September 3, 2014

Saving Evangelicalism

old-illustration-of-building-collapse-in-marseille-france-created-by-crapelet-published-on-l-illustrThe founder of InternetMonk, Michael Spencer, once wrote a series of essays on the Coming Collapse of Evangelicalism. I found myself not only agreeing with Michael, but cheering on the collapse of this branch of Christianity that, from my vantage point, had grown heavy with pride, selfishness, greed and fraud. Evangelicalism was imploding, collapsing under the weight of church leaders who were bigger than God. I said good riddance, and waiting for Michael’s prophecies to come true.

Then Chaplain Mike recently asked if 2012 was the year of the collapse, and I found I had a different reaction. What if the collapse were actually occurring? I found myself wanting it to be a needed shaking, not a total destruction. I then thought of an essay Lisa Dye wrote on God’s alien work, with alien meaning destructive. God was clearing moving in a destructive way. Would evangelicalism be no more?

No, evangelicalism will survive. Whether or not it will be in a form recognizable to those in that world today is not really important to me. Will the future evangelical movement be something that glorifies God, or just another brick in the tower of Babel, man’s attempt to show God that God can be reached anytime man wants to do so?

Evangelicalism is worth saving, but only if it can be reshaped. It will be hard, and there will be much weeping and wailing and nashing of teeth. My suggestions for saving it are but the beginning, but we have to start somewhere. In this essay I will share what I think the church as a whole needs to consider. Next week I will look at what individuals can do.

How can evangelicalism be saved? Let’s start with these ideas.

Those in charge need to stop being leaders and become pastors. Do you know what a pastor is? A pastor is a shepherd. Do you know what shepherds do? They hang around dirty, smelly, rebellious sheep. Shepherds “lead” their sheep from behind. If the shepherd gets out in front of the sheep and marches on, he will soon find himself walking solo, with his sheep going every which way but forward.

Today’s evangelical churches are led by leaders, not pastors. Leaders are innovative and spontaneous and creative. Pastors plod on day after day. Leaders cast a vision, pastors visit shut-ins and the sick. Leaders motivate others into leadership. Pastors beg others to work in the nursery or help tear down tables after the missionary dinner. See why more people want to be leaders than pastors? Michael Spencer saw this when he wrote,

Today’s pastors aren’t servants as much as they are experts. They don’t so much love the church as they are energized by what they can lead the church to do. By seeing everything in the church as a means to an end, the end becomes all the more important. On that note, scripture is clear. Ephesians 3:21: To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.”

It is the sheep who miss out in a church led by a leader. Who will tend to the sheep? Eugene Peterson was a shepherd who knew his sheep, bandaged and clothed their wounds, and chased after the strays. He could have been a leader, but chose to remain a shepherd. Maybe in the evangelical church of the future all who claim the title of “pastor” will be required to read Peterson’s book by the same title.

Grow smaller, not larger. Do you ever notice just how horrible of a marketer Jesus was? Here he feeds 5000 with a handful of food and the crowds will not go away. They are getting so big it’s obvious Jesus is going to have to go to not only multiple service times, but probably have multiple sites. He has the Pharisees on the run. The disciples are starting to see things come together.

Then Jesus goes off script. His PR firm would never have approved of what he was saying. “Eat my flesh. Drink my blood.” Wait a minute, Jesus. This is not seeker-friendly material here. Let’s get back to what meets the felt needs of the people. How about serving them another free meal? But Jesus keeps at it until the only ones left standing are his disciples. “Are you going to leave me as well?” he asks. Peter says, “Where else can we go?” It must have been a very sad, lonely moment for them all.

That scene would never have happened in evangelicalism before the collapse. It was all about numbers and success and tearing down sanctuaries to build bigger buildings. It was about one leader being able to speak to lots of people at different sites at the same time through the miracle of fiber optics. The church growth movement of the 80s and 90s spawned mutant congregations who were fed with miracle fish and loaves week after week, but never had to come face to face with Jesus’ body and blood. If evangelicalism is to be saved, it must grow smaller. And the way to do that is to preach Jesus crucified. I attended Easter service this last year at a megachurch in my own city. The leader (he is in no way a pastor, as he never associates with the sheep) gave a completely Christless message. He talked about his own growing up and how we all long for family. Seriously. On Easter.

If evangelicalism is to survive, it will have to do as Jesus did and get rid of the crowds who only want their free meal.

Learn to think. Seriously, if I hear another church leader brag about how he barely got through high school but now, praise God, he leads a multi-campus church with ten thousand members, I’m going to puke. Being stupid is not something to brag about. You are given the responsibility of rightly dividing the word of truth. Take that responsibility seriously. Study. Think. Wrestle with ideas. What do you think of transubstantiation? Why do you think that way? Why do you agree or disagree? Can you mind be changed? Defend your position scripturally, then take the other side and defend it scripturally. Do you still think the same way?

I am not saying all pastors have to graduate from seminary, but I am not one who says seminaries ruin a good many would-be pastors. Even liberal seminaries can train one to think. Even the greatest train-wreck of a professor can help one learn to learn. Yes, you can steal others’ sermons from the Internet, mix in a few examples of your own, add a movie clip, and come across as a great entertainer, but is that what Jesus meant by “feed my sheep”? If you are to feed his sheep with something substantial, something that will keep the sheep going on this long journey, don’t you think it should be something more than cotton candy?

What are church leaders reading these days? How many have traded books by classic theologians for books about Steve Jobs? Can evangelicalism survive if its leaders cannot think?

Close down the God Shop. God is not WalMart. You cannot go to him with, well, with anything and demand he meet your needs. He is not a vending machine. Jesus will not dispense wisdom for having a good marriage, performing well in bed, raising problem-free kids, increasing your investment portfolio, or taking inches off your waistline no matter how many coins you shove in the slot. Evangelicalism loves transacting business with God. It is yet another way we think we can control him. If I do or say this, then God will have to do that.  It springs from thinking that our salvation is based on a transaction with God, a false view that Michael took aim at with an illustration he borrowed from NT Wright.

It is the time of the Roman empire, and a small village on the outskirts of an outlying Asian province has received a messenger from the capital. The village elders have gathered the whole city to hear the message from the outside world. After the formal greetings, the messenger stands and speaks.

“The new emperor, Tiberius Caesar, sends you greetings. Our divine emperor extends his benevolent rule to this village, and proclaims his power and wisdom to all your citizens. In the future, taxes and tribute from you will be brought to Tiberius. Those who submit to his rule can expect peace and justice. Those who rebel against him will find justice and punishment. Tiberias Caesar is Lord!”

Is this a description of a transaction between the citizens of the city and the new emperor? The language of the messenger at first appears to be transactional, as much of the language of the New Testament appears to describe a “give and get” arrangement between God and the Christian. But is that really what’s going on?

What we actually have here is an announcement of a new order. The villagers are being informed of the new order and realities of that order. Their acceptance or rejection of the announcement is secondary to the reality of whether their behavior now conforms to the new order. Tiberias isn’t opening a business and looking for customers. He’s informing his subjects of what the future will be like. Tiberias is Lord. “Accepting” him as Lord isn’t a transaction; it’s an embracing of reality. Sending taxes to Tiberias may bring Roman protection, but no one is “buying” the friendship of the emperor. They are wisely sending on to Tiberias what already belongs to him. If a new road appears in the city, it is not a transaction with Tiberias that brought the road; it is the “will” of Tiberias that brings roads and blessings; war and peace.

Is “transaction” the word that best applies here? Or is it recognition? The messenger is proclaiming the advent of a new order and the wise benefits of recognizing that order. While his language may sound transactional, the realities of the situation make it obvious that something entirely different has arrived. Various persons in the city may “repent,” “confess” and “believe” in the new order, but does anything new happen at those points? Or do these responses simply indicate a rearranging and recalibrating of the person’s life in line with the new order and reality of Tiberias?

Evangelicalism that survives will be such that it no longer encourages its followers to transact business with God, but one that proclaims God has set up a new order, a new kingdom with new laws, and invites all to enjoy the peace and prosperity that comes by living in this new kingdom. The emphasis must be on what God has done, not what we want him to do for us. No more telling us that if we would just be more moral, read our Bibles more, pray more, give more, we would have more. The story must be told over and over of how we are completely and utterly bankrupt, but God in his mercy paid our debt. Then we can be sent on our way to rejoice throughout the week. That is the message of the evangelicalism that survives.

Give up on the culture wars. Need I say more? Just stop with trying to “return America to its Christian roots.” No more “taking Hollywood for Jesus.” Stop already. We are told to be lights in a darkened world. The world around us will always be dark. But fear sells, and for way too long evangelical leaders have preyed upon us by telling us if we don’t pony up some money and defeat Satan, our children will be snatched away before they know what is good for them. Good grief. Let’s give God a little more credit than that, shall we?

These are a few of my ideas for an evangelicalism that can go forward as a Gospel-proclaiming movement, one that lifts up Jesus the crucified and risen king. If this is not the aim, then I say let it collapse and burn, and the sooner the better.

Comments

  1. First thing this year I haven’t had any disagreement with. A+!

    I’d extend that beyond American Evangelicalism, this applies to the church generally. Roman Catholics have their goofball anti-intellectual mystics, liberal mainlines have their own culture wars no less murky in clouding the Gospel, and even my good old LCMS has problems with pastors wanting to lead and grow rather than do the dirty work of visiting shut-ins and calling absent members. If it doesn’t preach Christ crucified, it’s not properly part of the church.

    • Jeff,
      Excellent post! Thanks.

