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Thursday, June 09, 2016

A Tale of Two Speeches

Ah, Rachel Held Evans, what would I do without you?

Wait, I’m pretty sure I’ve used that opening line before.

Never mind. The point is that our good friend RHE has a few words to say on the subject of a commencement speech she gave back in 2003 upon graduating from a conservative Christian university and what, if given another shot at the same gig with proverbial 20/20 hindsight, she would say differently today.

Fair enough. I hope we’ve all learned something in the last 13 years.

Change the World

From her description, Rachel’s 2003 address was as naively formulaic as regular readers here might expect. Telling a bunch of kids from Christian families that:
“The world is dark, and we are the light. The world is sick, and we have the medicine. The world is lost, and we know the way.”
sounds like pretty standard graduation fare and probably gave her classmates exactly what they were looking for when they chose her for the job. “Go out and change the world,” she told them — to nobody’s surprise — and out they all went. Those of us who read her regularly know Rachel’s personal story. Perhaps there are one or two others she went to school with that have made a similar sort of mark on 21st century Christendom, for good or ill, just as you and I can probably name one or two people we went to high school with that have become minor celebrities, jealously or fawningly observed on Facebook and Twitter and name-dropped religiously by most of their less successful classmates.

The vast majority of those listening to Rachel’s address, we may be confident, did nothing of the sort. Few worlds were changed. And if the story ended there we might wonder why she bothered retelling it. But no, the fun stuff is still to come: Rachel tells us what she would say now if she had the same commencement address to do over.

Let the World Change You Too

Now, in one sense I get what she’s trying to do here, I really do. There are certainly ways in which young Christians need to be changed by life experience. The things that are merely theoretical for them need to become practical. The mere notion of working hard, heartily and “as unto the Lord” is vastly different from actually doing it when you’re so tired you can hardly lift your feet. The concept of behaving lovingly toward someone in your workplace, neighbourhood or field of service who dislikes or even hates you is vastly different from the reality of dealing with genuine, unrelenting hostility. The distant prospect of humbly submitting to people who know a great deal less truth than you do is not nearly so galling to the flesh as having to do it day after day, over and over again.

Even the practical things young people learn in Christian universities like the one RHE attended: apologetics training, evangelism, how to deal with the challenge of atheism — all very good things — must be tested against the real-world arguments and needs of the current generation (as opposed to the generation that wrote the university curriculum) and modified to suit the gifts, abilities and disposition of each individual. David cannot wear Saul’s armor.

So, yes, the world must change us as Christians. Change of this sort is a very good thing and makes us real servants of Christ rather than mere theologians.

Tragically, that’s not the sort of change Rachel Held Evans is encouraging. Not even close.

Compromise, Compromise, Compromise

Rather, she is making a head-on challenge to one of the most fundamental principles of Christian living; so direct that it merits a direct response. Let me quote probably the most familiar line ever from the apostle Paul:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Rather than resisting conformity to the spirit of the age, Rachel is embracing it, embodying it and encouraging it:
“I thought I was called to challenge the atheists, but the atheists ended up challenging me.

I thought God wanted to use me to show gay people how to be straight. Instead God used gay people to show me how to be Christian.

I thought the world needed my answers, but as it turns out, I needed the world’s questions.

I am so thankful for ... the physicist who helped me embrace evolution ... the foul-mouthed and tattooed Lutheran pastor who gave me permission to love the church again.”
(Lord, help me not to be unfair here …)

Interpretation Time

Absent the rest of Evans’ blog archives to peruse, we might question how we should take some of these statements. (Some are perfectly clear: the words “embrace evolution” don’t require scholarly assistance to interpret.) Still, it takes familiarity with Evans’ writing to be confident that when she says, “God used gay people to show me how to be Christian”, she actually means, “I have come to believe there is nothing unchristian about the homosexual lifestyle” as opposed to something like, “The Lord showed me I needed to be more loving to the unsaved”.

To be fair, Evans does make the obligatory hand-wave to Romans:
“Now, the 21-year-old me would point out that Scripture warns against ‘conforming to the patterns of this world.’ ”
But the “patterns of this world” to which Evans refers — and to which she is reluctant to conform — are not the patterns we might assume. She’s fine with being utterly conformed to every twitch of Western Progressive polity: homosexuality, bisexuality, transgenderism, evolution, “science” worship, leftist social causes — you name it, Evans supports it, and thinks all Christians should too.

Power Over Humility

No, if we take her at her word about her upbringing, the world to which RHE is afraid to be conformed is the conservative evangelical world in which she was raised, “patterns” which she now characterizes with the words “power over humility, materialism over generosity, retribution over forgiveness”. Ugh.

Now admittedly modern evangelicals could use some serious Bible study. We’ll all concede that organized Christianity is far from perfect. But when your view of scripture marches in absolute lockstep with both Progressive ideology and the policies being put on the table by our current Western governments, it’s hard to make the case that your beliefs are more orthodox, more consistent with the New Testament, or even more cool and edgy than those of your parents. By definition, “politically correct” means “conformed to the world”.

How else would it be considered “correct”?

Evans finishes with a bang (or more realistically, with the last few lines of her mentally-rewritten commencement speech):
“Before you can make your mark on the world, let the world make its mark on you. Be curious. Stay open. Nurture the humility it takes to admit you can get it wrong.”
I agree that it takes humility to admit we can get it wrong. But presuming to declare that the last two millennia of Christians have misunderstood most of their New Testaments? That’s not humility talking.

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