December 12, 2017

It’s the Culture.

coffeewithjesus43

In our fixation upon the trickling down of culture from the beliefs in our minds we have frequently failed to appreciate the ways in which our thinking bubbles up from the world of our bodies, via our imaginations.

• Alastair Roberts

• • •

What I’m going to talk about today is true of most every tradition. But our focus is on the world of evangelicalism in this post.

When we moved to a Chicago suburb in 1983 so I could attend seminary, we spent a couple of months looking for a church to call home. I’ll never forget the feeling I had when we walked into Waukegan Bible Church and attended a service there. It was right. We would fit there. Something in the very atmosphere of the sanctuary communicated compatibility. It smelled right! The decorative elements of the building, the way the people behaved, the way the service was conducted, the music, the teaching, the way people related — all of it reminded us of the kinds of churches we had been involved in during Bible college and the congregation we had served before moving. Before I ever read a statement of faith, before I ever learned of the church’s doctrine or practices, we were “in.” We slipped into that church like fish dropped into a fishbowl and swam in those waters for nine years until we relocated again.

In previous posts about how to define evangelicalism and post-evangelicalism, I have tried to be careful to make clear that what we are talking about is not simply a set of beliefs, but an entire culture. Many of us who were, to one degree or another, comfortable in evangelicalism, are no longer comfortable. And it’s not just a matter of changing our minds.

Serious evangelical spokespersons and teachers try to emphasize the movement’s worldview, its doctrines — in short, its truth. Bebbington’s fourfold model has often been cited: conversionism, activism, biblicism, and crucicentrism, as a basic skeleton upon which the various evangelical churches, missions, and schools form their bodies. And despite that skeleton, those bodies do indeed come with a variety of shapes and sizes and features. Southern Baptists are not Nazarenes, and the Church of God folks around me here in the Midwest don’t look at all like evangelical Presbyterians. Furthermore, just because you attend a non-denominational church doesn’t mean the specific cultural characteristics of your group match the culture of the other non-denom down the street.

jesus-button-its-that-easyFor folks on the ground, what usually makes the most difference is not the statement of faith. It’s the culture. The (often unspoken) question is: Do I, can I fit in that world?

Can I live with the style of the building and the sanctuary, the kind of music and the songs they sing or don’t sing, how they practice the various elements of worship, the kind of “personality” the church exhibits, the way people dress, the language with which they converse, the way they do the children’s programs and the youth group, the Christian celebrities, books, and media they endorse, the way people pray, how people talk about public issues and politics and culture, the style and approach the pastor uses in preaching, the colleges their students go off to attend, the camps, recreation and vacation spots church members prefer, the methods by which the church receives giving and donations, how accessible the pastors and other leaders are, the way the congregation makes decisions, and so on.

Doctrine and teachings certainly play a role in forming this culture, but I have often found that, for a large number of people, they don’t do so on a very deep level. Usually, if the right key words and phrases are used, if the right songs are sung in worship and the words and practices used in worship are comfortably within the realm of my experience, and if the pastor handles the Bible in a way that is not utterly foreign, that’s enough for most folks. It’s like the fish symbol on the business card in the cartoon strip above. Enough positive indicators, and this church matches the fingerprint of an acceptable Christian culture.

An important article by Alastair Roberts at Christ & Pop Culture called, Evangelicalism’s Poor Form,” makes this point extremely well.

Evangelicalism is not typically experienced as a set of abstract and explicit doctrines or beliefs held by individuals, but more as a distinctive cultural environment within which such beliefs are inconsistently and idiosyncratically maintained.

Roberts stresses that what makes the difference for most people is the “evangelical folk religion” that has become the culture of the church, not the particular teachings of its leaders.

