It was C. S. Lewis who made famous the Animal-Angel Impulse we all struggle with. Rob Bell popularized it in chapter 3 of Sex God.
Here is their premise: When humans mess things up in the world, it's because we tend to drift on one of two directions. We either drift toward acting like animals or angels.
The Animal Impulse: Humans are bodies who should deny our spirits. We are destined to live into every instinct and urge our body gives us.
Popular music has specialized in this theory. We are our instincts.
"I was born this way."
"I can't change. Even if I tried. Even if I wanted to..."
Perhaps you've taken a safari or watched a Discovery Channel documentary on the mating habits of animals. The animals mate the same time every year. It's in their DNA, in their blood, and in their environment. They aren't living out there in that field thinking, "I just don't feel you're as committed to this relationship as I am."
Animals thrive on pure instinct. It's biology. Period.
Which sounds quite similar to some of the humans I know. If you were to visit Spring Break at Daytona, Cancun, or South Padre, you'd see thousands of students from all over the country gathering to consume large amounts of alcohol and share their bodies promiscuously.
What's the point, you ask? Spring Break has become a week to let yourself go, to lose yourself, to give into whatever cravings, desires, or urges you have. Because whatever happens in Cancun stays in Cancun...Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
And what are the stories that are brought home? They usually begin...
I can't believe I...
We totally lost our minds...
It was so out of control...
The next morning I couldn't remember...
Maybe you've heard the phrase "Give into your animal instinct" or "Party animal." They are derived from the drift humans sometimes make toward living like animals.
The other day I saw a guy with an FBI t-shirt on. But he didn't work for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Instead, his shirt clued me in on the fact that he was a Female Body Inspector. As if there are women who wake up in the morning hoping to meet a man like that.
In our highly sexualized culture, we have perfected the art of leering at people like objects. From pornography to pants with words blinged on pre-teen girls' backsides, we have objectified women in shameful ways.
The Animal Impulse says that humans are bodies who should deny our spirits.
The Angel Impulse: Humans are spirits who should deny our bodies.
The church has often rejected the Animal Impulse. Rather than letting our cravings rule us, the Angel Impulse is the opposite.
The Christian subculture has perfected and normalized the Angel Impulse. Often, the Christian religion has taught us to repress our desires. We're to pretend as if they don't exist.
The church hasn't been a place to engage in conversation about sex. The sum of our sex education curriculum in youth groups around the country has been to use tactics of fear to scare our kids away from sex.
I vividly remember the night our youth minister invited the "True Love Waits" group to come and talk to us about sex. The motivation abstinence sales pitch went like this: "Don't have sex before you get married. Because if you do, you might end up like young Jenny who got AIDS and 17 other STDs the first time she had sex. Oh, and she happened to have triplets too!"
We've used fear (a worldly narrative) to teach our kids not to have sex before marriage. We scare kids to death, have them sign a pledge, and three weeks later they're back to sleeping around.
I can't tell you how many young couples who grew up in church I have counseled who are still trying to work through the narrative they learned growing up that sex is bad. They grew up hearing it as the constant story about sex and somehow they were supposed to flip a switch on their wedding night to "Be fruitful and multiply."
The Angel Impulse says that humans are spirits who should deny our bodies.
But God didn't make us to be animals or angels. He made us to be humans. And humans have bodies and spirits. To be human is a high calling.
I'm so tired of people who make the excuse, "I'm only human!" Only human? What does that phrase even mean?
Jesus showed us what it means to be human. To be human is to experience and delight in all of God's good gifts within the boundaries he has given us. His commandments are not to keep us from pleasure. They are given to allow his good gifts to remain pleasurable.
Because there is nothing worse than an addict who overuses God's good gifts and wreaks destruction. Addictions are usually fun at first. But eventually, God's good substances are no longer good when abused.
So, what does all of this have to do with evangelism?
In my last post, I argued that true evangelism includes good news for people and society. Most of our churches have specialized in one or the other and been very suspicious of "other" gospels. But the gospel is good news for individuals and the world.
In a similar way, I'd argue that most of our evangelism has often been Animal or Angel evangelism. We have centered our good news in one of two areas.
Conservatives have focused their gospel reward system on the Angel Impulse. They have promised spiritual blessings to people who "put on Jesus as Lord." There is an eternal reward awaiting those who keep their bodies from wanton pleasure while on the earth. If you live a righteous life, eternal happiness is yours in the clouds with harps, pearly gates, and golden streets.
Liberals have focused their gospel reward system on the Animal Impulse. They have focused on physical blessings for those who live their lives on the earth. There is an earthly reward awaiting the society that finally chooses to keep just laws on the books. And evangelism is a dirty word. Instead, mission trips focus on building homes, ending child trafficking, and drilling water wells for the disadvantaged in our world.
In the gospels, I don't find Jesus satisfied with Angel or Animal Evangelism. He engaged in Human Evangelism. He helped people walk and he forgave their sins.
The good news is not good news if it denies either part of any human.
I am human. I have a body and spirit. And I need healing for my body and spirit.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is good news for every part of us.
So, share the good news of Jesus Christ. And build houses and drill wells in his name.
It's all gift. And it's all gospel.