December 15, 2017

Just in case you’re wondering . . . a new series

forest path

Just in case you’re wondering . . . a new series

We begin a new series today. Some of the comments from last week’s post on our new banner and site purpose statement led me to think it important to clarify what it means to me to be “post-evangelical” and to frame that in more positive terms.

Many assume it means that people who so identify themselves have simply cast off the faith that is represented in evangelicalism. Others hear the critiques post-evangelicals offer of their former affiliations and don’t ever hear the positive side of the new things post-evangelicals have embraced.

Speaking only for myself, I want to make it clear that I can never fully “leave behind” my former life in American evangelicalism. It is an essential part of who I am.

I had a spiritual awakening in the days of the “Jesus People” movement, lived through various charismatic controversies and church growth methodologies, went to seminary and pastored a church during the birth and blossoming of the Willow Creek, seeker-sensitive era, saw all the developments from “Jesus music” to “CCM” to “praise and worship music” to K-Love, endured the worship wars, and went with tens of thousands of others to Bill Gothard seminars. I was there when the “megachurch” was manufactured, though I’ve never had much use for one.

I have moved from the Scofield Reference Bible to the NASB to the NLT to the NRSV (though I never did like the NIV, unlike most of my evangelical counterparts). I went from the Southern Baptists to independent Baptists to the Independent Fundamental Churches of America to the Evangelical Free Church to non-denominational churches that grew out of a Wesleyan tradition. My Bible college was what I would call “soft” fundamentalist and it was strongly dispensationalist in theology. My seminary grew out of the neo-evangelical tradition to become one of the strongest voices for contemporary evangelicalism and such doctrines as inerrancy.

I have lived through the rise of the Christian Right, the Moral Majority, the Reagan years, and the culmination of evangelical power politics in the Bush administration. I’ve seen the issues shift from abortion all the way to same-sex marriage. I remember and still appreciate the teaching of Francis Schaeffer before he became “political.”

In my years as an evangelical, I saw parachurch groups such as Campus Crusade and Navigators exert a tremendous influence on the church. I participated when “mission trips” first became a thing. Long before that, I was part of the rise of “small groups” and saw them become an essential part of church programs. VBS and Sunday School have always been around, but they’re not what they used to be. When I was young, big choir programs were regular, anticipated events. Now, a lot of churches don’t even know what a choir is. Or an organ.

Christian bookstores were rare when I was young, then they became pervasive, as did the entire Christian media and publishing industry. Now it’s hard to find one, except in the giant foyer of a megachurch. I lived through the televangelist scandals, but those put nary a dent in the prosperity gospel or the ongoing debacle of “Christian television,” which seems to be going stronger than ever. I have watched “Christian” movies morph from “The Gospel Blimp” to “Left Behind” to “The Passion of the Christ” to “God’s not Dead.” Well, maybe “morph” is too strong a word.

I ministered in several small and mid-sized churches, all of them deeply rooted in some form of revivalistic/Bible teaching/missions-oriented/pietistic tradition.

More recently, I have observed as several “streams” have diverged from evangelicalism and flowed out in different directions because of dissatisfaction with various elements of the movement. I’ve watched the neo-Calvinist/reformed/puritan folks seek a more intellectually satisfying and internally demanding faith that calls for submission to a sovereign God. I’ve watched people take the “ancient-future” path and become Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and Anglican as they’ve searched for a more worshipful, sacramental, traditional faith. Various emergent groups have arisen before my eyes, seeking a more creative faith, in some cases questioning what they consider harsh traditional teachings in favor of a more “generous orthodoxy.” Others have left what they deem “right-wing” evangelicalism for a more socially progressive, inclusive faith that emphasizes serving the poor and inviting people who live what we used to call “alternative lifestyles” to the table.

The end of the world was never far from me in my evangelical life. It may have been closest in my youth, when Hal Lindsey was touting the “late, great planet earth.” But then, by the time I got to seminary, more than one professor remarked that students just didn’t seem as interested in understanding the “last days” and anticipating Jesus’ return anymore and that the teaching was being lost in our churches. Today, the occasional Harold Camping or John Hagee will make headlines for a moment with some new theory about impending doom, but even most evangelicals have shifted away from preoccupation with that. The most recent “Left Behind” film showed that evangelical Christians are not very good at predicting disasters, but they remain masters at creating them.

prairie pathUntil ten years ago, this was my life, my world. At that time, an unexpected and jarring personal experience led me out of pastoral ministry, into chaplaincy, and into a kind of wilderness it took me some time to name.

This is not to say I always felt comfortable in my evangelical skin back then. I have written here at Internet Monk repeatedly about how I never felt like I actually “fit” anywhere, how my mind and spirit continually kicked against the goads of evangelical doctrine and practice in various ways, how I failed repeatedly to find a denomination or group where I felt like I could be fully myself and still toe the company line. Nevertheless, it was my world and I could function within it. It became an integral part of my life and my family’s identity, and one does not simply cast that aside. Changing worlds is a fearsome and difficult matter, especially around age fifty.

It wasn’t too long after that change was imposed upon me that I discovered Michael Spencer and his “dispatches from the post-evangelical wilderness.” It has been a true lifesaver for me over this past decade, and I still find sustenance in the daily community here.

Having said that, there are some significant differences between Michael and me. One of the most important is that, even though he described himself as a post-evangelical personally, he remained much more involved in the evangelical world than I have. His teaching vocation in a Baptist school kept him interacting daily within an intentional community of evangelical Christians. On the other hand, I have not had that. My change in vocation took me outside the evangelical world, though not out of the ministry. The evangelical “bubble” seems far away now, a place I visit occasionally. When I do, I never stay long.