Much that swims in the weird and wonderful (and sometimes not-so-wonderful) soup of evangelicalism was added quite independent of church leadership. There is a sort of evangelical folk religion, most of which is largely unauthorized by pastors or elders, a folk religion driven and populated by TV preachers, purity culture, uninformed theological speculations in democratic Bible studies, Chick tracts, evangelistic bumper stickers and T-shirts, Thomas Kinkade paintings, VeggieTales, Kirk Cameron movies, Amish romance novels, the Left Behind series, Focus on the Family literature, Christian bloggers, CCM, Christian dating guides, Answers in Genesis books, sappy mass-produced devotional literature, study Bibles for every conceivable niche market, and much else besides. Unsurprisingly, many presume that this all passed quality control and received the imprimatur of Evangelical Central Headquarters.

For a movement that has often promised those within it the pristine order and integrity of a single comprehensive “world-and-life view,” the reality on the ground of evangelicalism can be disorienting.

Roberts cites James K. A. Smith, who says that our minds may informed by our church’s teachings, but our lives are more often formed on an “affective and non-cognitive level” as we are shaped by the culture around us.

What is particularly ironic about this is that the evangelical world often scorns other traditions that place more emphasis on habitual practices such as set liturgies, traditions, and other external “forms.” Evangelicals, on the other hand, promote a religion of the “heart,” an internal faith and growth that supposedly represents being “transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2) — change from the inside out. Little do they realize how much the forms of their religious culture (much of it borrowed from contemporary life rather than historic or traditional forms) are shaping them and forming their entire world and life view.

With equal irony, freedom from forms and an openness to innovation that has given evangelicalism an admirable flexibility in mission, has led to a place in which this state of continual flux has itself become an ingrained cultural characteristic of the movement. If it’s new and improved in religion, chances are it belongs to some evangelical group. Chameleons, welcome. This is your world.

Evangelical churches are often distinguished by such features as their use of contemporary musical styles, modes of dress, conspicuous use of state-of-the-art audio-visual technologies, their colloquial manner of speech, heavy online presence, and their ecclesiastical architecture that breaks with tradition to adopt the pattern of modern auditoriums. Evangelical identity is also widely expressed through the forms of a consumer society: through corporate models of Christian leadership, through the production, marketing, advertising, and selling of a Christianity that functions like a “brand” on everything from mints to key rings. Few pause to question whether these forms of expression might be shaping us in unhealthy ways, assimilating us into culturally prevailing habits, dynamics, and ways of life and perception, all beneath the cover of a thin veneer of Christianity.

For many post-evangelicals like me, it is the culture that became a primary problem. When I say I am in the wilderness, I certainly don’t mean I’ve lost my faith. I have lost my “world,” my “culture.” I don’t fit any more. Some of us may agree with one tradition more than another when it comes to beliefs; we may even feel perfectly comfortable with a simple, basic set of evangelical doctrines as the content of our “faith.” But its forms can no longer sustain us.

It is this evangelicalism that many have found wanting and abandoned, not typically through a direct rejection of evangelicalism’s beliefs in the abstract, but on account of a deep distaste with their shape and outworking in the world created by an unruly social imaginary. Until evangelicalism develops a deep mindfulness about the factors and forces that create its social imaginary, the health and strength of the Christian faith at its heart will be in jeopardy.

Coffee with Jesus is found at Radio Free Babylon.

Comments

  1. senecagriggs yahoo says:

    Ah, the church; has it every been truly healthy or has it always been home to broken people who mirror the image of God AT BEST dimly.

  2. For many post-evangelicals like me, it is the culture that became a primary problem. When I say I am in the wilderness, I certainly don’t mean I’ve lost my faith. I have lost my “world,” my “culture.” I haven’t found a place where I fit. Some of us may agree with one tradition more than another when it comes to beliefs; we may even feel perfectly comfortable with a simple, basic set of evangelical doctrines as the content of our “faith.” But its forms can no longer sustain us.

    On behalf of all nerdy, introspective, introverted Gen X American Christians, I say “Welcome to our world. Took you long enough.” 😉

    • This paragraph really hit home with me as well. However, for the sake of consistency for my children, and for lack of any other good options in my community, I have recently returned to the evangelical church I group up in, trying to see that church consists of more than forms and beliefs. It is made up of the people of God, no matter how wrong I think they may be about certain issues. I don’t really feel like I fit in as far as the culture goes, but I’ve known the people there most of my life and they have been good to me. I visit internetmonk daily for a dose of sanity, to ensure that I’m not totally crazy for thinking the way I do.

