October 24, 2017

Is Evangelical Christianity the Wizard behind the Curtain of America’s Moral and Spiritual Decline?

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Note from CM: We welcome a new contributor today. His name is Chris Kratzer, and he blogs at Grace//Jesus//Life, a designation that certainly wins our approval around here. In his bio, Chris says:

I am a Jesus guy, husband, father, pastor, author, and speaker. Captured by the pure Gospel of God’s  Grace, my focus is communicating the message of Grace and the beauty of Jesus particularly as it relates to  life, culture, and church.

The post I requested permission to use certainly contains a strong message of grace, something which Chris finds lacking in his experience of evangelical Christianity. Perhaps your experience has been different, or maybe you will find real resonance with his words. Either way, please welcome Chris and let’s respond to what he says with thoughtful, gracious discussion. After all, that’s really the only way to authentically discuss grace, isn’t it?

• • •

Is Evangelical Christianity the Wizard behind the Curtain of America’s Moral and Spiritual Decline?
by Chris Kratzer

I am not a fan of being on the communicating end of negative things. Most people don’t enjoy that role, I certainly don’t. As one who has to field a lot of critical knocks on my own door, I know what it feels like to be misunderstood, misrepresented, and criticized irresponsibly. So, as I write about things that are not so positive regarding Evangelical Christianity, I do so with much carefulness to avoid becoming a part of the problem, as I truly desire to be a part of the solution.

As I address issues related to Evangelical Christianity in this writing, I am well aware that many Evangelicals, many of which I have as close friends, have wonderful hearts, do great things for Jesus, and are not aware of any harm in which they may or may not participate by being connected intimately or in part to Evangelical Christianity. That was true of me when I was an Evangelical pastor. In fact, I would suspect many Christians who would fall into the category of “Evangelical” don’t even realize it, nor have they considered any negative ramifications to the beliefs they hold and the Evangelical culture thereof.

Yet, when I observe something so alarmingly and clearly wrong, harmful, and deceptive, I feel a responsibility to at least articulate what I see and believe. Not with a spirit of condemnation, but with one of deep concern. No one person or group is perfect. Certainly, not I. For so many years as an Evangelical, I didn’t realize what I was truly participating in and what its ramifications truly were in people’s lives.

From as early as my boyhood sand box experiences, I have learned that many of the people who are repeatedly pointing at problems and things they don’t like from an aggressive, self-righteous posture are often those themselves who have something to conceal. From the bully on the playground to the podium pounding preacher, behind nearly every harsh, judging, fear-inducing, intimidating, and problem-pointing finger is often a Wizard of Oz like coward hiding behind a curtain, concealing the real issues.

The overarching chorus of Evangelical Christianity for years has been that the world is bad, needs to repent, and become like them. They passionately declare their morals, beliefs, and standards are not only the foundation of America, but that which is needed to reverse, what is in their minds, a terrible, declining culture. There is an inner consensus among many Evangelicals that if people just believed, lived, and acted like them, America would be a much better place.

Spokespersons and leaders of Evangelical Christianity such as Franklin Graham almost weekly, make public statements repeating this rehearsed theme that the world is bad, needs to repent, and become more like them in adopted values and lifestyle. A prevailing sentiment seems to suggest that if we would just return to the days of “Father Knows Best” where everything was seemingly simple and clean, things would be so much better.

Many of these statements, communicated in many and various ways, are often textured with judgement, fear tactics, and condemnation of a world that, in their minds, is not so simple and clean anymore. The underlying message is, “we know best.” “We are right, you are wrong, we have it, you don’t; repent, turn to our Jesus, become one of us, or pay the price.” Like in a scene from The Wizard of Oz, from behind the curtain, as the room fills will smoke and the volume knobs of this rhetoric is turned up with deep, Darth Vader tones, many approach the microphone to communicate their displeasures and religious prescriptions at the world, all while declaring it to be “the Gospel.”

Years ago, this Evangelical wizardry was directed against divorce and remarriage, later the issue became blacks marrying whites, today it’s homosexuality and gay marriage.  All with the same battle cry, “we are right, you are wrong; repent, turn to our Jesus, think, believe and behave like us, or pay the price.” This has been the underlying missional/discipleship philosophy and posture of Evangelical Christianity for decades. “You are lost, we are found, our job is to get you to our Jesus and “disciple” you to think, believe, and behave like us.” The world is our project, people are a notch on the “got saved” belt. Baptism is an initiation rite, and membership is the entry way into our club.

Of course, it’s never articulated like that, but having been an Evangelical pastor for many years, I know this to be true. This is their Gospel, this is their “salvation,” this is the Evangelical “vision.” In Evangelical Christian produced movies, tv shows, concerts, churches, books, and alike, this is the flavor of Gospel being communicated.

Recently, many Evangelical Christians and leaders have turned up the heat on declaring that America is in desperate moral and spiritual decline. As they gaze out into the world and even within their own organizations and churches, the realize there is a growing number of people who don’t believe and behave as they prescribe. In their mind, the world has turned away from their brand of Jesus, Bible, and Church, and therefore is the cause of all things that are eroding our culture. With labels like “lost,” “sinner,” “progressive,” “liberal,” people who don’t fit their mold become the mission to change, and if resistant, become a kind of enemy.

great-powerful-ozYet, like in the The Wizard of Oz, things are not always as they appear.

While smoke billowing Evangelical Christianity declares the world bad, those unlike them the source of blame, and the solution being to repent to their Jesus and learn to think, believe and behave like them, there is a coward pulling the strings behind a curtain. In fact, the one pointing fingers at all the problems in the world has in truth, ironically, become a major contributor to the existence of those problems. Yes, pull back the curtains and see for yourself, Evangelical Christianity is perhaps the greatest contributor to the moral and spiritual decline of America they so detest.

Now, this a bold statement that will surely offend many and likely cost me in relationships and otherwise.  But before you write me off, disown me, or label me a heretic, hear me out.

God is love. He loves everyone unconditionally. Love is not a characteristic or attribute of God, it is who He is. God can do nothing else but love.

Out of His nature, which is love, it is articulated in scripture that through Jesus (the personification of Love), the Old Covenant of Law given through Moses has been replaced with a New Covenant of Grace given through Jesus.

As on writer described, “you are not under Law, but under Grace.” Romans 6:14b

This is a cataclysmic, cosmic shift in how God relates to people and people relate to God.  Yet, Evangelical Christianity is super slow to the party.

It is a complete transition away from a conditional relationship with God and life that hinges on some level of our spiritual performance, and the ushering in of an unconditional relationship with God and life that is based solely on Christ’s performance. It is not just a move away from the letter of the Law, but the spirit of the Law as well. Let me repeat that, “it is not just a move away from the letter of the Law, but the spirit of the Law as well.” It’s not just Ten Commandments, Leviticus stuff, it’s any form of work, condemnation, judgement, performance expectation, condition, effort, or striving applied to any spiritual aspect of a person’s life. And let me add this, everything is spiritual.

