December 17, 2017

Give me that ol’ time Evangelicalism?

UndatedChurchMeal

Roger Olson wrote a piece recently giving his personal perspective on the changes he has seen in American evangelicalism during his lifetime. He is well qualified to do so, and in the article he lists his personal and professional credentials:

I’ve been in the “thick” of evangelicalism my whole life. I attended an evangelical college and an evangelical seminary. I have taught at three evangelical institutions. I have served as editor of an evangelical journal and on the editorial board of Christianity Today. I have published articles in evangelical magazines and journals and had books published by evangelical publishers. I have served as chair of the Evangelical Theology Group of the American Academy of Religion. I wrote The Handbook to Evangelical Theology published by Westminster John Knox Press. I have been a member and sometime deacon of about ten evangelical churches in my life. I have served on the steering committee of city-wide evangelical evangelistic crusades. I could go on. I doubt there are very many people in America with stronger evangelical credentials than I have.

Here is a list of ten “most dramatic” changes Roger Olson has observed in evangelicalism here in the U.S., the tradition which has been so important in his life:

  1. Evangelical Christianity in America used to focus much more attention on the return of Christ.
  2. Evangelical Christianity in America used to focus much more attention on heaven and hell.
  3. Evangelical Christianity in America used to focus much more attention on missions and evangelism—including “witnessing to the lost.”
  4. Evangelical Christianity in America used to focus much more attention on “separating from the world.”
  5. Evangelical Christianity in America used to frown on “conspicuous consumption.”
  6. Evangelical Christianity in America used to frown on all forms of government welfare including subsidized home loans.
  7. Evangelical Christianity in America loved “America” but was suspicious of politics.
  8. Evangelical Christianity in America used to prepare its people, especially young people, for persecution and expected it.
  9. Evangelical Christianity in America used to know their Bibles forward and backward.
  10. Evangelical Christianity in America used to talk a lot about “the blood of Jesus.”

Read the entire post to see Olson’s comments and reactions regarding these changes. Here is the way he wraps up this retrospective on “old-time” evangelicalism:

So what conclusions do I draw from all this change? Some of it may be for the better. We 1950s evangelicals had obsessions that were probably unhealthy. However, on the other hand, taking it all together, I suspect we American evangelicals have become “comfortable in Zion”—a phrase that we used about mainline Christians (who weren’t really Christians at all) to describe how their religion was non-threatening to themselves or anyone else. And by “threatening” I don’t mean we thought Christianity ought to be physically threatening, but we did think authentic Christianity should shake people’s comfort in this world and focus their attention on sacrifice and separation.

I find it interesting that only three in ten of the characteristics of older evangelicalism are doctrinal. These three (the blood of Christ, the return of Christ, heaven/hell) evoke a simple core of revivalistic religious beliefs. The teaching of the church focused on salvation and one’s eternal destiny. It was all about Jesus saving me from my sins and looking for Jesus to come back. Rescued from the world, anticipating heaven.

The rest of the list, the majority of the marks Olson remembers, are about lifestyle and Christian service. Separated from the world, believers were to live a life soaked in the Bible, separated from the world — eschewing worldly values, entanglements, and entertainment, witnessing to others to get them saved, and being willing to face unpopularity or worse to follow Jesus.

This was no-frills religion. It was black and white, simple to understand, no nonsense and not without its appeal. It boiled life and faith down to its essence: I’m a sinner. Jesus shed his blood to save me. I am saved by trusting him. Now I am called to follow him. One day he will return and take me home.

I have decided to follow Jesus . . . no turning back, no turning back.
The world behind me, the cross before me . . . no turning back, no turning back
Tho’ none go with me, still I will follow . . . no turning back, no turning back
Will you decide now to follow Jesus? . . . no turning back, no turning back

I Have Decided to Follow Jesus
attributed to S. Sundar Singh

REOlsonIn his conclusion Roger Olson indicates that he thinks evangelical Christians have forsaken this simple gospel and way of godliness and have become too comfortable as they have gotten more and more entangled in the world’s philosophies, values, and lifestyles.

Olson is no simple obscurantist, however. He acknowledges that evangelicals of his generation had unhealthy obsessions and some of the changes were warranted.

Nevertheless, one hears the note of lamentation in his voice:

It’s been a long time since I heard the word “worldly” uttered in an evangelical church. The line between us and the secular world and its forms of entertainment (etc.) has just about disappeared.

I hear Roger Olson saying that the defining milieu of his life has been altered almost beyond recognition.

Are these points just the sentimental musings of an old man bewailing change? Or have we truly lost something of value when it comes to the way of following Jesus?

If you come from a tradition different from evangelicalism, these thoughts might lead you to reflect on the changes you have seen in your world as well. Do those developments at all mirror what Roger Olson is writing about?

Anyone out there pining for that ol’ time religion?

Comments

  1. It’s no wonder Olson is disturbed by what he sees happening.

    If there’s no real presence of Christ in Baptism or in the Supper…then it (the onus of the Christian life) has to fall upon the sinner. And then we’d better think, act, and speak in a manner befitting “our decision for Jesus”.

    In a culture-driven society, it’s tough nowadays to have folks look as though they are walking the walk…even if they really never did in the first place.