      • I hope that works for you, Kent. Keeping our focus on Christ and our response of loving God and people is surely what we’re called to do, no matter what the setting.

        • Bingo. And in the midst of the mess you’ll periodically find yourself in, keep trying to mirror a healthy walk with Jesus. A few others might catch on.

      • I visit internetmonk daily for a dose of sanity, to ensure that I’m not totally crazy for thinking the way I do.

        What Kent said. Exactly.

        And Mike, what you said too. It’s hard for me to put the problem into words so I’ll print this article and put it with the other iMonk classics and pick it up from time to time for a re-read. But first I’ll show it to Jeri.

      • Like you, Kent, I’m pretty much committed to the world of Evangelicalism. I checked out grass at a couple different places and on honest reflection it was no greener. Is our church perfect? Far from it. But it fits where I’m willing to raise my children. On the whole, I think they stand as good a chance there as many other places I can name.

        I guess if I were to summarize my willingness to remain in an evangelical church it comes down to lowering my expectations. i don’t expect any place to be perfect. What I mainly look for is a place where I don’t find the dysfunctions too intolerable.

  3. Not only have evangelicals adopted the trappings and presentations of common culture (as HUG would say, just like______ except CHRISTIAN TM!) but culture has returned the favor.

    Ask your average person-on-the-street to describe the looks, attitudes, and beliefs of a “Christian”, and you will get a description of a young earth, literal bible, tee-totaling white person who is probably a bit of a closet racist and mild homophobe….and who is sure HE is saved and the rest of the world is headed straight to hell.

    The REST of the Christians in the western world just don’t register at all with most non-Christians, who are sure that the above caricature is the essence of all things Christian in the United States.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      >Ask your average person-on-the-street to describe the

      While I understand what you are saying – at the same time I do not believe you give the “average person-on-the-street” enough credit. If you ask coastal hipsters what a “Christian” is you’d possibly get that answer. But having watched people answer that question – generally the response is more nuanced and charitable. The United States still contains many non-Evangelical Christian groups which people encounter and interact with on a daily basis. Many places, including where I live, have former pastors as well as Catholic officials in many roles.

      >The REST of the Christians in the western world just don’t register at all

      I suppose it depends on what you mean by “register”. Non-Evangelicals tend not to be Aggressive, but to think everyone around them is clueless as to who they are is not true; while not Aggressive neither are they Silent.

      Everyone knows the mayor is a former pastor [but not of the Evangelical kind], everyone knows Rev. Przybysz on the transportation board is a Catholic Priest, everyone knows Pastor Moody on the school board is an ordained Episcopalian. I think we need to rethink our concept of “registering”.

      Registering includes more than the guy holding the “He who sins serves Satan” sign – the cops keep an eye on him, he quietly holds his sign, and everyone just goes about their business around him. People don’t even comment about him. I watched a [I assume] gay couple walk right past him holding hands. The reality is that *HE* barely registers.

      • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

        Good points, Adam. Also, let’s be careful that our understanding of the world is shaped by real experience, and not whatever is in the news feed this morning.

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        In my experience, the secular media has adopted wholesale the Evangelical practice of using “Christian” as a synonym for “white Evangelical Protestant.” Hence we read stuff about the “Christian worldview” which includes no hint that this can mean anything other than white Evangelical Protestant. In a related vein, we can also see statements about Left Behind rapture doctrine characterized with a completely straight face as being a “literal” reading of Revelation. Yes, you can find people with a more nuanced understanding, but the unmarked (as linguists say) “Christian” defaults to white Evangelical Protestant.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > In my experience, the secular media has adopted

          Even if this is true it cannot be taken as a corollary that the “average man on the street” holds the same attitude.