      Boaz,
      Can you explain/give an example of “Roman Catholics have their goofball anti-intellectual mystics”?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Can’t think of specific names, but “Mary Channeling” IS a popular way to flake out.

        • Wow, this is awesomely bad:

          For the last eleven years I have also been channeling the loving wisdom of Divine Mother Mary and other Masters from the Realms of Light. I have traveled internationally as an ordained Madonna Minister, channeling Mother Mary at the Chalice Well in Glastonbury, amidst the trees and green of Scotland’s Findhorn and at gatherings large and small from Maine to California. Everywhere I go, Mother Mary’s wisdom brings comfort and perspective from the Sacred Realms to illuminate and enrich our human journey. Now, at last my worlds are One.

          http://channelmary.com/about-samarah/

          • Cedric Klein says:

            That can’t be Mary- there’s nothing about Three Days of Darkness.

            I am that rarest of critters- a definite Protestant who just can’t shake believing that she really was talking to shepherd children at Fatima.

      • Catholic Charismatic Renewal, plus a lot of the prophecies, visions, saints trinkets, and superstitious nonsense that still is central for a lot of Catholics, instead of plain old Jesus.

        • But I was just randomly picking examples, I could have referred to the anti-intellectual charismatic trends in the LCMS, the culture war battles of Roman Catholicism, and so on. These problems exist in every church, it’s just a matter of degree.

          • What’s interesting is that your list tracks pretty closely to the list in my new favorite book to advertise. A lot of it could have been ripped from Imonk. http://www.amazon.com/Broken-Christian-Rules-Every-Possible/dp/0758631014

            Learn to think. –> avoid mysticism

            Give up on the culture wars. –> avoid moralism

            Close down the God Shop. –> avoid prosperity

            Those in charge need to stop being leaders and become pastors. –> avoid churchianity (the ifwecanjust church)

            Grow smaller, not larger. –> avoid pragmatism

            He adds a few more, rationalism and antinomianism, and one common thread that ties them all together.

      • About 25 years ago I got pamphlet in the mail addressed to a prior resident of my temporary apartment. It was down right strange. Took me a while to figure it out as it was written for those “in the know”.

        It was about a house/apartment in the are where shadowy light shows would appear which at times showed images of the VM. There were some really poor quality pictures of some of these events. (Which to me could be faked by someone taking a long exposure shot of someone in black waving a flashlight.) There were references to how a local Catholic church was helping determine the nature of these events. The text was all about how miraculous this was and surely this location would become a shrine at some point soon.

        Anyway this had enough traction that a local church was involved and there was a real postal email newsletter being sent out regularly. I wish now I had kept it.

      • Dan Crawford says:

        You want to watch several hours of EWTN and people like the Lords.

    • David Cornwell says:

      However they have some mystics who are not goofballs as well.

      • Boaz et al,
        Thanks. Sorry for not responding earlier. I’ve been working and haven’t had a chance to get back on the post.

        I’m not familiar with Mary Mary and I don’t watch EWTN. I’m interested when I hear/read comments about Catholicism. There’s a lot to be critical about, but I’ve been blessed to have been exposed to the best aspects of Catholicism by a lot of low key, non-wacky, holy people. From the overall tone of internetmonk it’s clear that a lot of folks disagree with “mainline” Christianity. I think Christianity in general (RCs in particular) is very misunderstood and represented poorly – especially by Christians (and RCs).

        One of the best homilies I ever heard was by a bishop at a confirmation. He started by saying: “Do you know what’s wrong with the Church?” Then he pointed to a young man and said: “It’s that you’re in it.” The bishop then continued, pointing to other folks: “And you’re in it, and you’re in it…., and I’m in it.”

        • I just re-read my post from yesterday and realized the first part doesn’t make any sense. My only explanation is I’m on some wicked-good post-op pain meds.

          I just realized what you meant by “Mary channeling”. I agree some RCs blur the line between Mary and Jesus. It’s not all of us, though.

          Thanks for the honest input.

  2. I had to look up transubstantiation. I enjoy reading the works you guys do. Thank you.

  3. Can you define ‘evangelicalism’ for me Jeff? I think it might mean something rather different to how I define it (coming from another culture) and I’d find it helpful.

    • Ali -

      ‘Evangelicalism’ is hard to define. There are some that tie it to things like holding to inerrancy or other terms. In all, evangelicalism connects to the evangel, or good news – that we are called to proclaim it. That’s where evangelicals got their name – they desired to announce the evangel/good news.

      Now, having said that, of the 5 points Jeff mentions in the article, if you see a church that partakes in what Jeff is challenging them about, then I believe this is who Jeff would be challenging. Not all evangelical expressions of church [and maybe we could even specifically speak of America] market God, produce leader-CEO’s, are interested in more numbers & programmes, etc. But many are and that seems to be whom this challenge is spoken to. I hope that made sense.

      • Yes – that’s helpful – thanks.

      • Scott, and Ali,

        I would suggest googleing and reading the evangelical manifesto.

        Inerrancy is not one of the key components.

      • From what I’ve seen many “traditional” Evangelical churches are moving towards ones that follow Jeff’s points. Many led by the YRR crop of pastors that seem to be all the rage for the last 10 to 20 years.

        Tie that with a conversion of many congregationally led churches to closed system Elder led and the churches you know 5 years ago has vanished. Elder board brings in a new YRR pastor and things get changed. Same building, new crowd and theology. Well much of the old crowd may be there out of habit but they are now marginalized by the new “leaders”.

        • There is one more thing that I would add Jeff and I think it is especially important David L.

          Many evangelicals and the YRR need to get on their knees and ask for forgiveness for how they treated people. Seriously…you can’t have stuff like this floating on the net:

          http://www.sgmsurvivors.com/

          And not atone or make up for it. Many YRR need to beg for forgiveness and set things right. It may mean letting the chips fall where they may. Or paying for the counseling for those who have been abused, trampled, etc… Talk is cheap…and actions speak louder than words.

    • To me the thing that primarily defines evangelicalism historically is the belief that a person must be born again, or have some sort of conversion experience, in order to be a Christian. There have been other things that have gotten tied to the definition – some of them from evangelicals themselves trying to define boundaries, and others from people outside the movement.

    • Ali, if I could add to what ScottL and Phil M have said:

      Evangelicalism holds to the belief in a “born again” conversion experience (John 3) or at least an awareness that one has been transformed by the Holy Spirit through the work of Jesus on the cross. Some may not remember when that occurred, having been very young.

      Evangelicalism has a desire to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to others (Matthew 28), to spread the gospel, presumably of God’s saving grace through Christ, to “make disciples of all the world”.

      Evangelicalism also treasures the Bible as inspired by God and authoritative in believers’ lives.

      Evangelicalism crosses boundaries of denominations, almost always Protestant, but there will be Roman Catholic and Orthodox equivalents. Many of my evangelical friends are from congregational or episcopal or baptist or Assembly of God churches. We all believe in essentially the same things and talk the same language, even though our denomination may be on the liberal side and not so evangelical.

      Not to start another forest fire, but I think Fundamentalism crosses the boundaries not only of denominations but of entire religions. But that is another fight.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Evangelicalism holds to the belief in a “born again” conversion experience (John 3)…

        “Holds to” or “Tunnel-visions into”?

        • Well, Jesus did say “you must be born again.” Not our fault.

          Hey, I tossed you a bone, HUG, by suggesting that it doesn’t have to be datable. :-)

          And I gave wide latitude for Roman Catholic equivalents…

    • Ali:

      Bebbington’s work is gaining traction on the question of what an Evangelical is:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Bebbington

  4. Jeff, I totally agree with your points. I have never been anything but Catholic, but have watched Evangelical churches closely as an outsider for years. In Florida, I drove past Benny Hinn’s old headquarters and a 15,000+ member mega-church. Here in Virginia I am in Jerry Falwell’s home turf, surrounded by Liberty University and Thomas Road Baptist Church, and you can’t read, drive, or watch TV without knowing what they are doing “up on the mountain”.

    It seems to me, and I am not being flippant or ugly, that if you remove all of the stuff that needs removing, you have eliminated the Evangelical mindset and modus operendum comepletely. It seems that what you mention is the very definition of these ‘young, hip and growing” organizations that border on not being a church at all.

    But it would be nice to see their energy and money going into serving God’s least instead of a new Jumbotron.

  5. I think that the beginning of saving evangelicalism would start here:

    Stop counting transferring church attending christians from another church to your church as a measure of success. Don’t turn them away, but that should not count as “growing the kingdom”.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Call it what it is: SHEEP RUSTLING.

      • But it isn’t. That would imply that the sheep belong to someone. The sheep are autonomous and have the right to attend services where and with whom they want. Having the option to transfer means the sheep are not as likely to be mistreated by bad shepherds.

        • Autonomous sheep? That’s your analogy? Seems like an oxymoron to me. Personal rights avail not amidst herd mentality. But if “sheep rustling” doesn’t jive with you, then how about “popularity contest?”

          • Hey Miguel,

            I am now approaching six years at my current church. Which is longer than I have been at any other church in the past 39 years. Looking back, I can see may reasons for the moves, but none of them are for what you might call “sheep rustling” or “popularity contests”.

            Do you think Chaplain’s Mike move to the Lutheran church was because of “sheep rustling” or a “popularity contest”? What about your own move? Which one was it?

            From my experience people have genuine reasons why they move from between churches, and “sheep rustling” or “popularity contests” are not at the top of the list.