    • “then it (the onus of the Christian life) has to fall upon the sinner”

      It is interesting you say that, since some evangelicals would say that those claiming to need Baptism and the Supper for that reason, in fact, are the ones that believe “it (the onus of the Christian life) has to fall upon the sinner.”

      In the evangelical world, it is actually supposed to fall upon the power of the Holy Spirit. How often that is emphasized in preaching/teaching is another story.

      • I think you are right.

        They have a distorted notion of how all this is supposed to work.

        I believe it all stems from their errant doctrine of “free-will”.

        • Rick Ro. says:

          As a free-will kinda guy, I’m not sure I’d use the term “errant” doctrine. But yes, the Holy Spirit’s power and availability do seem to be neglected. Good thing it works whether it’s preached or not.

          • Pretty sure he accidentally left the “in” off of errant. 🙂

          • Rick Ro. says:

            LOL. Yes, silly me! 😉

          • I really do believe that the notion that we have a free-will when it comes to the things of God is the most damaging of the self-centered doctrines.

            It leads the person off on the wrong foot and they stay on the wrong foot all throughout their lives, believing that things depend on them (even if that belief is under the radar, so to speak).

        • Roger Olson says that it is really not “free will” but “freed will”, freed by the prevenient grace of God, not an accomplishment of ourselves.

          • In my last discussion with him over at his blog, he said that we have to make the decision for Christ. And that nothing really happens in our Baptisms other than our committing ourselves to Jesus.

            If he has changed his mind since then, I’d be happy to hear it.

    • Christ is REALly present in the gathering of His Body of believers, as well as whenever/wherever He chooses to be present. He doesn’t need “sacraments.”

  2. To me, it seems like a big jump from one extreme to the other; legalistic separation to imitation. Keeping the underlying theology but changing the methodology.

    I still think there’s a tendency in evangelicalism to want to separate from the world, but it’s practiced and framed differently; instead of “we stay away from x and y and z” it’s “we take x and y and z and redeem them.” A big part of evangelicalism today is taking secular phenomena and remaking them according to the Christian worldview. Thus, we have “Christian” music, movies, books, celebrities, etc. I think it’s good that evangelicals are at least acknowledging that God does not merely call us to separation but to redemption, but I think the way that the church has gone about the process is wrong. C.S. Lewis talked about this when he said that we didn’t need more people writing books about Christianity but more Christians writing books. There’s a tendency to merely imitate secular forms of media and make them “Christian” rather than truly engaging with our culture through arts and entertainment. I personally feel like Christians often feel that they have to justify consuming or enjoying any secular form of art or entertainment by appealing to a redeeming quality in its worldview. I think this is sad, and that we should be able to enjoy great literature, film, music etc. without having to justify that enjoyment according to a worldview paradigm.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > rather than truly engaging with our culture through arts and entertainment

      But what does that mean? [Seriously, I’m not being rhetorical]. I hear this… and I don’t know what it means.

      Does modern entertainment “engage”? Media consumption is now soooooo very passive. What delineates “arts”?

      I have become very skeptical that a wide margin exists between Propaganda and The Arts. Most people like Art that sells the message they have already accepted… which seems a lot like Propaganda. This is probably a “Duh” statement, but ignoring it is not fruitful.

      FYI, I live at the site of one of the world’s largest Art Fairs. The “avante garde” “cutting” pieces… it all seems kind of droll and pedantic. People nod, “oh, yes, oh, my, of course” and move on. And we have large installments of VERY overtly Christian “art”, some of which is IMO, quite well done. I believe in the previous years Christian pieces have even ranked in the top 10 my popular vote. But… so. I just not sure in a world buried in images that this moves the needle much at all.

      • Rick Ro. says:

        I’ll try to answer the question “what does it mean to engage our culture through arts and entertainment.”

        In a comment to Eeyore’s post below, regarding the term “Blood of Jesus,” sometimes we Christians need a way to discuss Jesus without using religious terms. Film is a great way to do this. So many good, secular films in which someone pays the ultimate sacrifice. I use the arts to discuss Christian concepts with non-believers all the time.

      • Adam, I see your point. You are right in that “engaging” the culture sounds good in theory but is hard to practice. I think that one of the main problems that Christians have with truly engaging the world has to do with your idea about art as propaganda. I would slightly disagree with you on that point; I think that most people choose their art based upon stylistic and not worldview preferences. The problem comes when worldview becomes a style, which is what has happened with so-called “Christian” art (“art” referring to literature, music, film, visual, etc) becoming a genre. The content itself may engage with the culture, but because the art is marketed as “Christian” it fails to reach people outside of the church.

        I don’t think that the purpose of “engaging” should necessarily be evangelistic; I think the arts are more effective for fostering dialogue (and that dialogue can be literal discussion or strictly carried on through artistic media), which, of course, can lead to conversions, but soul-saving shouldn’t necessarily be the primary goal that Christian artists seek. When I think of engaging culture, I think of authors like Flannery O’Connor and Tolkien, bands like Dream Theater, movies like Signs; any of these may or may not have overtly Christian themes but they aren’t marketed as “Christian” art, they’re not heavy-handed attempts at evangelism, and they’re not cheap knock-offs of “secular” art.