          Ask any political campaign strategist and they will tell you the same thing – the “main stream” media is a avenue to only a specific demographic, namely Baby Boomers. It’s penetration into other demographics falls off steeply, especially as age declines.

          Whatever generalizations secular media – to the extent that is holistic whole – may accept is not indicative of much of anything regarding the movement of society – to the extant that is holistic whole. At this point in our cultural cycle the media is a trailing entity, and sprinting in an effort to catch up.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Ask your average person-on-the-street to describe the looks, attitudes, and beliefs of a “Christian”, and you will get a description of a young earth, literal bible, tee-totaling white person who is probably a bit of a closet racist and mild homophobe….and who is sure HE is saved and the rest of the world is headed straight to hell.

      Pattie, that is another example of how Loud Crazies dominate the public face of a movement. I’ve seen the same dynamic in Furry Fandom. Because the Loud Crazies are so on-fire for The Cause/Obsession they can pour all their energy and life into it 24/7/365 while all the rest of us have jobs and lives to take time and energy away from The Cause.

    • If you’ve seen the previews for the new TV show “Utopia,” you’ll note that one of the reality TV contestants is exactly this stereotype, and has been put on the show in large part to be forced to interact with people who feel differently from him—and probably to be put in his place, shown to be a racist and homophobe, etc.

      I saw the commercial for the show and thought, TV taking the easy way out by going with the stereotype again. And wished they would have put some other kind of Christian on there. Of course, that would not have made for “good TV.” And worst would have been if they’d chosen someone who is actually thoughtful.

      • “And worst would have been if they’d chosen someone who is actually thoughtful.”

        If they made that mistake, they’d edit the clips to fix their problem.

  4. Soul winning is so entrenched in Evangelicalism that almost anything goes to meet that goal of getting bodies into the building so they can hear the “gospel’. I not sure that EO, RCC and the Mainline with their respective shadows are an improvement. I go to many different types in order to remain sane.

    • Theological professor Brad Nassif, who is EO, has frequently stressed the need for EO to do more “evangelism”, and the positive aspects of Evangelicalism (although not to extent some church go).

      “we need to recover the evangelical dimensions of our Church’s faith”

    • I see this up close and personal in the evangelical mega I have been attending. Marketing and salesmanship seem to have become another sign of the Spirit. I’ve personally become burnt out on it and am officially in the wilderness. On a positive note, I’ve discovered the liberty in Christ we have to not have to listen to contemporary Christian music.

      • “Marketing and salesmanship seem to have become another sign of the Spirit.”

        One well-known megachurch pastor has asked why we should assume that the corporate mindset is not something the Spirit uses.

        • Yes I wouldn’t dare put limitations on what the Spirit can use. I wonder if 1st Corinthians 2 applies here. I don’t know.

          One of the senior pastors took the staff to Nike headquarters to learn about “branding” for the church. I’m just not sure if God needs our “creativity” in administering a church. On the other hand, I know God can use even this.

          • I’d dare to an extent. But I’d really just be using the limits He already put on himself in the Bible.

          • I just figured all bets were off after he used a donkey

          • Hmmm..how do you “brand” and “market” a guy riding into town on a donkey and being hung on a cross to die? I guess you make it look like something else, eh?

          • I’m really not sure, Rick. It was for the staff to get on the same page, I believe. The pastor is a big fan of using corporate and military strategies in organizing the church. Maybe this is necessary to keep a mega Church on the same page. Systems have taken the place of personal relationships in the church.

        • In a sense, I guess it’s okay for a church to brand and market the community it’s trying to be known as. I think great care should be taken when going that route, though. If church becomes known more for WHO they are as opposed to WHOSE they are, then they might’ve gone astray.

          • Good point. I just wonder how many Lutheran and Catholic Churches market themselves and take field trips to corporations to learn how they do things.

  5. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    > It’s the culture. The (often unspoken) question is:
    > Do I, can I fit in that world?

    Yes, but this shouldn’t surprise anyone. Isn’t the notion of “seeker sensitivity” asking this question explicitly? The problem with that notion being that we [humans] are generally pretty bad at critiquing our own culture/subculture, we can’t see the forest due to the trees. To do that well we need an outsiders perspective – something anathema to the core of Evangelicalism.

