December 14, 2017

One Stock That Needs To Drop

If you are one of those people who monitor this blog for material to get me in trouble, go get a legal pad and two good pens.

Back in the Golden Age of this blog, I wrote quite a bit about my own Christian experience. Those “confessional” pieces made at least half of this blog’s reputation and most of its good friends.

Reality ensued, and about fifty posts disappeared permanently, with another 20 going into retirement. I broke the news that the authentic voice of Michael Spencer- broken, questioning, wondering, doubting, ranting- was going to have to be substantially muted.

I’ve not been happy with this turn of events, particularly on weekends like the one just completed. My mind and heart are full of things worth saying to those of you who come back here looking to know you’re not alone. But I’ll have to disappoint, at least for now.

But not entirely.

Stocks are dropping. Have you noticed?

I’ll tell you a stock whose value really needs to go down. While we’re devaluing and dumping the worthless, I’d like to add something to the pile.

The stock of evangelicalism is way over-valued. It’s worth less than half of what we’re paying for it, because about half of evangelical religion is worthless.

Evangelicalism is overvalued because its politically useful. (If I read another email telling me Sarah Palin is Esther I’m going to put a drumstick through my eye.)

Evangelicalism is overvalued because it has mastered self-presentation via slick media.

Evangelicalism is overvalued because Hollywood has discovered we exist and can be lured into a theater.

Evangelicalism is overvalued because it believes its own press clippings, writes its own promos and does all its own publicity. If an objective voice starts to tell the truth about us, well that’s an attack of the enemy or an example of bias.

Evangelicalism is overvalued because it has too much music and too little Bible.

Evangelicalism is overvalued because it’s created a Christianity that’s perfectly comfortable for the un-Christian. (Not the non-Christian, but the nominal Christian with no intention of doing anything beyond asking Jesus to clear up the mess.)

Evangelicalism is overvalued because it boldly claims miracles, transformations, healings and impact that’s mostly bogus, but at least half of evangelicals could care less.

Evangelicalism is overvalued because it refuses to define itself so that Benny Hinn and the rest of his prosperity Gospel contagion are excluded.

Evangelicalism is overvalued because it worships at the altar of entertainment and has created an entertainment obsessed youth culture that it passes off as youth and student ministry.

Evangelicalism is overvalued because it talks to itself incessantly and almost completely avoids listening to those it claims it wants to reach with the Gospel.

Evangelicalism is overvalued because it’s villanized gays and lesbians, kids with taboos and piercings, and anyone not prepared to be a one issue voter.

Evangelicalism is overvalued because it has mastered the art of advertising its churches as warm, accepting communities when, often, they are far from it.

Evangelicalism is overvalued because it constantly claims evidence that God is working through it to change the world, but the evidence in those places dominated by evangelicalism isn’t very convincing.

Evangelicalism’s stock needs to drop by at least half. It needs to drop to where the political types, the money grubbers, the celebrity wannabes and the influence peddlers will go away.

Evangelicalism’s stock needs to drop so that it won’t wonder why the Chinese church- with no bookstores, conferences, CCM or megachurches- has thrived under persecution through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Evangelicalism’s stock needs to drop so that we can begin to tell the truth about what it means to be a Christian.

In today’s evangelicalism, if you tell the truth, you’re quite likely going to be fired, or at the least, given a gift certificate for luggage and a plane ticket.

At least half of evangelicalism is nothing more than an embarassing religious scam- and I use the word “religion” purposefully- that says we’re happier, healthier, wealthier, with better marriages, better kids, and wonderful churches. If you walk into the room and start telling the truth about that scam by telling your story in a voice others can hear, you’re going to be declared the enemy or mentally unstable.

Now you may think that I’m being hard, extreme, out in left field, but I want you to think of something for a moment.

When a good stock drops its excess, inflated price….what happens?

People buy it.

I’d love to buy into evangelicalism again. But not at today’s prices.