          • The sheep belong to Christ and those that seek to attract them using something other than Christ are sheep stealers.

            A church led by a guy claiming private visions direct from God or healing powers that only work on vague symptoms, or using rockin praise band that doesn’t actually say anything, or making promises of prosperity, or claiming the church is really about advancing liberal/conservative political goals, are not preaching Christ.

          • The sheep belong to Christ and those that seek to attract them using something other than Christ are sheep stealers.

            A church led by a guy claiming private visions direct from God or healing powers that only work on vague symptoms, or using rockin praise band that doesn’t actually say anything, or making promises of prosperity, or claiming the church is really about advancing liberal/conservative political goals, are not preaching Christ.

            Isn’t this kind of like blaming the handsome jock for stealing your girlfriend while you sit around feeding your face with potato chips? It takes two to tango, as they say…

            As I mentioned below, I think we have to consider what attract people to different churches. Sometimes it’s coolness or whatnot, but a lot of time it’s because people have a felt need that isn’t being met, and many churches take the attitude of, “well, we’re here, what are you waiting for?”.

            I feel like a lot of commenters on this site are good at offering simple solutions for complex problems. In the real workd, though, those rarely work out too well.

          • @ Phil:

            Isn’t this kind of like blaming the handsome jock for stealing your girlfriend

            Comparing church attenders to high school girlfriends has got to be the most hilarious (though not necessarily untrue) analogy I’ve ever heard! Of course, if you’re gonna use being trim and fit as the justifier for relationship decisions, you’re feeding into MY analogy that life is just one beauty contest after another :P

            I’m not aware of any simple solutions to attractional church methods, but I’m certainly open to one.

            I’m not a big fan of the term “felt need.” Mainly because the modifier makes it seem somehow distinct from a “legitimate need.” I don’t think churches are called to meet everybody’s “felt needs,” but perhaps I would if I better understood what the terms met. All I know is that catering to these “felt need” is a sure way to attract customers to your business. But I’m kinda hoping that isn’t what the faith all boils down to.

            @ Mike: I’m sure you’ve never ditched long time friends and family to follow a celebrity preacher or some exciting new praise band or “move of God’s spirit.” But let’s not wear blinders and insist that nobody is. I’ve lost track of the number of people I’ve know to jump around because they like the music better somewhere else, or this preacher is “better.” Converting to another tradition isn’t the same as jumping to a different congregation, not to mention that vocational church workers are limited by employment availability.

            I think congregational loyalty is a good thing and it helps to foster a sense of community. I certainly hope my life is marked by longer tenures, but when you work there it’s really an uphill battle. I’m not saying people should never change churches. But I am saying that people do change too often for shallow, fickle reasons, and I think catering to this does more harm than good.

          • The problem is that Christians are those that hear and believe Christ’s Word, but lots of people want to believe in other stuff and we’d like to make them Christians. So we appeal to the other stuff they want to believe in and pretend they are Christians.

          • @Miguel – Just wanted to point out that there were legitimate reasons besides “Sheep stealing” and “Popularity contests.”

          • I disagree Micheal. In my experience, most people are leaving because the “church” down the street has a starbucks in it and they had out ipads for the kids to play games on during the “service.”

            I know that Miguel can speak for himself, but he left the popularity contest “church” for a centuries old church that that isn’t trying to appeal to people based on the American values of consumerism and entertainment.

            The whole point though really isn’t why people leave X church for Y church. It’s more about churches who take in people from other churches and then count that as kingdom growth.

          • Gary, you sound like you are disagreeing with my original point, but agreeing with my last point.

        • But it isn’t. That would imply that the sheep belong to someone.

          In many churches that fit the above list of problems, a big problem is that the pastor(s) do believe the sheep belong to them. Just look at how the bylaws of many churches state that members can’t leave without permission. Or you can’t leave while under discipline and at times you don’t find out you’re under discipline until you try and leave.

          • @Boaz…..

            …so we appeal to the other stuff that they want to believe and pretend they are Christians……

            YES!!!!

            Thank you for verbalizing what has been on my heart. Instead of presenting Christ in Truth, and letting those called by God to respond in faith, evangelical megachurches try to lure in non-believers with shows and classes and concerts, and then gently try to slide a watered-down version of God under the door. And then they wonder WHY these pseudo-Christians wander off when they aren’t having fun anymore???

      • It isn’t necessarily sheep rustling. People change churches for all kinds of reasons – moving, driving convenience, interpersonal issues, changes in theological view. I just meant that Jim going from 1st Presybterian to 2nd Congregational shouldn’t be used a metric of success. If 2nd Congregational is a better fit for Jim, great! But 2nd Congregational should not boast too loudly about the Jims at their next business meeting, either.

        • MelissatheRagamuffin says:

          If people can be attracted by something other than preaching Christ then maybe they aren’t sheep since Jesus said his sheep would flee from the voice of a stranger.

  6. Good post. I always felt Michael Spencer’s predictions of Evangelicalisms collapse were amiss; upheaval maybe coming, but not collapse. Fact is you can take your points here and substitute the Roman Catholic Church of 450 years ago or the mainline denominations of 100 years ago and make almost exactly the same points. Evangelicalism isn’t in collapse; it is going through the natural maturing process of all Christian movements.

  7. Jeff, this is great stuff to chew on (though I”m not finished chewing on your “blind, poor, and dead” peice). Your points on leadership, especially, are spot on. I say “tear down the walls, and start again”. Great work, bro.

  8. The church, like everything else God created, is an evolving organism. When one method starts to grow stale or is corrupted, a newer way develops. Evangelicalism is another one of those phases. It worked for a while.

    I’ve always said that the things of God are good and pure, but as soon as Man gets hold of them, he screws them up.

    • +1

      Interesting though that God still uses man to communicate His Word and do His Will here on earth.

    • Totally agree with your second paragraph, but you are off base in the first. The Catholic Church has changed outward appearances, but the Faith and doctrines are the same today as they were in the first century. NOT asking you to become Catholic, but please don’t confuse exterior changes and challenges with internal consistancy.

      “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gate of hell shall not prevail against Her.”

      • I was speaking of methods. The Catholic church is not the same organization that it was in the first century. It did not exist in the first century. Unless you are referring to the universal (catholic) church.

        • Yup, the only one that was around for the first 1500 years. Christian and Catholic were synonyms.

  9. Matt Purdum says:

    Still, there are millions of “Christian evangelicals” who want to flood the streets with automatic weapons, put pot-smokers and pregnant girls seeking abortion in prison, destroy labor unions and reduce the hours and wages of working people, and support the war machine. Along with a lot of other mean things they want to do.

    Puritans — the most extreme sect of Christians anywhere in the world in the 16th and 17th centuries — were the Christians who started this whole American Christianity nonsense. They did NOT come here for religious freedom, but to establish their own “Kingdom of God” withe their own rules for burning witches and exiling heretics, and we’ve never gotten back in this nation to true, orthodox, historical Christianity. I’m glad to see the evangelicalism of Finney and Moody pass from the face of the earth.

    • meh, those Christian evangelicals are by and large, white, rural folk who are conservatives. They choose to worship the way they do and to take the political positions they do, because of their conservatism. Not because of their theology. “American Grace” by Putnam and Campbell pretty much showed that when one’s politics diverge from one’s theology, the trend is to change one’s theology.

      Which makes perfect sense to me as one who changed partially due to political reasons. Politics is shorthand for where one’s values arise. For me, it is from the philosophy of Rousseau, Voltaire and Spinoza. Little wonder that a worldview shaped by those philosophies might find Catholicism constraining.

      In the case of conservatives, I hear strains of Burke, and yet also Rousseau (they are Americans after all) with a strong libertarian bent married with a desire for law and “order”.

    • I think this is a bit simplistic of a view. The divide in America isn’t really liberal/conservative so much anymore, and not all evangelicals are ultra-conservative (some are). The divide really breaks down much more along socioeconomic lines. Charles Murray’s book, Coming Apart does a good job of describing it. The irony is that those people who we generally associate as being more “liberal” – wealthier, white, highly educated people living in suburbs or in wealthy urban centers – actually live lives that are generally more “conservative” than those who are poor. They are less likely to get divorced, less likely to have children outside of marriage, etc.

      America really is becoming a country that is continually more and more polarized between the haves and have-nots. The have-nots are increasing in number but decreasing in influence. This undoubtedly will change the face of religion in the country, too.

    • Vinnie from Tennessee says:

      Still, there are millions of “Christian evangelicals” who want to flood the streets with automatic weapons, put pot-smokers and pregnant girls seeking abortion in prison, destroy labor unions and reduce the hours and wages of working people, and support the war machine. Along with a lot of other mean things they want to do.

      Matt -

      Funny, but I don’t want to do any of these things! Here’s what I want to do: Love Jesus, and love others. Exactly how much research did you do prior to making your statement? Truthfully, I used to have thoughts like this about people who didn’t agree with my thinking/theology. A thorough study/reflection of Matthew 7:1 helped me a lot.

  10. David Cornwell says:

    Evangelicals should forget the idea of a monthly conference call from the President of the United States, who after all mainly lied to them in the first place. Jesus didn’t have messengers running back and forth to Rome. But Rome had it’s eye on Him all along. The Church is better off when the government looks at it with a little suspicion, not a mutual love affair, licking each others tongues.

  11. Very helpful reminder, Jeff.

    The only thing that I disagree agree with is painting “evangelicals” with such a broad brush. There is always room for improvement, but God uses imperfect churches and individuals to carry out His Will and communicate His Word, despite themselves.

