the political sphere: Few of us agree with every position taken by a candidate or political party. There is more diversity in a parliamentary system, and it is possible to allow for referrenda and voter initiative. Perhaps it would be possible to modify Christianity along similar lines–adding diversity either through a larger number of smaller denominations, or by encouraging more internal variation within large denominations (the classical Episcopal position).

        • Perhaps it would be possible to modify Christianity along similar lines–adding diversity either through a larger number of smaller denominations, or by encouraging more internal variation within large denominations (the classical Episcopal position).

          How’s that working out for the Episcopalians?

          • It worked well enough for several centuries, and for all I know, may even survive the current upheavals. Even if it fails in the Anglican Communion, another denomination or grouping might be able to make it work for them.

          • Clay Crouch says

            Probably about the same as it’s working out for all the rest of the churches across the spectrum. Every one of them have their own distinct set of problems. I wouldn’t write an obit just yet for TEC.

          • Here in South Texas, you’ll find many episcopal parishes to be as evangelically orthodox as, well, evangelicals. Our church is growing; the Gospel is proclaimed without any hint of embarrassment. We are thinking of starting a plant. And a substantial portion of the membership has come more recently from other denoms – I think because ours fits the “tweener” mold. Extemporaneous prayer from our former SBCers really blows the cradle epies away. Sure we still have our fair share of whiskeypalians. I came from the northeast where the pulpit was as cold as the weather. But I see the Spirit moving down here and trying to move even more. Judge the book by the cover, just remember there are lots of different pages inside.

          • I’m almost 50, and came to the Lord through a “low-church” Episcopal parish in Texas. It was everything the author describes as wanting, and more. It had liturgy, social action, healthy relating, and biblical teaching (the Bible studies were awesome!). The members of the church took care of one another without even dreaming that it gave them any right to control people. Throughout most of the country, this has been destroyed, and not just by the “liberals”. Conservative evangelicals and catholics alike participated in its destruction by their criticism and ridicule, instead of praying for their brethern. Here in Michigan, there’s nowhere to go. My church was sabotaged and destroyed, with the help of other Christians. The author of this blog says it well.

        • You make good a good point here, Gerald. My own decision to become ordained in the ELCA is an example. And I think Rachel will ultimately find a home. However, part of the journey is enduring the tension of the “in-between-ness” that she feels here. It was a huge part of my own journey.

          • To get Jungian on ya; It is in the tension of “the inbetweeness” where we find God. Your first piece of art illustrates that quintessentially.

  2. I used to love these kinds of conversations. Figuring out what camp I belonged in. The stakes seemed high.

    As I grow older, the debate makes me say, “meh.” This kind of discussion, seems about as helpful as the one on whether Christians “should be” Republicans or Democrats.

    The consolation of being part of a camp, of being called liberal, progressive, conservative, mainline, evangelical, emergent, or whatever else seem slight and grossly inadequate compared to the consolation of being a follower of Jesus.

  3. What a good demonstration of what’s wrong with conservative evangelical and mainline liberalism. The entire list consists of subjective desires and preferences, without any reference to the objective Word. Sadly, that’s how most people approach Christianity, how does it fit my wants. God doesn’t permit us to negotiate our own a la carte path to salvation. You and you preferences must die for the spirit to do its work, through the hearing of the objective word and receiving the sacraments. Sure there can be some disagreement on interpretation, but the mainline project of rewriting and undercutting the authority of scripture to embrace liberal politics and the sexual revolution, is no different than the conservative project of doing so to replace the Gospel with conservative moralism, nationalism, and use of business practices to attract wealthy professionals and drive growth.

    Also, the author portrays herself as a moderate, but there’s nothing there to distinguish her from your average mainline liberal. She accepts mainline liberal doctrine, and offers a few conservative sounding items that would not be controversial in any liberal mainline liberal church. Even the unitarians let you believe in the resurrection. Does the author consider those who reject the resurrection to be Christian?

    • I don’t see her wanting an “ala carte path to salvation” at all, Boaz. She wants a church that respects her as a human being and forges ITS identity on the positive proclamation of Christ and his Kingdom, not in contrasting itself to others who hold different opinions about nonessential subjects.

      • She wants what she wants. Other people want what they want. In many cases they conflict with each other, and some choice has to be made. Is this disrespect?

        For example, she likes “smells and bells,” but spares no thought for those with allergies.