Comments

  1. I heart this post.

  2. Thanks for what I read as a remarkably on target analysis. As I have said in previous replies, it should be back to the ancient prayer of the church: “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.” Or is begging for mercy a sign of weakness in the world of evangelicalism?

  3. Evangelicalism as a purchasable commodity, how appropriate.

    Just call it Evangelicalismâ„¢, it fits.

    I won’t be buying it either, but unlike you I’m really not interested in buying it either, at any price.

  4. Mike,
    You wanna know what really pisses me off about evangelicalism? The fact that it is two faced. I know, all things to all people…but give me a break. For the older crowd, they are the Apostles Creed, Doxology, The Lord’s Prayer, and responsive reading. For the contemporary crowd ( I don’t even know what that means anymore ) they are CCM, drama skits, and whatever the latest gimmick of the day is. My wife and I attend the early “traditional” service. Due to scheduling, we attended the contemporary service, which is led by the same pastor that leads the “traditional” service. Keep in mind I have been attending evangelical churches my whole life. During the contemporary service, I messed up communion! The communion service was so foriegn to me, I accidentally messed it up. I didn’t stick around for the prayer huddle. Those are the kind of things that drive me nuts in evangelicalism.

  5. Absolutely. Amen, amen, amen!

  6. Pr. Martin Diers says:

    Yeah, those youths with taboos really irk me. All this nonsense about texting old boyfriends or wearing your pants too high. In my day, we had REAL taboos – like not opening umbrellas indoors, or never talking about politics at the dinner table.

    And they won’t stay of my lawn!

    Sorry. 😉

  7. Spot on!!

  8. You rant as well as anyone I know.

    Question: Assuming that “evangelicalism” needs revival and reformation, how might we work for that, considering that the movement is so broad and diverse? Luther fought a monolith, we face a fog!

  9. I’ve written so much about that, all I can say is that’s part of the site too.

  10. Michael, beautiful post. I’ve been thinking about the same thing lately.

    Terry, I am part of a facebook group that says, “Young people that love traditional liturgy”, and I’ve met people who can’t actually believe such a statement. As much as I love the music, skits, videos and all, services for people of my age group tend to fall flat.

    We don’t have to be entertained. Seriously.

  11. Michael,

    I’m sorry that you don’t feel safe to truly vent even on your own blog via the anonymity of the internet.

    I don’t agree with all your posts, lately I seem to be disagreeing more often than not, but I still appreciate this site because of the honesty.

    What will fix evangelicalism? Just chanting “Jesus” everytime the question is asked accomplishes nothing. It’s the post-evangelical/emergent/emerging version of just quoting Bible verses as solutions to peoples’ problems. We need to seek concrete ways to bring the wayward church back on course. I believe those solutions begin and end at the local church body. No more or no less.

    Again, I’m sorry that some people believe that showing the love of Christ is attacking anyone not like them.

    DD

  12. Nice! Well done.

  13. We Eastern Orthodox can also have our own litany of problems. We have the mutually opposite problems of ethnicism and converts who are busily rejecting the “West” rather than following their Lord. Nevertheless, our jurisdiction is growing in numbers and vocations.

    We are fortunate that our top national leader (title not important) began to set some important milemarkers and standards 30 years ago. The milemarkers are not important for this post. What is important is that for Evangelicalism to become vibrant, there needs to be a national “leadership” rise up that can provide guidance as happened for us.

    While my first advice would be that you all “come home” to Orthodoxy, my second would be that you pray that the Lord would raise up some people like Dwight Moody, Johnathan Edwards, Billy Graham, etc. Currently, I see no widely respected national voices in Evangelicalism. Rather, I see too many “little” voices speaking to too many subjects.

  14. Is “church” the body of Christ?

    Shouldn’t there be a sweet aroma of the knowledge of HIM?

    There is an aroma alright, but it isn’t sweet.