        I think that these qualities – broad marketing, lack of preachiness, and originality, are three of the most important ways in which Christian artists can engage/challenge/foster dialogue with the world. Why? Because people who love books and movies and music talk about them; they want to know what is behind the art; they have a need to interpret and critique, to find the meaning of the art they love so much. Of course, I understand, as you say, that entertainment-consumption today can be largely passive, but I don’t think this is as heavy a barrier as it might seem. Young people, especially, are drawn to fandom of various sorts, and usually there’s at least one thing that can get their attention; someone might listen to the most banal music, for example, read little, pay no attention to visual art, and try not to think about any of these things at all. But start asking them about their favorite movies, and BAM! – you just roped them into a three-hour-long conversation about the ins-and-outs of their beloved Disney films. Ultimately, I think the point is that good art is going to draw people at some level; it might only be a few, but a few is worth it. And the more Christians we have following Christ faithfully in whatever their vocation may be – whether arts and entertainment or real estate or car repair or what have you – the better off we will be.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          You know the biggest explosion of creative output I’ve seen in over a decade?

          All the derivative works — original music, comic strips, fiction, original animations — coming out of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fandom. More than Star Trek or Star Wars fandoms at their peak.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        When EVERYTHING is Avant-Garde, it isn’t Avant-Garde any more.

        It’s Old Hat.
        It’s The Establishment.
        Like those thin grey ponytails in Sacramento ranting about “Down with The Establishment — Stick it to The Man!” When you’re a State Assemblyman-for-Life or State Senator-for-Life or Congressman-for-Life and your son will inherit your seat after you retire, YOU ARE “THE ESTABLISHMENT.” YOU ARE “THE MAN.”

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I personally feel like Christians often feel that they have to justify consuming or enjoying any secular form of art or entertainment by appealing to a redeeming quality in its worldview. I think this is sad, and that we should be able to enjoy great literature, film, music etc. without having to justify that enjoyment according to a worldview paradigm.

      Know who else were famous for filtering everything — EVERYTHING — through their Worldview?
      The Communists.

  3. Christiane says:

    what I have heard of ‘worship music’ out among today’s evangelicals seems lame compared to the music of the old evangelical country people called ‘shape-note singing’ (also called ‘Sacred Harp’ singing)
    . . . that kind of singing is vibrant, passionate, and lively . . . not at all insipid or mediocre

    an example of shape-note (Sacred Harp) singing from the old days:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YaLnG7vfVOc

    music reveals a lot more of the spirit of a group than ‘theological’ doctrines and theories ever could . . .

    apparently, people are trying to bring sacred harp singing back, but this is not happening just in the evangelical world, it is showing up in many other venues . . . among diverse peoples who bond around this vibrant music

    • In Manhattan there is a sacred harp sing offered nearly every Wednesday. I’ve been meaning to go, but it’s just so hard to get free in the middle of the week. Needless to say, some of those tunes have made their way into mainstream Christianity. If you’ve ever sang the hymn “What Wondrous Love is This,” I do believe the melody comes from this tradition.

    • In the early 1900s (maybe even late 1800s) the music publishers (who published hymnals and songbooks) sponsored “singing schools”, even in rural communities. The schools taught basic music theory and how to read the shape-notes, how to sing parts, and such. It was a big social event (there not being much else to do in rural communities) and it also gave people tools to sight-read music, & participate in a group event. Since most of this was done in churches, there were many hymns and gospel songs included. So there was a whole generation of people who had skill in using a hymnal to make music.

      This is referred to in the book “Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone” about the Carter Family.

    • We’ve seen the same kind of thing with plainchant in the Anglican world.

    • Traditional Sacred Harp music is fun to sing and interesting to hear. Unlike most hymn singing, the melody is not in the soprano part. When I was in college in Kentucky (forty-some years ago) there were parts of Appalachia where the use of shaped notes (such as Sacred Harp uses), rather than round notes, was so connected with church that shape notes were referred to as “God’s notes”. After I moved back to Florida I attended a very enjoyable workshop at Stetson University with the publisher of the then current edition of “The Sacred Harp” hymnal. Although the music arrangement was the usual melody-in-soprano, as recently as the 1930’s or ’40’s the “Broadman Hymnal” (Southern Baptist) and the Methodist Hymnal were available in both round-note and shape-note editions.

    • I spent 44 years in a shape note accapella tradition. It’s a very participatory form.

  4. I think a solid 7 or 8 of Olson’s 10 characteristics were still very true of the evangelical world that I grew up in during the 80’s and 90’s. I agree that there’s been a dramatic change, and it’s taken place during an incredibly short time span. That world is, from what I can tell, all but gone now.

    So I guess my question is: why? Did my generation–the millennials– just come of age and decide to “compromise” with the world on everything? Did the baby boomers blow it with their unholy political alliances, and everything’s just been downhill since? What happened?

    I’m personally not at all sentimental for the world Olson describes. I think it’s the exact sort of evangelicalism that drove many of us out into the “post-evangelical wilderness”. But I think that, as serious followers of Jesus, we’d be wise to try to discern what caused the change, because there’s got to be some serious lessons to be learned for all of us.

    • Christiane says:

      I suppose the boomers blew it in a way.
      Now, if you don’t support the Republican Party, you are not ‘one of them’ in the Southern Baptist milieu. How the denomination and the party got so conflated is the subject of many a blog, but I think something is happening with the YOUNGER evangelical generation, this:

      a social conscience may be emerging that tires of the stone-throwing, name-calling hubris that the combination of self-righteousness and the sin of pride have generated.

