[Prologue: I wrote this very much off the top of my head, although the ideas in it have been bubbling around for a while. It’s quite rambling, and yet in places, quite blunt. I’m aware people will be reading this from the church we parted ways with a while back and some of what I say might sound harsh or hurtful to them. I really hope none of my criticisms of the evangelicalism in this post are taken on that personal a level – whilst I’m sure many will disagree with my points here, I don’t wish to be seen as criticising any of the people whom we love so very dearly at that church. This is as much about my journey and issues as it is with what I may rightly or wrongly perceive is wrong with the modern evangelical church.]
So, a few years ago on this here blog, I wrote a series of posts about where my journey of faith was going. I wibbled on about postmodernism and linguistics and post-Evangelicalism and contextualisation and liberal politics and social conscience and that sort of thing. I never really reached any proper conclusions, partially because I didn’t (and still don’t) think that conclusions are necessarily a helpful thing to reach (there are absolutely no absolutes, obviously) and partially because real life kind of got in the way, in between getting married, moving to Cambridge, starting a new job, buying a house, fitting a kitchen, losing a job, getting a new job and all the rest, philosophising (and blogwriting in general) sort of fell by the wayside.
Well, actually. That’s not quite the whole truth, either. There’s another reason. We found a church that I actually liked. It was a lovely, fairly young little congregation, with quite a free-thinking, open approach to faith and community, whilst retaining a (reasonably) orthodox set of core beliefs. It encompassed people from a whole spectrum of theological perspective, from the traditional con/evo right up to, well, people a bit like me. We didn’t always agree, sometimes things didn’t always go right, but there was a freedom to make those mistakes and to disagree and to talk things through, and that was hugely refreshing to me.
Sadly, however, things changed, and without wanting to go into detail, the church started sailing in a different direction to us, and after much thought and heartache, we parted company.
So, Naomi and I found ourselves once again churchless and unsure of our next step, and I found myself in the position of being back to trying to work out exactly what this whole journey was about again and what on earth being a post-modern post-evangelical social-liberal fluffy handwavey rough-around-the-edges fringe Christian actually meant, anyway. We kind of had the summer off (apart from Greenbelt, which is the one encouraging fixture in my annual calendar, in that it helps me realise that at least I’m not alone in this whole thing) but Naomi insisted that we needed to start going to church again soon and started saying things about community and family and I kind of found it hard to disagree on that front, at least.
So, looking for a new church: the thing is, I’m done with modern evangelicalism. I mean, seriously now. I mean it properly, this time. I’ve been calling myself post-evangelical for years now, but always within the context of still attending an evangelical church and attempting to work within it. I’ve feel like I’ve given it more than enough fair chances, but eventually the reductionist approach to faith, narrow idea of what a Christian and what Christianity actually is, literal approach to scripture, confusion of conservative socio-political ideas with theology and constant wretched urgency ground me down and right now I just want nothing to do with the whole thing. I’m exhausted. I need some space to breathe.
Oh, it’s all such a bloody cliché. Young(ish) western middle-class Christian gets fed up with Evangelicalism, spends time staring at own navel, eventually goes off and joins a traditional church in which he can sit and listen to short but thoughtful sermons that aren’t all about reaching for the prize or taking our faith to the next level, sing traditional hymns and not have to be on another bloody mission team or sit through another interminable 4-hour prayer meeting wondering whether everyone else is really as into this as they seem or if they’re all thinking about work or DIY or Voronoi diagrams or Westfall Questlines too. I don’t want to be a cliché. Not wanting to be a cliché is so part of being this particular cliché. My journey is my own, goddamnit, get your own set of faith issues.
So, yeah, looking for a new church: Naomi can’t be doing with Anglicanism. Not quite sure why, just doesn’t seem her bag. I Don’t Do Calvinism, so that’s the Baptists out the window. In our village, that kinda leaves the Methodists. Now, all things considered, I quite like the Methodists. First church I ever properly really attended was a Methodist church (although then, and even more so now, it was a Methodist church that was pretty indistinguishable from any other modern evangelical place so I’m not sure if it really counts) and I still hold a soft spot for them – their website talks about “openness” a lot, and they support Greenbelt, and they do that nice congregationalist thing rather than being a top-down hierarchy of Bishops and Archbishops and Priests and Rectors and Deans and Canons and Second Curates-in-law Twice Removed.
But am I a Methodist? If I’m completely honest, I’m not much more of a fan of Arminius’ Five Articles than I am of Calvin’s Five Points. I quite like some of Charles’ hymns, but I’m pretty sure John and I wouldn’t see eye-to-eye on so many things. I quite like gin, for starters. I’m not entirely sure my pro-LGBTQ opinions are going to find a entirely comfortable home there. And I’m fairly sure Mr Wesley was pretty hot on the idea of saving souls, even if he did talk good guns about a social gospel, too…
Oh, I don’t know. I’m rambling a long way from the path I originally set off on now; the central thesis for this post was supposed to be a resigned acceptance of the fact that we now seem, more-or-less by accident, to be the youngest people (by about 30 years) at our local Methodist church and the fact that I feel kind of surprised that, at the very least, I’m not filled with a vague sense of uneasy dread about leaving the house every Sunday at the moment, and that the preaching is very good on account of how it’s on the same circuit as Wesley House and that. But in attempting to get my thoughts down on paper (metaphorically), it still turns out to be a whole bunch more complicated than that. You know, just for a change. I guess it’s kind of tricky to be looking for something when you’re not even sure what it is you’re looking for, or if you’ll even be sure if you find it. God, I sound like Bono.
So, I guess – congratulations if you’ve made it this far. I’ve been terribly self-indulgent and I guess I’m a bit sorry for wasting your time if you read all this hoping for some kind of blinding revelation or something at the end of it all. That’s not coming – although I guess that’s also sort of the point I’m trying and failing to make about my own story here too (I’d claim this was an intentional clever literary device, but no; I’ve sort of stumbled into that, too). Things move on. Sometimes, they don’t have a satisfactory ending.