    I’ve decided I can’t call the masquerading institution “church” anymore. Its the Skunk House and I am a Skunk House Refugee. You are stronger than I if you can bear staying in it. I can’t. I have made a decision to become apostate (which is not about my relationship with GOD nor my faith, but strictly about separating myself from the Skunk House)

    Do you think the exaltation of man in the temple which 2 Thes 2:3-4 describes could be a description of the modern institution calling itself “church”?

  15. Do you think the exaltation of man in the temple which 2 Thes 2:3-4 describes could be a description of the modern institution calling itself “church”?

    …or,
    perhaps…
    since I am God’s temple
    2 Thes 2:3-4 describes a war within

  16. Shouts a very un-Quaker like, “Amen!”

  17. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    (If I read another email telling me Sarah Palin is Esther I’m going to put a drumstick through my eye.)

    Sarah Palin = Esther? WTF?

    Is this Messiah Politics cutting both ways, or “I’ll see your Obamessiah and raise you!”?

    What will fix evangelicalism? Just chanting “Jesus” everytime the question is asked accomplishes nothing. — DaveD

    Except for making a “thoughtstopper” worthy of the Moonies or Jihadi Islam. (“Thoughtstopper” — Moonie-originated term for a mantra to be recited endlessly and loudly whenever a doubt about the One True Way should arise; repeat until the doubt is completely crowded out.)

  18. Jennifer Eaby says:

    Michael,

    Thank you. You nailed a new thesis to the door of the church and I hope we respond. I have come to this conclusion recently myself and I wish I could speak up more without being smacked down by other well-meaning Christians. When one starts questioning the “doctrines” (abortion, homosexuality, the church’s or Christian’s role in politics, etc..) handed down by the church, fists start flying.

    If as the church we could find that “holy grail” balance of truth and grace, we’d be so much better off. But I hope that we will at least try. I’m tired of being a Christian who is bruised by the church (but I’m also saying that as a recovering abuser of others within the body. I’ve been guilty and I am repenting.) Peace be with you and keep exhorting.

  19. “Evangelicalism is overvalued because it’s created a Christianity that’s perfectly comfortable for the un-Christian. (Not the non-Christian, but the nominal Christian with no intention of doing anything beyond asking Jesus to clear up the mess.)”

    This is spot on, but at the same time challenging.

  20. bob pinto says:

    We know what’s wrong with the church. But what’s right with it?

    Is it possible that this is as good as it will get in this lifetime? What has improved in the past 50 or 100 years?

  21. caucazhin says:

    That was truly poetic Michael

    Evangelicalism is overvalued because “I knew you not you workers of iniquity”

    Evangelicalism is overvalued because “because of you Gods name is a laughing stock amongst the gentiles”

    There is always a remnant but truly americas house is being left desolate while God builds a new house in China and elswhere

  22. bob pinto, I think the church is going to change drastically in the next 30 years, as culture (economics, politics, science, and racial distributions) changes and a large percentage of nominal Christians, church-free believers and post-Christians change with it. I think Christians today will live to see the conversation about Jesus get yanked out of their control by educated apostates with compelling arguments and I expect that, increasingly, the entire religious education / faith formation complex (youth group, bible study, conferences, Bible college, seminaries) that we’ve trusted to educate us won’t have enough cc’s to handle the challenge, and the theologies and meta-theologies they assert themselves by will be proved inadequate and widely repudiated as self-serving.

    I expect most people will instinctively declare themselves uninterested in religion, and we’ll be caught completely flat-footed. On the bright side, I bet interdenominational cooperation will become the norm, even as more and more bizarre revisionist theologies sap our collective strength. My guess is, we’ll probably bottom out in 30 years with about 35% of people claiming any kind of Christianity that you or I would be comfortable with, for better or worse. I think this system shock began awhile ago and the effects of it have yet to be realized in every sphere.

    On the bright side, there are probably more people out there with more education in Scripture than there have ever been. We also do more practical ministry than before. We also have more church buildings. Clergy get paid more? Kirk Cameron’s got a bible study? Can we call those good things?