However, you can take the boy out of evangelicalism, but it’s nigh impossible to take the evangelical out of the boy.

After many trials and errors I found my way into a deep appreciation for many aspects of Lutheran theology and even thought about becoming a Lutheran pastor. But I have to confess, I’m not really a “Lutheran,” though the tradition shapes some of my practice. It has never become my world.

The world that now shapes me most, spiritually and religiously, is my vocation as a chaplain — a thoroughly ecumenical, missional, community-based ministry. That’s where I feel most comfortable: with my neighbors. That’s my world now, and as I said in an earlier post, I guess I’m not much of a “churchman” anymore. I view myself as a composite of all my experiences and journeys, and the chaplaincy allows me to bring them all to bear as I seek to serve others. I don’t have to fit an ecclesiastical mold to do my job. It’s better, in fact, if I don’t.

So, I’m experiencing a level of freedom now that I’ve never known before. As a chaplain, I can draw upon all the influences that have formed and shaped me, including my evangelical past. In this series, I want to talk about that and let you know what I think, as a post-evangelical, about things that are important to evangelicals — such things as the Bible, the Church, the gospel, and conversion, etc. — so that you can see both my appreciation for evangelicalism and my quarrels with it.

Just in case you were wondering.

Comments

  1. David Cornwell says:

    Very thankful to have found Internet Monk, the continuing legacy of Michael Spencer. Also very glad, and thankful to God for the way Chaplain Mike is going forward with this. I do not always participate actively in the discussions, but almost always look in to see what’s happening.

    I’ve never considered myself frozen in place as far as theology and doctrine are concerned, and this has been a place to keep me “thawed out.” Open discussion and active listening can teach us much. May God teach us to actually hear the other person.

    Keep up your good work Chaplain Mike.

  2. Marc B. says:

    Ditto on everything David Cornwell said. Chaplain Mike, you and this website are a blessing.

  3. doubting thomas says:

    I’ve been on a similar journey. During the Jesus movement I moved from my strict Calvinist roots to become even more Evangelical. From there I went into a charismatic cult, on to a pentacostal church, and back to being mainline. I visited a mega church along the way. Sometimes I wondered if a person is happier to stay where they were born, but this seems to be a one way trip.

    The thing I disliked most about my church of origin is the smug feeling that we were better than everybody else. The Christian school our denomination ran not only protected kids from wrong ideas, it kept them safe from being with the wrong kind of people. Even though I hate that idea, a form of it lingers in me. I want to flock together with people who see things my way. I secretly think I am better than those who are different.

    I enjoy IM it is good to know I’m not the only wanderer out in the wilderness..

    • Christiane says:

      ” the smug feeling that we were better than everybody else ”

      I wonder if Phariseeism isn’t just another face of the mother of all sins: pride ???
      Maybe what is specific to Phariseeism is that those trapped in it ‘thank God’ they are ‘not like that other sinner’ (?)

      there is a psychological mechanism whereby many people can live ‘with themselves’ more smugly by projecting the distasteful parts of their own selves onto those they criticize . . . in other words, those who offend us the most are more like that part of us that we absolutely cannot accept, so we fire away, stones and all, until one day Someone comes along and calls us over and writes something in the sand and we read it, and we put our stones down and walk away sadly . . . and on that day, we are awakened from the delusion that has allowed us to ‘point the finger’ with contempt at ‘the others’ . . . a sad awakening, but cleansing and freeing . . . a painful blessing, yes

      May we all be blessed in the ways that are most needed, even if the process is through ‘the fire that does not consume’ so we may be enabled to put down and walk ‘away’ from those stones we have so loved to throw

      • This is an excellent observation, Christiane. I find writings in the sand pretty frequently now. They save me from making even more of a jackass of myself than usual.

      • doubting thomas says:

        Well said, Christians. You’re right on the money.

  4. PastorM says:

    I would like to copy and use this for a course that I am leading at Chautauqua Institute next month: Moving Beyond Fundamentalism. I want to emphasize the walk/journey nature of being and disciple and growing spiritually. Your experience has similarities to mine and illustrates what I feel that it means to follow Jesus.

    I like and agree with Doubting Thomas on wanting to be with people who see things as I do. That can lead to smugness and contempt, neither of which is healthy.

  5. Lisa Dye says:

    Thank you for writing this, Mike. It’s comforting to not feel alone in this. I don’t “fit” anywhere either. I envy people who have that sense of belonging to a particular church or denomination. I long for it, but at the same time I never want to put out that same vibe of exclusivity that I feel coming from many of them. So maybe being people without a religious country is good in a way. I haven’t figured it out.

    • Its funny, Lisa – I would say I very much belong in EOrthodoxy, but I don’t think that I “fit”. When I visit other parishes or go to large events I feel a sense of home, but my brothers and sisters who have never met me (or even first time visitors to my own parish) often struggle to see how I fit into the picture and I have to deal with the process of that.

  6. A hearty “Amen!” to all of the above and, I might add, with a little rework, a perfect forward to your coming book.

  7. Smugness and contempt, that is what too often I find here in relation to the Evangelical world, and it is not coming from the Spirit of God. It is why I object to the continued use of the phrase “post-evangelical”. I know that it is meant to be understood much the same as “post-graduate”, and that is the sense of today’s message, but there is still an implied open season on all things Evangelical contained in that phrase “post-evangelical”.