    • oops disagree with

    • I felt that way a few years ago. Now after looking for an Evangelical church that doesn’t have 2 or more of the point above for a few years, I’m not so sure they aren’t a clear majority at this time. Maybe not all the people in the pews but in terms of churches as a whole and their leadership, I’m now somewhat with the broad brush folks.

      • Understood David. I can only speak from my own experience. Perhaps I’m a little naive about what’s going on in other church’s across the country. But I know there’s exceptions to the rule, therefore can we shrink the brush just a little? :)

  12. This is wonderful…absolutely wonderful.

  13. I recommend the following book if anyone is interested on reading more about this topic: “RetroChristianity” by Michael Svigel. Written by an evangelical who recognizes that Evangelicalism is in trouble and needs to be saved and outlines suggestions for doing so. I enjoyed reading it immensely. Plus he’s a pretty cool guy in real life also.

    Link: http://www.amazon.com/RetroChristianity-Reclaiming-Forgotten-Michael-Svigel/dp/1433528487/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1357833413&sr=1-1&keywords=retrochristianity

    Jeff – the one suggestion that resonated with me most is pastors need to become pastors and not leaders. I read an article recently (I think through a post on this site) that Mark Batterson’s church has a 40% turnover rate. When I read that I couldn’t help thinking: how do you lose 40% of the people that come to your church? What happened to those people? Why didn’t they stay? It really disturbed me (though granted I have no idea how this rate is actually calculated and if the people that left were actually people who had joined the church as an official member, or were simply attending for a while). I can’t help but wonder how many of those that left would have stayed had there been an actual pastor there to tend to their problems, wounds, etc.

    Also, I think for evangelicalism to survive it needs to put the Bible in its proper place as a tool that teaches us about God and points us to God, rather than it being God itself. The Apostles preached the Gospel and taught about Christ and His redeeming work first, then they wrote it down. Our relationship as Christians is to God, not to the Bible.

    • “I think for evangelicalism to survive it needs to put the Bible in its proper place as a tool that teaches us about God and points us to God, rather than it being God itself.”

      Amen!

      “Our relationship as Christians is to God, not to the Bible.”

      I would add our relationship as Christians is “to God first and others second, not to the Bible.”

  14. Richard Hershberger says:

    “I am not saying all pastors have to graduate from seminary…”

    I’m going to take the unpopular opposing position here. There are many ways to divide the various Christian sects. A non-standard but, in my opinion, useful one is those which demand highly educated clergy and those which don’t. The late Medieval Catholic church fell into the latter category. This was one of the things that appalled Luther, and which he set out to rectify.

    The question for the latter sort is the pastor to follow the right path when he lacks, the training to recognize it, much less how he is to be a good shepherd for his flock. The late Medieval Catholic answer was the the laity weren’t expected to know much: just to do what they were told. The village priest wasn’t much different. Only in the higher ranks of the church was actually knowing much about Christianity of any importance. The system worked in a fashion because of its hierarchical organization: a characteristic entirely lacking in modern American Evangelical Protestantism.

    The Prosperity Gospel is the characteristic heresy of modern American Evangelical Protestantism. This isn’t merely this unregenerate Lutheran’s opinion. Thoughtful Evangelicals routinely agree. Yet the Prosperity Gospel is thriving within Evangelicalism. Why is this? There are multiple explanations, including the “give them what they want” attitude. But one underlying reason is that when the leadership is essentially uneducated in Christianity, how is it to even know that this is a heresy. There is nothing new under the Sun. The Devil isn’t smart enough to come up with new heresies. The educated pastor has the intellectual equipment to recognize the flim-flam artist, because he knows this flim-flam from learning of its earlier incarnations. The uneducated pastor notes that Prosperity Gospel feels good and puts butts in seats, and concludes that it must be the real deal: God’s will. This isn’t to say that a seminary education is all that is necessary to prevent heresy. Far from it. But without that education, you have a fortress with its front gate wide open.

    I wince when I hear about someone hearing a call to be a pastor, followed immediately by his stepping into the pulpit. Maybe a few years down the road he might go to seminary, but then again maybe he won’t. Even if he does, what has he been doing before then? I’m not questioning the call. I am questioning the response.

    • David Cornwell says:

      “I wince when I hear about someone hearing a call to be a pastor, followed immediately by his stepping into the pulpit.”

      When this happens there is not a discerning process among a group of other pastors and church leaders. One needs to submit to some kind of authorized ordaining body that questions the “call,” tests, probes, and creates further process to which one must submit. Becoming a pastor isn’t about starting a new business and attracting customers.

      • Could have fooled me!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        JMJ/Christian Monist has written about this attitude time and time again at his blog. The root seems to be a Platonic Dualism that once you Hear the Call, God Will Miraculously Provide All You Need To Know on the Spiritual Plane, never mind reality. Which is how you get 12-year-old “Child Evangelists” screaming to congregations — after all, they Have the Call and God is Speaking Through Them.

    • To be honest, I’ve never considered the possibility of the prosperity preachers being snookered into heresy. I’ve always just assumed that they were flimflam artists from the start.

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        I, being the charitable soul that I am, prefer to assume that most people start with good intentions. But we all know what road uses those as paving material. I wouldn’t necessarily say “snookered” (except inasmuch as all heresies come from the Devil) as that they wandered into them. (Consider the etymology of the word “error”.) To combine metaphors, taking the broad and easy road to destruction might perfectly reasonably seem like a good idea if you don’t have a road map showing you where it ends.

    • When you use the term “Prosperity Gospel”, my question is to what exactly you’re referring to. In my mind there are kind of two tracks that get that label. One of them is more a suburban megachurch type of movement where the adherents are undeniably WASP-y and wealthy. They go to a church that doesn’t demand from them, and it’s full of SUVs in the parking lot. But to me this sort of church kind of crosses denominational lines. There are several huge Lutheran churches near me that fit this kind of model. I would think that these churches actually have quite highly educated clergy.

      The other track is the more Pentecostal track with ministers like Joel Osteen, TJ Jakes, or Joyce Meyer. The congregants in these churches tend to be more diverse both in race and economic status. And actually, I think if you looked at the average income of the people who attend these type of churches, it’s generally pretty low. It’s just that they believe that their ministers should be wealthy. So there is an association of the blessing of God with financial status.

      The one thing I tell people is that things like the Prosperity Gospel don’t happen in a vacuum. They happen because people have a perceived need that isn’t being met elsewhere. I think a reason the Pentecostal churches I described are successful in drawing people who are less well off is that they actually give people hope. It may be a false hope to a big extent, but I think people see more established churches as simply supporting the status quo, and for many people the status quo sucks. So some hope is better than no hope.

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        “They go to a church that doesn’t demand from them, and it’s full of SUVs in the parking lot. But to me this sort of church kind of crosses denominational lines. There are several huge Lutheran churches near me that fit this kind of model. I would think that these churches actually have quite highly educated clergy.”

        I don’t know where you are, but I will hazard a guess that is is a part of the country historically settled by German or Scandinavian immigrants, and that these huge Lutheran churches are the product of a cultural expectation of going to church and of its being Lutheran. These churches are sort of interesting in how they withstood and reacted to the rise of Evangelicalism in the 1970s and ’80s, but as a rule of thumb churches riding such cultural expectations tend not to ask much, and fade when those expectations shift. So in other words, the implied criticism of these churches for attracting the comfortable while not demanding much is well taken. Seminary education is no protection against that. And often their Evangelical counterparts are riding very similar expectations, but have attracted people from the Lutheran churches by offering a better floor show.

        That being said, the problem here is not so much outright heresy as spiritual sloth. So long as the budget balances (and in fairness this budget likely includes worthy programs) then there is little incentive to shake things up, and a large incentive not to. I would, however, be both appalled and astonished to hear actual “God wants you to be rich” garbage coming from the pulpit.

        Disclaimer: There are a handful of nominally Lutheran churches that were expressly founded on the Evangelical model in a deeply misguided attempt to replicate Evangelical church growth. If these are what you are talking about, then at this point any Lutheranism is so tenuous as to be irrelevant.

        • I’m in Minneapolis, and this church is right down the road from me (get stuck in a minor traffic jam every Sunday when I have to drive past their traffic cops on my way to church).

          http://www.mtolivet.org/home

          I can’t criticize anything explicitly about them, other than from their website they don’t seem to be much different than any other multi-site megachurch. They just happen to be Lutheran, and they have more of a past.

          • Richard Hershberger says:

            Minneapolis is usually a safe guess when anyone talks about a huge Lutheran church.

            I don’t know anything specific about this one apart from looking at their website. I can tell you it isn’t a church I would join, but I dislike large churches. I expect my pastor to know me personally. Two campuses gives me the heebee jeebies. Ordinarily a congregation would spin off a new one at that point. The multiple campus option is non-traditional, and I wonder why they chose it. I can think of several bad reasons for this. I don’t reject the idea that there might be a good reason, but I don’t know what it would be. I look at that staff directory in awe: are all these people paid employees? It seems incredible, but many of the job titles don’t have a ‘volunteer’ feel to them.

            I looked at their bulletins, and can pretty much tell you what you would find. It would be mostly a traditional Western Rite liturgy, with congregational singing of hymns, probably with organ accompaniment. It is a bit hard to judge what the hymns would be, since the bulletins I see are from Advent and Christmas, which aren’t necessarily typical. I notice about as many Christmas as Advent hymns in Advent, which is a bad sign. There also is a choir anthem each service: probably on the competent amateur level.

