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Evangelicalism Is Far Deeper, Wider, and Greater Than the Foibles of the Moment

An excerpt from 'Still Evangelical?'

Editor’s note: This excerpt is taken from Karen Swallow Prior’s chapter, “Why I Am an Evangelical.”

I came to Christian faith at a very young age and never wavered in my faith or in my trust in Jesus as my Savior. Sadly, the message from my evangelical tradition was that while trusting in Jesus ensured I would go to heaven instead of hell, but there didn’t seem to be much else to it —other than avoiding sin in order to get more jewels in my heavenly crown—and, of course, telling as many other people as I could about Jesus so they could go to heaven and wear a jeweled crown.

But a more mature, robust evangelicalism eventually taught me how to think and love like a Christian. Evangelical writers and thinkers helped me face, understand, and challenge the movement’s tendency toward anti-intellectualism and its undervaluation of beauty. Evangelicalism eventually taught me that “being saved” was not just about the afterlife but also the abundant life, not just for me as an individual but for all of humankind.

And so evangelicalism created an activist spirit within me, molding and refining a passion to do right politically, socially, personally. The evangelical leaders of the later 20th century taught and led me in my efforts to promote human life at every stage. And the evangelicals of the 18th and 19th centuries inspired me to knit those efforts into a holistic pursuit of the flourishing of all human life and God’s creation.

I find something powerfully humanizing about facing honestly the weaknesses of my tradition and working to overcome those weaknesses from within. Evangelicalism is far deeper, wider, and greater than its particular foibles born of particular times. Like all human works and movements, evangelicalism is far from perfect. In both its history and its present state, there is perhaps too much of the taint of entrepreneurialism, progressivism, and individualism. That some leading evangelicals supported slavery while others didn’t demonstrates that uniformity, unity, and infallibility are not characteristics of evangelicalism.

In times of disagreement and injustice, and especially when I have been maligned and attacked by a brother, I have wished for a pope to step in like a father to referee and set things right. Then I remember I have our Father, who will set all things right in his good time.

Soul freedom is hard. It exacts a great price. Instead of one human authority over all, we choose instead the individual conscience submitted to the Word and to the Holy Spirit, guided by a community of saints. But I believe this is exactly what the call of Christ is for each of us as we work out our salvation in fear and trembling. And, ultimately, that is why I am an evangelical.

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