      What I think is happening is that tea party extremism has heated up to where some of the younger evangelical conservatives are no longer comfortable with its direction or its goals . . .

      how strange that the Republican Party played to its base to get votes, and then when the extremism really took off, it couldn’t control the Tea Party . . . and now the young people are tiring of the excess, and maybe just a bit embarrassed. The Tea Party is tearing the Republican Party ‘ Limbaugh from limb ‘, and if some young folks can’t stomach the more intense extremism, they are walking . . . often to third party fringe groups more reflective of their generation’s interests.
      Times are changing.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > how strange that the Republican Party played to its base to get votes, and
        > then when the extremism really took off, it couldn’t control the Tea Party

        Nothing strange about it. And it is not limited to the elephants. This appears to be the natural course by which political parties destroy themselves – which they do, regularly. Our two parties are just now middle-aged, they are part of a succession of political parties spread across American history. The interesting question is if the media is structured in such a way that the parties will die and be reborn under the same labels – due to labeling inertia – or if, given the cost and infrastructure requirements if real schisms resulting in new names is still possible [I doubt it]. We shouldn’t get too hung up on names; both political parties have swapped ‘default’ positions on numerous core issues over the past 100 years.

        > often to third party fringe groups more reflective of their generation

        Many of these fringe groups are indeed very radical, perhaps not in the positive sense. Now is a very good time for those in the business of netting up the disenfranchised; rarely in their best interest.

      • Well it sure didn’t take long to get back to tea party bashing, now did it? These types of things do not just rise up out of the air, but usually in response to some other kind of extremism, To cure a disease you first have to seek out the vector that causes it.

        The only thing I yearn for from the evangelicalism of the early 70’s is the small church simplicity. But perhaps that is only in response to my spiritual birth that took place in 1971.

      • Rick Ro. says:

        The left’s blind spot is when they say things like this…

        “…a social conscience may be emerging that tires of the stone-throwing, name-calling hubris that the combination of self-righteousness and the sin of pride have generated.”

        …without recognizing they do exactly the same thing. And if a person hasn’t seen the extreme left’s holier-than-thou attitude, they haven’t been looking.

        That’s not to say there is a group of people moving away from both extremes. And I agree, Christiane, that some of these “fringe” third party groups might be more in tune with generational interests.

        I’ll be honest. I was hoping the Tea Party was going to be that strong, middle-ground, anti-extreme third party. I’ve been severely disappointed to see it morph into something different.

        • Christiane says:

          I had heard that the Tea Party movement was split into two main groups: one that was grass-roots, and another one that was being manipulated by big money interests.

          How true this is, I don’t know. But, if there is some truth in it, could this explain the ‘morphing’?

          Or is it always the more strident voices that one hears from a group and mistakenly takes them for its ‘voice’?

          • I’ve been to a Tea Party rally; granted, I was in my mid-teens then (I’m still quite a young man) and probably was not as perceptive about everything going on as I would be today, but I think it’s worth noting that I witnessed none of the craziness and militancy that the Tea Party is often accused of in the media. I mean, the whole event was definitely emotional and “rah rah rah” (few political rallies aren’t) but not out of hand in any way.

            I don’t have a huge problem with the Tea Party in general; I’m even more politically radical then the Tea Party is (although I try to be more reasoned about it than the voices, both Tea Party conservative and liberal, that I hear in the media). The theory you cited in your first paragraph, though, wouldn’t surprise me by being true. Good intentions by both conservatives and liberals are often manipulated by corporations.

    • Besides all the political back and forth, I think much of it comes down to having been exposed for years to dogma in the place of theology. This isn’t limited to Evangelicalism, but it’s easy to see it happening at this time in it. The question of free will vs. God’s will has been “answered” and there’s no place for confusion. Same with loads of tricky concepts in Christianity. Once a few people in a generation only parrot the ideas given to them without understanding where they came from, they spread that and it grows on and on through generations. There’s a handful of people alive who could actually intellectually haggle with John Calvin on this theology, but the “Predestination For Dummies” spreads like crazy. Even serious doctrinal issues then like Christ’s blood, and all the significance with that, get equally dumbed down, and so as more and more grow up without really understanding it, they just stop talking about it.

      • I think the dumbing down has a lot to do with a growing atmosphere of apathy when it comes to theology and theological matters. I suspect a lot of church-goers view theology like they view Latin or the writings of the Church Fathers — as an obselete relic of the past. All that matters now is that you feel good and that you give all the “correct” answers on the “important” hot-button issues.
        There’s a lot of church hopping going on out there, and I think that people have heard so many different teachings from the pulpit that they don’t take it seriously anymore. Just nod your head and say “amen” at every full pause. That’s just the price of admission into one of God’s little kingdoms.
        And, by the way, I recently made a reference to C.S. Lewis in an evangelical Sunday School class — and they just stared at me cow-eyed. Nobody even knew who he was. I had to reference the Narnia movies (they weren’t even familiar with the books) in order to give them some idea about Lewis. And many of these people are college educated folk. That really disturbed me.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          All that matters now is that you feel good and that you give all the “correct” answers on the “important” hot-button issues.

          doubleplusbellyfeel and doubleplusduckspeak doubleplusgoodthink?