            What really strikes me about the bulletins is that they are running four services on Sunday mornings, giving them an hour each. I saw elsewhere on the site that the sanctuary seats a thousand. Presumably they are fairly full, or they wouldn’t be running four services. This means that they are moving a thousand people in and out and conducting the full service in an hour. That is quite a cattle call, and certainly explains why they skip reading the Epistle. It also means that the sermon must be pretty short, which likely is a blessing. The quality of the sermon is hard to judge from such circumstantial evidence, but if I were a betting man it would be on “ten minutes of pablum”. I don’t quite understand what they are doing with communion. It looks like they are running it separate from the services. This strikes me as deeply unfortunate, if I am reading it right.

            Luther taught that Christian worship consists of Word and Sacrament. The good thing I can say about what I see here is that by sticking with a traditional liturgy they ensure that the congregants are hearing the Word, as the traditional liturgy is built from Scripture. The bad thing I can say is that it looks like you could attend for years at a time without any hint of Sacrament. I strongly suspect that you are right about it not demanding much from its members: in and out in an hour, back home in time for tailgating.

            That being said, and in fairness, the same is true of most large churches. In my much much smaller church, when the call goes out for committee work or to be part of the clean-up crew for Easter breakfast or to help pack lunches for the Door Ministry, I can’t be a face in the crowd secure in the knowledge that there are ample bodies available for this sort of thing. All large churches, be they mainline Protestant or Evangelical or Catholic, end up with a bureaucracy running the place and offer the option for everyone else to slide through. The good ones work to also act on a human scale, but many fail, if they try at all.

          • I think that’s the largest Lutheran church in the nation. Pretty sui generis.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      The educated pastor has the intellectual equipment to recognize the flim-flam artist, because he knows this flim-flam from learning of its earlier incarnations. The uneducated pastor notes that Prosperity Gospel feels good and puts butts in seats, and concludes that it must be the real deal: God’s will.

      “Nine out of ten New Ideas are really Old Mistakes. But to a generation who were not alive the last time those Old Mistakes were made, they seem like Fresh New Ideas.” — G.K.Chesterton, on the importance of historical knowledge and institutional memory

  15. Steve Newell says:

    One of the things that has bothered me about “evangelicalism” is that you cannot define it from a theological basis. If you want to know that Lutherans believe, you can go to Book of Concord. For example, what do they view about Baptism or Holy Communion? On what historic basis do they base their theology: Reformation, Reformed, Armenian, Pentecostal, etc?

    In my view “evangelicals” are more defined by culture and politics than theology.

  16. “Learn to think”. That one kills me. Christianity isn’t a religion that equates learning with paganism but I continue to run into very pious people who are Leary of learning. I even know a principal of a Christian school who is skeptical of people who are really intelligent. How can you be an educator trying to shape the mind and be skeptical of the learned??? I just don’t get it.

    • Much of it goes back to the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy in the ’20s and ’30s and Princeton Theological Seminary, believe it or not. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamentalist%E2%80%93Modernist_Controversy

      People who were on the fundamentalist side of the controversy saw educational institutions as being taken over by modernists, or liberals, and because of that, a deep distrust of academia is in the DNA of evangelical groups that arose from the more conservative side of this debate.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        And as Entropy sets in you get “Holy Nincompoop Syndrome”, where the more ignorant and out-of-it you are, the more Godly and Spiritual you must be. And Idiocracy becomes the Sign of the Holy Spirit.

        “He has NO Book-Larnin’, and He is LOUD!”
        – highest complement for a rural mountain preacher-man, according to a thread on this blog years ago

    • This also has a lot to do with American culture. There are plenty of public school principals who are skeptical of people who are really intelligent as well.

      To run with the medieval example a lot of people are using, the church in the Middle Ages was THE center of learning for the culture. Anyone who was important recognized that priests and monks had some important knowledge and wisdom. Of course, that slowly degenerated into what was prevalent at Luther’s time: priests who could only read enough to say Mass and monks who never encountered the Scripture beyond the Psalms. But the church has been, many times, and should be again, a center of learning that does everything it does as well as it can.

  17. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Those in charge need to stop being leaders and become pastors.

    And judging from several church abuse blogs, some mega-pastors would be better described as Fuehrers than leaders.

    Learn to think. Seriously, if I hear another church leader brag about how he barely got through high school but now, praise God, he leads a multi-campus church with ten thousand members, I’m going to puke.

    From “He Has NO Book-Larnin’, and He Is LOUD!” to Pope and Patriarch of his own denomination. Sorry, a “multi-campus church of 10,000″ is a DENOMINATION of its own.

    Evangelicalism loves transacting business with God. It is yet another way we think we can control him. If I do or say this, then God will have to do that.

    Then make sure you have the Summoning Circle and Pentacle properly drawn and warded, and the exact words of the Summoning and Binding incantations in your King Jimmy Grimoire. Because when the mortal is calling the shots like that, it’s called MAGICK. (Crowley’s spelling, with a K.)

    Give up on the culture wars. Need I say more? Just stop with trying to “return America to its Christian roots.” No more “taking Hollywood for Jesus.” Stop already. We are told to be lights in a darkened world.

    Not repeat not the Revolutionary Communist Party or Talibani gunning to be Ayatollahs.

  18. Bill Metzger says:

    Your article is so right on I can’t stand it! I’m leaping for joy over these words. As a Lutheran pastor for 30 years, I’ve “seen it all” and how Biblical ministry has been perverted almost beyond recognition. I pastor in the shadow of Willow Creek in suburban Chicago. We once attended a Saturday evening service there and there was literally no Jesus. And yet 5000 showed up that evening (and couldn’t wait to run for their cars the instant the entertain…ah…worship had ended). Christ crucified is our ONLY message (1 Corinthians 2), but it is decidedly unpopular among a membership who have lived as consumers for so long they know nothing else. Eugene Peterson touches on this often. He remained a faithful PASTOR his entire ministry. He had a rather small congregation the entire time, but it’s still there. The biggest challenge I see is defending Christ crucified when the members of the congregation clamor for change (“See what’s happening over at the Valley Church of the Holy Unfaithful? Their drama ministry is SOOO COOL. Why aren’t we doing that?”). We are a fully liturgical congregation-as well as having a Gospel/Christ crucified contemporary service- yes, it CAN be done- and people seem to resonate more with the liturgical service. But we are also losing some people-the bread and circus group. Thank you for keeping us insecure servants who remain “just pastors” motivated!

  19. I propose that we are actually well into the Evangelical collapse. If you hold up any doctrinal standard to the pulpit time of “Evangelical” congregations (and not the 10 point doctrinal summary on the website talking about stuff that never makes the sermon) you will find that many churches labeled “Evangelical” are not preaching Christianity. Then subtract the pew surveys: How many attenders of evangelical churches subscribe to Christian dogma? Your numbers are shrinking even faster. The collapse has already happened doctrinally because our culture does not like to define religious adherence by believing particular things, and the church went right along with it. The problem is that we didn’t even recognize the collapse happening right in front of us because we were to busy counting nickels and noses. Whether or not the participation statistics catch up more quickly or slowly, I don’t believe evangelicalism is a viable religious or cultural force anymore. Add to that the number of theological progressives in the mainline who insist they get to wear the label while gutting it of its historic tenants. When we can’t come to a remote consensus on the meaning of the word, I suggest the movement has more than lost its steam. It’s become so ambiguous it’s simply irrelevant and is suffering death by ambivalence.

    • That,s quite an assertion, Miguel. Perhaps, for the sake of expediency, to say “Go Lutheran or go home”

      • I don’t see how my critique is either radical or Lutheran. Do you really think Joel Osteen and countless Christless self-help motivational speeches are the message of Christianity? And do you really hold that everybody attending church is a believer? I’m just suggesting that those gaps will widen before the seats empty and tithes drop off. How do we want to evaluate our “success?”

        • Why do you presume that most evangelical churches are comparable to self-help schools? If Osteen isn’t preaching Christ, then he needs to be corrected in love. But It seems like a bit of a stereotype that all or even most are this way.. I can testify that God is working through our evangelical church. Of course not everybody attending church is a believer, and if they aren’t, its probably the best place they could be.

          Is there a perfect church? Can Jesus communicate His Heart through His Word and Spirit despite imperfect churches?

          I know denominations are going to have some differences, but lets build each other up in Christ instead of constantly critiquing… and do it in love .. Col. 3:15

          “My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”” 1 Cornithians 1:11-12

          • It’s kind of funny how Osteen is used as the poster child for all that’s wrong in evangelicalism. Truth be told, most evangelicals I know kind of hate him. In my mind, anyway, what he preaches is less dangerous that some of the neo-Reformed stuff that is gaining steam. For me to have preachers like Mark Driscoll going around freely saying that God downright hates a good portion of humanity, well, that’s really anti-Gospel.

          • Of course. And once again, I don’t know Driscolls ministry very well, so I can’t comment. I just feel like as an “evangelical” we get compared to certain ministries that really aren’t comparable to what’s really going on out there. I have nothing against Lutherans. I just wish they’d give us simple evangelicals a little more credit. :) We love Jesus and want to to His Will too. :)

          • Joel, I never said that MOST evangelical churches were like that. I said that many are, and they’re being included in the numerical statistics that show evangelicalism to be doing fine. I suggest that that may not be the most honest way of evaluating our number of adherents. There’s plenty of good evangelical churches. ALL churches are imperfect, but that doesn’t justify or suggest we should defend bad teaching, whoever its coming from. I’m not using Osteen as a punching bag here so much as I’m trying to illustrate that not everybody who gets counted as an “evangelical” necessarily is. And there is nothing unloving about giving a critique. Unloving is to remain silent and say these things do not matter. To point those verses at denominational differences is a bit anachronistic, don’t you think?

