There’s a hose in my garden here in Scotland. Like most old garden hoses, it has kinks and it drives me crazy. The kinks are these permanent folds in the hose. They keep the water from flowing. And even when you straighten them out, it wants to fold back on itself, like magnets drawn to the other.
American evangelicalism works like this. It’s not strictly a set of theological principles or propositions. It’s also a tradition, a culture, one that—like a river to stones—has the power to form people. And time and time again, the culture of American evangelicalism returns to the shape it has been pressed into—by our history, our commitments with politics, our very presence in America.
But back to hoses.
I always seem to forget that this hose doesn’t work right away. It should though. I want the the water to flow, every time I turn it on, no questions asked. (It’s a control problem, I know.) One day, my kids were playing out in the garden and asked for the hose to make puddles of mud.
So I turned the hose on, but remembered the kinks. So imagine my three kids, staring at dad huffing and puffing trying to work each kink out. Each straightened fold released the water a little further down the hose. A few drips fell out. I felt crazy, working against the hose—locked in a battle that I knew the hose would eventually win.
Then it hit me: “turn off the hose.” I reached for the tap and turned it shut. The hose relaxed. Suddenly, the kinks were easier to straighten out. The hose wasn’t fighting me back, the pressure was off. Soon, the hose was straightened and water gushed out. The pressure even started to straighten out the creases.
My kids were thrilled, but I was struck by a thought. This has been my life in American evangelicalism.
The American evangelical tradition was the hose, the water pressure was the speed of my life and ministry within it. It was a speed and pressure that made unworking the kinks nearly impossible. I had spent a decade trying to work out the kinks. In that state, it’s easy to feel crazy. Here in Scotland, without the pressure, I’ve learned to look and say, “I am not crazy.” You can too.
We didn’t always live in Scotland. In fact, my entire life up until this past year has been spent in the States. I’ve been shaped by a particular stream of white evangelicalism. It was stream fed by fundamentalist tributaries on one side, and reformed tributaries on the other. Not only was I shaped by this, but I studied it, and I served on this “river” as a pastor.
I began to see how the waters of American evangelicalism formed Christians in America. I began to grapple with how it had formed me too: to see America as God’s nation. To be colorblind and ignore the benefits of my whiteness. To see the life of a fetus but not economics.
There wasn’t one moment of profound crisis. But through people, events, words and time —I began to notice slow streams of water from other places, other Christian voices and words. They came through cracks in a dam—several dams really. I discovered these dams had been built to keep the waters of white evangelicalism “pure” and “biblical.” These were damns some evangelicals had built long ago—over segregation, slavery, and nationalism to name a few.
What was strange was the voices that came like drips of water through these dams were “evangelical” too. They had names like Tom Skinner, or Rene Padilla. They believed the same things I did about Jesus, but drew different and sometimes more clear connections over social and cultural issues. Issues I had been told the Bible was “clear” about. Like, “just preach the gospel” and “you always have the poor with you” means we don’t alleviate poverty.
The question “am I crazy?” began to describe a lot of what I witnessed within my own context, with people I love. But I fearfully asked it of my own self. I asked this question after seeing a way of “being Christian” in America which I couldn’t reconcile with the vision of Jesus I had known. It was this Jesus to whom I was committed to becoming, but that was increasingly putting me in a place where I was swimming upstream.
Russell Moore recently said, “the question is not will we deconstruct, but what will we deconstruct?” I don’t think we should build a dam that cuts us off from the beautiful orthodoxy of Jesus’ bodily resurrection. But I do think we need to destroy the dams that hold back the flood waters which would force us to question the theology of January 6th. Philip Yancey wisely recognized: “I learned early to question those who claim to speak for God, because they rarely do.”
I’ve not given up on evangelical Christianity or evangelical theology. But what passes for evangelicalism—socially, politically, and culturally—in the United States has conditioned a sort of theology that is out of step with the best of evangelical theology and, ultimately, the witness of the Scriptures to Jesus. Turning off the hose helps us sort this out.
So ask “am I crazy?” — but ask it of Jesus. He’s more committed to showing us who he is than we are able to figure out. Our critiques of evangelicalism shouldn’t form our identity, but—if you come from evangelicalism—asking these questions is a form of confession, of looking to see ourselves better, and live truer to the Kingdom, because we’ve seen the King. Nothing could be more “evangelical” than that.
Jared Stacy is a PhD candidate at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland researching the intersection of political conspiracy theories with American evangelicalism. He pastored for a decade in New Orleans and the DC metro area. Jared and his wife Stevie live in the UK with their three kids. You can connect with him at jaredstacy.com, on Twitter, or on Instagram.