    • I’m glad you brought those objection. I’ve also been curious why self-proclaim “evangelical liberals” consider themselves evangelicals. I don’t mean that in a derogatory way, it’s an honest question that I have.

      However I’m in total agreement with you. Nothing about Rachel Evans comes off as conservative. A liberal using Christians spirituality and the scriptures to understand how to see the world? Yes, I could agree with that. But I’ve read plenty of liberals who seem to fit right in with her. Ron Sider, Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, Shane Claiborne, et al. Her blog fits in perfectly with their writings, generally seen as apologetics against the conservative church.

      Is it just me? Or do others see the same thing?

      • I think just the fact that you would wonder why some who considers themselves a bit more liberal/less conservative would want to be considered evangelical says a lot about the current state of things.

        Perhaps a better question is why should they not be allowed to consider themselves evangelicals?

        • That’s false logic, you technically need to prove a positive not a negative. What I’m interested in is what part of “evangelical” do liberals see themselves identifying with.

          Simply because someone is interested in “studying the bible”, or to “talk theology” doesn’t make one evangelical. There are and have been plenty of mainline christians, Roman Catholics, and EO people who do that.

          • To ask what perceived deficiencies are the basis for excluding someone is not really the same as trying to prove a negative in logic. Be that as it may, though, I’d be really interested to hear what you consider are the distinguishing marks of being an evangelical and why you think those who consider themselves somewhat liberal don’t have those. Honestly,I think it might shed some light on the state of things.

          • Professor Failure says

            “you technically need to prove a positive not a negative.”

            No, not true. It’s much easier to prove a positive. But it’s possible to disprove a negative if one exhausts all possible cases.

      • “I’ve also been curious why self-proclaim “evangelical liberals” consider themselves evangelicals. ”

        Probably because the following are all true of them: Definition by John Stackhouse. Anything else you add to the list is probably evangelical + something else.

        • Orthodox and Orthoprax: Evangelicals
        subscribe to the main tenets—doctrinal,
        ethical, and liturgical—of the churches to
        which they belong.

        • Crucicentric: Evangelicals are
        Christocentric in their piety and preaching,
        and emphasize particularly the necessity of
        Christ’s salvific work on the Cross.

        • Biblicist: Evangelicals affirm the Bible as
        God’s Word written, true in what it says and
        functioning as their supreme written guide
        for life.

        • Conversionist: Evangelicals believe that (1)
        everyone must trust Jesus as Saviour and
        follow him as Lord; and (2) everyone must
        co-operate with God in a life of growing
        spiritual maturity.

        • Missional: Evangelicals actively co-operate
        with God in his mission of redeeming the
        world, and particularly in the proclamation
        of the gospel.

        • Transdenominational: Evangelicals gladly
        partner with other Christians who hold
        these concerns, regardless of denominational
        stripe, in work to advance the Kingdom of

        • Michael:

          I think Stackhouse is not an original on this. Some of this springs out of David Bebbington’s work in 1989 called ‘Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s’

        • Evangelical liberals do not fit these definitions of orthodox or biblicist. They seem more than willing to tinker with the theology of their traditions and lean on a loose reading of scripture. Social activism does tend to displace crucicentricism as well.

          • OK Miguel, I will bite. How am I not orthodox or biblicist?

          • “…subscribe to the main tenets—doctrinal, ethical, and liturgical—of the churches to which they belong.” Progressives, even evangelical ones, do not practice subscription. They innovate.

            “…affirm the Bible as God’s Word written, true in what it says and functioning as their supreme written guide for life.” Progressives also lean heavily on cultural norms for determine right doctrine, even if it involves overturning centuries of traditional interpretation of scripture. On the loose reading to narrow literalism scale of Biblical interpretation, I was under the impression that “Biblicist” leaned toward the latter. You can be “Bible believing” without being a hyper-literalist.

            My exception is with the definitions, not you. But I still think you’re insane. 😛

      • The incompatibility really lies in –
        YES1: I want to become a better advocate for social justice.
        YES2: I want my LGBT friends to feel welcome and accepted in their own churches.
        NO1: I think it’s vital that we talk about, and address, sin.

        How to put YES2 and NO1 in the same bucket is potent stuff. “liberals” accomplish this by discarding NO1. “conservatives” claim you can’t put YES2 & NO1 in the same bucket.

