The first time I described myself – out loud – as a “Recovering Evangelical,” I got a very puzzled look from my friend. Since then, I’ve used it a number of other times, both in reference to this blog and in casual conversation, and have received a variety of responses.
But as I continue to move through this sort of redefinition of my faith and try to live out that faith in the “real world,” I have often found myself giving myself that same puzzled look my friend gave me the first time I used this phrase. What exactly do I mean when I call myself a “Recovering Evangelical”? What am I “recovering” from? What do I stand for? What do I stand against?
So, here, for your sake as well as for my own, I will attempt to define… or at least describe… what I mean.
First, when it comes to theology, I still hold to the tenets of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. I consider myself a follower of Christ (the term “Christian” tends to carry with it a lot of baggage these days). I don’t think that will ever change.
But my understanding of God and the Bible and the life of faith have changed and evolved over the last decade or so.
The primary reason I consider myself a “Recovering Evangelical” is that I reject the dogmatism that existed in my evangelical upbringing. I have rejected the idea that one person or church or denomination has the monopoly on our understanding of God. I have given myself permission to ask questions, even difficult questions, and have accepted the fact that I may never know or fully understand the answers.
I do not read the Bible “literally,” but rather as the work of literature that it is. I believe it was divinely inspired, but also written by humans who were writing narratives and poems and letters that would one day become sacred Scripture. I don’t believe the Bible was dictated by God and merely recorded by men, but that God uses the words of these human writers to reveal God’s self to us.
I have also come to understand that, in the words of David Foster Wallace, “the capital-T Truth is not about life after death, but about life before death.” In other words, I realize that my purpose in life is not just about being a “fire insurance” salesman. I believe that life is more that just “getting saved” and then staying on the straight and narrow until Jesus comes back. I believe that Jesus came not only to provide a means of eternal salvation, but to restore broken lives in the here and now. And I believe that is to be my purpose as well.
Along those lines, I believe that Jesus put people over principle and relationships over rules. And I choose to do the same. When it comes to many of the sociopolitical, identity-related issues that threaten to divide the church (specifically LGBTQIA+ inclusion), I choose to be an ally. I’ve read all the “clobber” passages and their supporting commentary. And I’ve read all the refutations of those “clobber” verses. And I honestly don’t know what the right answer is. What I do know is that Jesus never turned anyone away, and neither will I.
This “people over principle” mentality has led me to embrace a much more liberal social agenda. I even changed my voter registration to Democrat last year. I believe that if we, as Americans, are to be the “Christian nation” that many evangelicals want us to be, then it means treating people with dignity and respect and compassion, not just passing laws that mirror the moral and legal precepts found in the Old and New Testaments. I will stand up against injustice and I will speak up for those who have no voice.
So, I think that about covers it… for now at least. My faith is an ever-evolving thing, and I hope that evolution is moving forward toward a greater understanding of the God I believe in and the life of faith I seek to live.