The governing story at the heart of evangelicalism is the conversion narrative… For evangelicalism, the “gospel” is typically framed not as Scripture frames it—as the historical story of God’s salvation accomplished in his Son through the public events of Christ’s incarnation, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, Pentecost, and return in glory—but as the “story” of how the sinful individual can be saved in the present. It’s a story of how Christ can become an active part of my personal biography rather than a historical account that stands apart from my biography, which I must enter as I die to myself and my old biography and become a part of Christ’s life…

Evangelicalism’s foregrounding of the conversion narrative leads to a particular understanding of the formation of the Christian’s subjectivity. In a tradition that placed its primary accent on the objective, historical narrative of God’s work in Christ, Christians’ subjectivity would principally be formed as they entered into a larger story outside of themselves and as this story shaped and identified them. By contrast, within evangelicalism, Christian subjectivity is effected chiefly from within, through the immediacy of the “conversion experience.”

With this understanding of genuine Christian subjectivity as arising from within comes a suspicion of the place of the objective, external, and institutional dimensions of Christian faith—of creeds, confessions, theologies, liturgies, sacraments, rites, and churches. Rather than being valued as means of spiritual formation and incorporation into the life of Christ and his people, they are viewed as a sort of dead shell that surrounds the internal, living reality of Christian faith, residing purely in the believer’s heart. Their sole value arises as they serve as means by which we express the spiritual life within us. The sacraments and institutions of Christianity cease to be regarded as acting to form us into a living body and start to be seen as mere public expressions of our private faith. I am baptized, not so that I might participate in and be formed by the life and death of Christ and his body more fully, but in order publicly to declare my personal and private belief.

Evangelicalism places on all within it a responsibility to fashion a spiritual identity from out of their own divinely visited subjectivity. To be evangelical is to account for one’s identity from out of one’s own “born again” spiritual experience and not in terms of membership or participation in some external institution or ritual. The typical evangelical narrative of conversion begins by establishing an antithesis between genuine Christian identity and “external” identities—“I was raised in a Christian home and grew up attending a gospel-believing church, but. . . .” Rather than emphasizing an outward-looking affirmation of one’s belief in the truth and saving power of historical gospel events, and the reliability of God’s Word and promise in the “external” means of grace, the evangelical “personal testimony” is principally concerned with presenting a detailed account of one’s arrival at a believing subjectivity…

… the significance of these reflections becomes more apparent when we recognize that this evangelical account of Christian identity finds noteworthy analogies in LGBT communities…

…As we come to a realization of the faults in others, we may find we are seeing a mirror image of the faults in ourselves.

 

-Alastair Roberts

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