          • Ok. Sometimes I get the impression here that unless I quite my evangelical church and join a Lutheran church I’m not really appreciating what Christ has done for us. Thank you for clearing that up.

            I see your point about Osteen. I misunderstood that. Of course, nothing unloving about a critique, quite the opposite.

            Anachronistic is a big word. I’m just an evangelical so go easy on me here. ;) I was under the false impression that some here would argue that its the Lutheran way or the highway.

          • .A critique in love without writing off the one being critiqued, that is.

          • Just remember that for some of us, the Lutheran way was the highway. There are plenty of Christ proclaiming, faithful believers in just about every tradition, and plenty baloney in Lutheran churches. But many of our critiques come form personal experiences that were difficult. If it really sounds all that foreign to you, thank God. May that someday be the case for all Evangelicals, and Lutherans.

            All I meant by the five syllable word is I doubt Paul is referring to denominations, which didn’t exist for another 10,000 years. He’s probably arguing against something more akin to tribalism or rallying behind charismatic leaders, rather than disagreement over doctrine. But I’ve not examined that particular passage too closely.

          • I see Miguel. I just hate what I perceive as divisions among Christ followers. Division of Truth is good. But division as brothers and sisters in Christ gives me heartburn. I just long for the day when we can stop analyzing and debating and enjoy His Presence together. :)

            Thanks for enlightening me on these things. I realize that we all have come down different paths to where we are now with different experiences. Grace is needed for us all, especially me. :)

        • ….OVER Truth, I should say. Only ONE TRUTH….God’s Word

    • Marcus Johnson says:

      So, if these suggestions are for the preservation of evangelicalism, I guess I’m wondering, is evangelicalism really worth saving? Seems like any institution that has five major, inherent problems, should go the way of Jersey Shore.

  20. There is a certain level of arrogance that I detect on this website. Granted, I’m relatively new here and not as “larned as some of ye”. Its great to have the discussions, but not when some presume what’s going on between people’s hearts and God in whatever church, and assert that there’s is the only “real” place to appreciate God’s Truth is there denomination, then that seems wrong. If there needs to be correcting, lets do it in love and not act like we have it all figured out.

    http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/imonk-classic-i-hate-theology

    • Joel, there is no intended arrogance on our part. But our observations come from years within various elements of the evangelical movement. Some, such as Chaplain Mike and Damaris Zehner, have chosen to move on. Martha of Ireland has never been a part of evangelicalism. Lisa Dye and myself have been, and continue to be, evangelically aligned. But we all see great flaws in the most visible manifestation of Christianity in the Western world.

      I have pointed out five areas, in snarky love, that need to be changed if evangelicalism is to survive. There are those who will read this and implement some or all of these points. There are others, such as Osteen, who have never heard of our site and thus cannot be “corrected” by me or any of our writers. And I don’t really care. I know that good entertainment and motivational speeches will always garner a larger crowd than will the Gospel.

      No one here is advocating one denomination over another.

      • Thanks Jeff. I’m a little oversensitive, I know. I appreciate these comments and have exhaled now. Thank you for taking the time to respond.

        I agree with with your post and understand that you have many more years of experience in these issues than I do. I just see whats going on in my evangelical church and assure you that these five areas in our church are right in line with your suggestions. I understand that there are many that aren’t in line.

        That’s why I take some of the things posted in the comment section too personally, I guess.

        • Two things…..welcome to you, Joel!

          Second….there are a fair number of Catholic and Orthodox folks here, some converts, some cradle-to-grave members. Speaking for myself, and I hope the others in this category, we are here to learn and share and hone our own faith, especially by listening to others. I will never be anything but Catholic but learn from others as they share their version of Christianity. Not bashing anyone or trying to convert anyone, but bringing seekers and sinners who are trying to serve Christ better are the reason I check this site daily, and have for three years now…..

          Peace, Brother!

          • Thank you!!! I appreciate your kind words!

            Like I said somewhere else on here I know I’m a little defensive and oversensitive. :) Just like you said, I’m a sinner trying to serve Christ better. God bless you and peace to you Pattie

    • I’ve been reading IM for a number of years and I too see the attitude you described as “arrogance.” I don’t think it is arrogance so much as a lack of perspective. This skew is related to the belief that the problems discussed here are unique to Evangelical Christianity rather than realizing that these tares are universal to all of Christianity and have existed among the wheat since the beginning.

      The mainlines were the answer to the corruption of the Roman Church. Modern evangelicalism was the answer to the dead mainline churches. Now, suddenly, the “older” churches have been cured of their corruption and lifelessness and they are the answer to evangelicalism. Whatever. Still, this is a great site to follow because even though the perspective is skewed, still the posts are very thoughtful.

      • TPD, help me out. Where in my post did I ever say we should return to older churches? Did you not hear me say that I want evangelicalism to survive? What part of “I am an evangelical” are you missing?

        Yes, I know these problems are pervasive elsewhere. However, this site was founded by a man who was raised as an evangelical and is continued by those who were raised evangelical. Thus our perspective.

        • Jeff, just to be clear, the “arrogance” comment was not directed at you. It’s just the tone from the commenters that, at times, seems very condescending…. like having an evangelical background makes us less appreciative of what God has done for us in Jesus. Obviously I’ve not felt that from you.

          • Try being a Methodist, Joel. I’ve rarely seen the word “mainline” here without the word “dead” attached to it. And I try hard not to roll my eyes every time I see it. There may be a good number of dead churches, but it doesn’t mean we are ALL dead.
            Rant over.

          • I don’t think mainline churches are dead. Not if Christ is working through them. Which I know He is. I think I might prefer a mainline church being a little more conservative in my personality. But, as fate would have it, I ended up growing up in just plain old run of the mill evangelical churches. But I KNOW that God’s Word and Spirit transcend churches and draws His people to faith in His Son despite churches.

        • Jeff,

          I realize you are an evangelical but as such you are now the minority on the IM ruling council. What Michael Spencer did worked because he was an insider lamenting his own rather than an outsider waging a finger. Since IM has, to a large degree, gone High Church perhaps it is time to lament the problems we all share in the Church at large instead of always beating the same old evangelical whipping boys. Quite frankly, the churches outside the evangelical movement aren’t doing things any better.

          • “Gone High Church,” huh? With capital letters, even? You might need to rethink that TPD. Embracing a historic tradition is not “going High Church,” and if you came to the congregations I attend, I doubt that’s how you would characterize them. I also think you underestimate how revivalistic evangelicalism has become the public face of Christianity in America, with exposure and influence that goes far beyond its own churches. What’s the balance, for example, in public media between various types of evangelical programs and all others? How many mainline or Roman Catholic Christian bookstores, radio stations, TV shows, etc. are there in comparison with those of the evangelicals? When the media covers culture and politics, who is front and center in the culture wars? Who has the prominent megachurches?

            Plus, we who write on IM (with the exception of Martha) all live in the Midwest — and Michael was from the southern part of this same region — where evangelicalism/fundamentalism is the face of our culture as well as in specific congregations. I mean, for heaven’s sake, I’m only an hour and a half away from the Creation Museum! We are affected by the thinking and actions of the evangelical world every day. On this blog we are speaking about the dominant culture in American Christianity, not simply picking on one tribe of Christians.

            Nevertheless, I think you will also see more and more articles here reflecting the broader church (not that such articles have ever been absent). For example, even tomorrow, I will reflect on one younger mainline leader’s view of the future of the church in America.

          • CM…great response!

            TPD…..please hear what Mike is saying about the PUBLIC notion that evangelical and fundamental church beliefs are the same as ALL Christian beliefs. For example, I have had atheists riducle me regarding a literal reading of Genesis, who get stopped short when I tell them I do NOT think the world was made in six day, I totally believe in evolution, and that I agree with them that the Bible is full of contradictions. Not only that, MILLIONS of Catholics, Orthodox, Anglican, Luthern, and other denominations beleive the same THING!

            To most non-Christian Americans, Christian=Fundamental

          • CM and Pattie,

            I do hear what you are saying and I can see how it may appear that way from your perspective, however…
            Having spent most of my life in the Empire State (NY) every public representation of Christianity on news shows, TV, and movies was either wearing a collar or a robe. It is also mostly true where I currently live (PA). The evangelical church isn’t the primary face of Christianity in my experience. As for the culture war, right now those leading the charge are the Mormons and the Catholics.

            But how about church problems: I have close relatives who went to church as a family their whole lives, summer camps, VBS, the complete deal. Now that the kids are grown they have walked away from the faith and don’t believe any of it. The mom still attends but is iffy about the deity of Christ. Are they evangelicals? Nope, Lutheran. I have a friend at work who I have been talking to about the Christian faith. He was raised in devout home, attended Christian schools all the way up, but walked away from his faith after he graduated from college. He says that they were only interested in their close minded dogma, his obedience, and his money. Just one more burned evangelical right? Nope, Catholic.

            I know you are not saying that liturgical churches are perfect. But IM spends so much time beating up on the evangelical church that you misrepresent and ignore that fact that these problems are universal to all of Christianity. If we really want the Kingdom of God to advance we need to accurately acknowledge the situation. The problem is not “revivalistic evangelicalism” and the answer isn’t liturgy. If it was then the liturgical church would be in better shape than the evangelical church, but it isn’t.