    My active involvement with Evangelical churches ended more than thirty years ago, but I never have stopped learning from that wing of the church, both positive and negative. I never did consider myself an Evangelical any more than I consider myself a Lutheran now, even with involvement in that branch off and on now those thirty years. That may be part of the problem, perhaps the main part, taking our identity from some particular branch rather than Jesus, the Tree of Life Himself.

    In this little village I have moved just outside of there are three churches, and the strongest by far is the Evangelical Covenant. Truly good people with a sincere pastor devoted to serving Jesus, the only church with kids, not offensive to me in any way, just not my cup of tea any longer. Glad to sit down with any of them, but wouldn’t expect to learn the lessons I can learn here. Do I want to shove “post-evangelical” with all its baggage in their face as if they were lower class sub-Christians who would be better off if they thought like me?

    There is none of that in CM’s explanation above. It is reasoned and irenic, presents a pattern of growth that probably the majority of us here have experienced one way or another. My point is that if the phrase “post-evangelical” needs a page of explanation to avoid offense, and perhaps a series of pages, then perhaps it is time to avoid using that phrase to identify our journey. I’m “post” a lot of things, but it seems better to me to label ourselves by where we are heading rather than where we’ve been. I look forward to the series. Perhaps by the end we can come up with a better label.

    • Charles, maybe if I knew where I was heading, I could come up with a phrase. I use the term “post-evangelical” in the sense of “former” evangelical. I can’t quite let it go because of what I say in today’s post: it’s still so much a part of me that I have to use some designation to express my ongoing tie with the evangelical world. One of the reasons I drafted a new “purpose statement” for iMonk was to add some of the positive terms that I hope will characterize my ongoing journey and our time together here: ecumenical, pastoral, contemplative, Jesus-shaped.

      I think it’s important to note also that when Michael first used the word, he wasn’t talking about his personal journey per se, but trying to describe that the “age of American evangelicalism” had begun to pass.

      • CM, I understand where you are coming from and I share much of it with you. I think probably most Evangelicals today, certainly in the local church I spoke of, would understand your message and perhaps find points of agreement. They would not find that in the label “post-evangelical”, and even all the old folks in the local ELCA would raise eyebrows at the term. Lutherans invented that word “evangelical”, back when it meant death to all Catholics, not to mention Genevans and Anabaptists, it’s still in the name. Talk about baggage.

        There are people here who do not see themselves as followers of Jesus, they see themselves as victims of Evangelicalism. That their quarrel really is with fundamentalism or biblicism or rigid control or flawed interpretation of Scripture or wacky beliefs or disturbed individuals is beside the point. Those are all in the Evangelical basket, kill them all and let God sort it out. The word “post-evangelical” gives them license to bash. “Former Evangelical” doesn’t carry that baggage, the same kind of baggage and response that “post-modern” evokes in many. Words are not lifeless.

        In any case, “Jesus-shaped spirituality” carries none of the above and I consider it the main legacy of Michael Spenser, and that point is still what I am seeing in the banner above, which I guess is the old one. I can’t think of a less offensive positive public statement of purpose and belief. I would say if you are operating under that flag, you do indeed know where you are going and I want to make the journey with you.

        • StuartB says:

          There are people here who do not see themselves as followers of Jesus, they see themselves as victims of Evangelicalism.

          A fair point; the pushback would be if they were ever followers of Christ, and even more so, is that even possible in Evangelicalism, because you’d think lifetimes spent in Evangelicalism they’d at least be led to who Jesus is…and not have to find Him on their way out of the door.

        • StuartB says:

          That their quarrel really is with fundamentalism or biblicism or rigid control or flawed interpretation of Scripture or wacky beliefs or disturbed individuals is beside the point. Those are all in the Evangelical basket, kill them all and let God sort it out.

          You just listed the pillars of the Evangelical faith.

          • “You just listed the pillars of the Evangelical faith.”

            Stuart, that simply is not true and you are far more intelligent than to believe it. Of those listed, the only one that might be fairly applied to Evangelicalism is biblicism, and that’s not really fair because it is the distinctive of Protestantism in general, or at least was. Flawed interpretation is something we all are likely to have to answer for. What we call Evangelicalism today got its start as a reaction AGAINST fundamentalism and many of the other traits you object to. Christianity Today could still be considered the flagship magazine of the movement and they would agree with you in much you criticize within the church. There’s a baby in that bathwater you’re tossing out.

            I spent five years in a Foursquare Church that showed a great deal of love and devotion, and nothing of the horrors you constantly harp on. It was a great foundation in its positive aspects, and I still carry things I learned there in my every day toolbox forty years later. I have no doubt that you had some awful experiences in a particular church, but perhaps some of that could be attributed to checking your brain in at the door, both left and right sides, not that many people use both sides of their brain in these matters.

            I also went to a country Evangelical church where the pastor started studying and practicing Dominion Theology, which is not Evangelicalism. People left in droves either on their own or driven out for objecting. I saw it go from a thriving three-service community to a struggling gaggle of confusion. Those people leaving weren’t victims, they were using their God-given brain and discernment. This church was an exception, not the rule, as was yours. My Evangelical friends and neighbors would be horrified and angry at your characterization of them. Judging people before knowing them is called prejudice. That’s what the word breaks down to mean. It’s not a Christ-like trait.

          • StuartB says:

            Oh it was very tongue in cheek, Charles, and I agree mostly. Those things do tend to crop up in various intensities everywhere you go, however.

            Good to hear about that Foursquare church. I’ve known a few Foursquare people who were excellent believers and cool people, much to commend, even if I don’t know if I could attend a Foursquare church myself because of their historical leanings and current practices.

