Why He Didn't Leave Evangelicalism

Guest post by David MacKay in response to my post, Why I Left Evangelicalism. David currently lives in Chicago working in Christian media, devoting himself to telling stories through sound and words. He writes regularly at Deconstructed Devotions


I have always felt like a bit of an outsider.

Growing up overseas in a foreign culture, my life became one of not quite fitting in, be it my home or host culture. Likewise, I have noticed recently that being an outsider extends to my faith community of evangelicalism.

It is tempting to allow myself to feed that small inner voice that says things would be so much better if there was an anarchist revolution in the Christian faith. One that was all about kicking out the established way of doing things for a raw, honest look at faith that is founded in the reality of being united to the very person of Christ.

But I can't allow myself to do that. I can't leave what I am. So I stay in evangelicalism in spite of myself.

According to LifeWay Research, there are four key terms that are used in the definition of what makes you an evangelical:

  • The Bible is the highest authority for what I believe
  • It is very important for me personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior
  • Jesus Christ's death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin
  • Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God's free gift of eternal salvation

The honest truth is that it would be dishonest if I said that those characteristics don't define me. While they may not be the end-all-be-all of my faith, I cannot deny the fact that I do fall into all four of those categories--just in a weird way.

First, I agree that the Bible is the highest authority for what I believe, but I am naturally skeptical of our ability to interpret it.  As Alex pointed out, sola scriptura sometimes morphs into "solo scriptura" which cleverly holds up an interpretation of Scripture as more correct than others debunking any other reasoning or interpretation from our historic tradition.

My way of coming to the Bible is not merely through my individualistic interpretation but through the authority of my church, my elders, and my fellow believers sharpening each other.

Second, I believe that part of Jesus commissioning his disciples also applies to the body of believers today. My union with Christ is so dear to me that it is only natural for it to be a vital part of my normal conversation with those who might not share that bond.

Sadly, many of the steps that evangelicals prescribe for bringing people to Jesus cover up their lack of love for those very same people (I myself am unequivocally guilty of this). If we just push past our discomfort and tell the truth, we actually love those people, right?

Third, I affirm that Jesus' death is the only means to salvation. Though I find the classic evangelical description of justification as a mere metaphysical transaction problematic, I do affirm that it is through the atoning life and perfect completing death of Christ that we are able to likewise enter into His death and resurrection for our salvation.

Finally, I confess the exclusivity of Christ for salvation. Because I believe that the only way to have union with a perfect God is through taking on the perfect life of Christ, it doesn't really make any sense for me to think that anything else but "by grace, through faith" is accurate. Unless there is another atoning life that makes a way for us to be one with God, then the only way to be united to Him is through the very person of Christ--our bridegroom.

The fact of the matter is that I am an evangelical. But occasionally I wonder if some evangelicals are as well.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not the one who gets to say who is in and who is out, but I do see many of the same flaws as Alex does. The difference is I would not argue that the intense navel-gazing of evangelicalism is unique to us as a group. To be human is to be self-centered, and my reason for not leaving is motivated out of similar pitfalls.

The reason I haven't left evangelicalism is unity.

I cannot abandon my evangelical roots and swim in the comfort of like-minded wading pools for fear of the evangelical ocean. The fact of the matter is that after swimming in this ocean for so long, I have discovered that there is value in fighting the undertow rather than getting out of the water.

Evangelicals need to hear that their nourishment does not come from their ability to stir up emotions, or devotion, or air-tight theology. Their nourishment comes from the communion of their self with the larger self of the bride, and the deeper communion of the bride and the groom.

While I stand for what it actually means to be an evangelical, I also want to cut away the baggage of being defined by what we are not. I want to remove the opposition-focused movements for movements that are grounded in living out the reality of our union with Christ. Paul never advocated revolution, but rather peaceable living.

Thus, my obedience to Scripture must come in my best attempt of living at peace with my culture, all the while radiantly exposing the truest part of who I am: I am unified with the church, and we are one with Christ.

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