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Doug Frank


Straitened & Narrowed

1. Happy all the time

Here is what I learned, as a little boy, about the texture of our life in Jesus Christ, the Crucified One.

I'm inright, outright, upright, downright happy all the time.

I'm inright, outright, upright, downright happy all the time.

Since Jesus Christ came in and cleansed my heart from sin,

I'm inright, outright, upright, downright happy all the time.

I sang this gospel chorus, and many others like it, as a participant in the profusion of spiritual drills spawned by a new evangelicalism after World War II. And so did several generations of evangelical children and the adults whose anxieties hovered over and shaped those spiritual drills. Now we have come of age as those who, if Mark Noll is right, do not exercise our minds for Christ. I wonder if there is a connection. I wonder if those happy little jingles, representing and reinforcing a closed universe of evangelical rhetoric, snatched away my freedom to inhabit fully the complicated human world inside me where terror and joy, loss and recovery, oscillate capriciously. I wonder if, in so doing, those jingles snatched away my freedom to think.

We sang this jingle because we were saved. At six, or maybe eight years old, the biggest questions of our lives had been answered. We had found it. However the fine points of our doctrine might nuance this conversion experience—the controlling mechanism for all that we label "evangelical"--we were fixed. And what had fixed us, and only that, could fix the world. So we became fixers, not thinkers. Our own brokenness and the brokenness of the world need never again confront us as an invitation to think.

It is important to remember that this happy new evangelicalism was energized by fundamentalist youth evangelists during the 1930s and '40s. Death seemed firmly in the driver's seat in those years; some note of Christ's victory needed to be heard, and felt. I thank them for bringing hope to anxious people in dark times. But I wish they had been better equipped, ...

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