Thursday, 6 August 2009

Working Together (Part Two)

I made a deeply regrettable remark in this post about Choosing a Christian Festival when I said flippantly:
Yet for me it would be a bit like returning to the scene of a crime. It would mean me facing issues left untouched for several years, when, as a student I had a sometimes unhappy existence, for being a charismatic, by the kind of people who wore beige Farah Trousers, brown leather moccasin shoes, and went to "Word Alive"!
It revealed some pretty unattractive bitterness in me. It also caused some concern to an old friend who read my blog. As he was the UCCF worker I knew at the time, he was (naturally) concerned I was referring to him. Nothing could have been further from the truth. The UCCF people I met, our relay workers, our local staff workers, were absolutely exceptional. Lovely, Godly people who encouraged, loved, nurtured and shaped our lives.

Let's start with some housekeeping.

As a student my witness was not always effective, my lifestyle was not always pure, and my motives/actions/reactions were at times both sinful and immature. I was not God's gift to university life, or if I was it was to show His grace at work in the life of a broken person.

I say this for context, for honesty and because I know I was part of the problem.

I gained a great deal from my involvement with the Christian Union. Both the training and getting to know and work with lots of other christians from different spheres of the Church. I was evangelism secretary in the second year, then following a placement year I came back and was a small group leader in my final year. I attended the UCCF Forum, various training days, the biblical evangelism conference, the list goes on. This also helped shape my theological identity, as a conservative evangelical.

But I was a Charismatic. I went to a Vineyard Church in Sutton Coldfield. In my placement year I went to Trent Vineyard in Nottingham and then back to Birmingham for a year in a newfrontiers Church plant in Handsworth. "Charismatic evangelical" was the term I used as I was passionately both.

Things were sometimes quite difficult. I will use just three examples.

  1. UCCF Biblical Evangelism conference. Roy Clements was the main speaker. I sat down for dinner next to a girl from Exeter who, on finding I went to a charismatic Church started to make some pretty harsh comments. "Is it true your Church never uses the bible during preaching". "Of all evangelicals Charismatics think the least". The list went on and on. I had not said anything other than the name of my Church, and this tirade started. Other people at the table fell silent and started looking down at the table. It was so awkward. I was there to learn about using the bible during evangelism, not have a strip torn off me for being a Charismatic.

    I also found it quite difficult the way that some of those gathered seemed to hold the speaker in such high regard. It felt false, arrogant, and quite unnerving. He was not right because he was clever or famous, even if he did pastor a big Church in Cambridge. He was certainly a gifted teacher, and I learned plenty, but was uncomfortable at how he had almost become the message and the fact we had "got him" for our conference was the focus. The next year he left his wife, came out, and now is a prominent voice within the gay christian community and this caused a huge stir within evangelicalism at the time. It left the conference looking pretty fake and the veneration of the speaker pretty hollow. And I did not understand why other evangelicals thought me being "charismatic" meant I was fair game for a whipping over dinner.

  2. MY FRIEND was from a Church in a nearby village and her father was a vicar. She came to our youth club, came to summer camps with us, and was a good friend. She went to a university where there was already two different evangelical student groups, one charismatic, one not. The idea that Fusion brought in a "new" level of division is false, but that will be discussed next. Anyway, she felt a desire to go to both groups, and in her small way help to bridge the obvious divide through friendships. She found it very very hard, because of the bad things said between the two camps.

    Fast forward ten years and she was living with her non Christian boyfriend, does not really attend Church, because frankly, if the attitudes and behaviour she encountered in that environment represent the outworking of the gospel then the gospel is not what is says on the tin. I am still hurt by this. She was my friend. When people say they are "contending for the truth" or similar I always think of my friend who was collateral damage in someone else's fight. She still has faith, she just cannot handle Christians.

    What angers me is that this is happening WITHIN evangelicalism. It feels like people are so used to "fighting for the truth" it sometimes makes me wonder if we now just pick a fight and ask questions later? And this is amongst born again Christians. The mind boggles.

  3. FUSION. When I was on our exec the Fusion thing started gathering pace and frankly, it was not much different to what we were already doing so we did not really get involved. At the UCCF Forum that year I realised it was all going to kick off at some stage, but really did not get involved as I was leaving university anyway.

