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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

A Speckled Rock

Written by: on January 13, 2020

It was cold and wet. Quiet permeated as the sun gently rose over the tree-lined ridge. The trails were muddy at the Abbey. The flow of air into my out-of-shape lungs was shallow and swift as I climbed the hill that, at the moment, felt like a mountain. I took the first right turn off the main path onto a grassy, more level way. It provided a chance to catch my breath. The sun was shining warm on my face when I stopped at a large tree stump just before the shade of the woods. Though everything was wet from the night rains, I sat.

I dug into my jacket pocket and pulled out a bag of rocks. I’ve walked these Abbey trails before, and there are places along the paths where people leave trinkets symbolizing burdens and hopes. Once, I walked with no trinkets to leave, but today, I’m ready. I have five rocks in my bag. I pull out one of my favorites, a rock from the Oregon coast, speckled with white dots in a tan-ish surround.

I held the rock and consider belonging. The birds belonged there. The trees and paths all belonged there. I belonged there, if even only on occasion when I’m gifted with time to retreat from the usual. But the rock, it didn’t belong there. As I looked around, there were no others like it. The rocks on the paths were black and sharp; gravel laid for traction. Ocean-worn rocks were nowhere to be found in the meadow.

Since walking away from my evangelical faith community two years ago, I’m a bit like the speckled rock. For more than twenty years, I was firmly situated in various evangelical communities, the first being the United Methodist Church, the last, a conservative non-denominational. I found comfort in the close community and Christ-centered teaching. I loved attending group bible studies and served tirelessly within the community, discipling and caring for the needs of others. I enjoyed the fruits of the evangelical foundations laid long ago, that was until I attend seminary. While working on my Master of Divinity, I was introduced to biblical exegesis and criticism, church history, and a wide array of spiritually formative practices utilized by faithful Christians throughout millennia. This new-to-me information, combined with personal suffering, initiated a season where the theological and formational religious structures I once existed in crumbled, leaving me wandering in a spiritual wilderness, no longer quite belonging anywhere.

I wonder if that’s how many Christians felt in the 1700s, when industry and plagues swept the landscape of the nations, causing uncertainty and strife between the haves and have nots, the healthy and the ill? In a time of religious, economic, philosophical, and social turmoil, a remedy was sought. As with many Christian movements, evangelicalism emerged in response to and was formed in a culture where Church religiosity and Enlightenment reason reigned supreme. Conversionism, biblicalism, activism, and crucicentrism became the foundational components of this newly emerging sect of Protestants.[1]

Enticed by language communicating assurance, many, by putting their faith in Jesus, were “converted” from their sinful ways, to take the moral high-road paved with hard-work, financial resources, and care of their neighbor.[2] Furthermore, this “faith of assurance” helped those feeling lost and uncertain of their eternal fate have a sense of divine security.[3] It is out of gratitude for this assurance that activism flowed. The work to bring about converts was laborious and never ending. “Consistency, seriousness, and fervid energy (were required for) industry, patience, and self-denial,”[4] the core characteristics required of those working to save the lost. Regarding biblicalism, evangelicals held scripture in the highest regard. Literalism and inerrancy soon became key components of the evangelical faith, where purposefully selected words in scripture brought about a certainty that God was, is, and will forever be with them in the earthly and heavenly realms.[5] Crucicentrism, or the doctrine of the cross, was the final cornerstone of evangelical faith. For them, the atonement was central to understanding why Jesus was even born, for salvation only comes through the death of Christ.[6]

It’s been almost 300 years since evangelicalism emerged on the Christian landscape. Overtime, different camps formed, and division emerged, each pointing to scripture for their reasoning. Even still, evangelicalism has stood the test of time, profoundly shaping and being shaped by political, socio-economic, philosophical, and cultural moods. Though large shifts regarding doctrine, piety, opinion, practice, eschatology, and spirituality occurred, evangelicalism has remained grounded in its four main tenants.[7] While those tenants brought certainty and assurance to many, they also isolated and condemned others. The roots of isolation and condemnation run deep, and the effects of the evangelical beliefs are evident today, especially within more fundamental and conservative groups, who professing to love Jesus and desire to share the gospel have a keen distaste for people different than themselves. [8] ,[9]

We still live in uncertain times, but it is evident the pendulum of evangelicalism has swung too far right, and the hope it once provided is minimal. Its reign is diminishing, for missing from the heart of evangelicalism is a sense of wonder and awe about this Holy God they profess to believe in. Missing is the thoughtful perplexities that come from a contemplative experience of the mysterious Divine. Missing is the reality that God is both knowable and unknowable. Missing is the generosity of spirit and radical hospitality for all people, that accompanies the grace of God through Jesus Christ. Instead, exclusion, prejudice, judgment, and isolation prevail in the name of Christ, and thus serves no one well. Especially Jesus.

