Skip to main content

Peter Traben Haas, former evangelical and now senior pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in Waterloo, Iowa, recently posted at Contemplative Christians his reflections on evangelicalism, Seven Steps to Leaving “Evangelical Christianity” without Losing Your Faith. Haas is also the author of The God Who is Here: A Contemplative Guide to Transforming Your Relationship with God and the ChurchThe book blurb may give you an idea of Haas’s orientation:

While some suggest the problems we face today can be solved by updating Christianity or ridding ourselves of religion altogether, The God Who Is Here demonstrates how the rediscovery of the contemplative way can lead to a deeper relationship with God and a vibrant way of worship. This work draws on the rich tradition of Christian mysticism and contemplative prayer (as expressed through the work, most recently, of Fr. Thomas Keating). With deep biblical insight and poetic expression, The God Who Is Here speaks to those longing for spiritual guidance with the promise that nothing can separate us from the love of God.

I am not a practicing contemplative Christian, but over the past several years I have come to understand something of this movement, mainly through reading Thomas Keating. Briefly put, I think I understand what I am missing. I have come to see something of the spiritual (not to mention intellectual) inadequacies of evangelicalism (particularly its American version).

I don’t mean that as an attack nor do I mean to sound condescending, but this has been my experience. My only wish is that I had an extra brain and set of eyes, another 6 hours a day, and didn’t need to earn a living, and I would be more intentional about exploring this.

For me, I rely on the insights of contemplative writers, whom I find to be generally gentle and incisive, which brings me back to Haas’s post. Here are his 7 steps:

– Step #1 “It’s OK to see God differently”

– Step #2 “It’s OK to see the Bible differently”

– Step #3 “It’s OK to see salvation differently”

– Step #4 “It’s OK to see the earth differently”

– Step #5 “It’s OK to see prayer differently”

– Step #6 “It’s OK to see sex differently”

– Step #7 “It’s OK to see your destiny differently”

Of course, all of these would likely raise an eyebrow or two within evangelicalism, and readers can do with these what they want. But what drew my attention more than anything was a series of 4 main points Haas makes. I see much wisdom in his observations.

Here they are in abbreviated form, and the one that struck me the most was the third. I invite you to go to the post and read it for yourself, and you will see that Haas’s intention is anything but hostile.

1. “Evangelical Christianity is an expression of one level of consciousness among many possible levels of consciousness. It is one way of seeing things.”

2. “No one is really designed to remain at the Evangelical level of consciousness. In my interactions with Evangelical Christians, including my own personal experience within the Evangelical mindset, I have discerned tacit internal dissonance about the Evangelical way of being Christian, whether we admitted it or even knew it or not.”

3. “Please don’t take this personally or literally. It’s an analogy. Evangelical Christianity is a developmental stage of faith, like 6th grade is a stage of learning on the journey to post-graduate study. No one who wishes to grow stays in grade school. Everyone who wishes to grow graduates to higher/deeper levels of being and understanding.”

4. “I have been so blessed to discover the contemplative dimension hiding in plain sight all along, moving beyond both denominationalism and evangelicalism. The contemplative dimension has helped me stay rooted in my own tradition and not leave the pastorate altogether. It also was the bridge I needed to leave the unworkable perspectives of my Evangelical Christian land of birth.”

I said the third point struck me the most, because this same thought has been growing in me for many years and finally reached a tipping point not long after I resigned in 2008 from my teaching position at a seminary (Westminster Theological Seminary) that participated in the same type of American Fundamentalist/Evangelical paradigm Haas describes

A few months after leaving, as I began breathing a different kind of air, I began asking myself, “Really? Is evangelicalism it! Is this the final form of the Christian faith? Does this really sum up the gospel, or is there something more? What kind of dense fog have I been living in, to think that I had reached the mountain top?”

I am sure many out there can relate. Maybe contemplative Christianity isn’t the silver bullet, but then again, it doesn’t pose to be an answer, only a path toward an answer, or better, the answer: communion with God.

Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.