I am often baffled by the willingness of some grad student believers to bend and blur their beliefs and practices in order to fit in. In countless scenarios I’ve listened while formerly evangelical grad students engaged mightily in what sociologist Erving Goffman termed “impression management.” (See his Presentation of Self In Everyday Life.)
A part, but just a small part, of this pertains to the evangelical label. However, few of the specific ‘post-evangelical’ sophisticates that I’ve personally met call themselves “post-evangelical” because of the difficulties in determining the concept of evangelical. Probing conversation usually reveals that it’s a nervousness about being excluded in the academic environment in which the enculturated dispositions are fairly hostile to evangelicals.
More important than the label is the desire to adjust, bend, distort, and blur beliefs and practices in substantive ways, i.e. about matters of historic orthodoxy. Again, these friends and acquaintances seek to signal to the Powers that, “I'm in the club. I’m not radioactive. I’m not like those freaks.” Never mind that sometimes ‘those freaks’ are moms and dads, brothers and sisters, pastors and college buddies. More bizarrely, those freaks are sometimes people in the sophisticate’s current church, even small group.
Granted, some of these sophisticates have abandoned evangelical churches for the grey havens of mainline respectability, and still others have abandoned the Church outright. Also, I am not talking about grad student believers who, in working out their salvation in fear and trembling, are genuinely wrestling with where they stand on various issues. Most believers I talk to are like me in having episodes of doubt.
I’m talking about those who hedge in public, or at least in academic settings, so they can fit in. They have two identities: one, with their families and church friends, and another for academic settings. The maintenance of multiple identities strikes me as a lack of integrity.
-fear of rejection
-so I can make a contribution that would otherwise be excluded
-to make the case that we’re not all like (fill in the blank with an evangelical leader)
-so I can feed my family
I think, “Why do we care so much about fitting in? What’s wrong with you and me that we can’t tolerate being despised? What’s so awful about being different, about being excluded? Why do we have this voracious commitment to ourselves above all else?”
Part of the good news of the Kingdom is that we’ll suffer for the Name. Remember, Jesus endured the Cross for the joy set before Him. Paul craved sharing in the sufferings of Christ and repeatedly urged his letter readers to share and glory in his and their sufferings. It’s not that these grad student experts in impression management think they only want the benefits of the good news. Rather, they don’t believe that one of the benefits of the good news is being freed from the storyline of worldly respect.
He was despised and
rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from
whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Isaiah
© 2006, Glenn Lucke.