The paradigm even went as far as to say that the ONLY reason that I was alive was to share the gospel with people, on their way to hell. It was even implied that if you stop sharing your faith, then God just may take you home because you have out-lived your purpose on this earth. Of course I don't believe in this reason for existing anymore.
But I do know how complicated evangelicalism has come for me. I've alluded to this before.
This time, it was a situation Friday night. I'm starting a new medical clinic and Friday was our launch meeting. It was the first time that my office manager, my psychologist and the physician I'm working with were all in the same place at the same time. We had a photo session and then went out to dinner.
It was a truly "working dinner" as we signed contracts, discussed the details of running a medical practice. But the conversation did drift in and out of personal stuff. We would pair off around the table in those conversations. It could be the physician and me talking for a while, then the psychologist and me while the physician was talking to the office manger.
It was during one of those times that talking to the psychologist beside me when I overheard the conversation across the table between the physician and the office manager. It had drifted to books. While I'm reading the old classics, it sounded like both of them were in contemporary best-selling books, the kind you would find on the New York Times top 10. Then I overherd the physician say that he recently when back and read Darwin's Origin of the Species. There was certainly nothing wrong with that and I would like to read it some day.
But then he went on to say something that did surprise me (I didn't listen closely because the psychologist was talking to me about something totally differently and I was trying to listen to her). He said something to the effect that if anyone read it, it would convince then that they don't need to think of a god being necessary for creation. Then he looked surprised at the office manager and said, "Oh, I hope you're not religious and I offended you."
"Oh, no," she said. "I was Lutheran, but then in high school I read the Bible from cover to cover and soon after that Origin of the Species. Darwin made the Bible look silly."
Then the psychologist, catching the end of that conversation said, "Oh, I used to be Lutheran too. But I'm not religious anymore."
That's when I stood like the deer in the headlights. They weren't expecting me to comment as really the center of that conversation was across the table. But I had this conviction that I should.
But that conviction was deeply seated from many years ago. As I thought about it, I knew that anything I said would mess things up. If I were gifted in communication, I'm sure I could have turned this into something good. I could have confidently challenged them on their present philosophical presuppositions.
What I would end up saying is that I was a Christian. Then, without a doubt, in their minds a sudden, and complex, lexicon of assumptions would be made. I would live behind the label of "evangelical" in their eyes from that moment forward for years. I wouldn't have been surprised if they immediately apologized for drinking beer, for having used words like, "hell," "damn" and "shit" during the evening. Then the assumptions would only get worse.
I so much didn't want to go there. But then I had the thought (and all this happened in a matter of about 3 seconds) that I should try to explain what kind of Christian I was, "I use to be an Evangelical Christian but now I'm not. I'm a different kind of Christian who believers differ things. For one, I think that questions are good and doubt are healthy and I don't mind alcohol are saying shit." About this time their eyes would gloss over with, "I don't give a flying f*** what strange religious sect you come from."
So, I just smiled as the psychologist turned back to me and resumed her conversation.
In my present job, everyone knows that I'm a Christian. But they got to know the real me first. They knew I drank beer and, if I was really mad, say "shit." In that way, they didn't make these huge assumptions. Get to know the real me, then you will observe what I believe.
So, it is complicated. I do feel guilty about those conversations. I'm sure a Josh McDowel or many others would have communicated with great authority and clarity. However, if God permits, I will be working with these folks on a daily basis for many years. I do hope I can communicate in things far more meaningful than sound-bites and cliches. But I still feel guilty, like Peter denying Christ. I know that my old Nav-staff leader guy would be very disappointed in me. He had an act for speaking the Gospel whenever he could and you could cut the cloud of social awkwardness around those conversations with strangers with a butter knife. But it didn't matter to him if he made strangers feel even stranger. God had put him on this earth for only one reason . . . to share the Gospel. But, I wish I could be a better wordsmith in those situations.