  23. Down here in New Zealand, folk tend to be more earthy and don’t tolerate bull****. The Boomer generation largely rejected church altogether due to its control freak nature. Can’t say I blame them, and the remaining church is probably a lot more genuine for it. (though still flawed and struggling).

    What did you say in an earlier post, something along the lines of..
    “in America Christianity met rampant consumerism and was serioulsy warped by it”

    Evangelical culture has damaged a lot of genuine, vulnerable people, read some of the stories at exchristian.net

  24. Excellent post. Hey have you read Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell? I think you would really enjoy it

  25. Fabulous. Absolutely fabulous.

    The other day I told a friend that all this religious nonsense was nothing more than a giant stinking dung heap.

  26. I actually heard that “Sarah Palin is Esther” bit from one of the ladies in my church and I responded, “I can’t understand your comparison. I know she was in a beauty pageant once, but I’m pretty sure John McCain never had sex with her.”

    She turned all shades of red.

  27. iMonk,

    I am one who has felt let down by evangelicalism.

    For years I searched for fellowship within the church, but I sure didn’t find it within the only proper expression of the church I knew: evangelicalism.

    I knew programs, distant pastors, gossiping church attenders, two-faced holier-than-thou religious people and “Christians” who either were saved and loved to be of the world or weren’t saved at all and were showing their true colors.

    I searched for Jesus within evangelicalism, but I didn’t find Him very often.

    When I did, He showed Himself to me.

    And, there was the small matter of me. I had my own sin to deal with, and I either indulged in it or felt so bad about having screwed up again that I went ahead and sinned anyway.

    One major reason I believe in Reformed soteriology now is that, through all of that, even now, Jesus kept showing up in my life.

    When I abandoned Him, He did not abandon me. The Good Shepherd kept leaving the 99 to find me and bring me back into the fold.

    I keep looking at people and their programs, and keep getting disappointed. Maybe one day I’ll finally get it and not let that happen.

    Or, perhaps, God allowed that because He knew it would keep focusing this rebellious, self-centered, utterly depraved sinner back on Himself time and again. That He wouldn’t do that out of cruelty or laughs (like people would), but out of love.

  28. Is the problem really Evangelicalism or is it Americanchristianism? Do Evangelicals around the world have same issues? I bet it is different in other parts of the world where everything isn’t so easy and entertainment is not the main goal in life. I think we will see a change when this is the country of the persecuted and poor and other parts of the world become more prosperous. Just and idea…

  29. When you said that you were going to put a drumstick through your eye, I imagined you jamming a big ol’ greasy leg of fried chicken in your eyeball.

    I’ve been in Kentucky too long.

  30. Josh,

    It wasn’t just you that thought that, and I live in Utah, not Kentucky.

  31. I love the list you compiled – and the stock analogy is prophetic and fitting for the times. Thanks for you effort in compiling this list. I would have to agree with at least most of your list.

    Somehow I had not heard the Sarah Palin as Esther. Fortunately… I have heard enough without hearing that line!

  32. Jerry Redman says:

    The Sarah Palin/Esther thing is truly disturbing in and of itself, but what is even more disturbing is the numbers of otherwise intelligent people I run into who have bought into the comparison. Truly disturbing.

    Thanks for you post…excellent and heartbreaking at the same time, even for those of us who have known these things for some time. I live in the American South, and your post describes every facet of church culture here. I will be guest-lecturing to a group of D.Min. students (all of whom are pastors) in a couple of weeks at a local seminary. Your post will be part of what I ask them to consider and wrestle with that day.

  33. “Evangelicalism is overvalued because it worships at the altar of entertainment and has created an entertainment obsessed youth culture that it passes off as youth and student ministry.”

    Man that is true. I recently did a post on my website about What Youth Ministry Isn’t, in it I listed some of the job descriptions that I have run across in my search for a ministry position. One claims to have the solution for all the problems with youth “excitement”. I’m sorry but it’s hard not to get cynical after that.

