Thursday, April 02, 2009

Servant of God, or, what one evangelical looks like to the world

I'm always fascinated by how the media portrays evangelicals/evangelicalism*. I think part of it is because I'm interested in the medium itself, and as an evangelical, I am also naturally curious about how I'm perceived by the world at large. Of course, at the same time, it can be a bit of a risky exercise, since it can leave you feeling incandescent with rage or self-pity when you feel (inevitably?) misrepresented! Hey, we evangelicals have a strong doctrine of sin after all! :-p Still, I gave in when I saw that BBC3 had a documentary following a British teenage evangelical, and caught in on the internet. The above is Part 1 of 6, all of which you can find on Youtube.

It's actually quite fair-minded, and by the end of it, I confess to feeling even a little proud of Deborah. She's probably the most mature 13 year old I've ever seen! Their family looks pretty level-headed, and it's quite refreshing to discover that not knowing who Posh Spice isn't going to destroy your life.

Now I'm sure most of us can also spot some of the negatives. It's quite easy, and valid, to pick on her gospel presentation. A lot of us nowadays cringe at something that sounds nothing more than fire insurance, which is what her gospel outline sounds like. Remember though, she's 13! So the hope is as she grows up, she would receive some neccessary biblical corrective teaching on whole-life discipleship. Deborah, do read C.S Lewis's essay 'Learning in War Time' at some point! She's also obviously got a very sensitive and caring nature, and there is a danger where the doctrine of hell could overwhelm her in a way that could be damaging. The other thing that caught my attention was how much "Christianese" there was, which must sound completely alien to anybody that's unchurched.

But at the end of it, I was struck by her boldness, which nonetheless was never expressed in an arrogant spirit - quite the opposite. And I was really interested that a lot of the people she spoke to weren't put off by her, although they probably found what she had to say hard to swallow. In one sense, her age was an advantage. And I was also struck by how much influence her family must have played in her character. Negatively, this could be construed as "brainwashing", as the more charitable comments of skeptics on youtube put it. Positively, though, her level-headedness could also be attributed to the benefits of a stable upbringing, which is increasingly less true of many British teenagers today. There's certainly some truth in the fact that she's culturally conditioned, but then, aren't we all?

Now this documentary isn't going to change anyone's presumptions about what evangelicals are like. But it's good every once in a while to inhabit someone else's eyes and see what strange creatures we are! And to, in spite of our warts and all, not be too quick to see only the bad in evangelicalism*, but rejoice in some of our positives as well.

*in this case, Western evangelicalism, since obviously, Asian evangelicalism wouldn't quite look the same!

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