    Subsequently it really has kicked off, big style, across the country, in many situations. In any single situation this may not be the case, some people have made it work really well, others not so. I know work has been done amongst the people leading these movements.

    When Esther went to Cambridge the Fusion / CICCU thing was a prevalent factor within the evangelical scene. This saddened me. It was a throwback to what I experienced. Nothing had changed, and if anything, it seemed hardened. Most evangelicals bumped into similar issues. I remember talking at length to one girl who was at her wits end because of all the sniping. This article, written by a former president of CICCU was a tremendous shame. I heard it referred to several times as a seminal work as to why Fusion was a "bad thing", but never really commented because most of my friends went to Fusion cells or Church cells.

    "Indeed, the charismatic and conservative wings of 'evangelicalism' have diverged so much in the last 20 years that it may not be entirely unhealthy to stop pretending that we only disagree on minor issues and to have two different student groups to show both Christians and non-Christians that we do stand for different gospels sitting under different authorities."

    Different gospels? Really? I am not entirely comfortable with everything Fusion does. I am not entirely comfortable with everything UCCF does. Hey, I am not even entirely comfortable with everything I do! But I don't think that article was just aimed at just Fusion, it is wider than that, and I find myself on the charismatic issue on the wrong side of that drawbridge, however evangelical, however conservative, and however reformed I may be. For me that article is an open wound. I would sit comfortably in almost every theological tick box within the conservative evangelicalism it supports and yet I find myself utterly at odds with the attitude that exudes from it.
So there we have it. Just three examples, I could go on. My friend at Durham years ago was asked not to raise his hand during worship. My brother got stung at the Christian Union in his university city. Many Christian unions seem to be dominated by a particular conservative evangelical Church and if you go to the charismatic one down the road you are a bit "out there". I genuinely don't know many charismatics who don't have scars from their unversity days, and the wounds come not from liberals, not from muslims, not from alcohol abuse, but from our brothers and sisters we share an evangelical faith with.

I think deep down I realise I have not fully resolved being burned in the past. This is a root of unforgiveness I need to dig out and deal with. It is my problem as much as anyone else's and I need to be free of it.

The reason I am twitchy when I see other bloggers or movements apparently bringing up a drawbridge against others is because I know what it is like sitting at the table amongst ten people, one slating you, 8 silent. I see myself as charismatic before conservative because that is the issue I was polarised by, alienated because of, and rejected for. I was the wrong side of the drawbridge within conservative evangelicalism and it was a lonely, vulnerable place. I have seen my friends be collateral damage, and frankly I hate it.

And my unforgiveness has meant I have been doing exactly the same thing. I have been keeping people at a distance, forming an unspoken barrier, being nervous of motives. So this is an issue of repentance as much as resolution for me, because as is so often the case, my journey starts with me allowing God to shape my own sinful heart.

Next up I will ask the question, what is unity?


Anonymous said...

Dave,really helpful posts on this topic Thanks!
I suppose I am by theology fairly conservative evangelical,indeed Calvin was by favourite reformer before the new calvinists were invented!
like most people who have been around churches for the last 35 years I have been helpfully (and increasingly)influenced by the charismatic movement
I think you have put your finger on something important It "appears" to be that NWA defines itself as against something That may be unfair as I have never been to it but the blogs and articles give that impression to me
The recent controversy about Steve Chalke has particularly pained me I disagree with his view on the atonement but really admire his ecclesiology which I think is spot on
What I refuse to do is demonise him given all that he has done for The Kingdom (more than I ever will)
If in some peoples eyes that makes me unsound ,well so be it

To pick up one other point there is an unhealthy tendency among all of us evangelicals for hero worship which you highlight in your bit about Roy Clements (and what a gifted preacher he was!)but we are all sinners and "have this treasure in earthen vessels"
Thanks again for a very honest pand thought provoking piece

Jongudmund said...

My brother got stung at the Christian Union in his university city.

As the brother, I can comment on that bit. Funny story. I went to Uni when the "Toronto Blessing" was big news (yes I'm that old) and it was a divisive topic in the CU.