The Bible in its reading and understanding must be interpreted through this covenant of Grace, whose personification is Jesus. This new covenant of Grace began at the cross.

Grace, with no mixture of the Law (or the spirit of the Law), received through faith, is the pure Gospel.  And Faith, it’s not a work, effort, or doing, it is a rest. It is not a spiritual performance, it is a spiritual awakening to what Jesus has already done, without your faith, worthiness, or participation. It is not “faithfulness,” it is “faith.” And that faith, a gift from Jesus as well.

Because of Grace, Jesus has not only done something  for all people, but also to all people. Beyond having peace with God for eternity, Jesus has made all people into a new creation. At the cross, humanity became a finished work. It was one and done. Period. Jesus didn’t just die as a human, He died as humanity. The old you, was crucified with Christ. Salvation (wholeness) has come.

As a new creation, you are the righteousness of Christ, holy, sanctified, forgiven (past, present, and future), justified, lacking no spiritual blessing. There is no work to be done on your life, you are completely complete. Grace has rendered spiritual growth as something you already are, not something you become or do. The Christian life is not about becoming something tomorrow you are not today through spiritual gymnastics, but about being more of who you already are because of Jesus, through believing. Your performance does not determine you identity, your identity determines your performance. Grace is the beginning and end of everything you are, do, and become. This is the Gospel, that your part is to realize you have no part, only believe. Anything less than this pure Grace Gospel, is Law.

With this in mind, writers in the New Testament, vehemently described how mixing this Gospel of Grace with remnants, portions, or vibes of the Law is not just false and damaging, but evil. Any form of condemnation, work, spiritual performance, earning of intimacy with God, intolerance, judgment, personal striving, finger-pointing, or communication of a God who loves conditionally is to mix the pure Gospel of Grace with Law and to render it a means of death not salvation.

“And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” Galatians 5:4

For this writer, a minimal spiritual performance or act so innocent, symbolic, and simple as circumcision, reflected the presence of the Law and when mixed into a person’s life rendered them severed from Christ. Yikes!

Sadly, knowingly or unknowingly, much of what Evangelical Christianity presents to believers and non believers in regards to the Gospel, discipleship, and the Christian life is a mixture of “Law” at best, if not pure Law. Many of them declare unconditional love with conditions, spiritual growth through personal obedience, sin overcoming through sin management, discipleship through behavior modification and doctrinal unity, and the Christian life an increasing level of personal devotion to Christ. I don’t care how you slice it or how much lipstick you put on that pig, it’s Law, Law, and more Law.

What many Evangelicals declare as needing to have a “balance,” of Grace and Law, one can just hear many of the New Testament writers declaring, “bullshit!” Not because it’s fun to be vulgar, but because of the ramifications of a death cocktail mixture of Grace with Law. Mix the Gospel with any amount, however small, of the Law, and guess what you have? Law. Let me bake you a cake, and drop a wee-little speck of poop into it. Just a smidgen. Don’t worry, you won’t notice. It’s fresh out the oven, you going to eat it?

As one scripture writer discovered, the ministry of the Law is death and condemnation. (2 Corinthians 3:7,9)  That same writer also discovered that it is actually the Law that entices people to sin. (1 Corinthians 15:56) Yes, the Law… in letter or spirit is the great sin enticer; not pornography, Miley Cyrus, rap music, or Play Station.

See first, the Law in all its forms, in letter or spirit, condemns. Find me a person with a sin problem and I will have found you a person with a condemnation problem.

Second, the Law appeals to the flesh. The flesh, is not our evil lustful side as some would have us believe, it is actually when we attempt, through any kind of effort on our part to gain or receive from God something He has already freely given; salvation, forgiveness, intimacy, blessing, favor, righteousness, holiness, sanctification, and the list goes on and on.

This is a futile, evil endeavor. It’s a dead end.

First because God has already given completely that which is trying to be gained, and second, because you can’t gain, earn, or receive anything from God through your performance, effort, pursuit, pressing in, or actions, no matter how spiritual they may seem. To do so, is to fall from Grace and declare the cross as foolish and insufficient, and yourself as capable and worthy at some level or another. That is what it looks like to be deceived, to walk in darkness, to water-down the Law (as you think you can handle it), and therefore, to minimize and marginalize Grace (cause you think you don’t completely need it). It is the height of anti-Christ. It is to be bewitched by another Gospel, which is no Gospel at all. And worst of all, it is to entice and imprison people to sin, hypocrisy, and a lifestyle there of.

The Evangelical prescription for sin is at best, a mixture of Gospel and Law. God loves you, BUT… you need to repent (which in their mind, wrongly means “to change”). Do these spiritual things, apply these formulas, attend these groups, solicit this accountability partner, press into this experience with God, say this prayer, read this book, partner with Jesus, attend this conference, take these steps, believe these beliefs, be all you can be for Jesus, follow these rules etc. etc.  Problem is, it not only all doesn’t work, it all makes things worse.

For much of Evangelical Christianity, the Gospel is “behavior modification” through some level of personal effort or spiritual performance. All of this, declaring the Law and packaging as the Gospel, and then wondering why people fall away and morals decline for both nonbelievers and believers.

If you take the Law seriously, if you take Grace seriously, if you take the consequences of mixing any amount of Law with the Gospel of Grace, it is clear that much of Evangelical Christianity has actually been prescribing the cancer, not the cure; at best, withholding the cure. Whether they realize it or not, they have been baking cakes with crap it in it, and then wondering why people are getting sick, spitting it out of their mouths, and not getting any better. All while some of them have the gaul to sprout their spiritual feathers, get mad, bark their religious rants, throw up their hands, and act so disgusted (and surprised) when they see a nation that, in their minds, is spiritually dying. Of course it is! That’s what happens when one supplies the cancer as the cure. That’s what happens when you feed people cakes with crap in them.

man-behind-the-curtainA few years back, the Barna Research Group showed that the overall divorce rate among Evangelical themed denominations was between 27-34%, while the divorce rate among atheists… 21%.  Evidently, in our country, you have a better chance at having a holy, Jesus-like life out of church than you do in it.  If perhaps the largest Christian representation in America, Evangelical Christianity is engaging in the ministry of the Law, should we be surprised at the amount of spiritual decline we see in America? Should we be surprised that people are seemingly more enticed and imprisoned to sin now, more than ever? That’s what the Law does. Should we be surprised that Christians exposed to Evangelical Christianity don’t get better, and the world that is watching, has become disinterested and “done” with church.