            I’m going to disagree with you, however, about the Dominion Theology. It IS a large part of evangelicalism, and growing. Redefining evangelicalism to throw out those who believe in that theology would fit the No True Scotsman fallacy, and call into question mine and other’s experiences in evangelicalism sitting under the teachings of those who preach Dominionism. Does every congregation believe it? No, but many do.

            And that’s one of the challenges here. We all define things by our local congregation. OP, to use him as an example, has mentioned many times in Southern California Evangelical churches he’s never encountered these things. Yet I have throughout the Midwest in many churches, and others on here have as well. Just because we’ve had great experiences at one place that had the same name as places that aren’t so great doesn’t really prove anything; exceptions to the rule, more than often.

            For me, I’m sure there are some good churches filled with good people out there who have the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist moniker attached to their name. But that doesn’t invalidate the overwhelming amount of stories and testimonies from regulars at Stuff Fundies Like. And when you look beneath the surface at these good churches, you see the same theologies, but for the grace of God don’t go as extreme as other places.

            The discussion here is often about those underlining theologies. Is it bashing, open season on Evangelicalism? Only on what they believe and why they believe it at times. Rarely on the individuals, whom we know and love, except in the case of clear leadership issues like with Mars Hill and maybe Village Church now.

          • Stuart, a reasonable reply there from you. I have no objection to those objecting to specific beliefs and practices within the church. Many of them need light shined on them to expose their flaws and unchristian basis, the people promoting them as well. But extending that into blanket condemnation of all remotely associated people is one of the traits of fundamentalism itself, wherever it shows its head.

            God seems willing to meet us wherever we happen to be, and we aren’t all working on the same lessons. I’ve watched you making all kinds of progress here in these pages and I rejoice. Leaving the Evangelical fold has certainly been a wise move on your part as it was on mine, and many others here including our good Chaplain. To think that we are called to lead those remaining with their own lessons and comfort zones out of captivity like Moses and the children of Israel might be a bit of a stretch. I’m glad you hang out here.

    • I describe myself often as “meta-baptist.” Although I don’t find “post-evangelical” grating or condescending, perhaps “Meta-evangelical” might capture the spirit you are looking for.

      For those who don’t know much Greek — “meta” is a prefix that has the sense of “after” or “beyond.” In Greek it is actually a fair equivalent of “post.” But in English it has that more open sense of “having moved past or beyond.”

      There has also arisen a somewhat interesting use where “meta” is used to indicate a recursive self reference to a subject. So for instance a “metanarrative” would be the story about the story. Or Metadata would be more data about the data. If meta-evangelical were used this way…well it begins to make one think that we would be talking about some kind of ‘super” evangelicalism. That would be something to contemplate, eh?

      • “Meta”. I like this. “Meta-evangelical”. Sounds like a big-picture version. This could work.

        • Christiane says:

          ‘meta’ . . . I like that, too . . . likely not much ‘little god in a box’ thinking present at the ‘meta’ level

          • Henry Darger says:

            How about just plain “ex-evangelical”? “Ex” means that you used to be one, but then you quit, and now you’re not. “Post-” means you’ve grown beyond all that.

    • Stephen says:

      Charles I have to say I find your posts somewhat exasperating.

      You are willing to accuse folks of “smugness and contempt” while simultaneously disparaging the unfortunate experiences of others as “beside the point” and feeling qualified to inform us all about whether or not the “Spirit of God” is present and who or who is not a “follower of Jesus”.

      I’m glad you have navigated these turbulent waters to arrive at your current station but many have not been so successful. There are people who have been genuinely hurt by their experiences in the church. Yet here they remain and endure the struggle because they love the church and can’t find it in themselves to simply chuck it all like so many others have (i.e., the “Nones”). If you can’t find in yourself any compassion perhaps you could truly consider the question of why so many folks are leaving the church in droves. Perhaps they are fleeing attitudes like yours?

      • StuartB says:

        Yet here they remain and endure the struggle because they love the church and can’t find it in themselves to simply chuck it all like so many others have (i.e., the “Nones”).

        Is participating in iMonk and other online christian forums what’s truly keeping me from fully becoming a None? Because I still care, even though I haven’t been to a church since November and honestly have no plans to do so ever again, don’t read my Bible much at all anymore even though I’m studying the Bible more than ever, have begun to actually live my life like Christ did more than I ever did as a regular, and pray more regularly even if unstructured than ever before?

    • Rick Ro. says:

      ->”I’m “post” a lot of things, but it seems better to me to label ourselves by where we are heading rather than where we’ve been.”

      Interesting point. There does seem to be some benefit to seeing where we’ve come from, but to dwell in the past is unhealthy. I have a friend who’s going to AA meetings and Celebrate Recovery, and he said one of the things he dislikes about some of the meetings is when he’s asked to share some of his past. He told me, “There are some things I’d just soon forget, yet I’m constantly being asked to share them. I’d just as soon look ahead to what I am and what I’m becoming.”

    • Well, Charles, if you feel that strongly maybe you should start your own blog. Until then, please stop trying to define how the rest of us identify and converse. I would appreciate it.

    • I think Charles has a point. There are occasional ‘open seasons’ here on all things evangelical. Not always as graceful or nuanced as they could be.

      That can be understandable in the context of the suffering (and nonsense) that people have had to endure, but at the same time, I don’t think that’s something we want to cultivate here – it’s a phase, not a desirable end state. I would personally hope to see ‘injured’ Christians here maybe lashing out a bit in their initial pain, but then being able to move beyond that to something more ‘forward looking’ and graceful.