        YES1 and political libertarians can’t be in the same bucket; attempting to do so is absurd. So if the sect is synonymous with anti-government [quasi-anti-civil-society] then the reconciliation is a no-go. There isn’t even anything to discuss.

        I understand what she wants; I identify with her sentiment. But the above incompatibilities cannot be discounted.

        Personally, I have no idea how you put YES2 and NO1 together. I don’t believe it will work. And I’ve never met an LGBT who views their behavior as sin; so wont’ that person always be uncomfortable sitting next to someone who claims that it is? Especially with how loaded an issue concerning sexuality is.

        • I’ve met LGBT folks who admit their sin and endeavor to walk in repentance. It is an excruciating life. I can understand why most would rather justify their sin than bear a cross so disproportionally heavy, but I don’t think the church does them any good by helping them justify themselves. If the church were more interested in sharing the burden, the LGBT folks would feel much more welcome in conservative churches. But instead, they often feel like they have to get their act together first.

          We have lost the doctrine of justification when our churches become social clubs for sin overcomers instead of hospitals for those drowning in sin.

        • Richard Hershberger says

          I think you are confusing disagreeing with you about what exactly constitutes sin with discarding the concept of sin all together. They are not the same thing.

          • No, I don’t believe I am. If you still believe in “sin” but don’t put much of anything under that umbrella then you’ve effectively discarded the concept. If you never talk about it – you’ve discarded the concept. When things are first-and-foremost a malady, disease, dysfunction, and then, maybe, a sin, after all – you’ve discarded the concept [which is not to say that many sins aren’t truly manifest in what becomes horribly burdensome malady].

            That many “left of mainline” [I really don’t like this left/right nomenclature] people are deeply uncomfortable with the concept of sin is quite evident.

            But my point is that a church community that can’t agree on the basic outlines of what is virtue and what is sin – is going to be a community with very serious problems; it is hard to imagine it holding together if it can’t generally agree on that. The “big tent” collapses.

      • sarahmorgan says

        How, though, does one define “conservative” and “liberal” in a church context? I’ve always been a conservative Christian, but the evangelical community where I live now regards me as dangerously liberal because I don’t believe in a 6-day creation, and I support my LGBT friends’ quests to find church communities. Nobody regards me as “conservative” because I strongly believe the epidemic of divorce in church is a much bigger problem than homosexuality, and that God had a lot more negative things to say about it in the Bible than the latter. :-/

        • Fully agree.
          I wish that, in the Church, we’d use the terms ‘orthodox’ or, well, frankly, ‘not orthodox.’ Granted, there needs to be room to explain the terms, but they don’t bleed into the American political realm, where ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ don’t mean a heck of lot anyway. If Republican and Democratic Catholics can stand together at Mass and recite the Creed and take the Eucharist, they should, by and large, fall together under the ‘orthodox’ category. They likely see things quite differently politically, but those differences don’t make them ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’ Christians, simply ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’ Americans. As Christians they adhere to the same things.

          Yeah, that’s pretty naive, but I’m sick to death of people trying to label Christians based on their political views.

        • laura simmons says

          A “church conservative” is someone who believes the church should be distinct and withdrawn.
          A “church liberal” is someone who believes we should be assimilated and engaged.
          A “redemptive or transformational” person is one who believes Christians should be distinct and engaged.

      • I see someone like me, Pastor Brendan, a conservative of conservatives (Rachel even more so than I) who is on a journey of questioning a lot of the crazy things she was taught and trying to find a place to fit in now that she has moved away from her fundamentalist upbringing. I wouldn’t say she “is” anything that can be labeled so easily. She is learning, and growing, and trying to filter out the essential from the non-essential. Something I would say we should all applaud and toward which we should show patience and support.

        • I definitely understand and appreciate her place in the evangelical wilderness, but after reading her writings I’m not sure why she doesn’t self-identify as a liberal. I’m not trying to use the terms “liberal” and “conservatives” as clubs to beat her with, but I am genuinely confused at how she sees herself as partially conservative or at least not quite fully liberal. I have friends that are self-identified liberal Christians, they sound just like her. I don’t find her wish-list to be evangelical or conservative. She sounds like a genuine liberal mainliner who hasn’t given up an honest spirituality. I could make some twitter recommendations to her but then again all my liberal mainline friends retweet her constantly.

          • when thrown around so much I find the terms “liberal” & “conservative” tend to lose meaning , in theological discussions. What things on her wishlist do you find to be particularly liberal?

