Although I’ve spent quite a lot of time thinking about, explaining, and writing about why I’ve become Catholic in the past year or so, I really ought to have prefaced those explanations with praise for my former faith. So, long delayed, but here it is: in praise of the Evangelical strain of Christianity.
Evangelicalism is not a specific denomination. It’s more of an orientation within Protestantism, a turning away from emphasizing a particular Protestant denomination or theologian toward the core of the Gospel. It places an emphasis on a personal piety manifested in active participation in a local Christian community, a high degree of Scriptural literacy, and a personal devotion to Jesus as our “friend-Lord.” At least, these are my words for it based on my experiences and self identification.
As a Protestant, I had a Reformed “backbone” if you will, but the flesh of my faith was all evangelical. Some of the awesome things about evangelicals:
- Scripture literacy: Bible quotes, Bible bumper stickers, Bible memory verses, Vacation Bible School, Bible games, Bible study, highlighting and writing in one’s Bible… everything about evangelicalism is designed to build familiarity with Sacred Scripture.
- Emotional excitement about faith: Whether it’s through a recent conversion experience, celebrating “God moments”, powerful worship music or dabbling in the Pentecostal arts, evangelicalism supports a very emotionally vibrant faith.
- Sharing faith: The Christian Faith is meant to be imparted to others, and evangelicals get this. Looking for moments to “witness” or share a “word” with someone is common discussion in evangelical circles.
- Engaging sermons: Pastors are prized for their engaging rhetorical skills and ability to make complex Biblical topics simple and relateable.
- Denominational deemphasis: As an evangelical I believed that no denomination had authority of its own, only a mandate to follow Scripture. I had no confidence that any denomination had cornered the market on Scriptural truth. Although I believe that focusing only on the Protestant parts of Scripture captures just part of the message, that is the best part of the Protestant patrimony to focus on.
- Follow Jesus: This is the near constant exhortation in evangelical circles. Though this often makes evangelical media simple and preachy, it leaves one in no doubt about what you need to do: make Jesus Lord over your whole life. Be willing to go where He led, to say what He said, no matter the cost. Following Jesus is not synonymous with filling a pew or voting for a particular party; it is all consuming.
In many ways, Evangelicalism is an incredible, sustained honeymoon with God; a stirring of the heart and imagination. I have no complaints about my time in evangelical circles. It’s a movement that does not have much of an intellectual tradition, as some evangelicals themselves recognize, but in my case, my Reformed background provided a strong intellectual tradition to complement it. The combination made for a fantastic experience that left my faith stronger. I still miss parts of it from time to time.
It was not some defect in my young faith that pushed me to become Catholic. Evangelicalism has “the core of the ancient faith”, and a deep love for God and Sacred Scripture. God has used these emphases to bring me to where I am today.