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Blossoms by Moonlight
Now I'm about to get a doctorate in "theology." But please don't call me a theologian.
I feel more like a person a quiver full of questions, and a pocket full of answers. One can't hang that outside one's door -- though Confucius gave it a shot.
It seems difficult in the same way to identify "my" brand of Christianity.
I am often called an "evangelical." In the skeptical lexicon, that seems to mean (to plagarize A River Runs Through It), "a fundamentalist who can read." (By "fundamentalist," they mean "a Christian who really believes this stuff.")
What good is either word? No one asked me if I wanted to "become an evangelical." The preacher at Echo Ranch Bible Camp when I was 12 years old didn't ask us to "pray and receive a copy of A. C. Dixon's The Fundamentals." Neither word appears on my driver's license, my passport, my Bodelian library card, and probably won't appear on my tombstone. (The slag of marble, or the pizza.)
True, I grew up in (under?) the conservative wing of the Presyberian Church-USA, the Presbyterian Church in America (or both its conservative wings), and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (whose wings must have been those of a turkey, it was so Puritan.) When we moved to towns where the Presyberians were no good, we went to Douglas Island Bible Church, sang popular pietist and Gospel songs, read Chic comics, and grew up with the vague sense that trilobytes were spiritually shaky. We certainly weren't Mormons, and were broad-minded enough to include Catholics down some ranshackled wing of our mansion of faith, along forgotten and distant hallways, past armored knights with names like Knox and Calvin who guarded the hallways nearer our more orthodox domecile.
There was, perhaps, also a vague concept of "Orthodox," potato-faced babushkas praying in a few onion-domed churches that Stalin and his fellows hadn't gotten around to shuttering yet -- but such images belonged more to old copies of National Geographic piled in the basement, or to adventure books like God's Smuggler, than to the world of workaday faith.
The word we always used was "Christian." When we "prayed to received Jesus," the transaction was understood as turning us, not into "evangelicals," or even "Protestants," but "Christians."
So why do people call Christianity Today an "evangelical" magazine?
Why do people say I am an evangelical? When did I sign onto for that voyage?
We are what we eat, spiritually as well as physically. I love some pagan writers -- Homer, after he got over those interminable battle and poem scenes in the Iliad, got rolling in his second volume about the maritime adventures of a Greek king among islands full of monsters -- that was fun, and sometimes profound. Journey to the West. Tolstoy, if he was a pagan. But most of the best books seem to be by Catholics, Orthodox, or Anglicans -- Pascal, Chesterton, Dostoevsky, Solzhenitsyn, Lewis, Tolkien, Girard, Percy, Budziszewski -- or by people of vaguely nondenominational and sincere and passionate somewhat shaky faith -- Lin Yutang, Rodney Stark. There was something a bit shallow about even the evangelical writings I enjoyed the most -- mission stories, apologetics (I don't want to name anyone) -- like trees that had been planted in pots that were too small for them. Exceptions like Milton, Bunyan and Burke prove the rule: they are great because their stories connect by a thousand threads to the story of all humanity. This I was taught in my "evangelical / fundamentalist" childhood, by example not in words, this unity that Christ brings to the mission of God in the world for the past two thousand years, and to the good in all human culture, that Milton and Dante celebrated by joining the ancients in their attempts to capture the human story by means of epic.
Why should we cut ourselves off from all of that?
Don't get me wrong. I grew up among "evangelicals." This is the community in which I feel most at home. I am not even slightly tempted to pray to the Virgin Mary. I like the smell of incense, as I like Indian Christians who use marigolds in their worship, but I remain, at heart, something of a Puritan. Still, who keeps trying to lock the door from the outside? Why shouldn't we spend half our time with the kids across the hallway? It used to be our church minders: now it seems to be the skeptics, who want to classify, categorize, and dismiss Christians by dividing us neatly and putting us in separate boxes.