I was once described by some sincere and friendly members of the Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union, as a ‘dangerous friend’. That is, someone who on the surface, claims to be evangelical, but in reality has sold out to liberalism. This was clear from my preaching (that did not mediate objective truth), my style of worship (it was a chapel in Cambridge University!) and my pastoral theology (which did not privilege evangelism over all other gifts).
It is interesting, that since speaking more publicly about the Real Life Worship initiative, the ‘you’re obviously no longer an evangelical any more’ response has resurfaced. I seems to me that if you follow ‘evangelicalism’ to its logical conclusions, you inevitably end up with beliefs that are unacceptable to hard-line modern evangelicals!
I guess that what most evangelicals mean by ‘evangelical’ is being ‘bible based’. And what most evangelicals embody in practice, is a highly modernist approach to scripture, treating the bible as a treasured object, a final authority, a book of objective facts. It is a ‘resource’ from which we extract truths, which we must believe because ‘the bible tells us so!’ In reality, much modern evangelicalism imposes a modernist blue-print upon scripture, to extract from it the kind of truths it has already decided are there. As such, the evangelical God becomes embarrassingly boring.
Maybe the kind of worship that we are seeking to encourage is properly described as ‘evangelical’ in a much weightier sense. That is, by allowing our view of God, ourselves and the world, - by interpreting our place in the world, locally and globally - to be shaped by Scripture. In contrast to modernist evangelical belief (that allows the world to shape its understanding of scripture) I would hope that this worship initiative is an attempt to allow scripture to shape our understanding of the world.
In so doing, Christian worship will always threaten the treasured idolatries with which even evangelicals have come to treasure. To be evangelical in our generation, will then always be a dangerous business. But I hope not one that is simply critical, destructive, threatening. Evangelicals will also embody God’s disruptive, comforting, grace and thereby be characterised by ‘friendship’.
The emphasis of our worship initiative then, is primarily an encounter with a living and loving God, to stand with the biblical writers and witness the God to whom they point. To allow ourselves and all that is precious to us to be shaped and reshaped by our encounter with this God of grace as he is revealed in Scripture. Isn’t this what it really means to be evangelical? And if it is, isn’t the evangelical community one that is made up of ‘dangerous friendships’?
Published in BT, 2008