    > by which the church receives giving and donations, how
    > accessible the pastors and other leaders are, the way the
    > congregation makes decisions

    All of these are a complex expression of values. But values so fundamental most people never bother to try to encode or articulate them, they are a given – back to the problem of cultural self-critique. For me this belies the conceit of Evangelicalism: that it is build on a core system of Fundamentals, and everything wrongs out from those. No, it is not, and does not. And neither is any other culture. Life is complicated, horrifically so, and nobody nowhere ever operates from a list of five, six, seven,… Fundamentals. Our range of values is broad and as complicated as the world in which we live our lives. There is no choice in the matter, that is how it works.

    > “but more as a distinctive cultural environment within
    > which such beliefs are inconsistently and
    > idiosyncratically maintained.”

    With this I agree. The articulated beliefs can be countermanded in practice with little to no explanation required. While I believe all cultures and subcultures do this the boldness of the practice within Evangelical is notable. The Folk trump The Text.

    > Evangelicals, on the other hand, promote a religion of
    > the “heart, .. change from the inside out.

    A premise that denies the incarnate nature of what a Human Being is.

    > their religious culture (much of it borrowed from
    > contemporary life rather than historic or traditional
    > forms) are shaping them and forming their entire world
    > and life view.

    To be fair to Evangelicalism I’d point out that this charge is easily leveled at a lot of people’s cultures, just minus the “religious”. How much is Social Media always-connectedness, automobile dependency, the ‘living room’ focuses around the television, etc… manifesting in our “live view”. Some of these things, while “normal”, are making us broke, fat, and depressed. But they are all normal.

    I don’t point this in a “look at all of those sheeple” kind of way; I say it as someone who in order to see it had to get punched in the face by life ‘choices’ and at one point put in the back of an ambulance. Culture can be an insidiously effective inoculator against the recognition of terribly obvious things.

    > ” Until evangelicalism develops a deep mindfulness about
    > the factors and forces that create its social imaginary”

    This can never happen. As it has been described here – Evangelicalism is “a wheel without a center”. It has no Areopagus, Senate, or Vatican where this kind of reflection can occur. One of its core values is anti-intellectualism, so it’s class system has no strata of men to meet in the place that doesn’t exist to have that discussion.

    But what increasingly bothers me is: why? What ‘core value’, doctrine, or belief is *UNIQUE* to Evangelicalism? What aspect of it makes other traditions inferior? Is it a belief in an essential unique [to Evangelicalism] core value or is it still a connection to its culture that makes the hope for its reform so important to so many people? A culture that would be rendered unrecognizable if it did reform is such a way.

    Personally, I feel towards Evangelicalism much the way I feel towards my childhood home town. A lot of fond memories. Some beautiful people. A lot of pain and disappointment. When I do go back I realize it is not home anymore; but I’m grateful for that.

    • “What ‘core value’, doctrine, or belief is *UNIQUE* to Evangelicalism? What aspect of it makes other traditions inferior? Is it a belief in an essential unique [to Evangelicalism] core value or is it still a connection to its culture that makes the hope for its reform so important to so many people?”

      I think the unique aspect is the drive to reach out, reach others, question tradition, and lift up the core of the faith.

      As CM wrote: “Bebbington’s fourfold model has often been cited: conversionism, activism, biblicism, and crucicentrism”

      The creation of a culture, or should I say emphasizing of a culture, has hurt Evangelicalism. And often it has caused some to backslide into Fundamentalism. However, the idea that Evangelicals can be found in various traditions is still alive, helping emphasize those 4 elements.

      Their are varying views on the details of those 4 elements, but an overarching adherence to them is found throughout.