The truth is, the spiritual prescriptions of  much of Evangelical Christianity entice and imprison people to sin, not free them. We can change nothing in ourselves or others. The Holy Spirit does that, and that through pure Grace, not Law or any mixture thereof. The very thing that many Evangelicals declare as too soft (Grace) is actually the one and only thing that has the teeth and grip to change anything.

As one scripture writer discovered, “For the Grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, teaching us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” Titus 2:12

What teaches, what changes, what influences?  Grace.

Jesus mentioned that you can sense a certain amount of the quality of a spiritual thing by the fruit it bares.

Much of Evangelical Christianity has sadly produced… 1) selfish, consumer minded Christians who believe that “church” is about meeting their particular needs. Thus, Christianity isn’t growing but is actually in severe decline as believers are continually shuffling around to whatever church has the best show and better meets their needs 2) Christians who believe the Bible is equal to Jesus/God and place their understanding of it over standing with people and declare their particular understanding to be “truly biblical”. 3) churches where Christians mainly talk amongst themselves and judge the world, believing they’re right and everyone just needs to become right like them 4) celebrity pastors and leaders who franchise church, their egos, and a performance-driven, hyped up perversion of the Gospel. 5) churches that might welcome a sinner or two into their mix as they look down upon them as their “mission”, but don’t truly “want” them unless they clean up and adopt their values and beliefs. 6) Christians who believe the Gospel is a mixture of Grace and Law, Jesus does His part, but one needs to do their part, or else. 7) Christians and Christian leaders who believe their job is to point out sin in the world, and declare that God loves people so much that if they don’t say a certain prayer and clean up their act, He will justly throw them into an eternity of torture by demons, flames, and a desire to die that will never be granted; calling it all… good news. 

In my humble opinion, no one is perfect, especially me, but that is no fruit.

I believe much of Evangelical Christianity, particularly those who embody a more judgmental, prideful, elitist, legalistic, and performance-driven Christian flavor would do well to repent (which really means to “change your mind”) about Jesus, the Gospel, love, bible, the Christian life, sin, and Church so that these areas and their understanding thereof reflect the pure Grace of God and the finished work of Jesus on the cross.

I believe much of Evangelical Christianity would do well to focus on modeling Jesus who is pure Grace and unconditional love. They would do well to stand with people over and above their biblical stances on the issues. They would do well to learn to rightly divide the word of God between the Old Testament and the New, interpreting all scripture through the lens of Grace as Jesus did.

They would do well to move away from “hating the sin and loving the sinner,” and just loving people, period. They would do well to let the Holy Spirit discern and change people, and instead, concentrate on doing their job, which is to love people, unconditionally. They would do well to direct their finger pointing to the loveliness of Jesus, not to the ugliness they deem to see in people. They would do well to trust Grace to do what only Grace can do, which is most everything they think they are capable of doing and charge everybody else to do.

They would do well to live from a posture of, “all of have sinned and fallen short” as Grace levels the playing field for everyone, and everyone needs Grace equally.  They would do well to stop marginalizing, labeling, belittling, and treating as second class citizens those who sin (in their judgment) differently then they do. They would do well to proclaim that God loves, accepts, embraces, favors, and blesses all people far beyond what they could ever imagine. He is not angry, vengeful, waiting to punish, or licking His lips to pour out wrath, but rather, His love is deeper, wider, stronger, and more generous and scandalous than they ever imagined.

They would do well to teach, preach, declare and manifest Grace, and Grace alone. Shout it from the mountain tops. Let every word drip with Grace. Then and only then, will any one person, group, country, nation, or world change.  This is the Gospel.

It’s all Grace, or it’s not the Gospel.

For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work… Romans 1:16

Comments

  1. Christiane says:

    Some thoughts about all the ‘negativity’ expressed by fundamentalist-evangelicals:
    It is true that the concept of ‘repentance’ among some Christian people lacks an element that appeared among the Hebrews in Our Lord’s time . . . Repentance was seen as needed because men had ‘turned away’ from God, which was negative and brought evil, separation, and suffering.
    HOWEVER,
    the MAIN Hebraic meaning in the word ‘repentance’ is that people begin to ‘turn toward’ God again,
    “to return to Him.” This Hebraic expression of repentance involves replacing a negative connotation with a positive one, focusing on the superior state being approached rather than the inferior prior state being departed from.

    I can agree with the author of this post that for too long, some Christian people have spent time ‘repenting’ by being negative themselves, and focusing on the negative in others’ instead of celebrating a positive returning towards the Lord . . . a turning that involves a journeying of the mind, the heart, the soul, the spirit, the strength of a person becoming increasingly focused on Christ.

    This ‘turning’ has many names . . . teshuva, metanoia, repentance . . . . the one who has been ‘in darkness’ begins the turn towards the ‘light’ and in the Book of Ephesians 5:9 we come to know this: “for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true”

    darkness is the absence of light . . . Christians must not continue to dwell negatively on the darkness once they have begun the great journey towards the light of Christ

  2. AMEN

  3. scrapiron says:

    Holy Cow! I see the point, but man, this is going to, rightfully, draw some negative comments.

    First of all, the writer paints with way to broad a brush, to the extent that his point, which is valid, becomes easy to dismiss. Starting off with the “I know I’m not perfect” and “some of my best friends are Evangelicals” disclaimers isn’t going to cut it, when you make generalizations that are so prejudicial.

    • +1

      “My best friend is black.”
      “My best friend is gay.”
      “I used to be a ________ so I know what I’m talking about.”

      Yeah, not the best credibility builders…

  4. It isn’t just Evangelicals. The progressive/social justice churches do the same thing. Seems like any church or pastor with an agenda will try to sneak law in through the back door to get their flock to do what they want them to do.

    • If religious acts, like circumcision, sever us from grace, and we are bound to avoid them to remain in grace, isn’t that a law? If something I do can sever me from grace, then I must avoid doing that thing–if that’s not law, please explain why it isn’t.

      • Didn’t mean to place this here in response to ChrisL–it’s a free standing comment.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        I am Ok with the article to a point, but it relies on the tired and broken grace-vs-law construct too heavily.

        I would counter your argument of “if that’s not law” with: if all statements implying consequence are law – we may as well all just stop talking, there is nothing that can be said.

        Rather than resorting to using the exhausted and hopelessly flawed grace-vs-law construct it could be more effectively said that Evangelicalism does not care about people as people [or they sure don’t sound like they do] and they are far too heavily predisposed to American Fix-It-ism [spend 10 minutes listening to one of a any number of Focus-On-The-Family style shows – the magical formula for an awesome perfect family is just… ].

        • Dana Ames says:

          +1, Finn.

          Dana

        • Adam, especially agree with your statement on “law/grace.” It does not wotk, and, imo, never really dif. Psul was using exaggeration and other rhetorical devices to highlight a conflict that he ecperienc3d 1sthanf, not trying to create some kind of doctrine.

