One of the more treacherous alleys one must navigate when returning to the home church is how people remember you and measure it up to how you are now. This likely goes up exponentially when one must get up in front of everyone and lead worship and preach. I remember before I left for Duke many of my friends, family, and church members from both churches I have attended (St. Paul and Trenholm Road), ‘Don’t let them change you.’ Evidently from changing me to ‘a liberal’. This got put on something of a display at my parents’ Bible study that I attended and wrote about earlier. It wasn’t a surprise going in. My dad, having grown up in and having remained within the usual evangelical contexts until I came along, has had to face what he might have called ‘liberal’ before and now sees that just because one doesn’t take the bible ‘literally’ doesn’t mean that one isn’t a Christian. Dad felt that others needed to be exposed to this as well!
Of course, three years at Duke and six in the UK, one isn’t going to remain the same – theologically or politically (and among American evangelicals, the two go hand-in-hand – if one is conservative theologically, one has to be so politically). At Duke I would count among the greatest influences on me were my NT prof (Richard B. Hays), my Church History prof (Warren Smith), and my theology prof (Geoffrey Wainwright). There I was introduced to N.T. (Tom) Wright. Ironically, in many circles no one would call any of these liberals, but when compared to the usual American evangelicalism all four would pull evangelicals out of where they would normally be comfortable (Smith and Wainwright for their Catholicity; Hays and Wright for not taking the usual evangelical line on the historicity of the Bible).
Overall, it was a good discussion. I couldn’t really tell if some were holding back out of respect for my dad, but all listened. The best discussion I thought we had was on welcoming people to the church. People began asking the question what would it mean if the people in the surrounding area actually came to church? How would it change the upper white middle class culture presently there? That could take a blog post in itself! But, it was a reminder that anytime people come into the church, it will change (this is a problem we have trouble understanding in Britain as well).
So where have I changed? Here is what I think:
- Catholicity: Where other children rebelled by leaving church, I became more catholic and liturgical. It actually started when I dated a Catholic at university when I began reading up on it and found it wasn’t as weird as I thought. It was encouraged at Duke and my interest in the church fathers strengthened with Dr. Smith, who clearly enjoyed them and made terms like the ‘divine nous’ sound fun.
- The Bible: I no longer take the Bible literally or believe it is inerrant. Actually, I don’t even know what those terms mean any more. This doesn’t mean that I don’t take it seriously or believe that miracles don’t happen. I just don’t see a need to match up the different accounts and figure out how there are ‘no contradictions’. There clearly are. And that is where the beautiful theology of each writer can come out. Rather than try to explain away the differences between, say, Luke and Mark, ask what changed and what does it mean? What is the writer trying to say? In other areas, I have likely become more ‘conservative’ – I have a much higher view of the resurrection and what it means.
- Theology: I have given up on the ‘Left Behind’ theology and understand our ultimate destination differently. This has been throughout my blog and was introduced to this primarily through Dr. Hays. His class on 1 Corinthians gave me a new understanding of what the resurrection and restoration of creation. Rather than disembodied souls going to a far off heaven, we are given new bodies in a recreated earth. (N.T. Wright has of course furthered my understanding on this!) This has led to a different understanding of how I view the environmental issues such as global warming and care of creation. I believe care of creation includes fighting global warming.
- Hell as an Eternal Place: This did not come up at the Bible study, but it’s on the blog so I can’t hide from it. I direct readers to what I have already written: The Evangelical Universalist.
- Politics: This is more an influence of living in the UK for six years. Hays and Wright have given theological influence here as well, but it is living in a culture where even evangelicals will be much further to the left than American counterparts. A lot of it has risen out of a concern for the poor and social justice. Fair Trade is much more an issue here among churches. Also, many in my church are more aware of international issues and human rights abuses (not only by governments but by individuals) so that influences not only ministries to the oppressed and abused, but what we call on the government to do.
This has become quite a long post! If any are still with me, I invite any comments and questions – especially if I haven’t made something clear or if you see other changes in me. What I want to make clear is this isn’t a rejection of the people among whom I grew up. I could see where what I learned influenced me in even the changes I have made. Maybe I need to do a post on how I think I haven’t changed.