  34. Scott Miller says:

    Powerful post, Michael. I assume that your reluctance to blog stuff like this is because of the fallout you have previously stated that you get at your job.
    Keep it up though. You underscore to me how it is to be a normal, real Christian. One that can lament. One that can hurt. One that can live.

  35. Very well put. A prime example of reading half a text. The great commission is to go, not have other’s come, preach and baptize, that is the evangelical part. The second part is to make disciples. The part we forget to do, the hard part, the part that actually requires us to be involved with other people on an intimate level. We might actually have to have sympathy or some other draining emotion that we cannot throw a few bucks at and feel we have done our part. We need to mentor those we evangelize and help them grow.

  36. Michael,

    I have to give a hearty “Amen” to the last 90% of this post. But the first 10% really caught my eye. I could probably be called a professional “lurker” – reading a lot but commenting little. I keep discovering how little I really have to say…of any real worth, anyways…but that’s beside the point. When you said you had to remove the personal posts because “reality ensued”, what reality is that? Are you getting in trouble with your church and ministry associates? If so, they need most of all to hear that real ministers have real struggles. As you said yourself, one of the great values of this blog is the honesty and openness about real Christians struggling with real darkness, with real life. If a “real pastor” struggles with marriage problems, I know my “good Christian wife” of almost 20 years leaving does not make me some kind of freak, or backslider, or some other variety of spiritual failure. (By the way, I’ve only been reading a few months, and my memory of the struggles mentioned is a little dim; so if not marriage struggles, at least I remember there have been the dark, heart-breaking kind.) I know that “reality” is, well, real, but please continue sharing “what is” as much as possible – really! 🙂

  37. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    I actually heard that “Sarah Palin is Esther” bit from one of the ladies in my church and I responded, “I can’t understand your comparison. I know she was in a beauty pageant once, but I’m pretty sure John McCain never had sex with her.” — K.W.Leslie

    That’s one GREAT comeback line!

    Now more seriously, where did this ludicrous “Sarah Palin = Esther” meme come from and how widespread is it? Most of the commenters on this thread seem to already be familiar with it, and this aficionado of the weird is curious what sort of kook logic trail arrives at that destination.

  38. Michael, I hear what you are saying about Evangelicalism as a consumer good in American culture. Not too long ago I read “The Forgotten Ways” by Alan Hirsch, which compared the 1st Century church to the Chinese church and came to the conclusion that, under pressure, Christians have within themselves a missional DNA and that the Kingdom spreads in those environments like a virus.

    To be successful, the virus is as simple as possible- Love God, love others, and teach and do the Word. Almost all of what you rail against in your article are the extras that our brothers under persecution simply don’t have time or stomach for.

    I see the emergent/missional stuff as an attempt by a part of the church to sort of create this sense of persecution in order to trigger change within the American church as we know it. Can they be just as dogmatic about their “new” ways as the most hardened high-church mainliner? Of course. And if I hear the word “conversation” again in this context, I will be looking for a chicken drumstick myself.

    But I, for one, hope that renewal can come without an evangelical market crash because in the cleansing a lot of good people would be hurt. Perhaps a fool’s hope, but there it is.

  39. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Some followup on how the “Sarah Palin = Esther” shtick got started. Put the question up on another list and got the following answer:

    Originally reported in the New York Times.

    Two years ago, upon being elected Governor of Alaska, Palin asked a former pastor for advice on “Biblical examples of leadership.” Former pastor recommended Esther as an example — “a beauty queen who became a real one…. When Esther is called to serve, God grants her a strength she never knew she had.”

    Filter through the rumor mill and extended game of “Telephone”, and you get “Sarah Palin IS Esther!” from the church ladies and IMonk putting a drumstick through his eye.

  40. BINGO!!! Beautifully said and spot on. I’m torn between laughing and crying. If we can’t admit our frailties and foibles, oy, what’s the point? So we can join the “beautiful” people clique? No thanks.

    I agree that all is not lost. Some really good comments here as well and it encourages me to know that there are others who see it, too. And it has nothing to do with feeling superior, I do understand. I hear frustration and sadness (and a little sarcasm and humour which is also most appreciated).