          I think some Orthodox Jewish people certainly find many of the “oral law” commandments burdensome, but if it was *really* so terrible and imposdible to follow “the law,” they eould go off and become Conservstive, or Reform, or start a new branch of Judaism altogether. The Conservative and Reform folks i have known judt don’t see this stuff the way Psul does, though obviously, his world was vety different than theirs is, and – most important – *interpretation* is in play.

          All that digresdion to say that i think you’re right about needing other ways to charactetize these things and people. (As well as some of my “why” thinking.)

        • Completely, agree. If we reduce everything to Grace vs. Law, a heck of a lot of the NT makes no sense (see Romans 2). I also, thing you have hit it with the not caring about people as people comment. So much of that jumps out at me when I read some articles.

      • This reading from this morning’s Daily Office puzzles me:

        When we had come to Jerusalem, the brothers received us gladly. On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs. What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law. But as for the Gentiles who have believed, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled,[d] and from sexual immorality.” Then Paul took the men, and the next day he purified himself along with them and went into the temple, giving notice when the days of purification would be fulfilled and the offering presented for each one of them.”

        It seems Paul, the great crusader against the Law, submitted himself to the Law.

        • Dan Crawford says:

          I’ve puzzled about that reading most of the day.

          • The Bible is not big on logical consistency. But these discussions about grace vs. law are all about the human mind spinning out logical propositions, and weighing one against the other. The Bible in certain respects is like a Zen koan–it speaks from a place of paradox beyond logical consistency.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            The Bible is not big on logical consistency.

            And when you try to make it logically consistent, you end up with the likes of Calvinism and Dispensationalism.

        • Because Paul was an observant Jew who believed Jesus was Messiah. For him, there was no contradiction, though i think he was one of the people who was fanatical about Talmud, until he began grappling with his inability to live it. And of course, Jesus had something to do with thst. 😉

        • I wouldn’t say that Paul was a great crusader against the law, rather he was against Jewish Christians imposing Jewish law on Gentile converts. I’ve never seen anywhere in his letters where he tried to stop Jewish Christians from continuing to be Jewish. He just made it clear that being a good Jew won’t bring about salvation. Only faith in Christ can do that – – something Gentiles can have without all the Jewish baggage. Paul strongly denounced those that taught that adherance to Jewish law and ritual were necessary for salvation or for one to be a “true” follower of Christ.

      • “If something I do can sever me from grace, then I must avoid doing that thing–if that’s not law, please explain why it isn’t.”

        The only thing we can do to sever us from grace is to refuse it. If that’s our choice, God will let us have it. Letting us have the free will to refuse His gift is grace in and of itself, no?

        • Well, exactly what is it that one needs to do to make sure that one is not refusing this grace-with-strings-attached? And how often does one need to do it? Once one has accepted grace, how does one make sure one keeps it? If those questions don’t lead to volumes worth of religious law, I’ll eat my virtual hat.

          • These are good and hard questions… I have some for you : )

            “Well, exactly what is it that one needs to do to make sure that one is not refusing this grace-with-strings-attached?”

            How can we get through the next moment WITHOUT trusting in this grace?

            “And how often does one need to do it?”

            How can we get through each day WITHOUT trusting His mercies are new each day?

            “Once one has accepted grace, how does one make sure one keeps it?”

            Once one has accepted grace, how does one not live each day in dependence on it?

          • Strangely, I have gotten through many moments without trusting in his grace, and there are still many moments I get through without trusting in his grace, though I imagine I would not get through any moment without being recipient of his grace.

            I’ve gotten through many days without trusting in his mercies, I still get through many days without trusting in his mercies, though I imagine I would not get through any day without his mercies.

            I have accepted his grace again and again, and yet I continue to live many days as if I do not depend on his grace.

            Trying to always be aware of God’s grace is hard work. It may come easy to you and others, but it doesn’t to me. That’s kind of my point.

          • I hope you are able to rest knowing “it is finished” by the Author and Finisher of our faith, a faith we are all not faithful to much of the time. But there is now no condemnation, and we can exhale.

    • Good point. Progressive Theology adherent are as vehement in their beliefs as fundamentalist evangelicals are in their own. We’ll all be Orthodox when Christ returns. We may as well get used to the idea. :o)

  5. I’d take the critique one step further. *WHY* is evangelicalism so enamored with “Law” – with getting people to look and behave right? Because it is both married to the culture (or at least, the culture as it stood in earlier periods of American history), and convinced that this nation is a special creation of God and part of His plan. Dig deeply into the rhetoric – you’ll find that behind all the sin-calling and finger-pointing is the notion that America is being held to a God-covenanted standard, and that if America screws up, God will “judge” us as He did Israel (His prior “chosen nation”).

    IOW – “if we don’t get all these homosexuals/atheists/liberals/ad inf. ad naus. back in line, God will come and take away all our stuff! And that would SUCK.”

    P.S. Let me bake you a cake, and drop a wee-little speck of poop into it. Just a smidgen. Don’t worry, you won’t notice. It’s fresh out the oven, you going to eat it?

    Now I have THAT scene from “The Help” running through my mind. Thank you for the mental picture just before breakfast. 😛

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > It is both married to the culture
      > (or at least, the culture as it stood in earlier periods of American history)

      Neither, it is married to an ENTIRELY FICTIONAL retelling of a period of American history. In the data you will not find their America.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I think “MYTHICAL” would be a better description than “FICTIONAL”.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          Oh no, I try to avoid that word; then was has to discuss what definition of Myth you mean. I mean “fictional” as in: not true and was never true, false, malarkey, lies, or bull****.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            One of my expressions for that Godly Golden Age(TM) is “Not even the REAL 1950s, but a Mythical 1950s according to Ozzie, Harriet, and Donna Reed.”

            And I say that as someone just old enough to remember the tail end of the Nifty Fifties, the First 1960s.

      • If not entirely fictional, certainly romanticized and blind to the problems of the system…

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Which is why when you have to cite a Mythical Fifties Family Sitcom as your type example, cite “Ozzie & Harriet” or “Donna Reed Show” instead of “Father Knows Best”.

          FKB was the best of the Fifties Family Sitcoms, and was originally conceived to have an educational function on the side, illustrating parenting examples to those Greatest Gen new parents who’d moved away from their previous extended family support systems during and after WW2 into the new suburbs to have and raise their Baby Boomer kids. (Not that I’m saying it worked, but it was an attempt to sub by examples.)

    • Chaplin Mike and others. I am terribly sorry I haven’t contributed much here recently. Life has been super busy and I have been busy writing on my own. I lurk here and read a lot, but when I read this I had to write a response.

