I grew up in the heart of Michigan’s “Bible Belt,” in an evangelical subculture where people often asked me if I had accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior. When I went to seminary, I joined a mainline (but related) denomination. I wholeheartedly embraced my new mainline identity. I read and studied (almost exclusively) from the New Revised Standard Version (which I still consider the finest English translation available), and I loved that my denomination was a founding member of the National Council of Churches of Christ USA.
I am still proud to be a member of a mainline denomination, and I love the Reformed Church, but I think that I have settled on a kind of “evangeli-mainline-icalism”.
There are certain things that I appreciate about evangelicals. Evangelicals are committed to their faith, they have a lot of passion, and they place a special importance on scripture that other writings do not have. Despite these appreciations, however, I am uncomfortable with being placed in one camp or another. In some circles I am way too mainline, other circles I seem like a little too evangelical. Evangeli-mainline-icalism is able to adopt the best of what the evangelical branch has to offer, and the best of what the mainline branch has to offer.
I am committed to my faith, but I am also committed to true ecumenism, something which is more popular in the mainline playbook. Additionally, I have a commitment to peace and justice as a part of living out the Gospel, which is also something which is much closer to the heart of mainline churches than many evangelical churches. Finally, I see the scriptures as inspired in a way that other writings are not, however, I can also listen to the work of science without seeing it as a complete contradiction to my faith or an all-out attack on God.
The way in which I read scripture is also thoroughly mainline. In reading and interpreting sacred scripture, I take into account the social and historical context of the writings to guide my interpretation and I do not understand the Bible as verbally dictated by God to the biblical writers. I don’t believe that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, and that doesn’t lower its authority. I’m not sure that Paul wrote all of the Pauline letters, and the Apostle John likely did not write the Johannine letters. These issues of authorship do not faze me, because if these books are inspired, they are inspired regardless if they were written by one author, or have a few different sources edited together.
Jesus told us that we are to love God with our hearts and our minds, and I think that the best way to do this so to adopt the evangelical heart with the mainline mind. We cannot allow critical thinking to bring up such anxieties within us that we refuse to engage in critical thinking. We cannot settle for an uninformed piety, just like we cannot settle for a faith that lacks an underlying passion for God and God’s coming kingdom. Evangelicals can be guilty of sacrificing mind, and mainline Christians are at times guilty of sacrificing heart. We need both, and we need to learn from one another how to attain both.