  5. Faulty O-Ring says:

    Say, haven’t there been significant shifts in attitudes towards race and gender, or about Catholicism and Judaism? I bet there’s a lot less talk of Communism nowadays.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > I bet there’s a lot less talk of Communism nowadays.

      It is still a very hot topic on two of the radio stations where I live. The EU is apparently run by Communists. And our current president is one. But they have lost ground to the Muslims.

      Messianic Jews are VERY popular however.

      They seem to pretty much ignore Catholicism.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Messianic Jews as in Calvary Chapels with yarmulkes and Hebrew buzzwords?

        “HAVE YOU ACCEPTED YESHUA HAMOSHIYAH AS YOUR PERSONAL ADONAI AND SAVIOR?????”

  6. Just some quick personal observations…

    “Evangelical Christianity in America used to focus much more attention on the return of Christ.” – I grew up scared to death of the latest ‘pin-the-tail-on-the-Antichrist’ prognostications of the likes of Hal Lindsey, etc. You can only see so many bogeys raised up only to fall away and be replaced by new ones before you start to think all the eschatological obsession is too much.

    “Evangelical Christianity in America used to focus much more attention on missions and evangelism—including “witnessing to the lost.”” – I think a lot of that is, ironically, due to the success of missions and the rise of the Internet. There are no more “dark continents” needing brave men and women to carry the Gospel somewhere for the first time.

    “Evangelical Christianity in America used to frown on “conspicuous consumption.”” – If your church is supersized, why not everything else?

    “Evangelical Christianity in America used to frown on all forms of government welfare including subsidized home loans.” – And in some wings, they still do. Far too much…

    “Evangelical Christianity in America loved “America” but was suspicious of politics.” – This was already shifting when I became a Christian – the rise of the ReligRight was ten years on when I joined the party, and it’s only now finally petering out.

    “Evangelical Christianity in America used to prepare its people, especially young people, for persecution and expected it.” – This was, to my observation, just window-dressing for the expectation that they/we would be all “Raptured” out of the worst of the mess…

    “Evangelical Christianity in America used to know their Bibles forward and backward.” – Even when I first became a Christian in the early 90s, I was somewhat exceptional in my desire to study and know the Bible. Now, I consider myself Biblically rusty – and can still blow 90%+ of my Christian acquaintances out of the water.

    “Evangelical Christianity in America used to talk a lot about “the blood of Jesus.”” – In a world/culture almost devoid of sacrifice, what purchase does that have with people?

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > I grew up scared to death of the latest ‘pin-the-tail-on-the-Antichrist’ prognostications
      > of the likes of Hal Lindsey

      I came in just past the apex of this, I think, the books were everywhere, but not many people really focused on them. Or it was a lull brought on the by the collapse of the USSR, which really knocked their theories for a loop – at least for a few years. Enter the EU, then enter the Muslims.

      > including “witnessing to the lost”

      Ditto, with the loss of unreachable rain forests filled with tribal pagans this narrative lost a lot of its umph. Now at least some form of mobile access reaches nearly everywhere.

      It is still odd to me to see photos and videos of regions in destitute poverty – and the presence of mobile phones.

      It got a brief turbo boost with the “10-40 window”, but that is old news now. That window has Internet now.

      > frown on “conspicuous consumption”

      That was gone by the time I arrived. “Is it a sin to drive a BMW” came up a lot – always shortly followed by the answer “NO!”. …. if you feel compelled to repetitively justify something… eh, whatever.

      > frown on all forms of government welfare including subsidized home loans

      Yeah, don’t get me started. Especially where, demographically, Evangelical churches are the most common… in communities built almost entirely on subsidized loans and infrastructure grants. Hypocrisy written in 30ft high letters of fire. Welfare is bad – when it is given to poor people.

      > the rise of the ReligRight was ten years on when I joined the party

      Ditto. I missed the Moral Majority, but I did rent one of their former camp houses once just by happenstance.

      I sure hope they are petering out.

      > used to prepare its people, especially young people, for persecution and expected it

      I remember that. A tall blond Christian white male… fearing persecution… in the United States. Even at 19 I had the where-with-all to realize how absurd that was. They accomplish this by dialing persecution all the way down to “someone may not like you”.

      > Even when I first became a Christian in the early 90s, I was somewhat exceptional….
      > can still blow 90%+ of my Christian acquaintances out of the water.

      Ditto, exactly. This is sad; the Scriptures are really fascinating, but nobody knows anything about them. Included in the “nobody” bucket are a lot of ministers. 🙁

      > the blood of Jesus

      You cannot accommodate, really, sacrifice rhetoric *AND* conspicuous consumption. The claim of persecution by someone with a two-stall garage and central-air also doesn’t float. So these all sink together.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I came in just past the apex of this, I think, the books were everywhere, but not many people really focused on them. Or it was a lull brought on the by the collapse of the USSR, which really knocked their theories for a loop – at least for a few years.

        The Second Russian Revolution invalidated a LOT of History Written in Advance.

        Especially when “It’s Prophesied, It’s Prophesied” that the USSR was to exist LITERALLY until the End of Time.

