A blog post by the associate pastor of First Free Church in Minneapolis leads to today’s post. Jay writes about having a faith rooted in historical fact. While the post is good the issue I take is that many evangelicals are consumed with having to prove facts. Then on the flip side they try and do that while lacking love.
“An unexamined life is not worth living.”
“The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved; loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves.”
Who can be compared with the Lord our God, who is enthroned on high?
6 He stoops to look down on heaven and on earth.
Psalm 113: 5-6 NLT
To write about the city of Minneapolis in one post would not give it justice. The Minneapolis-St. Paul area is a sprawling area that has a population of 3.5 million. There are a number of EFCA churches to study and analyze and today we are going to look at one on the south side of Minneapolis. According to a map I looked at First Free Minneapolis is not that far away from the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport.
History of First Free and its Leadership
In order to understand the EFCA you need to comprehend history of the denomination, especially the the Swedish, Norwegian and Danish immigrants. If you want to read more about the history its compiled in the following brief post, “A Brief History of the Evangelical Free Church of America, plus the History of the First Evangelical Free Church of Los Angeles.” In Minneapolis in a hall on the corner of 5th and Washington a group of 88 Swedish Christians met in 1884. This group consisted of 70 men and 18 women, and they organized themselves into “The Scandinavian Church of Christ.” Eventually a lot was purchased and a small church was built on 7th street and 12th Avenue in Minneapolis the following year. For Swedish immigrants the church was a refuge for those adjusting to the United States. The services were conducted in Swedish. The church in time grew, you can see the history webpage for First Free Minneapolis here. I would recommend looking at the slide presentation as well.
The senior pastor of First Free Minneapolis is Joel Sutton. Joel attended Wheaton College where he picked up a B.A. in Speech Communications and Christian Education. Joel went onto Denver Seminary where he picked up a Masters of Divinity. Prior to coming to First Free he did student ministries in Florida, Colorado, California and Minnesota. Joel is married and has two children who he loves. The associate pastor of First Free is Jay Pound. Jay attended Bethel University where he earned his B.A. He went on to Bethel Seminary and obtained a Masters of Divinity. He joined First Free in 2012 in what become his first ministry position. Jay is married and has two children. According to my research it appears he is an Ohio State fan, which must be interesting when the University of Minnesota plays the Buckeyes.
A couple of months back on the First Free Church blog Jay wrote a blog post about having faith being rooted in fact. The title of the post is called, “Faith Rooted in Fact.” The post is not bad, but in the context of evangelicalism it does raise some issues, especially in regards to evangelical culture. Let’s look at what the associate pastor wrote in April of 2018, and then I want to give some feedback.
We are nearly 2000 years removed from Jesus’ resurrection. Given that significant gap in time and culture, it can be easy to lose touch with what it was like for early believers. We live in a world and culture where Jesus’ bodily resurrection is celebrated annually, where even those who don’t believe it are at least used to the idea. Jesus’ resurrection has even, in western culture, turned into a secular holiday, albeit one increasingly detached from the event that created it.
The reality is that the first believers, the disciples and first generation church, lived in a world both closer to the event (and the evidence) , and more skeptical of the claim. Despite the temptation for those of us alive today to think ancient humanity more naive (or worse), living a long time ago doesn’t automatically make someone stupid. The reality is, ancient people knew just as well as modern people that the dead do not return to life. After all, one hardly needs sophisticated technology or a well developed scientific method to confirm this. The permanence of death was a fact that life itself taught everyone. For them, to believe in Jesus’ resurrection was to believe in something that had never been done by anyone – ever.
And though we can easily take it for granted, the early Christian writings reflect this worldview. The fact that the stories of Jesus resurrection were so often retold and so carefully preserved serve to prove the point. Here was an event no one, not even Jesus’ closest followers either anticipated or expected – for the very simple reason that they knew it to be impossible. They knew, as did everyone else, that if the dead could be raised, then something fundamental about reality had been changed. And this is exactly what they claimed. Something that had never happened, and never could happen, just did. And now nothing will ever be the same again. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul writes explicitly about the world and reality altering implications of the resurrection.