      In this sense, the ‘ex-evangelical’ moniker is insufficient, because it has echoes of total rejection, whereas what CM is expressing is that though there is a lot about the evangelical world he no longer adheres to, he hasn’t rejected everything.

      It reminds me of Groves prescient entreaty to Darby: “You will be known more by what you are against than what you are for, and this will ultimately mean that you will be against all but yourselves”.

      Personally, I really like the Great Hall analogy, and look forward to its meaning being worked out here together and percolating down into the ethos of this ‘community’ and our discussions together.

      (I just wish that we could have better commenting technology….)

  8. dumb ox says:

    I’ve noticed this and commented on it before, particularly concerning some of the conversions to Roman Catholicism by former high-profile evangelicals. They have the trappings of their new discovery, but they still sound and act evangelical – not in a good way.

    • It’s been noted that this is also a feature of some of the ex/post evangelicals who veered decidedly left after leaving their fundamentalist-leaning churches: People spend a decade complaining that conservatives assume Jesus prefers their favorite political and social issues… Then “Jesus Juke” anyone who questions their newfound progressive statements.

      Fundamentalism takes numerous forms.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        “You can take the boy out of the Baptists, but you can’t take the Baptist completely out of the boy.”

      • That’s exactly right. I’m very liberal myself, politically, but there is a blog I won’t name which I read regularly because I agree with the views most of the time and yet the progressive Christian blogger really seems full of anger and self-righteousness aimed at evangelicals,which also reminds me of me. It’s not healthy.

        On a really minor point, did Amazon kill the Christian bookstores like it is killing most of the others?

        • Yeah, I hear you – and I probably know what blog you are referencing. I don’t think Amazon has “killed” the Christian bookstore, so much as rendered it irrelevant. Any “specialty” book store automatically attracts targeted buyers, and targeted buyers would rather “1-click purchase” their needs. And Amazon makes it even better by recommending related purchases. Broad-spectrum book stores (B&N comes to mind) are so much fun; I go there all the time, even though it is 20 minutes away. But they have to compete with the library (B&N has coffee, though, and as such takes the ribbon in my book. OTOH, the library has a lot of really cool older books that you won’t find on the shelves of B&N etc.). But when it is time to actually buy books, I almost always shop Amazon because I know what I want and get rewards points. To be fair, I spend almost $250 at B&N this past weekend, but that was a lot of eclectic stuff and gifts.

        • Suzanne says:

          What killed the Christian bookstore for me was the lack of depth in so many of the books they stocked, but mostly it was all the cheaply made, plastic and resin Made in China Jesus stuff they sold. Does anybody really need Jesus pencils, erasers, & candles with Bible verses on them or “Christian” serving trays or key holders. No, I’d say that cheapens the whole concept of the divine and makes it simply a consumerist product.
          The other thing that killed Christian publishing for me was when I had a job with a book distributor that included a large Christian book division.Unfortunately, when the mandatory Sunday morning overtime started, and I mentioned that I objected because Sunday morning was my worship time, their response was “Too darn bad. Show up for work.”

        • What killed the Christian bookstore for me – at least my local one, part of the big chain – was the excruciatingly slow check out process. Once you finally reached the cashier, being offered all manner of doo-dads and add-ons. It was not possible to just walk up to the counter and have a straight forward transaction.

      • Christiane says:

        the ‘Catho-gelical’ fundamentalist GOP’ers are the worst . . . they are not happy with Pope Francis at all . . . they are having none of the ‘care-for-the creation’ or ‘social justice’ teachings that are profoundly Catholic, and they sound a lot more like fundamentalist-evangelicals than not . . . my guess is that they will soon depart the Church for more Republican-fundamentalist pastures where they will graze among their own political kind more comfortably

  9. I find it interesting to ponder how many people desperately seek a home, and yet never feel as though they can stake any claim to any home. Nothing satisfies. Nothing fits. Nothing feels right.

    When you can never find anything to wear, is the problem with the clothing you are trying on, with your expectations of style, or with the shape of your own body?

    • I’m not sure that analogy works the way you want, since (1) it is almost certainly the clothes, especially for females, since shapes are designed for the middle two or four standard devs, and (2) get a tailor.

      I do not fit in any dress shirts. I have a 17″ neck and 38″ sleeve, with a 48″ chest and 32″ waist. If I find a shirt that fits my neck and chest, there is enough cloth around the middle to power Jabba’s sail barge (and the sleeves are probably still too short). All my dress shirts are tailored.

  10. Wow Mike, you were almost like the Forrest Gump of evangelicism – – right in the middle of it all!
    I found Michael Spencer’s website in 2005 when I was looking for an alternate voice to the “Youth Specialties” model of youth ministry, which was another major development in evangelical subculture.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Forrest Gump or C-3PO in the boarding scene at the start of the original Star Wars? Shuffling around with all the tracers narrowly missing him?

  11. Stephen says:

    What first attracted me to this site was the interesting divergence of opinions represented here. Everything from virtual (if not actual) atheism to rock-ribbed fundamentalism and all points in between. Very unusual since most sites seem to cater to singular points of view and attempt to build a bubble in which to hide and protect themselves from having to think through their positions. (It’s more than little sad that the greatest form of communication ever devised by humans so frequently winds up being used to discourage and undermine communication.) Some folks have complained recently about the tone here but argument is a sign of vigor and not to be despised.

