I choose that honorific today, not because it is appropriate, but because it is among the most benighted of the modern religious titles. The evangelist is the fellow who speaks aloud the unvarnished truth of the Ideal Faith, displacing nuance and forsaking the least side glance at his own personal shortcomings. He owns a message but is no part of the message itself, in that he completely depends on the truth of the object of his devotion. He must be less than what he speaks for if he can be the equal of his Adored, he risks becoming the Adored of other men.
Three men kissed me this weekend, while I lay in my hospital bed. One was my oldest friend, come from Michigan to see if I yet lived, one was my son-in-law and the other my son. I took their kisses, against which I was most helpless in every way, as love/fear and not as adoration, but I understood in their intimate (lip to forehead) touches the sensuality that is the final end of a life spent in spiritual service, however flawed.
Consider, if you will, the problem of our religious music, and where it fits in our evangelism (telling the good news, not raising piles of money for the advantage of evil men). We have the stately hymns, the gospel songs and the contemporary tunes, some of fine depth, others so attuned to the day it is impossible to tell them from the secular tunes they ape.
The gospel songs and the contemporary are the agnostic twins of the faith. Gospel songs basically point to heavenly imagery of lavish reward for minimal faithfulness in apposition to the earthly reality out of which most of them are penned. The contemporary songs, earnest, hard working, searching for what is next here, reflect the image of a generation guilty in its plenty, and so working hard to prove worthy in worship of the heaven in which the writers already exist.
Consider, then, the unbelief of all but the stately hymns; detached, ritualistic, beautifully written, solemnly sung, and so as unpalatable to the gospel song singers as to the contemporary. The worth of the stately hymns is the rough equivalent of their detachment from impossible hope, their reach to that majestic sweetness that sits enthroned with their clear supplication to the sinners who must come poor and needy, sick and sore.
The gospel songs appeal to a seemingly impossible hope; a venue of release from sweated labor, unrelieved boredom, work without reward, the logical (consistent) result of Adam's punishment. In the simple campfire revival songs, the poor laborer imports sense into his mundane routine. He is right, as much as he can possibly know right, but wrong when he judges the end of his work to be great reward, for in that moment he both adores his labor above the object of his intended Adoration and simultaneously elevates his earthly need into the heavens.
He is afraid. He writes of what he knows. The fear in his music is palpable but it is not the sudden fear of the startled deer. His fear is the long-term, ground-in, durable kind of fear, the fear to remind him he is the loser in this life. He must have some hope that there is help for him when he becomes his most helpless; someone to speak for him when he cannot scream.
He is a practicing agnostic. He longs for heaven and at that precise moment loses sight of God.
The contemporary fellow is so wired he may never lift anything heavier than an IPod. He loses himself in his feelings of unworthiness but communicates this uneasy feeling; that his sympathy is mostly for himself, so that he must demand equality with older men before he ever demonstrates sufficiency in any meaningful life task. He is an agnostic simply because he makes his unworthiness, loudly sung and superficially felt, the tempo of his tune. He repeats the lines in a futile search for meaning in them.
Can an evangelist be an evangelist and at the same time a practicing agnostic? If he concentrates on other than his own character, he is a cad. If he gives himself over to impotence until he approaches some untouched worthiness, he becomes the Adored. His detachment from pettiness makes him a Truth-Teller, which, in turn, destroys all but his temporary effectiveness. His worth is in his Adoration of the Adored. He must strive to perfect his relations with the Adored so that his natural unbelief can be stripped from him.
The opinions expressed here are my own, not those of any other individual, organization or institution.