          • It’s not her “identity” that’s the issue, Pastor Brendan. It’s finding a church community in which she feels at home. And she feels fully at home in neither.

          • CM, while I can see that point and honestly sympathize… isn’t belonging to a church about identity? my prayers for Ms. Evans, Kyrie Eleison

      • Ron Sider, Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, Shane Claiborne, et al. Her blog fits in perfectly with their writings, generally seen as apologetics against the conservative church.

        Uh, am I missing something here? I’m pretty sure all these people would call themselves Evangelicals as well. Perhaps the problem is that there are a lot of different groups who seem to want to claim ownership of that word.

        These conversations are interesting to me right now, too. I can certainly empathize with many of Rachel’s point (although I think I’m probably more libertarian leaning politically – I don’t put a lot of hope in good coming from political action from either side). I think, though, there’s another wrinkle in my search for a church.

        The last church was were really members of was a primarily African American church. It was non-denominational and Pentecostal, but it didn’t get into weird territory. It had a lot in common with the more traditional Black churches, and some of the people were pretty political on the Democrat side of things. There were definitely more conservative people there, too. In some ways, it was more conservative than a typical evangelical church, though. Here’s what I loved most about the church, though. No one ever mentioned politics, evolution, inerrancy, gay marriage, or any other secondary crap from the pulpit. All they talked about was Jesus, and they were the most loving people I’ve ever met in my life. Many of them were much poorer than me, but I’m sure that most of the people would give me the shirt off their back if I asked for it. That’s just how they were.

        So that’s what I’m looking for in a church. I want a congregation full of people who simply love Jesus more than any of this other stuff. Since I’ve moved a year and half ago, I have not been able to find anything that compares. I don’t suspect I will find something quite the same, but I’d at least like somewhere some of that spirit exists.

        • Uh, am I missing something here? I’m pretty sure all these people would call themselves Evangelicals as well. Perhaps the problem is that there are a lot of different groups who seem to want to claim ownership of that word.

          That’s exactly my point. Particularly when I question how a liberal considers themselves also evangelical. I’m not attacking them, I’m asking them to explain how can one be both.

          • Maybe I’d back up first. Where is that you see these people referring to themselves as “evangelical liberals”? I think many of these people try to avoid using the L-word simply because of all the baggage associated with it. Traditional liberal theology is kind of a hard thing to nail down, but I think the one thing you’d see is that there is less affirmation of the physical and historic nature of the resurrection. I don’t believe any of the people you mentioned are wavering on that.

            Usually evangelical has to do with how a person enters into a relationship with Christ and what that relationship entails. There are other concepts that usually get throw in – the authority of Scripture, a believe in the physical resurrection of Christ, and a desire to share the Gospel. The way I see it, each of those things is broad enough to include all of the people you mentioned.

          • Professor Failure says

            “I’m asking them to explain how can one be both.”

            Why should they have to?

    • Personally, it seems to me like RHE’s little “wishlist” actually consists of Biblically derived convictions. I think she is right to lament the cookie-cutter approach to choosing a tradition. Politics and peripheral concerns should not be defining issues.

    • “The Word” is not as objective as you think. And *you* may not be able to choose a la carte, but *somebody* in your denomination is (the founder, perhaps).

  4. We want what we want.

    And we have been totally politicized.

    Preaching and teaching God’s Word ought not be politicized. God’s Word, as boaz and Darren say (above), are what Christians ought be doing when they gather for worship.

    Outside of worship…take whatever stands and support whom you will. Let’s resist the temptation to hitch any political or cultural platforms to the gospel.

  5. I am a pretty much in between person too. Rachel’s list could be my own, though I would remove “smells and bells” from my list and I would add the fact that don’t like the word “inerrancy”. In response to Boaz above, you ask my co-workers, how they view me, and they view me as a total theological conservative. My conservative friends view me as pretty theologically liberal.

    • I feel like “in-betweeners” are becoming an underground majority. It’s only a matter of time before a new tradition is forged. I pray it happens in a non-schismatic way. Post-evangelicals could be flooding the mainlines to pull them back from the left fringe, because I think that the mainlines actually have a better hope of becoming balanced. Conservative evangelical groups seem to be having too difficult a time separating themselves from entrenched fundamentalism.

      • There are some like the Christian and Missionary Alliance, and the North American Baptist, who seem to be trying to forge a middle way.