      • Oops- “There are varying…”

      • RDavid —

        Your four elements of evangelicalism are thoughtfully chosen, but they don’t convince me of the validity of it as it is practiced today. First, I wish evangelicals did genuinely “question tradition” rather than assume that the questioning has been done by someone somewhere, and that tradition has already been proven worthless. One of the things that drove me away from evangelicalism was the lack of intellectual rigor — there were certainly good writers and cogent thinkers, but they seemed to move in a tightly bounded area and defend their beliefs with circular arguments. Not to mention that “questioning” as an end in itself is necessarily a fruitless activity. What if the answer is that tradition is natural and good?

        I have always appreciated the outreach aspect that you mention, although after seven years on the mission field with an evangelical agency I’m not sure that the non-denominational church-planting approach is the best way to do it.

        And as far as the core of the faith, I don’t necessarily see them lifting it up more than other genuine Christian groups–not to mention that there is still legitimate discussion of what the core of the faith encompasses.

        • “…but they don’t convince me of the validity of it as it is practiced today”

          And that is the problem. As with the idea of “always reforming”, portions of Evangelicalism is starting to re-evaluate itself and impact the movement as a whole. A current example of that is found in the question of hermeneutics, and the push for a more Christocentric method.

          In regards to the intellectual rigor, it is out there, but not necessarily in the Evangelical culture camp(s). Scot McKnight, Roger Olson, and Ben Witherington, etc… are just some US examples, and a boatload from other places that fall into the more worldwide broad definition of Evangelicalism (or some close to it), such as NT Wright, Alister McGrath, Michael Bird, Larry Hurtado, Richard Baukhaum, etc…

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        “I think the unique aspect is the drive to reach out, reach others, question tradition, and lift up the core of the faith. ”

        I strenuously object to the notion that these are qualities or values unique to Evangelicalism.

        I especially question that “lift up the core of the faith” is even an Evangelical value at all. For all the swirl of words about sound religious education is not a hallmark of Evangelicalism, nor has it ever been.

        If an Evangelical holds that these are *unique* qualities unto himself and his school then he must believe other traditions are at least apathetic in some fundamental way. And it is no wonder they cannot share the tent with others.

        • It is not that Evangelicalism is the only stream that can do this, it is the one that is pushing hard in, and trying to bring attention to, those areas.

  6. Thank you, Mike. This is very helpful.

  7. Peace From The Fringes says:

    I’m often struck by how much of the faith/culture vortex is simply geographical — how easily we forget or dismiss that much of what we believe is simply a product of location.

    For example, the issue of “modesty”. I can’t tell you how often I have heard Christians living in small, inland or rural communities speak about this issue as if it is an absolute; as if everyone, everywhere agrees that an exposed belly button or two-piece bathing suit is the sign of a sexualized, immodest or (probably) promiscuous woman. Baggy t-shirts over tankinis are a sign of virtue and separate swimming areas are healthy and productive. “We are not causing our brother to stumble!!!” 🙂

    Well, I live in a beach community and the entire population would laugh themselves silly over such a notion. Most near everyone, from babies to grannies, wanders around in their bathing suits all summer. Grocery stores are filled with women who stopped by on their way home from the beach wearing a sarong over their bikini. Surfers change out of their westuits on the beach with only a casually-slung towel to assist. Nobody notices or cares. It simply isn’t an issue. Feel free to report them to the Church Leaders ….. oh, wait ….. they ARE the Church Leaders.

    I’m not trying to mock the cultures different from ours (although I would last about 20 minutes in that world), but trying to emphasize that culture, geography and habit are often put forth as “faith” and made a bright line in the sand, to everyone’s detriment.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Not just “as Faith”.
      Put forth as “GOD HATH SAID!” and “IT IS WRITTEN!”

    • I work at a VA in a more rural area of Alabama. One of the managers wondered out loud whether we should be hiring people with visible tattoos. I found myself wondering whether he had looked at many of the veterans we serve. Many veterans have tattoos. This made me wonder what he thinks of our multiple tattooed veterans.

      I find parallels to that in our Orthodox parishes as well. Inevitably there are one or two people who wonder why “good” women do not wear veils. It is true that in Europe, Orthodox women still wear veils, but in various other parts of the world they do not.