      I loved this article.

      I am perplexed, and disappointed with a lot of the crap coming out of evangelicalism. Recently I had to write about my own church that I was baptized in, my own church was being deceitful in placing a high risk sex offender in a position of trust. I was dismayed when I saw the lack of both critical thinking skills and common sense. However it was just the tip of the ice berg. There was more deceit, dishonesty, and attempts to play the situation. I couldn’t believe how dishonest my former church was during this time. But its more…

      I’m interacting with people outside evangelical Christianity and I am stunned by their love, sincerity, and compassion. And these are people who are largely nothing, atheist, gay, or other faiths. Meanwhile I found myself brushing shoulders with evangelicals who rant and rave about gay marriage. I was embarrassed to know people who think the world of Mark Driscoll and John Piper who acted like the world was coming to an end because of a Supreme Court decision. My personal Facebook feed was downright embarrassing. It led me to write a post saying that the greatest threat to Christianity is not a Supreme Court decision on gay marriage, instead its internal corruption, and the likes of Mark Driscoll, CJ Mahaney and others.

      But I can’t believe how mean and cold some evangelicals can be. The more I write the more people are starting to email me and I am hearing more and more disturbing claims. I can’t imagine what Chaplain Mike is receiving on a regular basis. The other day I wrote a post about how I managed a false accusation from an Air Force Captain for 408 days. It was the darkest season of my life and all I wanted is this guy to say “Hey Eagle, I screwed up, and I am sorry…” I approached 140 people to clean up my life and start fresh and anew, and the hardest situation is the one who claims to be most committed to the Gospel.

      I think one of the things that also sets of atheists is that many atheists know that evangelicals are no perfect. But evangelicals can’t or won’t own their mistakes. They don’t repent or own the harm they done. I think all of us know someone hurting, someone in pain from a church, a Christian, etc.. and how much would be resolved if that person approached that person and said, “I’m sorry, I was wrong…will you forgive me please.” That’s humility and that’s an act of love. But evangelical Christians do not do that. Mark Driscoll won’t do that, John Piper won’t do that, CJ Mahaney won’t do that, Fairfax Community Church won’t do that, Sovereign Grace won’t do that, etc… What’s wrong with this picture. Its frustrating because many evangelicals needlessly create their own enemies.

  6. Burro [Mule] says:

    Man, this is a tough briar to chew through.

    I so completely agree with the writer that nobody is going to respond to a message of “You are bad. Stop being bad. Oh yeah, believe in Jesus too.” If that has been the message of the Evangelical church, then yeah, it’s no wonder that there are fewer Evangelicals every year. Maybe Law, Law and more Law is what thunders from the pulpits of the You Kids Get Off My Lawn crowd, the kind of Christian who puts a copy of the Ten Commandments on his front lawn, but the Health and Prosperity crowd have a pretty big megaphone in my area, and their message seems to be using Jesus as bait for people to get six pack abs, meet their sales quotas, and achieve their personal goals.

    “Show me a man who has a sin problem, and I’ll show you a man who has a condemnation problem” doesn’t ring true to me either. I love sin. Love, love, love it. Having recapitulated the story of the Prodigal Son countless times, I can tell you with a straight face that I am never happier than when I am in the whores-and-prime-rib stage of that story. My problem is not that God condemns that behavior – I could really care less – but that it is not sustainable. As I have learned time and again, whores and prime rib leads inevitably to pea pods in the pigsty. I need a vision of something more appealing, more compelling, more beautiful than whores-and-prime-rib. Changing, and permanently changing, the “wanter” is the perennial problem of Christianity, and I think it has something to do with the Greek term metanoia. Do that, and everything else falls into place. Including the effort necessary to crawl out of the pigsty.

    There is a lot of prescriptive language in the New Testament – “do this, don’t do that” – I guess you could call it Law if you were so inclined. I went a different way than most out of the post-Evangelical wilderness, towards an even stricter and more disciplined communion. I guess a lot of what we do in Orthodoxy looks like what Chris might call Law – “Kneel. Pray. Give alms. Don’t eat that. Don’t watch that.” – but I find I desperately need it. I need what Fr. Ernesto called economia yesterday very, very badly. What I don’t need is someone changing the goal posts and declaring that I just scored a touchdown even when I am going in the opposite direction.

    Also, I don’t know if anybody else has noticed, but we – meaning humanity, not the wider Church – live in a pretty tough neighborhood spiritually speaking. We’re likely to get mugged at any time by creatures of great power and malice, and I think this gets overlooked when this discussion comes up.

    • I agree. Though I’m not Orthodox, it seems to me the Christian life has a shape, and that shape is formed by things that should be cultivated, and things that should be avoided. Some or many (not all) of the evangelical churches may have put their stock in the wrong place by emphasizing “culture war”, but that doesn’t mean the Christian life does not involve discipline. Salvation, in my opinion, doesn’t depend on discipline, but without shape and direction a life characterized by hope is unsustainable, as Mule says, and things pretty reliably goe to hell in a hand basket quickly, causing misery for all in the vicinity: “I might be going to hell in a bucket, baby, but at least I’m” not “enjoying the ride”.

      And like Mule, I believe there are malevolent, and powerful, spirits afoot.

    • I like this.

      Maybe the ‘disciplines’ that you hint at are part of the ‘positive’ that Christiane mentioned, rather than the negative of simple ‘discipline’ (don’t do that).

      I don’t know that following a daily liturgy would keep me from the whores and prime rib, but I guess I could at least try…

      • I’ve been reading the Daily Office for a year or so. Not having grown up in a liturgical tradition, it took some getting used to it but I’ve grown to truly enjoy it and look forward to it–at least most days.

    • Since I’m losing weight and working out a lot and don’t spend money on fast food and anything anymore…

      I only ever buy prime rib when I want steak. Or rib eye.

      Mmm.

      May need to break out the grill tonight.

  7. I seldom comment but often read. This is a lovely post. Thanks!

    With grace, we live towards/with the right and truthful because we are grateful. With the law, we act correctly out of fear of judgement and spiritual death.

    Through grace, we slowly discover that the good is life-giving. Whether living within a highly disciplined routine or in freer expression, we are no longer burdened by law, which is death. Love is the driving principle of grace, and it is love that then directs us, that helps us choose the shape and structure of our lives. It is lively, life-encouraging, productive and reproductive.

    The differences in attitudes are like deep giving through generosity or paying a required high fee.

    The difference is profound. And it shows in how we treat ourselves and others. It shows most clearly in how we treat the others most distant from us, who Jesus called our enemies.

  8. Some of the pushback against Evangelicalism is good, but as others have said there are some problems:

    Painting with a broad brush.

    Not dealing with the passages that encourage actually doing things.

    Not defining “gospel”.