  6. Definitely in the middle in much the way Rachel describes, and really, really tired of the political divide that defines so much of American Christianity. I don’t know if anything will fix it other than generational and demographic change. The reality for me is that I don’t speak up about where I stand on the spectrum of liberal to conservative because in most churches that would result in rejection at some level, or at the very least relegation to second-class citizenship. For the same reasons, I don’t even speak of it to some members of my own family.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      The reality for me is that I don’t speak up about where I stand on the spectrum of liberal to conservative because in most churches that would result in rejection at some level, or at the very least relegation to second-class citizenship.

      Purity of Ideology.

      Just like the Red Guard and Khmer Rouge.

    • +1+1+1+1

  7. Since we are on the issue of both liberal and conservative Christianity and the polarization and that we are tired of it, Reginald Bibby the foremost Canadian sociologist of religion has just released a free e-Book discussing the situation in Canada.

    It is found at:

    He has been researching religious trends for about 40 years. It may interest Americans, as there well could be parallels.

  8. The problem with both of her lists is the useage of I believe, I want, I am tired. The whole idea of belonging to Christ is to get rid of the I and let the spirit work into turning your life into the service of God and not yourself. If it is always just about me I will always measure myself against my feelings and not Christs Kingdom and the service of others. I am tired of the over analized self only looking out for number one. If I am caught in the middle I still have one foot in the world rather than the pearl of great price.

    • That’s easier said than done since even the American church can’t separate itself from “I believe, I want, and I’m tired.” Perhaps the reality is that an authentic, Christ following church is so rare in this country as to be almost impossible to find.

    • “I believe, want or am tired” are all expressions of honesty. It is a good starting point. It’s being too spiritual to say that our wants, convictions, or needs are unimportant. We shouldn’t stoically stuff them down in Jesus name, but rather recognize them that we can begin to examine them in the light of God’s word. It’s not the church’s job to burn us out and run us down. To the extent that it does this, we are right to object and call for change.

      And you will never buy the pearl of great price, you will always come up short no matter how much you give up. Only Jesus could afford it, which is why he paid the price for you.

    • David, the problem is not as you state it, in my opinion. The problem is that churches have told people, on the one hand, that they want them to grow to maturity in Christ, and then on the other hand, they don’t let them think for themselves and take paths that may, at least for awhile, go against the status quo. Growing up and becoming mature is a long, messy process. I don’t just “get rid of the I.” It may not be about me but it involves me, my thoughts, my beliefs, my fears, my feelings, my relationships with God and others. “Losing your life” does not mean becoming a complete cipher, it means becoming a more complete human being.

      • “The problem is that churches have told people, on the one hand, that they want them to grow to maturity in Christ, and then on the other hand, they don’t let them think for themselves and take paths that may, at least for awhile, go against the status quo. Growing up and becoming mature is a long, messy process.”

        Quotation of the week Pastor Mike!

      • Pastor Mike, thank you for your words of wisdom. I agree that it is a messy business but you have given us a place to feel loved and a place to express our feelings however muddled they may be.

  9. I’m over 50 and completely resonate with Ms. Evans. It was a lot easier to be as sure as many of my Evangelical friends when I was younger. Added to the cognative stuff is the flat-line emotionalism (you know always happy and/or full of faith in Jesus) in many Evangelical churches we find ourselves in. My wife and I have three children under 10 (two are foster kids) and we can’t find any mainline church that has anything for that age group. There might be some teenagers and always one or two babies and then . . . nothing.

    I know a church is not meant to fit all my needs, but to walk into a mall-like warehouse building with a “worship” team in front and some noise from, “let’s all welcome one another . . ” to the snacks afterward, is a Sunday morning struggle.

  10. I think both sides have their own problems with the gospel. Progressivism becomes its own form of legalism, and conservatism becomes its own form of lawlessness. That’s a statement I probably can’t upack in the space of a paragraph. It’s self-explanatory, if you understand the dubious character of the sinful nature.

    Both sides want to define Jesus rather than allowing the lordship of Christ define them. Jesus isn’t gay. Jesus isn’t straight. Jesus isn’t a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, etc. Jesus will not be bought, sold, enlisted, or enslaved. Jesus is not for those who define themselves by orientation or political affiliation. I am so done with pragmatism.