        Applications being accepted for Gog & Magog…

    • ‘“Evangelical Christianity in America used to know their Bibles forward and backward.” – Even when I first became a Christian in the early 90s, I was somewhat exceptional in my desire to study and know the Bible. Now, I consider myself Biblically rusty – and can still blow 90%+ of my Christian acquaintances out of the water.’

      Eeyore, After teaching Sunday School for 10 years I have discovered that people just want to be told WHAT to believe, not HOW to come to those beliefs. In the early 70’s when I was a callow youth people in the church I attended were amazed at the amount of bible I had memorized (I was in a Christian cult that required memorization) and were highly suspicious of me because of it.

      Things have not changed all that much since then because most people attending church, even FAITHFULLY attending, remain biblically deficient and are satisfied to remain so because the preacher will quote the bible and the power point display will project it onto the screen up from. No need to memorize or become even passingly familiar with the bible. Sad…

      • One of the things I appreciate most about my evangelical youth in the 80s (my physical birth year coincides with your spiritual one, Oscar) was the Bible Quiz memorization that I and several of my closest friends participated in over the span of six or so years. Sure, I was in it more for the competition than for actual understanding, and I, too, consider myself “rusty” like Eeyore these days. But even though I can no longer quote entire NT books as I could during those geeked-out days, it sure is great to be able to call up the better part of whole passages all these years later.

        Paradoxically (or not), the fact that I’m no longer an inerrantist like I was then actually makes the Bible far more interesting to me today. In literally any other academic subject, I was a sponge when I was growing up. My Biblical literacy, however, I mostly owed to my environment: literalism flattened it all for me so that it seemed like there wasn’t much to actually dive into. I wonder if that’s part of the reason for Biblical illiteracy for others as well. But I suspect it’s more due to what you note — there’s some sort of expectation of being spoon fed (Power Point or otherwise) from the pulpit, etc.

        • Christiane says:

          we have a better ‘form’ of memorization in the Catholic faith for sacred Scripture . . . a lot of it is read during Mass on a three-year cycle, and is connected up to the Church Year, as well as internally co-ordinated so that OT and NT themes are placed within the context of the service in a way that shows a connection.

          You hear scriptures read aloud year after year, they become like old friends. When you have need for them, they are there in your memories and come quickly to mind. It’s not a bad way to learn sacred Scripture at all. The interaction of a person with hearing the pure sacred Scripture read in Church is an encounter with that which eventually becomes a part of a person. . . not just of the memories, but also of the heart.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      I love your take on things, Eeyore. Just a few of my own thoughts…

      1) Hal Lindsey, End Times, etc… I was a non-Christian when all this stuff seemed to hit its peak. Did it attract me to the Kingdom of God? Did it make me want to begin a relationship with my savior? Did it make me think Christians were any less nutty than I already thought? No, no, no! The only reasons I can think of that a person would write End Times sorts of books is to generate fear and/or make a buck. Since End Times sorts of books are generally written to a Christian audience…why would you want to generate fear amongst the Body??? That’d be like intentionally spreading cancer within mine!

      2) Conspicuous consumption. We tend to focus on the “sins” that we either don’t have a problem with or want to ignore. Whenever I hear people in my church say, “We need to hear more sermons against homosexuality,” I respond with, “Why pick on that sin? I’ll support that sermon as soon as I hear a sermon on Gluttony.” Which I know I’ll never hear.

      3) Religious Right. I might disagree with your statement that you think it’s petering out. I still see it pretty strongly in my church (admittedly more traditionally conservative). But I do think Left-leaning Christian voices are being heard a bit more often. (Which makes Religious Right folks wonder if those people are truly saved…LOL.)

      4) The “Blood of Jesus.” I recently led an adult Sunday school class through the book of Hebrews. One of the questions I had when we came to this was, “How do we convey the idea of ‘the Blood of Jesus’ to the non-Christian, what kinds of words and non-religious language can we use to even convey that idea? Is it possible? I mean, seriously, if we use blood sacrifices and burnt offering language with folks who never grew up with that, they’re going to think we’re nuts!” I’m not sure we reached a conclusion, though “sacrifice” was a term we thought sort of branched the gap. That’s where secular arts really helps. Lots and lots of movies out there, made by non-Christians, where people make a sacrifice – sometimes paying the ultimate sacrifice aka death – and which a Christian can attempt to discuss that idea with a non-Chrisitan.

    • You wrote the responses I was considering writing! I think Olson is way off in this, these are things to lament but celebrate or at least acknowledge and move on from.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      “Evangelical Christianity in America used to focus much more attention on the return of Christ.” – I grew up scared to death of the latest ‘pin-the-tail-on-the-Antichrist’ prognostications of the likes of Hal Lindsey, etc. You can only see so many bogeys raised up only to fall away and be replaced by new ones before you start to think all the eschatological obsession is too much.

      Gospel According to Hal Lindsay burnout here.

      Who will restore all those years the End Time Prophecy locusts have eaten?

  7. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    “Evangelical Christianity in America used to focus much more attention on “separating from the world.””

    How, in the 21st century West, would one even go about doing that in a meaningful way? Short of being unemployed. There is pretty much nowhere left to run to. The world is full.

