Black & White Living in a Color World

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I’m working on a book. Writing one, that is. Okay, maybe it’s a bit presumptuous of me to suggest that. But I have an idea for one, and I’ve written a number of pages in my journal on the topic, and if I don’t run out of ideas or motivation or time or energy, then maybe…just maybe…I’ll write enough to eventually qualify it as book length. And…well, let’s not even mention publishers at this point.

I don’t really have a thesis yet, but the basic train of thought is the impact that growing up in an evangelical environment has had on my life as an adult. In fact, the working title for my book is “Growing Up Evangelical”…so don’t even think about beating me to that title! And no, I am not copying Stacia Brown, who wrote an article with that title in Sojourners magazine in June 2005. I just did a Google search for the title, and her article was the first hit, so I’ll be reading that sometime and may refer to it to see if my experience is at all similar to that of the people interviewed for the article…but I was thinking about the title before I came across her article. But enough of the disclaimers.

First let me say that I think growing up evangelical wasn’t all bad. I think it gave me a pretty solid theological foundation, even if I’ve had to go back as an adult to explore and test that foundation at several points. There are very few doctrinal points that I would say I’ve actually changed in adulthood, and where I have is all in what I would consider “non-essentials.” Some of my evangelical brothers and sisters would disagree with my analysis of what is essential, but alas, that is a part of the yin side of the evangelical yin-yang: we can’t even agree on what we ought to agree on! Hence the title of this post.

Perhaps one of the most significant impacts of growing up evangelical has been the propensity to view the world in black and white. That has a whole host of corollaries: right and wrong, us and them, liberal and conservative, saved and lost, evangelical and mainline, Republican and Democrat, Protestant and Catholic, heaven and hell…. Oops, maybe I shouldn’t have thrown in that last couplet; after all, I do believe – in fact, I’m quite convinced – that the Bible teaches a very literal heaven and hell. But I’m not so sure that the world can be so easily divided, whether theologically or spiritually or religiously or even politically.

Let me cut evangelicalism a little slack here and acknowledge that my personality is well-suited to these dichotomies. I like the whole A or B kind of distinctions; it makes things so easy to categorize, and if I know what category to put you in, then I know what to do with you. The problem is, life isn’t black and white. In fact, it’s quite colorful. And I’ve been learning over the past few years that people can’t be shunted off into one of two categories quite as easily as I’d like to do so. Oh yes, I know that Jesus will do just that at the final judgment, when he “separates the sheep from the goats” – see Matthew 25 – but I think he’s probably a far better judge than I am, so I’ll try to leave that to him and just focus on seeing a bit more color in the world.

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