    I was raised in a small rural Georgia community dominated by fundamentalist Southern Baptists in the 70s alongside the spread of Hal Lindsey style premillennial dispensationalism and the rise of the political religious right. I attended Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY at the time the conservatives were taking over the SBC and performing a purge of undesirables. All this has shaped me of course.

    I don’t know what I am. I can’t go back but I’m not sure what moving forward even means. I’m way way past the “millennial” demographic but I understand the prevailing mood. So much of what passes for religious practice in this culture suddenly seems simply irrelevant. “May you live in interesting times” goes the subtle Chinese curse. This seems to be our fate. I understand the fear of many but what an exciting time to be alive!

    • grberry says:

      ” Some folks have complained recently about the tone here but argument is a sign of vigor and not to be despised.” I’d noticed that note in our conversation lately.

      I wasn’t around when Michael Spencer was leading. Reading yesterday’s post, I decided to go back and look at the 2009 original – which wasn’t significantly cut in exceprting. But what I really noticed was the comments in the original post’s thread. There was a poor tone issue back in that thread also. I don’t think now is any worse, mostly it is just different people.

  12. StuartB says:

    post-evangelical

    I’ve commented before about when I first stumbled upon iMonk, what kept me here, what keeps me here, etc. Yes, at times it’s fun to “anger read” the latest stupid silliness of the evangelical world; that’s why at least once a month I go through wartburg watch and christian nightmares and similar sites, because they remind me I’m not that stupid or crazy for walking away from most of evangelicalism (and let’s be honest, most of Christianity).

    I think that label above is helpful and necessary. It offers hope that there is a life after evangelicalism, after christianity, after faith. That there are others out there who don’t fit in as well, who know too much, who worship differently, who have, yes, been the victim of modern churchianity. It’s discouraging to ever see anyone mock the victim; Jesus sides with the victim, each time. Their pain is real, their need is real, and he loves them and never tells them to just “get over it”. Jesus comforts and heals.

    “Post-evangelical” is an apt descriptor. It’s when you were something but no longer are. It describes a part of who you were and no longer are. I posted that Slactivist article this past weekend that had an excellent quote:

    “Who we were has a lingering influence on who we are. It continues to shape us, even after we choose or decide to become something else.”

    And for many of us, we’ve decided or have had decided for us that we will no longer be evangelicals. Or maybe even christians.

    BUT…that leads into the next descriptor:

    Jesus-shaped spirituality

    There is hope. After church, after evangelicalism, you can still be guided and shaped by the one thing that really matters: Jesus. You can be a spiritual person. You can find faith, you can find like minded people, you can find community and healing and hope. Free of the rules. Free of the silliness. Free of a devastating damaging lifestyle that is dragging America down into the gutter and bringing God’s true wrath upon America. A failed experiment, all around. And even here, you see how honestly assessing and going through the emotions of anger and regret are necessary for growth and healing.

    What is Jesus-shaped spirituality? For many, it’s the faith that was never found in their churches, so it truly is post-evangelical. And may we all have it, in whatever measure, wherever we are or will be.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      Well said, Stuart. I think Jesus’ own tension with the religion of his day, and with the Pharisees who were in charge of Law and Truth, helps me see the need to move beyond church-shaped spirituality and become “post-religious” if you will. For some of us, that is post-Evangelical. For others, it might be post-Catholic, post-Orthodox, post-etc. etc.

      Looking at the gospel accounts and bringing it forward to present day, we should all be ready to leave behind church-shaped spirituality if it takes us away from Jesus-shaped spirituality. The Pharisees problem was that they weren’t willing to become “post-Jewish.” It’s tough to leave behind what you’ve known all your life as Truth.

      • StuartB says:

        The Pharisees problem was that they weren’t willing to become “post-Jewish.” It’s tough to leave behind what you’ve known all your life as Truth.

        Wow…insightful and true. Thank you, Rick.

        • Henry Darger says:

          Many European countries today are called “post-Christian,” in the sense that Christianity has been historically and culturally important there, but Christianity no longer defines these societies, and actual participation or belief is very low. For individuals, though, I think “ex-Christian” (or “ex-evangelical,” etc.) would be closer to the truth, and also avoid sounding like comeuppance.

    • StuartB says:

      Lord, how I wish I believed my own words. I can tell all about your wondrous things, the hope, the glory, all day long…and I don’t believe any of it. I believe it to be true…for others. Because I don’t feel it for myself. That I am worthy. That I deserve it. That I will ever be good enough to merit it. If you love me, you’ll keep my commandments, and I have no intention of ever doing that because all your “commandments” I’ve been taught are sick, perverted, twisted legalistic rules that hurt myself and hurt others. I hate your commandments. I hate you. My mind knows better, my heart and soul doesn’t. So do you still love me?

      A friend, now not, was once blessed with a brand new car. He said I had said something to a benefactor, who gave it to him later on; I have no memory of this. My friend said it was such a blessing. I responded that he deserved it, because he was the type of person God would bless with something like this, and I was not. Don’t say that…but I did, I believe it, it was me admitting truth outloud, and I still believe it.

      I see your love and blessing in others. It keeps me going. It has literally changed my life. The footprints and fingerprints of Jesus are so clear in the lives of others, but always nothing more than a whisper to me. Is the blessing that I know them? That you haven’t killed me yet, as so many traveling evangelists screamed at me as a child?

      Is your love strong enough to overcome the hatred of myself? Why, when I distance myself from you and others who claim to follow you, that my life improves? That I become more blessed? That I realize I’ve been depressed for so long, taken advantage of, hurt, manipulated, had my very manhood and adulthood taken away from me…years lost. Why am I always so developmentally stunted. Why am I more lonely than ever yet know I can’t be around others. Why are the people I want closest to me so far away…or pushing me away. Why is the single most ironic thing in my life simulatenously the most helpful and the most depressing.