    • According to Olson:

      “That did not mean physical separation but lifestyle separation. We evangelicals knew there was a line of holiness between us and the “secular world” and “nominal Christianity.” We did not drink alcohol, go to movies that included immorality, nudity, vulgar language or even allusions to such. We had our own “Christian culture” that included, for example, “graduation banquets” in place of high school proms. Dancing was frowned on. But more importantly, perhaps, we evangelicals considered marriage sacred and divorce a sin”

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        Which sounds in large part like making a second-rate version of the Over Culture. If that is his definition – no wonder it doesn’t work.

        As for going to movies, etc… it is all piped into our homes and pockets. No “going to” is required. If an expectation of disconnection from the media machine is real, then something pretty radical is going to be required. Especially if your alternatives are second-rate, because it is going to be obvious [and given budget and talent pool constraints… second-rate would be an accomplishment].

        > “graduation banquets” in place of high school

        Some how the “in place of” needs to become something more

        Aside: I am on The Left and not an Evangelical – but I’ll come right out and say the High School Prom stuff that goes on every year…. it is indeed creepy, often tasteless, and not infrequently degrading. I have sympathy for parents; I’m not sure how I would handle all that.

        • It is seen by many as more of a fundamentalist mindset, or one from the Holiness tradition (Nazarenes, etc…) than a general evangelical one.

          • Rick Ro. says:

            My current church home is Nazarene. This is true, though (slowly) changing in a healthy way.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Which sounds in large part like making a second-rate version of the Over Culture. If that is his definition – no wonder it doesn’t work.

          It’s called “The Christianese Bubble”.
          And it’s a cartoon of itself.
          Consolation/booby prize for those forbidden the real thing.
          “Just like Fill-in-the-Blank Pop Culture, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”

    • Marcus Johnson says:

      I’m less concerned with the logical problems of “separating oneself from the world,” either physically or metaphorically. What concerns me is that these lifestyle separations are different in none of the ways that would ultimately matter. For example, marriage was sacred and divorce was a sin, but there were too many cases of women silenced and trapped in loveless, sometimes abusive, relationships, and never-married folks would be pressured to marry, starting in their teens, or face unintentional ostracism from a church community who didn’t know how to engage them as singles. There was a heavy emphasis on sharing the gospel, but the evaluation of that initiative was measured in quantifiable things like numbers, as if the gospel was a sales pitch instead of an invitation of hope. Evangelical tradition may have frowned upon smoking, drinking, or gambling, but there is evidence to suggest that, in reality, their lifestyles were not much more different from their counterparts.

      So, yes, evangelicals did separate themselves from the rest of the world, but it didn’t necessarily make them different; they just looked different.

    • Christiane says:

      ‘separating from the world’ means to live ‘in the world’ but not ‘of the world’ . . . it’s an internal journey that is meaningful to the person engaged in it . . . a spiritual walk . . . it is partly a response to, well, . . . these words from Wordsworth may explain it better:

      “THE world is too much with us; late and soon,
      Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
      Little we see in Nature that is ours;
      We have given our hearts away . . . .
      For this, for everything, we are out of tune” (Wm. Wordsworth)

      Can this ‘withdrawal’ can be done ‘in community’ as well as privately, yes . . .

      examples of people who have had very successful lives with much worldly success actually withdrawing to a prayer community are rare, but this does happen . . . take a look:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLi4btCP11U

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Dude, when you have “Just like… Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!” bubble culture,
        YOU’RE OF THE WORLD BUT NOT IN IT.

  8. Let me welcome him to the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches of ‘merica where the 1950’s are still in effect.

    • We have one of those in the city where I live, about 200 strong. A few months back our church secretary received a call from one of their members who wanted to be married but their pastor refused to do so because she and her fiancee had been married before. He was, however, willing to give provide pre-marriage counseling, which he did. Go figure!

      So, I followed up with them and learned that both of their respective previous marriages had fallen apart for what I determined to be circumstances beyond their control, mostly the fault of the previous spouse, and consequently saw no reason why these two should not have a Christian wedding.

      So, I married them in the backyard of her parents’ house. The only awkward moment was that their pastor was there, sitting in the back. Perhaps he felt more awkward than me; not sure, though.

      BTW/FWIW, the father of the bride handed me a $100 bill for my “services” though I did not ask for anything. I took the $$, gave it to my wife and told her to get something nice for herself, all of which made me feel good about myself.

    • Amen!

      shameless plug for http://www.stufffundieslike.com

  9. If I had to explain the shift in one phenomenon: Evangelicals overreact and over-correct. They’re not the only ones of course (mainliners were doing this before it was cool), but it’s obvious these days:

    – 25 years ago it was a discussion whether or not contemporary music was acceptable for a good Christian, now if an evangelical church doesn’t use CCM it’s an anomaly.

    – 20 years ago EV Christians asked if they should go to R-rated movies. Now a pastor could reference The Matrix or quote Die Hard to get a laugh.

    – 25 years ago Ev Christians talked about abortion all of the time. Now if you’re under 30, the big social issue is the more socially acceptable anti-trafficking — and to a lesser extent immigration.

    It may not be believed by everyone, but evangelicals go with the flow just as much as their non-evangelical counterparts. Give it another 20 years and we might be over-correcting again.