  41. Somehow, if things really do get bad like some Christians think they will (and seem to be falling all over themselves to tell everybody), evangelicalism will be of no comfort nor use to us in those hard times.

  42. I noticed your blog is male dominated (an all boys club?) and every mentor you mention in your bio is male. Why are you deleting my comments? I have not been rude. I noticed the Esther connection with Palin IMMEDIATELY upon her selection. Sarah Palin is HOT! USA’s Pin-Up Politician Maybe its a MALE thing that you don’t “get” the connection between Esther and Palin. They were BOTH beauty queens. And I expect my comment will be deleted again… (((((sigh))))))

    Suit yourself, IM. Your loss.

  43. Those “confessional” pieces made at least half of this blog’s reputation and most of its good friends.

    Reality ensued, and about fifty posts disappeared permanently, with another 20 going into retirement. I broke the news that the authentic voice of Michael Spencer- broken, questioning, wondering, doubting, ranting- was going to have to be substantially muted.

    I’ve not been happy with this turn of events, particularly on weekends like the one just completed. My mind and heart are full of things worth saying to those of you who come back here looking to know you’re not alone. But I’ll have to disappoint, at least for now.

    What motivated you to stop being transparent?

  44. Charis: Your comments were in the moderation cue. I’ve been gone all day.

    I stopped the confessional blogging because I did not want to lose my job.

    IM comments are moderated and do not appear immediately.

    However, your comment about my mentors is overly personal and I will delete if you place another comment of that sort on the thread.

    MS

  45. Some (not all) of these comments remind me of a story about the early 20th-century evangelist, Billy Sunday.

    Someone said to him, “I don’t go to church; there’s too many hypocrites there.”

    Billy replied, “Oh, don’t worry about that. There’s always room for one more.”

    I think we have to start where we are, with the church and people we have. Now, obviously, if there are doctrines coming from a pulpit that make your brain hurt, week after week, it’s probably not the church for you. But no church is perfect, and no person is either. When I get fed up with my church or minister or congregation, I generally think it’s time I take a look at myself and change what I can change right here. Otherwise I end up with a huge collections of TEAPOTs (Those Evil Awful People Over There). 🙂

  46. Very interesting take, and timely here in March 2009. This is possibly even better than the series on the collapse of evangelicalism – which together gives me plenty to ponder.

  47. similar to the banks, evangelicalism needs to mark its bad assets to market, dump the toxic assets, and rebuild from there. nevertheless, yes we are entering the age of intellectualism, however, the answer is not intellect…it is relationship.

    God came to earth as Jesus, so we could relate to God. God is incomprehensible to our feable brains. Who are we kidding? the message is simple, the intellectual banter is noise.

    as far as the money drying up…it is God’s money.

    the current global financial crisis…well, that is God making an asset allocation.

  48. Gordon Hill says:

    I’m a recovering Mormon and ex Christian but I have to say that I like the things I read on this site (even if I don’t always agree).

    George W and the corporate christians have done a huge disservice to the christian message.

    Even though I’m not a christian, I believe that the message could be used to help mankind instead of hurt humanity.

    It was refreshing to read here!

  49. Your post heartens me.

    I am an agnostic, but I have never had a problem with those who believe. I only have a problem with those who, as you say, viciously fight the culture war.

    I know that atheists can sometimes be as vicious and fervored as far right evangelicals, and I apologize for that.

    I hope that one day Christianity will return to your ideal, where those of the faith lead by example and not parading, and that spirit and knowledge will replace rhetoric.

  50. The Not-so-angry Atheist says:

    As someone who originally left the faith out of disgust over the very things you describe in this entry (and the hostility to science, but that’s neither here nor there as far as this topic is concerned), I’m very glad to see that the abuses and problems that cause so many people to be ground between the gears of the monstrous machine of contemporary evangelicalism (especially children of strongly evangelical parents who deviate in some way from the norm) are being addressed and recognized as problems.