      Why does hope hurt that all this progress I’m making mean I’m eternally damned? That I’ll be found out, and all my sins and life and friendships and relationships destroyed? Why am I scared of freedom? Why am I scared to be happy, to be prosperous, to be healthy, to be wealthy, to work hard and enjoy this life?

      I don’t have any answers. Yet I’m still here. I’ve given up so much. Why am I still holding on.

      How long, oh Lord, must I sing this song? How long…

      • Stuart,
        I pray you will come to know the Christ who loves you even while you are unworthy. None of us are worthy. Maybe some of us give a “worthy” appearance (the achilles’ heel of evangelicalism is when we embrace appearances over reality), but God doesn’t owe any of us anything.

        And yet, God loves us and sent his Son, not to correct us and give us 10 points for pleasing God (ask Moses how that worked out), but to love us. Focus on his love, not on your unworthiness. God loved us in spite of that, but our adversary the accuser gets in our heads and brings up all that old crap. Focus on his love, and that there is no greater love than for a man to lay down his life for his friends. He died for us, to make us his friends. Read the words to “And Can It Be”. Wesley got that right.

      • Stuart,

        I am so sorry that you have been scarred and are in deep pain. I have no great words of wisdom, at least no words that you haven’t already heard; just know that you are not alone. There are many here who suffer with you; the author of Psalm 88 also cried out as you and, most importantly, Jesus, too, as he hung on the cross.

  13. Hi, Imcharismatrchim 37 and was raised in a moderate Batist church…. The I went to Some charismatic and pentecostal churches….and after that I went to some evangelical megachurches, but I wanted something more deep, and so a few years ago I decided to check out catholicisim, and Ive been catholic now for a few years….butt now, Im starting to go to a Disciples of Christ church…btw I live in San Diego..,and being bisexual, I now feel that the institutional catholic. Church is unhealthy and repressed sexually..but I still like mass and the liturgy though.,

    • Rick Ro. says:

      Wow. What an interesting journey you’ve had in life! Thanks for sharing a glimpse of it. Peace, Jason!

  14. Sounds like a good series Chaplain Mike.

    I think that the term “post-evangelical” is a pretty apt for this time and place. No need to change it – that’ll happen naturally. Ultimately though, I don’t think that “post-evangelical” is a label with long-term staying power as the “post-” seems to inherently define itself over and against something else. And, particularly with the way that “post-evangelical” is being described in the new statement at IM (and elsewhere), it’s way more than just “after-evangelicalism”. It can potentially help describe many people who weren’t evangelical to begin – not only because of what it critiques, but because of what it affirms. I mean, isn’t everybody “post-something”?

    I often see the (IMO errant) assumption by some that being “post-evangelical” is the result of “drift”. Having been on my own journey, I can say without hesitation that it ISN’T the result of a mindless and directionless “drift”. No doubt this journey has resulted in uncertainty and doubt, a sense that the faith handed to me doesn’t make sense of reality, loneliness, wandering, and a feeling of not really fitting in. But for me at least, this process has been intentional – a sifting of theology, ideas, church culture, etc. that’s resulted in a conscious rejection of certain parts of evangelical culture that I DO consider to be general “pillars” (yes, there are exceptions). The “post-evangelical“ in me is, admittedly, characterized by a lot of deconstruction and then by a conscious rejection of certain things that I (unapologetically) believe to be wrong, ultimately untenable and at times hurtful and dangerous. There wouldn’t be a “post-“ anything if this wasn’t the case. That I have many friends who consider themselves to be “evangelical” doesn’t change any of this.

    But a worldview can’t be defined solely by critique or merely by being chronologically after something else – and certainly my own deconstruction has resulted in more than that. Something is being built up from the rubble, it’s just hard to define what that is. I think that the 5 bullet points from last week’s post are excellent and demonstrate a maturing “post-evangelicalism” that can and should provide critique but isn’t defined by it. Should be interesting.

    • I’m just going to tag onto your comment as you’ve outlined the journey I’ve been on very well and you’re right–it should be interesting. I’m looking forward to this series and pray for some clarity as I seek to follow this person Jesus.

  15. My community is in many ways literally post-evangelical, since it formerly felt like the epicenter of the movement.
    Growing up in the 70s and 80s, within a 5 mile radius of my So Cal town was World Vision Hheadquarters, Focus on the Family, Fuller Seminary, Thru the Bible Radio, and the US Center for World Mission, and the Jesus People movement was stirring up in the canyons.

    Within 30 miles: Church on the Way (Hayford), Grace Community (MacArthur), Mission Aviation Fellowship, Calvary Chapel (Smith, Maranatha! Music), EV Free Fullerton (Swindoll), Crystal Cathedral (Schuller) , Vineyard Anaheim (Wimber, Vineyard Music) and Melodyland; Azusa Pacific and Biola, Hollywood Pres and Bel-Air Pres.
    Within 60 miles we had places like Forest Home, where Billy Graham got his call to ministry; Campus Crusade’s HQ at a faded luxury hotel in Highland (Crusade started at UCLA). Dr. Gene Scott was in downton LA, and TBN was building their OC HQ.

    CCM got started here: it was not uncommon to find Larry Norman or Randy Stonehill or Phil Keaggy or 2nd Chapter of Acts playing some church in LA or the OC on a given Saturday night. Mama Jo’s in North Hollywood was the studio of choice for Kieth Green and others. Youth Specialties was just down the road outside of San Diego. Gospel Light was in Ventura.