          • You’re right about our perspective TPD. If we had more liturgical Christians on the site capable of giving us deep personal insight about other traditions, I’m sure we’d be more “balanced” in our critiques. As it is, we’re mostly a bunch of people “saved” in the Jesus Movement who have come to see what it has become in evangelicalism, its limitations, and some of the positive harm it is doing to the reputation of classical Christianity. As for those Lutheran and Catholics you speak of, I would simply say that “churchianity” exists in every tradition, and if those of us who write on this site become familiar with the forms it takes in some of those, we will write about it.

          • But IM spends so much time beating up on the evangelical church that you misrepresent and ignore that fact that these problems are universal to all of Christianity.

            The InternetMonk site was the creation of Michael Spencer, an Evangelical preacher who looked in the mirror and saw many issues with the Evangelical church. I’m not sure if he started the blog due to this or started the blog and gradually realized the issues.

            But the key here is this blog was started by someone to write about the Evangelical church or at least issues from the prospective of an Evangelical preacher.

          • cermak_rd says:

            It seems that from my corner of Chicagoland, the public face of Christianity is actually Catholicism. Mainly because it’s the biggest expression of Christianity here (about 60%+ of the population) and because it has 1 spokesperson (Cardinal George at the moment). And the culture war (at this point in time over gay marriage, but to his credit, he was with the anti-death penalty forces last year, too (note I’m not in principle against it in heinous cases but we had waayyy too many folk walk away from death row after having been proven innocent of the crime for which they were condemned)) is mainly being waged by the Catholic church (and it’s mainly losing). Not coincidentally, the atheist population here is also largely ex-Catholic.

            I think an interesting thesis could be written about the cultural affect on atheists in different regions of the nation of the dominant religion in their area. I have known very few born and reared atheists. Most of the ones I know were raised in religious families.

      • Marcus Johnson says:

        Maybe there is a misunderstanding as to what “lack of perspective” means. I think there is a very clear perspective on this site; it is just not one which favors evangelicalism.

        I will say, though, that there are some blind spots in that perspective. I don’t identify as either evangelical or non-evangelical, so it’s easier for me to see than others. But the critique of evangelicalism is not flawless, and I wonder sometimes if folks can really see those flaws.

    • Yes TPD agreed. t I’m addicted to IM and do love the thoughtful posts and insight that you get here that you can’t anywhere else. I learn a lot here.

      Great perspective on the churches. I like what you said above:

      “Evangelicalism isn’t in collapse; it is going through the natural maturing process of all Christian movements.”

      I think this is right on the money.

  21. Rick Gibson says:

    I seem to have had a very different experience than is reflected in this essay. As a child, I was raised in the Episcopal Church. We got a lot of theory, a lot of ritual and very little passion for Christ. It was all nice, but not particularly life-changing or important. In my middle-age, I decided that I wanted a more serious engagement with God. Inspired by John Paul II, I initially went to our local Catholic Church, where I got an excellent priest, but a relatively unengaged congregation. The basic approach seemed to be, participate in the ritual, but that was about it. Again, very nice, sometimes quite moving, but not real engagement with Christ.

    I kept looking. I found the Church at Rocky Peak. I give the name, because I am not sure that one can generalize about churches these days. Rocky Peak is a non-denominational Evangelical Church, located in the north suburbs of Los Angeles. It started its life as a Baptist Church. Rocky Peak is plainly on its way to becoming a mega-church. We presently have 2,000 members, and are pushing for more. Rocky Peak would appear to be the kind of evangelical church that this essay does not like.

    I have found it to be life-changing. For the first time in my life, I am hearing the Gospel, not as theory, not as a set of abstract doctrines, but as an imperative call to repent, to embrace Christ and to transform my life. I have no idea if what our pastor preaches is ordinary for Evangelical churches or not. His message is simple. He is seeking to unleash a movement of passionate Christ-followers, who will pursue God, love another, serve sacrifically and spread the Gospel.

    I find it electrifying. For the first time in my life, I have a pastor who, every Sunday, has something to say which speaks directly to my life. I also do not find any dumbing down. I am a lawyer myself, and I have read a great deal of abstract theology. Our pastor has a PhD, and is able to parse the Greek and Hebrew roots of Scripture, when the occasion calls for it. His approach is uncompromising, very down to Earth and extremely practical. He does not dumb it down or talk down to us. On the contrary, he is able to hold a large audience rapt for an hour while he does his best to explain things like exactly how a first century Jew would have understod the nativity stories, in the context of their tradition. He never, however, keeps it academic; it is always directed at bringing hearts to Christ. We also have small groups, which meet every week, to discuss the Word. Oh, and by the way, our pastor never mixes politics with religion. Throughout the entire 2012 election cycle, we had not one sermon on the election. I have never heard any culture war talk at Rocky Peak. The focus is also on the Gospel, not on politics.

    In short, I can’t speak to anyone else’s experience of the Evangelical Church. I, however, live in Los Angeles, the most secular, most liberal and most hostile to Evangelical region of America. Where I live, in my church, the Evangelical Church is thriving. Maybe the hostile environment of Southern California forces the Church to really get its act together. In any event, do not generalize so much about the American church. I believe this essay, when it says that different conditions prevail in some other places. Believe me, however, that what this essay is describing is hardly the universal experience.

    • This is great. Sounds like my church here is Vancouver, Wa.

      I can’t believe God is working anywhere outside of Lutheran churches

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      In short, I can’t speak to anyone else’s experience of the Evangelical Church. I, however, live in Los Angeles, the most secular, most liberal and most hostile to Evangelical region of America.

      “Los Angeles … most hostile to Evangelical region of America”?
      Where do you get that idea — Hollywood?
      Or SoCal’s rep as “Weird Religion Captial” of America since the Roaring Twenties?

      We’ve got storefront Evangelical & Pentecostal churches (most of them Spanish-language) popping up all over the place, as well as the HQ of that X-Treme Evangelical Not-a-Denomination, Calvary Chapel. And even though Televangelists are only tangentially Evangelicals, we’ve also got TBN World HQ (Colo Spgs take it — PLEASE!)

      • Matt Purdum says:

        There’s a Lutheran historian over at Vimeo who calls the Orange County cauldron “West Coast Christianity.”

    • I was electrified once when I ran into a cow fence.

      Give it five years see how it lasts. Churches like this are built on the charismatic leadership of one dude. When he gets old, it’ll crumble, or his followers will resort to stricter and stricter discipline and guilt trips to keep the ship afloat. Ten to one you’re burned out, or on to some new electrifying experience or looking for a more exciting congregation.

      And if you want to mock Lutheranism, at least get our doctrine right. Christ works wherever the Word is preached, not only in “Lutheran” churches. Even if it’s some boring old guy doing the preaching. Stop looking for emotional thrills and warm feelings in your heart because that’s not how the Spirit rolls.

      • “And if you want to mock Lutheranism, at least get our doctrine right. Christ works wherever the Word is preached, not only in “Lutheran” churches.”

        Amen.

        Who is mocking Lutherans boaz?

        • Sorry, my bad. Lutherans like to talk doctrine and get it right, and folks often take that to mean we think we’re the only true Christians. So we are sometimes defensive and have to constantly clarify that the church exists wherever Christ is preached.

          • I see. I understand. I’m a defensive evangelical. But we are on the same page brother. :)

          • I misunderstand all the time. Just look at my posts. :)

          • I feel like I’m commenting way to much, but I really appreciate what you said here. This has been my impression of some of the comments since I began visiting IM. I appreciate this about Lutherans because right doctrine is essential. But the flip side of the coin has been the impression that Lutherans are the ONLY ones that care and that evangelicals don’t. Like Miguel said elsewhere on this thread. “There are plenty of Christ proclaiming, faithful believers in just about every tradition, and plenty baloney in Lutheran churches.” And plenty of baloney is evangelical churches as well.

            So I appreciate this and glad that we can agree that the church exits wherever Christ is preached.

      • Churches like this are built on the charismatic leadership of one dude. When he gets old, it’ll crumble,

        Well it depends. When the son or son-in-law can take over you can get a lot of life out of the name. :)

        • True, especially if he has a bad boy past with a dramatic come to Jesus moment.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Somewhere on the Web there’s a checklist of “How to become a CELEBRITY Megachurch Pastor”.

            Point 1: Be born the son of a CELEBRITY Megachurch Pastor. Bonus points if you have Daddy’s name with “Junior” attached. (Like Bob Jones number-whatever.)

            Point 2: If CELEBRITY Megachurch Pastor has no sons (or none he admits to), Court(TM) and Marry the CELEBRITY Megachurch Pastor’s favorite daughter. (Arranged Political Marriage, Like Polishing-the-Shaft Schaapf inheriting the Throne from Hybels.)

  22. Rick Gibson says:

    Let me just add something to my earlier post. I, frankly, am still having trouble figuring out the different tendencies and movements in the contemporary Church. From where I sit, the mainline denominations seem to be fading. In their place, we seem to have a very chaotic movement, in which every individual church is a bit different. I can say, however, that in my church, the pastor is very clear that the Prosperity Gospel is a perversion of the Christin message; we have had several sermons going into that. As far as I can tell, the primary intellectual influence on the direction of our church is the teaching of Dallas Willard. Willard, of course, stresses making disciples in Christ. He stresses actual spiritual formation. My church does that as well. Our pastor demands a great deal of us. He often says that, if you want a nice, comfortable experience, go to another church; his purpose is to transform lives through Christ. I get the sense that some Evangelicals find the whole Dallas Willard approach to be too Catholic for their taste. I think it is an exciting and productive time, when we have Evangelical Churches exploring such traditional themes as spiritual formation, the various spiritual disciplines and so forth.

