I just started listening to Noah Kahan. He is an amazing songwriter and I love how he portrays life in a small town from the perspective of a young adult who has grown up but not out of the vision of small-town America. I lived the formative years of my childhood in a small New England town, so Kahan’s lyrics resonate with me.
One such song is "The View Between Villages." The extended version is even better than the original as it emphasizes the disconnect between the promise of small-town America and the lived experience of Kahan.
In the spoken word part of the song, a male voice says, “Strafford, it still has a lot of meaning to me because I grew up there and well, I guess it’s a small community of people that really look out for each other. And that’s the same way with anybody that needs anything. This community is there to help.”
And yet, Kahan’s experience of Strafford is different. He writes of driving back home:
Passed Alger Brook Road, I’m over the bridge
A minute from home, but I feel so far from it
The death of my dog, the stretch of my skin
It’s all washing over me, I’m angry again
The things that I lost here, the people I knew
They got me surrounded for a mile or two
The car’s in reverse, I’m grippin’ the wheel
I’m back between villages, and everything’s still
Kahan is still haunted by the ghosts of the small town failing to deliver on its promise: “This community is there to help.”
This is the post-evangelical experience of church. We confess that we are the chosen people of God, united to the Father and to each other by our faith in Christ. And yet every day, we experience the brokenness of the fallen world.
Can we embrace that and own our poverty?
In Death to Deconstruction: Reclaiming Faithfulness as an Act of Rebellion, Joshua S. Porter appeals to a generation abandoning the faith, urging them to choose a more nuanced faithfulness instead of outright rejection of orthodox Christianity. He structures his book around five “great predators”: biblical illiteracy, the problem of evil, a politicized Christianity, hypocrisy, and self-denial, laying out paths forward within orthodoxy avoiding each.
Having gone through all five of Porter’s great predators, I want to spend my last six posts in this series reacting to the book and suggesting my own path forward. Today, I want to consider hypocrisy, or rather its opposite: authenticity. The post-evangelical church will be in-tune with the Spirit. It will focus less on future things and more on realized eschatology.
In my experience, most evangelicals believe the gospel to be something like “believe that Jesus died for your sins so that you can go to heaven.” The “meat” of the gospel is all future: going to heaven when you die. If you were to ask most (non-charismatic) evangelicals how they know they are going to heaven, they would respond: “Because the Bible says so,” or if they are a little more thoughtful, “Because Jesus rose from the dead.” Nowhere in any of their answers would be any reference to the Holy Spirit.
Paul says in Ephesians 1:13–14:
“In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:13–14 ESV)
He calls the Holy Spirit the “guarantee,” or in some translations the “downpayment” of our inheritance. In other words, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the foretaste of what is to come because of Jesus. What we will enjoy in full in the future, we experience in part now through the indwelling of the Spirit.
However, this indwelling of the Spirit is just a downpayment; it’s not the full thing. We already experience the kingdom of God in a real way, but we do not yet experience the kingdom of God in a full way. This is the already/not yet.
Post-evangelicalism will recapture already/not yet spirituality. I don’t remember where I first heard this (tell me in the comments if you know where it came from), but I read somewhere: “If theology is true, then it is true in real life.” I love that. Post-evangelical theology must be real about our experience of the Spirit, but also real about the ways we continue to be broken. Yes, God changes us through the indwelling Spirit. No, we won’t be perfect until Jesus returns. We continue to be both saints and sinners.
I want to be a part of a community that loves me for who I am; where I don’t have to pretend to be perfect to fit in. But I also want a community that offers me hope that I can change—that the self-destructive patterns of my life don’t have to plague me forever. This is how the Spirit works and the path forward lies in acknowledging and celebrating this.
What do you think it looks like to be authentic about spirituality?