Its premises, while once purposeful, no longer provide comfort in a time when countless are crying out to be seen, heard, and belong. The time has come to allow the wonder and mystery of God, through Christ’s Spirit, to flow freely into the margins and broken places of the world. The time has come for evangelicals to live like Jesus, not just be assured they have been saved by Jesus and convince others to be saved, as well.

As my walk along the Abbey trails neared conclusion, I went back to the large tree stump and left that speckled coastal rock on top. It was my attempt to reconcile paradoxical realities of sea and land, of belonging and not belonging.

Isn’t that like the grace of God though, to unify, through Christ, the paradoxes of this world, to mend brokenness, and to give hope and life where there is none?

Bringing such unity and healing requires something new, speckled with some of the tried-and-true old. Brian D. McLaren, in his essay “Three Christianities,” notes, “(A) new kind of Christianity can only emerge as a trans-denominational movement of contemplative spiritual activism.”[10]  McLaren and myself, like countless others before and beside us, are trying to figure out this Way of Jesus, and then faithfully follow. By examining historical and traditional successes and failures, we are privileged to join the “great cloud of witnesses” to help pave the way through the now into the next, so the glory of God and the love of Christ reveals to others that they, too, belong.

[1] D.W. Bebbington. Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (New York, NY: Routledge, 2005) 3.

[2]Ibid., 5.

[3]Ibid., 7.

[4] Ibid., 11.

[5] Ibid., 13.

[6] Ibid., 14.

[7] Ibid., 271-276.

[8] Ibid., 275. Bebbington defines fundamentalism in theological terms as “a deductive approach to biblical inspiration, the belief that since the Bible is the word of God and God cannot err, the bible is inerrant.” He goes further to include a social definition that “describes a group so fanatically committed to its religion that it lashes out against opponents in mindless denunciation.”

[9] Ibid., Chapter 4, The Growth of the Word: Evangelicals and Society in the Nineteenth Century.

[10] Brian D. McLaren. 2019. “Three Christianities.” Oneing: An Alternative Orthodoxy 7, no. 2: 71.

About the Author

mm

Darcy Hansen

13 responses to “A Speckled Rock”

  1. mm Jer Swigart says:

    Darcy. Perhaps you are a speckled rock. Nuanced. Distinct. Shaped by the storms. Smoothed by the friction. Discovered, named, and held by the One who loves you so. Thanks for writing this piece this way.

    Two quick thoughts.
    (1) You mentioned that through it all, Evangelicalism has “remained grounded in its four main tenants.” I’m not sure that I agree. You even seem to disagree as well toward the end of your post. As you look at evangelicalism in America today, specifically white Evangelicalism, do you see the four main tenants embodied?
    (2) You offer what seems to be a quadrilateral of white Evangelicalism: “exclusion, prejudice, judgment, and isolation.” What do you see as the root of this new quad? What are the values that shape this kind of fruit?

    • mm Darcy Hansen says:

      Jer,

      I had a response written, edited it, discovered I placed it in the wrong place, deleted it, and can’t seem to repost it because the system says I’ve already posted it, though it doesn’t show up. So…let me give it a go again.

      Regarding your questions:
      1) I’ve been worshipping with a ELCA community lately. I do think that in many ways they embody the 4 main tenants of evangelicalism. I think other liberal/progressive evangelical communities are also trying to embody the goodness that evangelicalism can be. I wrestled with the tendency to use sweeping language since the evangelical spectrum is wide and diverse. According to Bebbington, it has been that way since the beginning. Sadly, in America, toxic evangelicals have the loudest voices, and overshadow the steadfast, loving activism that is happening by other evangelicals. Clearly, it’s messy and nuanced.
      2) I think the root of the new quadrant is fear of being wrong, irrelevant, or losing power/position/prestige. The scary part of embracing different aspects of evangelicalism, is that it opens the box of questions and doubt, both of which are frowned upon within conservative circles. To silence the questions or soothe the doubts, people are encouraged to go back to what they “know to be true.”

      Values that shape this fruit:
      -intense focus on individual salvation
      -eternal focus blinding proximal realities of humanity
      -inerrancy of the Word
      -Bible is the only book we need (education is minimized and criticized)
      -intentional limited access to diverse voices
      -lack of freedom to question and doubt
      -homogenous communities of faith
      -separation from “the world”

      Thoughts??
      And I’m definitely a speckled rock. 🙂

  2. mm Greg Reich says:

    Darcy,
    I appreciate your transparency and can sense your frustration. It is obvious your life experiences and new found views have brought about a huge paradigm shift to your faith. As I ponder the current challenges that face the church I can not help but be concerned. I hurt at the abuses I hear about at the hands of the church and grow concerned when the church is hated for taking a stand against something they believe in. Is there a right and wrong? Definitions of sins are changing, whos definition of missing the mark do we adhere to. Does Evangelicalism accept cultural norms without question or push back without being called names or accused of hatred? Can Evangelicalism be loving yet non-condoning and non-accepting of certain choices? These are interesting times that raise up many questions.

