Most Christians know about C.S. Lewis and his slow conversion to Christianity. They rave about the Saul-to-Paul miracle. They might even identify with the prodigal son.
I grew up hearing these classic conversion stories alongside aggressive churchgoers who had a knack for re-evangelizing the evangelized. The stories were righteous permission slips for them to piously ask anybody “if they knew Jesus.” They memorized Bible passages inside out and backwards. They knew object lessons, egg analogies, cross diagrams and Ken Ham quotes.
Sadly, they misunderstood the new exodus, which includes 70 percent of previously professing Christian college students who graduate disaffiliated and disinterested in church, as reported by Barna’s group. Other researchers cite similar statistics.
Loving the one and leaving the congregational 99 might be the Evangelical Achille’s Heel.
As a kid, I knew this intuitively, unable to verbalize my numbness towards my childhood church which recently joined the Southwest Baptist Convention. My faith was smothered underneath nonsensical doctrines and circular arguments until my religious cognition dissolved into a Holy Spirit-less existentialism.
God was a literary muse, and Jesus was a hyper-idealized teacher.
I didn’t realize I had been in a faith crisis until a close friend identified her own. Afterall, if you cannot verbalize something— cannot put it into your semantic memory— do you actually understand it?
Yet, mourning is experiencing these missing appendages; you and I are called to sit with those who have phantom sensations.
“Nobody teaches you how to grieve the loss of your faith,” Rachel Held Evans wrote.
Truly, no person was going to fill my black hole of questions about beauty, forgiveness and science, but I somehow resisted denying the communal God. I kept three people very close to me to talk about injustice and the shadow I felt between me and Christ. Intellectually, I knew faith was a state of being best evolved slowly. It would take empiricism and deep historical and artistic reflection about mine and Christ’s life.
However, I was self-conscious about turning into a C.S. Lewis bobblehead with poetic language written on my forehead in bold font to announce to the world that I had done it! I converted! I logic-ed myself into believing again!
Yes, even Lewis, I hold loosely. My opinion is that you hold me loosely, too.
Now, I see my younger self in anxious freshman engaged in ‘radical’ conversations with faculty, stunned by new theology, vowing to never return to their parents’ church. You and I are called to give them space and courage to seek a new thing:
Metamórfosi, a transfiguration. Kintsugi, if you will.
And because Jesus took with him three disciples that day, and kept them close, we should do the same. We should expect bright light from this gathering.
Intellectual and spiritual humility do not come from harsh evangelism, being defensive, or breaking people into thinking differently than they do. To become more human, you must be gentled. Then, like in Jeremiah, you must learn to run with the horses.
“The mark of a certain kind of genius is the ability and energy to keep returning to the same task relentlessly, imaginatively, curiously, for a lifetime,” Eugene Peterson said.
This takes ungodly amounts of hope. You and I are called to pursue our neighbors relentlessly, with a love and a light that only our transfigured Christ can claim.