    • One I forgot to add:

      – 25 years ago mainstream Christian radio was largely hymns, preachers, and few praise choruses. Your DJ was expected to do a mini-sermon in the middle of songs and maybe even an altar call now and then. Now mainstream Christian Radio is led by the KLOVE model: adult-friendly pop songs, zero preachers, “lifestyle talk” (family! family! leadership! family!), and some spiritual aspects in one-minute increments. Yes the American Family Radio model and Bott model still exists, but they aren’t leading.

      Again, expect an over-correction someday.

      • Rick Ro. says:

        Over-correction is in the fiber of our being, I think. Just look at the cycles that occur in the business world. Consolidate, consolidate, consolidate. Wait, too much consolidation! Divest, divest, divest. Wait, too much! Consolidate, consolidate… Repeat until the end of time.

      • This to me is one of the great values of the very old churches, Catholic and Orthodox. Over-correction probably still happens, but when it takes 500 years to change something (give or take) at least most of the fads are over by the time they could have been considered.

        • Rick Ro. says:

          I guess I might argue that in the case of the “old” churches, the problem is that while fad changes rarely happen, GOOD change (“healthy” change) takes too long to happen. Like, say, the abuses and cover-up within the priesthood. Marriage within the priesthood. I’m sure there are others.

  10. CLAllen says:

    I’m 62 years old. I accepted Christ at 8 years old in a Southern Baptist church.
    At age 12 I was in a tiny Independent, Premillennial, Fundamentalist, Baptist church.(said so on the sign) This church was highly concerned with the 3 C’s. Communism, Catholics, and Colored people. A number of like minded churches attempted an association but things fell apart .
    For about a year or so my family did not enter a church door.
    In my 10th grade year an uncle led us to a Christian and Missionary Alliance Church.
    In my senior year I started dating a Southern Baptist girl and I became a Southern Baptist again by statement of faith. We married and raised 3 children in SBC churches. Basic theology was not that much different that I could see but attitudes and approaches certainly were. BTW, one child attends Episcopalian services and the other two are non-aligned.

  11. CLAllen says:

    Oh yes, I know all about Clarence Larkins Dispensationalist instructional manual with large foldout charts. There was also a small book called “The Mark of the Beast” that tied all three themes together neatly.

    • If anyone wants the trip down memory lane, we’re selling dad’s complete collection of Dispensationalist Baptist books including the foldout charts is up for auction this weekend.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Scare up a Dake’s Annotated Bible sometime.

  12. dumb ox says:

    Of those ten items, only two have anything to do with Jesus (the return of Jesus and the blood of Jesus), and then only indirectly. Evangelicals keep re-arranging the furniture but never inviting the owner of the house.

  13. Desert Storm Libertarian says:

    I was raised and served as an acolyte in the Episcopal Church but with the recent leftward pivot of ECUSA towards sanctioning same-sex unions and ordaining homosexual priests, I am looking for a new Protestant denomination. Is there one that combines rich liturgy, Bible-based sermon exposition, and the acknowledgement and exercise of Holy Spirit-endowed gifts? Thanks for any suggestions and have a blessed day!

    • Until you find the right church or congregation, I have a place for you to hear great law/gospel Biblical sermons:

      theoldadam.com/

      My pastor is a great preacher and teacher.

    • I’m biased, but my denomination, the LCMS, can be robustly liturgical and thoroughly biblical in its preaching; there are churches in the denomination that are more contemporary based and lean more liberal, but officially, the synod is quite conservative and there are plenty of churches within the LCMS that are strong on liturgy and biblical preaching. Lutheran preaching (in theory at least) is based upon Law and Gospel doctrine, as Steve mentioned above (I believe you are a member of an ELCA congregation, Steve; is that right?)

      Not as familiar with the third issue but I know that, although officially non-cessationist, the LCMS tends to lean in a direction that is very skeptical of tongues, prophecy, etc. Most LCMS pastors, I believe, would affirm the continuance of spiritual gifts but many would also claim that some of those gifts (typically the “miraculous” ones) have disappeared from the modern church!

      Blessings in your search for a church home!

      • Yes.
        But we don’t have much to do with them anymore. We are centrist Lutherans who cannot go to the LCMS, and who do not buy into where the ELCA has gone.

        “3rd use of the law”, and a Southern Baptist doctrine of the Word (inerrant text) are two of the bigger issues for us. We don’t buy it.

        So, we do what we do and preach the law and the pure gospel (“Christ is the end of the law for Christians”).

        • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

          It depends on the church. My LCMS church has never mentioned or pushed 3rd use of the law or inerrancy. That may be due to the liturgy, but these things just don’t come up. OTOH, I’ve been to some LCMS churches that are downright fundamentalist.

    • There are congregations of the ACNA (Anglican Church in North America) which might be what you are needing. Also, there are still many congregations and even dioceses of the Episcopal Church (such as the Diocese of Central Florida) which remain orthodox in their beliefs and practices.

  14. Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

    I’m sure we all approach different situations with our own unique perspectives and knowledge bases. For me, when I read Olson’s piece, I interpreted it through the lens of information theory. The fact is that since those times the availability of diversity and information has grown at a geometric rate. Christians of all stripes were able to see not only that many Christians (often the majority historically and geographically) believe differently. Some common evangelical practices have revealed a sinister underbelly over time. All of this information is readily available now. And as believers make informed choices, change is to be expected.