  11. Joseph (the original) says

    as an older & faith-tested saint, i will say i am not at all interested in the culture wars. i am not YEC friendly at all. not a complimentarian nor a 5-point Calvinist in my theological views. not Reformist, but more Arminian in my outlook. i have a varied church resume; raised Roman Catholic, member of Pentecostal camps, independent charismatic & non-charismatic churches, attended a newly established Vineyard Church back in my college days, & have had my fill of church politics & personality based conficts/posturing. i exited the uber-charismatic, supra-spiritual camps about 12 years ago. i am what is called a post-charismatic mostly identifying with what is categorized here as the Evangelical Wilderness sojourn. this is my theological history in a nutshell (or grape skin)…

    i desire to involve myself in a faith community intent on the majors of the gospel while exhibiting extreme grace in the minors. i hold by political views lightly & do my best not to allow them to skew my theological perspectives. i am not interested in supporting any ‘building’ programs & what i joyfully give as a freewill offering is only between me & God…

    i am not wanting any type of service position. i have no personal soapbox to promote. whatever spiritual gifts i do have are available to edify the body, but not to be taken advantage of or expected. i am not a Lone Ranger for Jesus. i want to be part of a vibrant faith community without any unspoken standards of expected Christianese behavior, political affiliation, pet-peeve theological considerations (i.e. end-times stuff, neo-theocracy America, hunker-in-the-bunker viewpoints, creationism). i am not going to conform to anyone else’s idea of what a Christian should be although i consider myself very traditional in my orthodoxy. i am simply me & what-you-see-is-what-you-get. no masks. no phony happy-clappy BS & no group-think saint/pilgrim…

    so, in order to offer my best representation possible, this is who/what i am. i think it should be an open & honest disclosure as i will know fairly quickly if i feel comfortable sharing in theologically themed conversations. i will share my opinions when asked, but keep them to myself until then. and really, life is too frickin’ short to play Christianese games no matter how sincere they are or based on whatever tradition underlies them.

    ~St. Joseph Bernard de Vinho 🙂

    • Amen +100 This is all about boxing and labeling. God is too big for a box and my spiritual journey is not dependent on whether or not I have a box to fit myself into.

  12. Comment by a woman named Nan on the Rachel Post. I think what she describes is what Rachel is looking for
    :” I’m a woman pastor from a “liberal” denomination who loves the Apostle’s Creed, the messy and sometimes ugly history of the church (small C) and clings to the Church for all it is worth because that is where hope is- with Jesus Christ. I am too “liberal for conservative churches (not to mention the female parts on me that are going south but are still there!!!). I am too “conservative” for my “liberal” colleagues. So I stay out of it and do my best to live the kingdom message. I preach and teach the Good News, love really deep Bible Studies and have an adult Sunday School class that keeps me honest and thinking deeply. So, I have fostered the clergy group in my community that invites Evangelical, Pentecostal, Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopalian and LDS to get together, know each other, pray for each other and celebrate our commonality- love of Jesus Christ.
    I saw a picture that was posted from a photography exhibit in Norway. It was a great big rock that was positioned outside the entrance to the gallery that said “I refuse to be your enemy”.
    A copy of it is posted on our bulletin board in the entryway of our church. I love this blog and all the comments. It gives me great hope and joy to see people trying to catch a glimpse of Jesus as he turns the corner. Thank you all for such insightful and honest posts. You sound like the folks that come to this
    “dying” church- very young and alive in Spirit (however, here we look like we have to puree our food). Keep up the deep work. Pray and laugh-catch your breath and start again. It is worth it! Pastors who have posted- love your people and keep preaching Jesus no matter where the denominational lines may fall. If you don’t do it, who will?”

  13. Several people have suggested that the problem lies in the “culture wars.” If only people could agree to set aside politics, the argument goes, then they might find agreement in essentials.

    However, all human social activity is political. Even if a church agrees not to talk about the gay issue, for example, one day gays are going to want to get married, and a decision will have to be made. The same goes for gender egalitarianism–at some point, women are going to want to be ordained, and there is no way to finesse the decision or make it go away. (The Episcopalians tried letting it be decided on a parish-by-parish basis, but this simply relocates the problem.) One can’t be all things to all people, to coin a cliche.

    Many items on Held Evans’ list that seem “political” are in fact purely theological (such as an emphasis on sin and doctrine, but tolerance / encouragement of doubt, debate, and dialogue). The reason they seem political is because they are used as group identity markers.

    • … and the fact she votes for the Democratic party. That seems like a political thing to say.

