On Friday afternoon, I spent an hour listening to Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion excoriating all things Christian. A more virulent and vitriolic attack on Christianity I have not heard since I was in junior high school. Last night, I attended a lecture by my supervisor, Robert Wilken, on the Authority of Tradition given at the Center for Christian Study here in Charlottesville, just off the grounds of the University of Virginia. The contrast was astounding. One man used the bully pulpit to espouse a juvenile and naïve ultra-naturalist view of the human life. The other quietly reminded the gathered—mostly protestant evangelicals, and himself a Catholic—that the voices of the history of our church should be heard along with our own, and that if we are honest with ourselves, we have learned more of the Christian life by tradition than by intellectual pursuit. As he put it, you don’t learn how to roast a chicken from a book—you have to watch someone do it and follow along behind them.
I suppose these experiences, and the recent experience of preaching at my home church (where I hardly ever preach because I am a resident scholar/pew warmer--not the pastor) and wearing my Geneva tabs, have made me want to take the time today and share a little bit of a manifesto from an "evangelical Presbyterian." My church members were a little surprised to see me wear the collar and tabs at worship. They know me as an evangelical, a laid-back easy-going guy who loves Jesus and hopes others know that Jesus loves them. When I come to church, I don't even wear a tie. And then they saw me do something that struck them as very formal and traditional—wearing the tabs to preach and serve communion on World Communion Sunday. Wearing the tabs is my way of honoring tradition and recognizing that I am not doing something novel when I stand behind the table of our Lord, but I am doing what has been handed to me, and I will hand on to you. And besides that, I once got twenty minutes in the muddy streets of Kikuyu, Kenya, from a Kenyan woman and Presbyterian elder who chided me for being “ashamed of the gospel” for not wearing a collar! But that’s a story for another time.
What gives? What exactly is it to be an "evangelical Presbyterian" in the Presbyterian Church (USA)?