    Seemingly putting “grace” (as important as it is), above Christ/God. We need to start with Him, and then move to grace.

  9. celebrity pastors and leaders who franchise church, their egos, and a performance-driven, hyped up perversion of the Gospel

    And yet, he has a “speaking” tab on his page with endorsements from…. evangelicals?

    His “about me” doesn’t provide a sense of who he belongs to, where his family of faith is located. Is he an independent contractor?

    His critiques are valid, but I’d appreciate a sense of helping find a way forward, instead of adding more law — “They would do well to do this and don’t do that.”

    • One reason I wanted to post Chris’s article today was to show some of the “insider” critique that is going on within evangelicalism. We PE’s perhaps have moved beyond the level of criticism Chris expresses here, but I thought it valuable to show that there are still voices within the movement that are seriously questioning not only its culture but also its theological underpinnings. Voices besides the neo-puritans, that is.

      • Michael Bell says:

        But Chris pastors an independent church with no denominational affiliation and no oversight. His theology is certainly not evangelical but rather Lutheran (and appears to parrot Steve Martin). So how is this an “insider” critique?

      • Dana Ames says:

        Mike,

        that’s all well and good – and I would have been entirely on board a dozen years ago. The problem as well as the good thing is, the critique is coming from someone with the same theological underpinnings, and therefore I see the argument continuing to go around in circles. It’s not enough to yell “Stop it already!” What’s the alternative to this culture and these theological underpinnings? It’s an insightful critique. I read Chris’ church’s web site, and there’s no faulting his heart or the vision he has. I was “there” (and begged God for a like-hearted group in my locality that I could be part of). And it ended up not being enough.

        I needed a bigger, even more holistic theology, and the longer I searched for it, the more I needed it to be connected to the Church throughout history, and to Judaism before that. As a recovering perfectionist, I was more than ready to give up performance and Law of every kind. Chris is not even as radical as some of the people I used to read. I still needed to know how to get to my true fully human self, and how to fully become a partaker of the divine nature, in the company of the people of God throughout all time.

        I pray that the Lord will help many people through Chris and his church.

        Dana

        • You know, we’re all at different places along this wilderness journey. Chris’s article is something I might have written five years ago. I like reading it because it reminds me that we all see light from our own perspective, from where we are. Wherever Chris is on his journey, when I read his words I recognized the place and I sensed that Jesus is still speaking to people there.

      • I thought it valuable to show that there are still voices within the movement that are seriously questioning not only its culture but also its theological underpinnings

        There are plenty. I count myself among them. And they don’t tend to be noisemakers. These conversations actually *are* happening in places of influence: seminaries, denominational gatherings, etc. But we tend to pay more attention to the noisemakers (loud conservatives, YRR, etc.)

        And my point was that the writer identifies himself as a former evangelical, so I don’t see how this counts as critique from within.

        • I hear you Sean, but from my perspective this is insider critique, especially when you consider The kind of church Chris is part of. You can take the boy out of evangelicalism . . .

          I feel it in myself all the time, even after all these miles.

      • I like what Mule and Robert F. says and also go towards a more stricter religious tradition. I find those in any tradition who are too close to the religious life and in this case evangelism, believe folks are jumping other places.

        First – I do not think folks are even thinking as deeply as he believes. If folks are leaving, they are leaving for a secular lifestyle, or more of a deist way of looking at things – meaning “I know there is a higher power, and I can interact on my own when I think about it.” That is happening both inside and out of evangelism, for all political, religious and socio-economic tastes or situations. Do I think conservative values in evangelism are fueling that – no. You could probably make a better case for Catholic conservative moral views (though this is offset by a liberal social justice and socio-economic and environmental view).

        In my own tradition I see people completely dropping out (secular underpinnings) and to a lesser degree moving towards either mainlines or non-denoms. From a fundgelical perspective, at least what I observe, the points made for turnoff within the community don’t seem to be as big a factor. Don’t like something (usually don’t like the style of the pastor) then simply move on to another church community.

  10. Marcus Johnson says:

    Again, I don’t see how we can make the case that America is in “a moral or spiritual decline.” Decline implies that there was some high point. What was the golden age of morality in America? You know, when there wasn’t an institutionalized ism or slavery.

    Also, why do we feel this ridiculous need to combine the fate of America with the development or struggles of the church? I’m pretty sure the church existed well before 1775.

    • tophergraceless says:

      I have to agree with the question of the “moral and spiritual decline.” If you read christian leaders in the past we have always been in a moral decline. I know that Evangelicals claim there is a moral and spiritual decline, but I see no evidence that this is the case. Besides, I have a strong suspicion that all this talk of a moral decline is just code for, “Young people having more and better sex then I got to have at their age.”

      • I may be mistaken, but I think recent studies have show that young people are actually being more cautious.

        In regards to whether there is a decline, it depends on the issues one is concerned about.

        • tophergraceless says:

          Exactly, I didn’t mean to imply that the younger generation (of which I am a part) are more promiscuous, in fact, it seems that they are less promiscuous and though they marry less often those that do get married have stronger, longer lasting marriages.

          I have heard this decline narrative from church leaders my whole life and I wonder if it is somehow an integral part of conservative evangelicalism. Could there be an conservative Evangelicalism that doesn’t have to pretend the sky is falling and things are getting worse and worse all the time?

      • It’s unlikely that young people now are having more sex than….my generation… did in the 70s. It was a decade of stupidity, when many of us thought we could do anything we wanted without taking the least precaution, and without repercussion. I see no moral decline since that decade; things seem, rather, to have improved.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > I see no moral decline since that decade; things seem, rather, to have improved.

          Dealing with the youth of today – I see a lot of evidence for an improvement over the 1980s of my childhood; certainly they are less gleefully vicious.

          • We went to a beginning of school community pep rally the other night. They introduced the football team and the first two introduced were honorary captains–both boys with Downs Syndrome. They had walked out by themselves and were a little lost; it was touching to see the next two boys come out and guide the boys to where they needed to be and the obvious affection they all had for one another.

            I’m ashamed to say back when I was in school, we mercilessly made fun of kids like that. I see much goodness in today’s youth and much more acceptance of the “other”, not just in kids but society in general–i would like to think the church would be leading the way in accepting those “outside the camp” though I’m not sure that’s true.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            > I’m ashamed to say back when I was in school, we mercilessly made fun of kids like that.

            Yes.

            > I see much goodness in today’s youth and much more acceptance of the “other”,

            Agree

            > i would like to think the church would be leading the way in accepting
            > those “outside the camp” though I’m not sure that’s true.

            I feed confident in saying that, sadly, the church is not a leader.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      +1. The “decline” narrative needs to stop – and ironically use of the Decline Narrative is a sure fire way to loose all the younger people in your audience [well.. I am anti-evangelical, so these days I am generally pretty happy when the choose to go there; just dig that hole deeper, yeah, you dig good! :)]. So Declinism results in … drumroll …. decline!