      • I believe her point in throwing that in is that in many more conservative-leaning churches, that would be something many people would at least give you funny looks about.

      • Richard Hershberger says

        Actually, what she wrote was “I vote for democrats.” This isn’t quite the same thing. She might also vote for Republicans. She doesn’t say. The point is that voting for Democrats at all sets her apart from modern Evangelicalism. By way of comparison, voting for Republicans is unremarkable behavior among mainliners in general, though this can vary from congregation to congregation.

  14. It all seems like something out of “That Hideous Strength.” As Dimble says in That Hideous Strength, “Have you ever noticed that the universe, and every little bit of the universe, is always hardening and narrowing and coming to a point? . . . If you dip into any college, or school, or parish, or family — anything you like — at a given point in its history, you always find that there was a time before that point when there was more elbow room and contrasts weren’t quite so sharp; and that there’s going to be a time after that point when there is even less room for indecision and choices are even more momentous. Good is always getting better and bad is always getting worse: the possibilities of even apparent neutrality are always diminishing. The whole thing is sorting itself out all the time, coming to a point, getting sharper and harder” (p. 283).

    We may be at a time when the “wiggle room” is pretty much gone.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      “Good is always getting better and bad is always getting worse: the possibilities of even apparent neutrality are always diminishing. The whole thing is sorting itself out all the time, coming to a point, getting sharper and harder” (p. 283).

      We may be at a time when the “wiggle room” is pretty much gone.

      Is that a segue into End Time Prophecy(TM)?

      Because a lot of time I’ve heard that recited, it’s been a warmup to Pin-the-Tail-on-The-Antichrist. Just like in Independence Day, it becomes another Countdown to The End.

      • But this is C.S. Lewis, HUG. He gets a free pass.

        And besides, he didn’t give a timetable, as Hal Lindsey did… and did again… and keeps updating until he gets it right…

  15. Richard Hershberger says

    My main impression from her list of reasons she doesn’t fit in the mainline side is that she hasn’t looked very hard. There are many mainline congregations where these stereotypes fit, but there are many where they do not. The various mainline denominations are different from one another, and there is wide variation within each denomination. In my younger years I moved around a lot. I learned to, upon relocating, make a serious process of discernment. Taking as an example “I’m convinced that the Gospel is about more than being a good person.” she has accurately hit upon a characteristic failing of bad liberal Lutheranism. But characteristic doesn’t mean universal. I learned long ago to spot the “be nice” sermon and to try a different congregation the next week.

    The underlying problem I see here is the reference to “the progressive, Mainline church”. There is no such thing. There are many progressive, Mainline churches, with distinct histories and traditions and doctrines and practices.

  16. Regarding the term “liberal”, Roger Olson wrote an article a little while back entitled What is “theological liberalism?”.

    I think he (rightfully) points out that many times the word is thrown around it has no connection to the actual historic context surrounding it. That’s why people with such divergent views as N.T. Wright and Marcus Borg (who have numerous debates about different issues regarding the historicity of Scripture, etc.) have people try to apply the “liberal” label to them.

    People tend to throw the label “liberal” around without regard to history. Most of the time it means little or nothing more than something they don’t like or agree with and perceive to be too progressive. When someone says a person or church or institution or book is “liberal” I have no idea what they mean until I press them for a definition. Usually they can’t give a real definition; they can only say something about their disagreement or dislike.

    Looking up “liberal” in the dictionary doesn’t really help. Most ordinary dictionaries don’t include theology among their definitions. You can look up “liberal” in most dictionaries and be enlightened about politics and society and perhaps philosophy. But you are unlikely to find anything there about liberal theology. Besides, it is a mistake to think words have essences. There is no “essence” out there corresponding exactly with the sound “liberal.” The label “liberal” has a history theologically and we should stick to that as closely as possible while recognizing flexibility.

  17. I’m another in-betweener. I worship on Thursdays at a theologically orthodox, politically liberal church where I try to offer the best of what my evangelical background brings to the table. I worship on Sundays at an evangelical church where folks in general are less aware of orthodox theology or of church history or of the strengths of liturgical Christianity, and share what I can with them. Both communities, I hope, are growing closer to the center, and if they do, it will be by growing closer to Jesus.

    (Remember Jesus? You know, that guy who’s the reason the church has survived every previous cultural upheaval and will survive this one too? Word is, he’s still around, and still working to reconcile all people to himself, and through himself, to each other. I’ve seen time and time again that as people grow closer to Jesus, as opposed to just more deeply enmeshed in a particular church culture, they grow better able to bridge the sort of divide that we’re dealing with here. So let’s not give up hope.)