      I think all churches struggle with the balance between eternal, moral, ethical, and cultural.

      • Peace From The Fringes says:

        Yes, tattoos are another excellent example! A friend of mine has two daughters who just completed their Masters Degrees and are joining the Peace Corps. The whole family, including both parents, got commemorative tattoos to celebrate their accomplishments. Things like this are commonplace in many parts of the country. In other places, they would be scandalous or at least worrisome.

        Just culture, bolstered by geography. NOT a “faith” issue.

  8. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Unsurprisingly, many presume that this all passed quality control and received the imprimatur of Evangelical Central Headquarters.

    Well, there are a LOT of Evangelical Popes pronouncing their Imprimatur Ex Cathedra….

  9. “I don’t fit any more.”

    well, then you are ready to sojourn with the pilgrim Church that follows the One Who had no place to rest His Head

    there is a ‘loneliness’ in which we may learn greater empathy and compassion for the really lonely of this world, the ones who are placed ‘outside’ of any ‘acceptable Christian fellowship’ so often touted as a lure to come and ‘join’ with a Church culture

    maybe is better to be WITH the ones who are kept outside the gate. . .
    . . . is it possible that is the proper destination for a Christian who is ‘sent’ out into this world after all ?

    we make too much of ‘fellowship’ with ‘like-kinded and like-minded’ people,
    when the ones they have rejected which may be the true brothers and sisters Our Lord would have spent time with were He visibly present

    ‘not belonging’ may be the better way when what it takes to belong is to publicly turn one’s back to the marginalized for whom the ‘in-group’ has expressed open contempt

    • “there is a ‘loneliness’ in which we may learn greater empathy and compassion for the really lonely of this world, the ones who are placed ‘outside’ of any ‘acceptable Christian fellowship’ so often touted as a lure to come and ‘join’ with a Church culture”

      Yes this

  10. Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

    Thanks for linking to this post; I thought it was pretty good. The bottom line from my experience is that many churches and church leaders want to tap into the excitement that the corporate world generates. Frankly, classic Christianity is pretty earthy – it is Christ in us, the hope of glory, transforming all the little things we do. It isn’t particularly flashy, although it is peculiar. And let’s be honest: who hasn’t attended a TED talk or an Apple product unveiling and felt the energy, and tension, and excitement? It is electric; it is addictive; the tension and release is (by design) nearly orgasmic. We want that kind of experience, and so we engineer it “at church”. And somehow we keep falling for it.

  11. I don’t care so much about fitting in with others, so long that I fit through the narrow gate.

    I stopped fitting in with the larger Christianist culture when I became a hypocrite. I know, right?—I should’ve fit in more. I certainly wasn’t the only one covering up my sinfulness with a thin coat of paint. But I was an angry kid, so instead of going along with the unspoken charade like I was supposed to, I had a bit of evil fun calling out my fellow hypocrites. “Yeah you say you’re this way; you’re not.” Ex-Christians have made a career of it, especially since they’re pretty sure we’re all this way.

    I came back to Jesus, but kept the skepticism. I buck the culture pretty often, partly because it gets so stupid, and partly to warn others away from investing in the transitory instead of the eternal. Those with deeper faith tend to agree, ’cause they know better. Those with weaker faith tend to freak out, ’cause I’m gonna shatter their illusion if I press too hard.

  12. I’m guessing that Jesus experienced cultural alienation when his home church congregation tried to kill him by throwing him off a cliff. Also guessing that he never went back there after that. Sometimes you just gotta shake the dust off your sandals.

    • Interesting point. Interesting, too, that eventually Jesus entered a “friendly” city and let himself be killed by “his people,” and that he would ask the Father to forgive them as he died. Sometimes you gotta shake the dust off your sandals and sometimes you gotta do something that involves pain.

  13. Good article. As one who has seen a healthy church go unhealthy and stayed through the that period and is now seeing the church get healthier, I think some of us with “healthy” views of Jesus and God, who see the problems with evangelicalism, should remain in unhealthy churches to help folks catch sight of a healthier view of God/Jesus. Maybe it’s not just about the lost sheep outside, but helping Jesus find the lost sheep INSIDE.

