Yesterday’s post was the first one I’ve written that warranted a text message from a dear friend who loved and hated it. While my friends and fellow presbyters who know me well know I am not fond of US Evangelicalism, I do believe there are things that we, in the PCA, can learn from them. (Note bene: this list is not an attempt at fully objective provable assertions, just personal observations and experiences and tons of reading)
- Passion – I likened Presbyterians to the engineer uncle who drives that steady old Buick and Evangelicals are the ones who love to trade in just before the note is paid. I stand by that. Sometimes, the Buick needs a good tune-up, even an overhaul. When you have a car long enough, you get to understand it, love it, but it needs repairs. But you keep it long enough to work on it and, occasionally, you need a mechanic to help. Evangelicals mop the floor with us when it comes to passion. I believe it is possible to be confessional, reject consumeristic models that flow from revivalistic pietism and worship with visible expressions of emotion. I know it happens and many, many Reformed churches. It would be great to hear some of these stories. Calvin’s worship earned the reputation of “Genevan jigs.” The Psalms speak to a posture of worship. I think, often, we Presbyterians love the posture of having our arms crossed and ears tuned well to make sure the Is are dotted and Es are crossed. We would do well to look to the Scriptures and see that it is okay to raise hands, kneel, shout for joy, and, yes, even clap. There is nothing more awkward to me than Presbyterians clapping (at least Caucasian Presbies).
- Piety – I do not mean pietistic (aka Keswick “let go and let God”), but a genuine outward manifestation of devotion. My personal fear is that we (myself included) can appear to be more concerned with what is proper, decent and in order than if people can tell we are deeply devoted to that faith once delivered. Calvin’s prayer, “my heart I offer to you, O Lord, promptly and sincerely” wrecks me. It does this because I have read the Institutes cover to cover and even journaled through them. That beautiful theological work has stood the test of time because you read the words of a human being working plunging the depths of the riches of the Triune God as a work of devotion. We must connect our preaching, teaching and studies to the heart. The Great Commandment is to love God with our HEART, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. When I tell someone I am a PCA pastor and, if they know anything about the PCA, they usually say, “you guys know your stuff.” That feels good, but I wish it stung because they did not say, “you guys love God.” I think Evangelicals can teach us a thing or two about piety. I am not a Tebow fan, but there’s no denying what his first love is.
- Working Well with Others – Evangelicals put together pan-denominational events like no other. I believe in the institutional Church. I still think it is important to have relations with groups outside our camp. We know that Calvin exchanged letters with Lutherans and other reformers. I do not liken broader Evangelicalism to that situation, but you do get the sense from Calvin that he “cheered” those folks on. Evangelicals not only like to clap in worship, but they do clap when things go well for others. In my own ministry of church planting, it has been my Evangelical friends who have been our biggest cheerleaders – and I am pretty sure they think we are weird. I often begrudge the stories and the growth and the conversions I hear about in the Evangelical circles with which I am familiar. It can often seem like I’m the scrooge who endlessly critiques (I do.) and judges (I do.), yet in my devotion to the sovereignty of God I think it might be a better tact to be happy, pray and not just think “you’re doing it all wrong.”
- Technology and Design – Presbyterians. Can we be honest? We are terrible at this. It is not okay to have a website look like it was built on geocities back in 1998. I am not saying you have to have a logo for everything, but we’re the Protestants who talk about work ethics (remember Weber’s thesis). We had Francis Schaeffer who wrote Art and the Bible. I have read too much Marshall McCluhan to think we need to embrace the fulness of the information age, but let us not be Luddites. One of the social reasons the Reformation “worked” so well was the rapid adaption to the printing press. Dr. Richard Pratt and Third Millennium have done well at this and Ligonier took off well because it used VHS technology in its infancy. I think we can do better. If we want more folks to better understand our ideas (Covenant, Ecclesiology, Sacraments), then our best and brightest need to be posting TED style talks on youtube, vimeo, etc. Sometimes, we are so wordy and long-winded that we cannot keep attention spans. Let’s be pithy, short, sweet and podcast, vodcast and tweet some of our beautiful theology.
- V73 has talked about this a lot. I would refer you to the archives. I do not think that racial reconciliation is the best model, but Evangelicals did try it before we made steps to correct some of the wrongs in our history. We have been late to the party when it comes to African-Americans in our denomination. We were late to the party when Billy Graham signaled the “okay” to Evangelicals that the Civil Rights movement was worth supporting. The US is a few decades from no longer being a white majority nation. We Presbyterians need to ask why our denominations do not reflect the racial realities around us. Are we talking to the Brazilian Presbyterians? What about the South Koreans? Or the very large Presbyterian denomination in Mexico? It is time to have real trans-cultural, trans-national dialogue and partnership.
Again, these are some observations and generalities. I do not identify as an Evangelical, not because I do not believe evangelical theology, but because I do not believe Presbyterianism to be part of the story of US Evangelicalism. We have roots, a history and a confessional tradition. But that does not mean we cannot learn a thing or two from our friends.