  18. The word “I” was mentioned 20 times in that bullet-pointed list.

    • Donna, I shudder to think you would count the “I’s” in one of my posts. Oops, there’s two in one sentence.

    • Surely this is a sign of humility–she is recognizing that her list merely reflects her own preferences and opinions. A less humble person might begin each item in their list with “God says…” or some such.

      Anyway, the “I” is a useful concept–it keeps us from bumping into things. As the Buddhist say, the self exists conventionally but not ultimately.

    • sarahmorgan says

      Did you know that the word “I” is mentioned over 500 times in the book of Psalms?

      • But there are 150 Psalms, and it’s the longest book in the bible!

        Try counting the number of “I”, “me” or “my” in Romans chapter 7, then compare with chapter 8. It’s really remarkable seeing the change in Paul’s mood and message. Depending on the translation, it’ll go from about 51 times in chapter 7 to about 3 times in chapter 8, and in chapter 8 it’s merely a device to point to God’s glory, not his own woes.

  19. I have come to realize that I am standing in the extreme and radical middle.

  20. Pastor Don says

    Interesting comments all. I can identify with Rachel except in the area of the struggle to define sin.

    I, like CM, like Luther even though unlike CM, have found a home in a Christian Reformed church. Today’s discussion seemed to hinge on words like conservative, liberal, mainline or evangelical–and their definitions. That being said, it is interesting to note that when asked to define who he was, Luther said simply, “Evangelical.”

    I find myself wanting a modern Reformation (to quote the White Horse Inn folks). I don’t worship the early reformers as some accuse us of doing, but I do like the way Luther and Calvin explained the Christian faith through Scripture. I have left the modern Evangelical/Pentecostal camp but could never sit under teaching that seemed to redefine Christ, the Gospel, and the work Jesus gave us to do. I am an Evangelical in Luther’s sense; a follower of Christianity, not “churchianity.”

    So there, I have added my voice to the others of this discussion. I know it’s not easy to coral us together but that’s what Jesus wanted. Lord, help us.

  21. Another personally meaningful post, I can relate. As a 60 something, I know exactly how Rachel feels, I have had very similar reactions and thoughts for several years. To many good points to comment on adequately and good to know I am not alone in feeling the same way. Thanks for a good post.

  22. MelissatheRagamuffin says

    This is why I am a Quaker! Although my yearly meeting is divided on the GLBTQ issue. Personally, I still believe it is a sin. I really really really don’t want it to be. I know some really beautiful human beings who also happen to be gay. But, that still small voice keeps saying, “Don’t go there… Don’t cross that line….” and it hasn’t ever steered me wrong yet.

  23. MelissatheRagamuffin says

    This is the best quote from Rachel’s blog and is pretty much how I feel: •”I take the teachings of Jesus too seriously to be welcome among conservatives and take the rest of the Bible too seriously to be welcome among liberals. So rather than feeling caught between them, I feel like I’m alienated by both.” – Mike

    • humanslug says

      You’re in very good company, Melissa.
      Jesus and His disciples didn’t fit in with the prevailing religious sects of their day.
      But I do know how you feel, and I know the frustration that comes with being afraid to speak honestly and freely with many of my Christian friends and relatives.

      • MelissatheRagamuffin says

        Tell me about it. I’ve just been looking for a forum, a group, something where I could share thoughts and ideas honestly. It just really seems such a place doesn’t exist.

        • humanslug says

          Keep looking, but don’t discard the possibility that God might want to use you to bring such a thing into existence in your little corner of the world. And you may find that there are a lot of Christians out there who will come to a forum or place of religiously free speech (even if it’s just someone’s living room or backyard patio) like moths to a flame — that is if you can convince them that the denominational Thought Police haven’t got the place bugged.

          • MelissatheRagamuffin says

            I talked to a friend about it and he wants to start a blog with multiple authors, but he’s not as open to diversity of opinion/ideas/beliefs as I am. :/

  24. The more testimonies I hear like Rachel’s the more I ask: If there are so many of us out here who feel this way, then it seems like we should be able to find a place to call home. I guess the trouble is that you can find churches that are caught in between where we would belong, but they’re way in the minority. It seems the two extremes attract the most people.

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