    I could go on and on. My own church was populated by professional evangelicals, ministered to by the rising stars of the movement. But sometime in the late 80s, the high cost of living in So Cal took its toll on the not-for-profits, and many relocated to Colorado or Florida. CCM moved to Nashville. Many of the old guard evangelical preachers passed away or aged into retirement; some of their churches still exist, albeit with a lower profile.

    The evangelical community dropped dramatically in local prominence even while it still commanded some national attention, and it gave us a bit of an preview of what other evangelicals must be feeling now.

    • Henry Darger says:

      “Post-evangelical” begs the question of whether evangelicalism is worth incorporating into the next phase, or whether lingering evangelical instincts are a hindrance (as some people said above with reference to converts to Catholicism), and the whole thing isn’t a big mistake.

    • Also within 30 miles: Chick Publications, and all those tracts!

    • And Headless Unicorn Guy? He’s not far from you.

  16. Looking forward to this new series, but will there be any room for those who have left faith behind? A kind of post-christian post-evangelical?

    • I won’t personally be representing that view, but you are more than welcome to comment.

    • Henry Darger says:

      This site covers three kinds of Christian: Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and American Evangelical.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      Assuming you mean agnostic or atheist, I’d say your voice would be welcome in the Great Hall. That said, we’ve had a couple of lingering atheist types (who might just be the same person) who tend to just come lob grenades into the conversations for dramatic effect rather than trying to enter into a civil discussion. To me, that is NOT welcome…LOL.

  17. Brianthedad says:

    I am eagerly looking forward to this series because right now, I just don’t know where I fit in, evangelical or otherwise. I was the fifth-generation born-and-baptized into an old-school LCMS church in the Schnalle of the Lutheran Gurtle. A move to south Alabama in the mid-70s made me the only Lutheran kid in the county until my brother was born a few years later. We were surrounded by evangelical culture and didn’t attend church much since the local churches were of the Evangelical, fundamentalist, and charismatic varieties and foreign to us. In my high school years I attended a fundamentalist Church of Christ at the behest of a girl I was dating. Even did the altar call and went into the baptistery eventually. I developed an extensive knowledge of the Bible and a great sense of despair due to a focus on law and passages such as Heb 6:4-6. Fast forward thru the ‘nones’ period to post-college and my somehow managing to marry a beautiful, smart young woman, who coincidentally turned out to be Lutheran.

    We have spent 20+ years in our Lutheran congregation, where all my children have been baptized. We’ve been very active, serving as elder, property chairman, VBS coordinator, Sunday school teachers for adults, teens and children. But the last five years have progressively become more stifling, and there’s a sense of drift, a dry spot. We no longer seem to fit in and community is missing. It seems only inertia is keeping us there. I’m not sure if we’ve changed, or the church, or both. There are places we could go, where we might find community with other Christians, but I wonder how that may affect my kids.

    So short story long, I’m interested in reading what the good Chaplain has to say, and seeing how he navigated the wilderness, because Internet Monk has helped me understand that all these rooms adjoining the Great Hall share walls, share a structure, a roof. They share the one true Foundation. Maybe it’s time I stop listening thru the wall with a glass to my ear, and go look around.

  18. Robert F says:

    Many of us, post-evangelical or not, are in process. Religious institutions require a level of stability that is unable to keep pace with the frequent shifting of the the characteristically modern self; as long as we continue to experience ourselves as unexpectedly changing, religious institutions can have only provisional and temporary place in our lives.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      I’m with ya, Robert. It’s clear to me, given my own experience and testimony, that this “Follow Jesus” thing is a process. My walk has shifted so much the past five years…well, it’s been fun and amazing.

      • I’m beginning to understand now why the first believers called it “The Way”–it is a journey and an adventure and, like you, I’m a long way from where I was five years ago.

    • Robert F says:

      Personal choice plays a central role in the process of the modern self, and, when it comes to religious identification, no choice is irrevocable or permanent. Even those of us who were baptized as infants, and never “re-baptized”, are always aware that our continued participation in sacramental forms of Christianity are a choice that we intentionally maintain in the present, and may choose to discontinue in the future; that is, our experience of ourselves as choosing our religious identity and affiliation means that in terms of our religious psychology we are working out of the same matrix as evangelicals. This is true even for modern Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox.

      Religious identity and belonging is no longer a matter of fate a growing number of people in our world; instead, it is subject to personal choice. For as long as this continues to be true, and for as long as Christianity continues to be an important cultural influence here and elsewhere, evangelicalism will be its most modern form. I’m not saying I like it, I’m not saying evangelicalism gets everything right, I’m not saying I will ever join an evangelical church, but I am saying this is the situation we are in, and this is how our religious contours as Christians have been shaped by social influences beyond our control.

  19. Henry Darger says:

    comment deleted

  20. No one is likely to see this since I am days behind due to travel. But I will throw in my 2 cents anyway. I have been trhough many of the phases Chaplain Mike listed, though certainly not seminary and all that. After my own sort of rude awakening a decade or so ago, I was looking primarly for things to read that might indicate a little of what God is up to now. Sometimes, it is true, that some disparage some of the movements the church has encountered in my lifetime, but I prefer to think of them as movements of the Spirit, who is unpredictable and often surprising. Call it whatever you want, but I see God moving in people’s interest in more silence and contemplation. As an introvert, that was a lovely thing to find. As we learn to listen to God, often we do more listening to others, which often leads to unexpected healing of emotions and relationships.