      Declinism harkens back to some Golden Era of pre-socratic Greece or the “Early Church”. It is a very worn-out meme.

    • Economic decline? Yep. Military decline? A real danger. Political decline? Let the current presidential race speak for itself.

      Moral and spiritual decline? Meh. 😛

    • Yes, the idea that there has been a decline from some morally elevated past is baseless.

  11. I agree with the criticism of the evangelicals, though one should be careful here–it’s easy to become a mirror image of the group you criticize. I see this with Islamophobes–you may start by hating the crimes committed by extremists, then you hate the criminal, then anyone or anything in the general category of Muslim, and then you start defending actions which are war crimes as a way of fighting evil. Fortunately our theological cat fights within the U.S. don’t go that far, but on the rhetorical level it is the same thing on a lesser scale. I see this tendency in myself.

    And like others, I was confused by the law-grace discussion. Aren’t there things we should stop doing? If the thought passes through my head that I should stop being a jerk jerk on the Internet, is that the law rearing its head?

    • “jerk jerk”

      That wasn’t emphasis. That was me typing on the iPad making weird typos I can’t explain.

    • That probably sounded too negative– let me re-emphasize that I strongly agree with the criticisms of the evangelicals. I used to call myself one and now their leaders horrify me, Graham in particular. There is a Christian blogger I read regularly, however, who makes this his main theme, and while I agree with him most of the time, he is so angry it actually helps me see in myself the same tendency to become much like the thing I condemn. Now that’s the law acting in me.

    • I agree with you. It’s a terrible trap we fall in when critiquing the “judgers” and thereby becoming a judge. This must be done with love, only with the Lords help.

      “Aren’t there things we should stop doing?”

      By Gods mercy yes.

  12. I’m not sure what to make of this article. It almost seems like a parody, and I’m not sure whether it is meant to be one or not. I could also see it being a cheekily subversive attempt to show how traditionally christian evangelicals are at their core, even where their sermons may not sound it.

  13. “This is a cataclysmic, cosmic shift in how God relates to people and people relate to God. Yet, Evangelical Christianity is super slow to the party.”
    When Jesus arrived in Israel very few Israelites recognized him. The pattern seems to repeat itself through history because God is forever defying our expectations and living outside of our predictions and suppositions as well as our pat and convenient doctrines. We get our table set and He knocks out a leg. Happens every time.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      God seems to get a kick out of doing the unexpected.

      And Evangelical Christianity has always been notoriously Late Adopters.

    • This is not, by any means, strictly an evangelical issue. Part of working out my salvation with fear and trembling is taking this into consideration every day.

  14. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    As someone whose introduction to Christ was through the one-two punch of Jack Chick and Hal Lindsay, there’s been something gnawing at my mind off-and-on ever since: “Does God have any reason to exist other than to PUNISH PUNISH PUNISH PUNISH PUNISH?”

  15. Joseph (the original) says:

    They would do well to proclaim that God loves, accepts, embraces, favors, and blesses all people far beyond what they could ever imagine. He is not angry, vengeful, waiting to punish, or licking His lips to pour out wrath, but rather, His love is deeper, wider, stronger, and more generous and scandalous than they ever imagined.

    amen.

  16. My whole life in a Southern Baptist church I’ve been taught that good works are the result of grace, not the reason we receive grace. So I agree that we should see some fruit, and if you will look at more that just the problems, at least in the churches I’ve been in, you will see the fruit. You will see people who love the Lord, who love their neighbors, who care for the poor, who work in the prisons, who truly try to help out of a love for God and people. Yes, the cranks are there too, but do throw everyone under the bus. One trouble I have with this post is how do you explain what it means to live in a Christlike manner without resorting to some form of “do this and not that” which sounds like law? And what are we to make of passages that tell us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling because it is God who works is us to will and to do his good pleasure, or to be sure to add to our faith, virtue and knowledge and so forth? How would I respond to a man committing adultery who said, “Hey brother I’m living by grace, don’t judge me.”

    • That should clearly be “don’t throw everyone under the bus”

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Sounds like a question of balance.

        “Hey, bro, I’m living by grace, don’t judge me” is out-of-balance in one direction and the ever-growing list of “Thou Shalt Nots — or Else!” is out-of-balance in the opposite direction.

    • I was reading this morning in 1 John 3:10: “… anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.”

      It seems like our American culture has set up a false dilemma: if you are going to be thought of loving your brother, you must not only accept, but affirm, what your brother ‘s sense of what is right, whether or not it is actually righteous. Alternatively, if you desire and practice righteousness you might be a moralist, perhaps graceless, and judgmental of those different than you.

      John seems to be a both/and guy: be both righteous and loving.

    • Jon, you asked: How would I respond to a man committing adultery who said, “Hey brother I’m living by grace, don’t judge me.” ?

      I’d like to quote (and link, if that’s OK) to a guy who I think used to be on the IM blogroll, Wayne Jacobsen:

      “The problem stems from people only seeing grace as a theological concept. They try to parse out their beliefs about grace, sin, and repentance, but it all leads to nonsense outside of a growing relationship with Jesus himself. Grace is the portal to engaging him without guilt or shame. But engaging him brings transformation to our lives. Those who teach a theology of grace that does not embrace a relationship become quite destructive in the world. Finding out God is not holding their sin against them seems to negate the only motivation they had for holiness. How sad is that?”

      http://lifestream.org/waynes-blog/does-grace-excuse-or-transform

    • These were some of the same concerns that I had after reading this post. Thanks for your comments.

  17. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Advice from the original Internet Monk to the man behind the Evangelical curtain:

    “And stop screaming. Nobody likes a religion with people screaming.”

  18. Clay Crouch says:

    Chris Kratzer’s list of remedies sounds wonderful in the abstract. I wonder what he thinks they would look like in the particular.

    • Clay, My thoughts exactly as I read this. I’m curious to know if you have any personal experience of trying to ‘flesh out’ such abstract remedies into practical realities? In other words, what’s your point?

      • Clay Crouch says:

        Fleshing out these abstracts in my personal life required me to jettison or revise a number of my long held views. Thanks be to God for Robert Capon. The point is that, for me, I had to leave evangelicalism and join a Christian tradition that reflected those changes. I returned to the Episcopal Church, though I have to admit that it is quite different today than the Episcopal Church of my youth. That’s not a bad thing. From what I’ve been able to gather from Kratzer’s website, it seems he might have traveled a similar path, but instead of joining an existing church that embodies these views, he started his own. I hope I haven’t added to your confusion!