But while the first believers had a tougher task, they also were closer to the evidence. There actually was an empty tomb – and if you lived in Jerusalem, it wasn’t hard to find. Additionally, for a generation afterward, there were hundreds of actual eyewitnesses to the risen Jesus. In fact, at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 15, aware of the magnitude of his claims, Paul reminds his audience of exactly this (15.3-8). Now for us 2000 years later, that is an interesting note, but for Paul it is something very different. Paul himself notes that most of these witnesses are still alive (15.6). In other words, if you finds Paul’s claim incredible – you don’t need to take his word for it. There are others, alive now, that can confirm it.
The early Christians believed, not because they were naive or easily persuaded of the impossible, but because there was good reason. There was both an empty tomb and living eyewitness – and both could be found if one was willing to look. And as Paul would I am sure remind us, we ourselves, 2000 years later, are heirs of that same tradition (15.3). We too believe not out of willful blindness to reason and the evidence, but because of it. Like Paul, ours is a faith rooted in historical fact.
There are a few points I would like to make in this post, but let’s look at one obvious one staring at us from this overall theme. That of having faith rotted in fact.
The Evangelical Quest to Always Prove Facts…
When I read Jay’s post at the First Free blog I am struck by how much it misses the bigger issue. Jay seems so caught up and determined to remind people that Jesus rose from the dead. He goes out of his way to talk about the tomb of Jesus and all the ways in which it was different then. For example people could access the tomb and see it. Witnesses were still alive at that point. He just continues to talk about it.
Before I continue with what I am about to say let me just paraphrase and say that I believe Jesus rose from the dead. However, there is something about evangelicalism that has deeply troubled me. And this post is why I selected it to write about. I am bothered that so many evangelicals feel the need to press their case, or argue a point. Let me take a variation of what Jay has said, do you honestly think those arguments about Jesus being resurrected are going to draw people to the Christian faith? How many people has Jay met where the person says, “Hey Jesus rose from the dead man!” Maybe it was said back in Jerusalem at the time. But is that what people are going to say in Minneapolis, Rochester, LaCrosse or Milwaukee? This is one of the reasons why I just detested the Lee Strobbel books. “The Case for Faith” or “The Case for Christ” just seemed cheesy to me. It is almost as it someone was trying to make a living from writing and selling that kind of material. This quest to prove facts often backfires as well when you consider Mark Noll’s thesis of the Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.” I wrote about that issue and how I have seen it in evangelicalism in, “From Mormonism in Montana to Sovereign Grace in the Washington, D.C. Area; The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind Comes Full Circle.” So some of these evangelicals are want to discuss some aspect of proving a part of their faith and then because of their intellectual shallowness will fail. I am sorry for being that blunt, its just the reality of evangelicalism. Its almost like they are rat on a wheel in a cage just constantly having to try and prove facts. And it plays into another issue as well, especially as evangelicals are lacking this capacity as well.
Why Is Love Absent in Evangelicalism?
Here is the flip side to the desire to prove a faith on historical fact. Evangelicalism is devoid of love. What I am saying is that love does not exist inside evangelicalism. When you find love in evangelical Christianity it is often conditional. For example it is dependent upon being involved in a certain church or liking a certain pastor. It is contingent on some factor. Many evangelicals will not love you unconditionally for who you are. Nope there always has to be a string attached. For example what would happen if an atheist showed up at First Free Minneapolis? Would he be loved or would it be conditional if he walked and said, “to hell with this…” Would First Free still love him? What if someone from the GLBTQ community in Minneapolis showed up and he was trying to figure things out. Would he be welcome and loved? Or would he be shown the door? The lack of love inside evangelicalism is a major issue that creates a lot of problems.
What I would suggest to Jay Pound is that many evangelical Christians have faith backward. Instead of trying to prove fact they should focus on unconditional love. That love should not be confined to the sanctuary or classrooms of First Free Minneapolis. Instead it should be allowed to follow people outside the church. Its not complicated but it is indeed simple. And its hard because it also depends on patience. This is a brief post but something that I wanted to tackle about First Free Minneapolis. I will be writing about this EFCA church again in the near future. That its guys, and please know that I love you.