« Through a Glass, Darkly »

 

I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few weeks mulling over our conversation, in many different settings. On a Sunday afternoon a little over a week ago, for instance, I was at “Convenient Care,” lying on my back while a friendly and blessedly competent nurse inserted a catheter. I needed to think about SOMETHING other than what was immediately happening. It was a perfect opportunity to consider yet again this strange dialogue, in which—with all the good will in the world—we rarely seem to be talking about the same reality.

I HAVEN’T spent a lot of time thinking about the future of evangelicalism, because I don’t think we are likely to be any more far-sighted than our counterparts were at the end of 1913. Not that opinions are in short supply (they never are). In The Age of Evangelicalism: America’s Born-Again Years, a book coming from Oxford University Press next May, Steven Miller exaggerates the impact of evangelical Christianity in the United States from the 1970s onward, only to conclude that “[b]y 2012, the Age of Evangelicalism was winding down.” The most recent issue of The American Scholar (Winter 2014) features an article by Jim Hinch.  The cover-copy isn’t subtle: “The Empty Cathedral” (in giant letters, imposed on a photo to match), and this below: “Why Evangelical Christianity is going the way of the drive-in movie theater.” Who knows? Maybe Hinch is right. Then again, an argument that rests on the fate of Orange County’s Crystal Cathedral as diagnostic for the larger story of “evangelicalism” (whatever exactly that means) will strike some readers as underwhelming. (And it will make some readers think wistfully of the years when Joseph Epstein presided over The American Scholar, which the current version of the magazine resembles in name only).

My wife, Wendy, and I joined Faith Evangelical Covenant Church in Wheaton when we moved out here in 1994, transferring our membership from the Covenant church in Pasadena where we’d been members for 16 years. Neither the alleged ascendancy of evangelicalism nor its prophesied decline have been evident in the life of our congregation. Very few of the people we worship with would describe themselves as “evangelicals,” though that label wouldn’t be inaccurate if someone wanted to apply it. We believe the outrageous things that Christians have believed since the first century and continue to believe today around the world. There are all sorts of wrinkles, of course, points of contention of the kind that have divided Christians from the outset and continue to do so today, sometimes with sickening arrogance and ferocity, other times kept in perspective by the great truths that unite us, the hope that we share, whatever stream of the faith we find ourselves in.

The story of Christmas? Yes, beneath all the crap, the kitsch, the hideous muzak, we think it’s real. Preposterous, of course—but what if it’s true? How wonderful that would be.

 

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