        • Thanks Clay for the elaboration. I find that fascinating that you needed to move outside evangelicalism. I’ve stayed within evangelicalism, trying to flesh out ‘grace’ . I could have written the above myself: for decades I’ve used all that language, sweeping statements, tried to live in ‘either/or’ and preached ‘freedom in Christ’. But I constantly asked my mentors, ‘how does this work out when …,’ ( dysfunctional relationships, addictions, abuse etc) . I confess I read the above with cynicism. Washed up on legalism; washed up on the ideals of grace: then where do you go? But I will revisit Capon: I do think those outside evangelicalism have a more balanced application.youve been helpful, thanks. If you have time, I would like to hear what your ‘ long held views’ are which you jettisoned?

          • Clay Crouch says:

            My list consists of the usual suspects that have dominated the evangelical culture wars; the underlying one being a deeper appreciation of the scriptures. By this I mean no longer holding to the inerrant/infallible notions that have flattened out the texts and have turned them into a blunt instrument of judgement and condemnation. I hold out little hope that current evangelicalism can transform as long as its leaders continue to conflate the Word made flesh with the Bible and in so doing fall deeper into idolizing the Bible. If you would like to continue this discussion, you can contact me at clay.crouch AT gmaildotcom. I would be happy to share more details and hear your story.

          • Clay Crouch says:

            The usual suspects that have dominated the evangelical culture wars. The underlying one being a deeper appreciation of the scriptures. By this I mean no longer holding to the inerrant/infallible notions that have flattened out the texts and have turned them into a blunt instrument of judgement and condemnation. I hold out little hope that current evangelicalism can transform as long as its leaders continue to conflate the Word made flesh with the Bible and in so doing fall deeper into idolizing the Bible. If you would like to continue this discussion, you can contact me at clay.crouch at gmail dot com. I would be happy to share more details and hear your story.

  19. Rock on! Wonderful article.

  20. Where’s Miguel?

  21. I know a Southern Baptist seminary professor whose PhD dissertation was to the effect that evangelical Christianity was the primary cause behind the 60’s various revolutions. This article sounds similar.

  22. This business of grace alone is something I am still trying to figure out. I know that it puts up a red flag for me, and when the bit comes about how those who object just don’t get it, the flag really starts waving. I bought Robert Capon’s books as being highly recommended by people I respected, and I have never been able to read them. I am quite willing to grant that I may not be spiritually evolved enough to grasp the concept, but it strikes me the same way the five solas in Calvinism do. How can you have more than one sola? And how can you have any sola other than “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one”.

    I can see how this extreme position may be necessary for someone who has been trapped in legalism, and it may be required as a wake up call for some, but I agree with HUG above in that it becomes a matter of balance. Evangelicals and Protestants in general tend to seek that balance in Scripture thru the intellect. This ignores the leading of God’s Spirit in sorting these matters out in particular situations, each unique and needing a particular response. I believe this is how Jesus operated, moment by moment.

    And just exactly what is grace anyway? More and more I’m thinking it is one of those things that everyone talks about and no one agrees what it means. Unmerited favor? Yeah, mebbe, but that somehow makes me feel more like a totally depraved worm than a child of God. Maybe we don’t exactly know what law is either, I dunno. I do know I’ve got a lot to be thankful for even if I also have a lot I haven’t quite figured out yet.

  23. I think Chris is on the right track, but, as others have mentioned, he’s stuck in the old false binary of Grace vs. Works.

    I love how Capon speaks about this;

    “Everything that is not of faith is sin,” says Paul in Rom. 14:23. In the last analysis, what the New Testament sets up as the opposite of sin is not virtue; it is faith. And how lucky that is for us. Precisely because virtue is not an option for the likes of us—precisely because we can no more organize our lives on good principles than we can on bad ones, and even more precisely because all the really great acts of human wickedness (poneria) have always been done in the name of virtue—we are not to trust either in virtue or in our efforts to achieve it. All of that is just our life (psyche), and for us as for the Fool, life is not something we can guarantee.

    Capon, chapt. 9, Parables of Grace

    “As a matter of fact, the true New Testament opposite of sin isn’t virtue, or moral success, or getting your act together: it’s faith in the grace that takes away all the sins of the world. ‘All that is not of faith is sin.’ And Jesus says, ‘The one who believes is not judged.’ We’re not on trial: ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’ And we shouldn’t weaken that by giving a narrow interpretation to ‘those who are in Christ Jesus’: the whole world is in him, reconciled and made into a New Creation by the Mystery of Christ.”

    (from The Mystery of Christ… & Why We Don’t Get It)

  24. This reminds me of Dr. Rod Rosenblandt’s “Gospel For Those Broken By The Church”. Rosenblandt went so far as to say legalism – not grace – leads to antinomianism. Legalism categorizes sin in terms of man-made rules and not God’s. The statement by Jesus directed at the Pharisees straining the gnat and swallowing the camel says it all. The legalistic emperor has no clothes.

  25. The Evangelical prescription for sin is at best, a mixture of Gospel and Law. God loves you, BUT… you need to repent (which in their mind, wrongly means “to change”).

    ^ Reminds me of a famous talk by George Carlin where George called religion bull#$%@. Carlin says, “Your wretched, sinner, BUT he loooooooooooooooooooves you!”

    Sorry couldn’t resist!

  26. Manny “…have wonderful hearts, do great things for Jesus, and are not aware of any harm in which they may or may not participate by being connected intimately or in part to Evangelical Christianity…” and would be thoroughly shocked to read some of Charles Spurgeon’s faithful words: https://spurgeonwarquotes.wordpress.com/

    Yes, we have a great need for repentance on our part.

  27. I don’t hold to a law/grace or a law/gospel distinction, so I got lost just after “hear me out.”

  28. Michael H says:

    I loved this article. For one thing, its refreshing for me to see a young Pastor who is not afraid to challenge his learned (and probably somewhat inherited) belief system, even at the risk of standing against the more fundamental evangelicalism that has little (if any) room for one who would dare to swim upstream. You are on a beautiful journey Chris, stay with it! And while you’re at it…stay with writing!! You are obviously gifted at the craft and I can’t imagine your influence not growing and making a huge impact on the Christian community at large. As a long time evangelical pastor myself, you have stretched me with this article, and I appreciate that very much!

  29. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Years ago, I read the original Wizard of Oz by L Frank Baum. And discovered a couple things that didn’t make it into the movie version and/or common knowledge:

    * Originally the Emerald City looked like it was made from emerald because all the inhabitants wore emerald-tinted glasses.
    * The apparition of The Great and Powerful Oz in the throne room was done with 19th Century technology involving physical props and lighting effects.
    * And most important, the Wizard’s reason for “building his brand” as The Great and Powerful Oz — he was running a bluff against the Wicked Witches of East and West to deter any attack on his city.