The Exec issued an announcement at the start of one of the meetings in my first Autumn term. They said that the subject wasn't even up for discussion to avoid potentially damaging arguments. The guy who made that announcement (who attended a pretty large very charismatic church himself) then prayed a long prayer asking God to bless the CU which culminated with a passionate appeal for God to send "revival".

I sat there thinking 'Wait a sec, we've got this thing happening here that may or may not be a some kind of 'revival' and we're not allowed to discuss it, but then we pray for a revival... that doesn't make sense.'

What I've discovered is that it's okay in non-Charismatic evangelical circles to pray for revival, because e.g. the history of the Welsh Revival has been so heavily edited the charismatic elements have been stripped out of it. It's become a talisman for Welsh evangelicals - celebrated as a move of God by people who would, generally, feel incredibly threatened by similar events today.

Interestingly, when you read about the opposition to the Welsh Revival some of the ad hominem attacks and name-calling are exactly the same as you would read in e.g. the Evangelical Movement of Wales magazine today. (A friend of mine who goes to a conservative, non-Charismatic church was reduced to tears by a vicious prolonged attack on a project he was involved in by an EMW magazine article just a couple of years ago.)

My conclusion is that hardline evangelicals wouldn't recognise a revival if it slapped them in the face. They are blinded by their own theology and sense of superiority, their ludicrous bibliocity and their paranoid belief that disagreement equates to heresy.

My experience is that many "evangelicals" tend to be hyper-critical pharisees, quick to condemn, quick to alienate, quick to judge, quick to point out everybody's sins. They often present a picture to the world of a judgemental unloving God who has already decided that most people are going to hell, including most so-called Christians who aren't really 'born again'. (I.e. they don't go to my church.)

I actually agree with the statement that there are 'two gospels'. I think there clearly are. And I don't subscribe to theirs.

Even if I am evangelical in my theology, I would hate to be described as 'an evangelical' in terms of the way I behave. Until all evangelicals are actually good news (evangel) I refuse to use the term to identify myself.

I realise this post may be considered offensive by anyone who feels they need to defend evangelicalism. (But I'd expect that as evangelicals aren't known for their willingness to love their enemy and pass up the possibility of a good fight.)

I'm just calling it how I see it. If you're offended, I'd challenge you to prove me wrong by the way you respond.

Matt Blick said...

I think this is a very thoughtful and thought-provoking article David, and you stated your case very humbly and clearly.

Having never attended uni I've only seen this sort of thing from the sidelines, but I am weary (and wary) in some of our interactions with fellow believers as we strive to be 'together for the gospel' - feeling we always have to tone down who we are or be apologetic (in the secular sense!).

dave bish said...

Some helpful thoughts on the same subject by Pete Dray here: Two models of CU unity - proposing a more robust unity that doesn't require papering over the differences so much, celebrating what we all love and facing the differences head on. We're not all the same, else we'd already be united - but there's enough to bring us together, bearing with one anothers differences...

Huw said...

Dave - this is a really helpful blog that takes me straight back to my university days - nothing seems to change, does it? BUT, when I realise that at my OICCU meetings we had teaching from Motyer, Stibbs, Green, etc, it makes me grateful for the basis I was taught both in a charismatic Anglican environment and in OICCU. Having said that, what I IDENTIFIED with at the time was the newer restorationist charismatic movement and cells outside of the regular university Christian sub-culture. BUT, what AFFECTED me most was the tremendous warmth of the Student Pastorate, who saw me as a human and as a young man first, and a Christian (with an incipient sub-culture, eek!) second. That same issue confounds those who look into the church and see us arguing about stuff that will not solve their marital difficulties or heal their broken relationships with their children. People and their needs have to be at the heart of this, as they were for Jesus, who on meeting people, acted out of compassion, the real root of theology.

Blue, with a hint of amber said...

That same issue confounds those who look into the church and see us arguing about stuff that will not solve their marital difficulties or heal their broken relationships with their children.

Good point! Think of all that emotional and physical energy going, not into arguing, but into loving, caring, and sharing Jesus with a lost and broken society.

A different Dave said...

Is anyone still watching this? I've just found this post whilst doing some research and have a question...

Blue, with a hint of amber said...

What is the question?