    • mm Darcy Hansen says:

      None of the questions you raise are new. They were all addressed in one way or another in Bebbington’s book. The challenge is how do we navigate them? I have to think if we are to be known for our love for others, then the Church, especially evangelicals, would be less splintered. In the movie Wonder, the teacher tells the kids “If you have a choice of being right or kind, choose kind.” Being as kindness is a fruit of the spirit, it seems that outweighs rightness. So how do we do THAT? How do we love others and treat them with kindness? I think there are branches of evangelicalism that are trying to do that, some better than others. I have lots of thoughts on this topic. I hope we have a chance to discuss more in our chat.

  3. mm Dylan Branson says:

    I checked out McLaren’s article (thanks for that resource; lot of good material in there). There’s one thing he said at the end of it that struck me: “In this desirable future, every willing Christian congregation makes every competing interest subsidiary to love” (75). I think what we see so often within the church is that there’s simply too much going on. So much competes for our time, money, attention, life, etc. that it’s exhausting. Our pride gets in the way of actually moving forward; our pride gets in the way of us looking back to see where we’ve been because the here and now is what “should be.”

    The future of evangelicalism isn’t a closed book. The story is still being written, even if the earlier chapters and the current chapters aren’t the greatest. Hopefully in the near future there will be a plot twist that breathes new life into the story.

    • mm Darcy Hansen says:

      Did you happen to read other essays in that Oneing publication?? They give me hope for the Church, especially evangelicalism. Diverse perspectives and hope filled possibilities are shared in that space. I love others are out there thinking, acting, and moving in new ways as they follow the Way, our Jesus. Indeed, the story isn’t finished.

  4. mm John McLarty says:

    For those of us who celebrate a more pluralistic and diverse approach to theology, it’s sometimes challenging to be in Christian community with those who don’t reciprocate that. I share your concern that the extremists have the loudest voices right now and our Christian witness in the world is being reflected primarily through them. (And still we commission study after study to figure out why the Church is losing ground?!?) What will it take to finally help the Church reclaim its identity as a servant and vessel of Jesus and let go of its lust for power and position?

    • Darcy Hansen says:

      And that’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? Is it possible this side of heaven? I don’t know. But because of Jesus, I have to believe it is possible to get closer to shalom for all creation than we are now.

  5. mm Shawn Cramer says:

    Leave it to you, Darcy, to humanize this topic and invite us in to your journey. Thanks for that gift.
    Honest question: do you see a way for those wanting to express their faith outside of large, Evangelical denominations to find community that transcends a few individuals into a new movement that won’t inevitably be plagued by similar institutional and theological problems?

    • Darcy Hansen says:

      Sarah Bessey and Jeff Chu (and previously Rachel Held Evans) began the Evolving Faith Conference. It is a space for those who have walked away from their conservative evangelical roots, or those who have lots of questions about faith, or those who might not even believe, just yet. I listened to her intro from the last conference, and she noted how important it was that “we not become progressive fundamentalists.” I don’t know if a willy-nilly religious system would be sustainable. It seems, based on human need/predisposition, that organization and hierarchal systems evolve from that which was once a movement of freedom and innovation by the Spirit. As I have noted in a previous post, community options are infinite, though all are not centered on Jesus. Is that still meaningful community? Does it count?

  6. mm Steve Wingate says:

    You wrote, “Missing is the thoughtful perplexities that come from a contemplative experience of the mysterious Divine.” It seemed to me that this was a deficit in the revival “system” or process that was logically laid out be heroes like Charles Finney. Yet, I do not have direct research to back that up.

  7. mm Chris Pollock says:

    What an awesome blogpost. Darcy, so well written. Thankful for the coming back to the starting point. A wonderful story.

    Some things stick out for me. I’m full of questions with regards to the way things are. It’s all so hard to understand. Thank you for trying to put words to it and including your experience through it.

    “Missing is the generosity of spirit and radical hospitality for all people, that accompanies the grace of God through Jesus Christ. Instead, exclusion, prejudice, judgment, and isolation prevail in the name of Christ, and thus serves no one well. Especially Jesus.”

    I would like to write/talk a lot on these problems with you. These, call for action. These, beckon activism.

    And, you mentioned solution as put forward by McLean’s idea. I would like to see something new happen. Thank you. We just can’t give in and we can’t give up.

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