    Just a thought.

  14. CM, you have expressed something very important.

    For me personally, it was both culture and doctrine that pushed me into the wilderness; not sure entirely of how much of which, but had to be at least 50-50. Over time I was able to recognize the culture and roll with it for a while to see what it’s about, because I know people are fickle, and I include myself in that. A big part of the problem for me was that I saw that a significant number of people were actually living *above* their theology – were kinder, more reflective, more on-the-ground loving than what their theology led them to aspire to. I think what wearied me most was that non-integration and its pervasiveness.

    With this:
    “Until evangelicalism develops a deep mindfulness about the factors and forces that create its social imaginary, the health and strength of the Christian faith at its heart will be in jeopardy”,
    Roberts seems to be saying that the health and strength of the Christian faith lie within evangelicalism. I happen to disagree. I believe there are healthy people within evangelicalism, but that’s not the same thing. I think the health and strength of the Christian faith lie in asking and seeking for the old paths – Jer 6.16, of course taken out of context 🙂 That is where I (and many others) have found rest for my soul. Not that everything’s perfect, but at least there is a seamless, integrated theology that calls people to integration, not fragmentation, and that in the context not of intellectual propositions, but of face-to-face (prosopon) relational encounter in the sacraments. Anyone can come in, regardless of their level of comprehension.

    My bias is that I have been aware of Roberts’ presence on the Internet for probably 10 years, maybe a bit more. I have found him to be one of those described by Damaris, “good writers and cogent thinkers, but they seem(ed) to move in a tightly bounded area and defend their beliefs with circular arguments.” He especially does this in his writings on gender. So that colors what I think about anything else he writes. It may have some value, but I view it from narrowed eyes and with a knitted brow.

    Dana

    • Personally, I agree with you about the doctrine factor, but I’ve also tried to remember that I’ve been to Bible College and seminary and may take that aspect more seriously than others.

    • Dana, re. his views on gender – I know.

      I cannot believe he’s the same person who wrote the article under discussion here, but they appear to be one and the same.

      • Actually, I might be able to believe they are the same person.

        He’s got two very distinct categories of actors set up in that article:
        1. a leadership that “authorizes” things, which might (if it were heeded) be able to articulate core evangelical ideas and a cogent worldview; and
        2. the masses of evangelicals who create “culture” (which creates a plurality of forms and contradictory messages)

        Are these categories gendered in his mind? I don’t know, but when I see this I wonder on some level he’s picturing to properly trained male leadership vs. chattering church ladies. In one corner: A virile, systematic, tough message? In the other corner: Thomas Kincaid decor, chatty Bible studies, inspirational literature, Amish romance novels…. ?

        • Correction:

          “Are these categories gendered in his mind? I don’t know, but I wonder if, on some level, he’s imagining a properly trained male leadership vs. chattering church ladies.”

          Tired, poor editing. Sorry.

  15. Heretical Conservative says:

    A lot of my struggles with evangelicalism are not that we have a culture and traditions (that stem from that culture), but an unwillingness to recognize that a lot of these are cultural and not biblical. I have had a preacher insist that family devotionals are “biblical”.
    Thus when we don’t follow these traditions, we are considered deficient.
    At the same time we criticize other traditions. E.G. the view of the sacraments by others.

  16. Religion News Service has an article today that fits this discussion. Jonathan Merritt interviews author Benjamin Corey about his book Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message.
    http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2014/09/11/christians-domestic-jesus-benjamin-corey/

  17. Perhaps we underestimate how the favorable cultural environment for the development of evangelicalism in the US contributed to our being so comfortable with the surrounding culture. Remember how we used to think that America was Christian, and we meant Protestant Christian? We got used to thinking that the culture and the faith were somewhat intertwined by divine appointment. Then we became culturally affluent, and our faith made its accommodation to comfort and ownership of things. I think Romans 12:2 is the greatest biblical challenge we face.