    • Rick,

      What you’ve shared really resonates with me. I don’t have time at the moment to share my own experience, but I think more and more believers are hungry for solid teaching, much in the way you describe. And I don’t mean this in the ‘feed me feed me feed me” sense. I mean it more in the “Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet’ sense. I suspect the difficult part of this is that there are few who are truly qualified to teach and preach and so believers flock to those who are and they end up being mega churches. I definitely agree with you that every church is different and there’s no way to really group everything together or generalize.

      • Rick Gibson says:

        I do not necessarily see a problem with mega-churches, if the pastor is qualified. My pastor is very good, very uncompromising and very qualified. I would to see him preaching to 10,000 people very weekend; it would be a wonderful thing. We get a more intimate experience through our small groups. I guess there is always the danger of too many people going to the head of the pastor and making him focus more of body count than preaching the Word. I do not think this would happen with our pastor, because he is a very grounded guy, but you never know. I have to say, however, I was over 50 before I heard preaching that was really solid and really life-changing. I do not think we have a super-abundance of the really good preachers. Thus, I am OK the solid churches getting really big. At least that way, more and more people are hearing authentic teaching.

        • He may be a great preacher and leader, but he is NOT a pastor. If the leader of a church cannot visit the sick or personally council a troubled souls, he is far from being a pastor. THAT is the issue with even the very best mega-churches.

    • Rick, any church that uses the teachings of Dallas Willard and stresses spiritual disciplines is certainly on the right track…

  23. Jeff, you obviously have been hanging around the Saturday Rambler too long because in this post’s fourth paragraph you mentioned “weeping and wailing and nashing of teeth” (emphases mine) when what you surely meant was gnashing of teeth.

    As ever,
    Your peripatetic and even roving editor.

  24. Lacking formal education does’t mean someone is stupid… And, I think there’s enough evidence to show conclusively that having an education does not guarantee a person will be able to think. Education has a place but Jesus didn’t say His Power would come through degrees and titles but through His Holy Spirit’s endwelling power. The first 12 men who were Hand picked by Jesus Christ Himself would not be those selected to lead our most, or even mid, prestigious “churches” today… To expect someone to be more fit for Kingdom work due to education is humanism at its root…

    • sarahmorgan says:

      Not stupid, but it really puts a damper on a pastor’s ability to effectively minister to someone who has significantly more formal education than the pastor himself…it’s discouraging to seek pastoral advice from someone who is of the opinion that your “over-educatedness” is the root of your problem, or to learn the hard way that your pastor is intimidated by your education to the point of wanting you to leave his church. :-p

    • It sure makes it harder to know church history, the rationale for doctrine, how to spot a heracy, or know a bad biblical translation when they see one. Would you trust your physical health to a guy who felt “called” to be a physician and opened an office? Souls are MUCH more important than bodies…..

  25. As to those who argue against this being an article with too broad a brush. A group of us Evangelicals basically got run out of our church. It started out with an implied “If you’re not YEC you might not be a real Christian” and ended with a child sex abuser that was handled totally wrong and created some real havoc with some families and the pastors saying “we’re above it all, leave us alone”.

    So this group of 20 or 30 people went looking. Guess what. In an area about 30 miles in diameter with 2.5 million people the number of churches that were not:
    YEC or the highway
    Worship Service as an American Idol clone
    Elders are in charge, shut up and follow along.
    Tithe 10% as the bible commands plus you’re guaranteed to be financially rewarded.
    and so on

    Is almost 0. Some AMIA churches and a few other mainlines that hadn’t caught the liberal fever was about it.

    • LCMS meets your criteria. Pastors can be OEC (or vaguely non-committal), and whatever for members.

      • …the CAN be, but many in the LCMS are quite dogmatically YEC. My own pastor is, but he is also quite tolerant of my disagreement with him. In fact, we also disagree about the 10% tithe, but he’s willing to throw the other side a bone from the pulpit. I find Lutherans to be much more soft on their dogmatism when it comes to peripheral issues like these. It’s almost like being in a liberal church with conservative values, if that makes sense.

    • MelissatheRagamuffin says:

      What’s YEC?

      • Young Earth Creationism? Thank God for Google :)

        • Yes.

          As to how I deal with it.

          If they say:

          I believe the earth and all life was created in 6 days but don’t know how it was done.
          Well OK. We disagree but whatever.

          I believe the earth is 6000 years old because a church leader did some wonky math and it must be true.
          Well OK. But with less enthusiasm.

          I believe that YEC is true but it’s OK if you disagree. We’re both believers in Christ message and resurrection.
          Fine, Let’s talk.

          The earth is 6000 years old and was created in 6 24 hour days. And if you don’t agree you’re not really a Christian.
          Where’s the door?

          The earth is 6000 years old and here’s how science about physics and geology and everything else is wrong and likely a conspiracy.
          Where’s the door?

          • Rick Gibson says:

            I do not understand why Christians permit such questions to divide them. At my church, Rocky Peak, the pastor is always very careful to preach on the core issues of the Gospel, and to stay away from side issues that divide the Church. Jesus told us to love God and to love each other. Those are the prime directives. He did not tell us to believe or not believe in any particular view of Earth origins.

            The leader of my Life Group is deeply skeptical of Darwin. I am not. I personally think that evolution is very sound science. I understand why some Christians find Darwin incompatible with Genesis. I disagree with them, but I do not see why we should divide on these issues.

            What is important about the creation story in Genesis is that it tells us that this world is broken. It tells us that God’s intent was that the world be perfect, but that man’s rebellion derailed the divine plan. What we need to see is that, thanks to Original Sin, we are all in need of the salvation which Jesus offers. The key here is to recognize that the world is fallen, and that Jesus offers the only way for the world to be restored.

            Do we need to believe that the world is 6,00 years old? I mean no disrespect to anyone, but who cares? The point is not the exact dating, but the underlying spiritual reality.

            When we fight over these things, we lose sight of what is important about the Gospel. The Gospel is intended to show us the way to break free of sin. The point is, if you believe, Christ comes to live in you, and to transform you from the inside out. That is the Christian message. If you do not believe in Original Sin, if you do not believe that the world is fallen, then you are not Christian, because you see no need for salvation. But if you recognize that the world is fallen, and accept the need to accept Jesus into your heart, who cares if you do, or do not, believe in Darwin?

            I was originally a Catholic. I retain the faith of St. Thomas Aquinas that truth cannot contradict itself. The Gospel is true. Science, within its own limitations, is also true. I do not believe that the two can clash. But, if other Christians disagree, why fight about it? We need to remember that Christ wanted us to be unified. As St. Paul said, we should avoid needless controversy about side points. This whole conflict about Darwin, YEC and the rest of it involves side points. Lets stick with the Gospel and trust the other points to work themselves out in time.

          • You agree with me? Right?

          • Rick Gibson says:

            David:

            I think we agree, in substance. I am not sure we agree about approach. I think it is important for Christians not to fight over side issues of doctrine. I put YEC and the perpetual virginity of Mary in the same category. In my mind, neither doctrine is central to the faith, and, in fact, both doctrines are not really biblical. But, and here is perhaps where you and I differ, I recognize that there are sincere Christians who disagree with me. I do not find it helpful to fight about these things. I would not associate myself with a church which found it necessary to insist upon either doctrine, but I would try hard not to fight with them about it. I think that Christians damage themselves a great deal by fighting over these things. Remember, outsiders are supposed to recognize that we are Christians by our love. That love should not be withheld from other Christians over points like this.

          • Regarding the not fighting over these issues, I get where what you’re saying, and I believe your motivation in not wanting to cause division is absolutely correct. The only thing I can say is sometimes taking the line that you’re not going to fight or argue about certain things can lead to them being never spoken about at all. And that can become a very unhealthy situation, too.

            People need to feel free to speak their mind without worrying that they’re going to be run out of town for tipping over the apple cart. I liken it to a dysfunctional family. I know families that appear to be fine on the outside but in reality there’s a deep rift that has never healed because no one wants to actually talk about. So everyone just pretends everything’s OK. That’s analogous to what I see in many churches. As long as you keep your opinion to yourself you’re OK, but slip up, then you have to watch out.

          • Yes. Fighting over this is bad. I agree.

            But if you’re at a church that is loudly (or somewhat worse covertly to the kids) saying science is false/evil/fraudulent/whatever constantly then I feel I have to leave to push back.

            Or if you don’t agree with us on any of what I call B or C issues you are not a Christian I need to leave or push back.

            I have friends who disagree with my position but we agree to disagree and don’t make it a debate point. My problem is with the folks who make these keys of their, and the church’s faith. At that point I have to leave to push back.

            As I said in another comment the YEC issues (our way or the highway or silence) started a process that resulted in our small group / class leaving. (There was more but this was the start.) In this group were 2 PHD’s in science. A few engineers, and others who follow science closely. We were basically told we were part of a conspiracy to deny the true faith. And then several of our children got “beat up” and one actually asked to leave a class due to him questioning the bad science being put forward as “truth” to a bunch of teens. Oh, yeah, an adult who was a YEC believer, engineer, etc… eventually got asked to leave an adult YEC class because he kept asking questions about science statements that flat out didn’t make sense.

            How long should believing Christians who are well educated put up with being told we are ignorant, or deceived by Satan, or whatever before we push back or leave?

            This anti science bent is a big part of why the evangelical church as a whole is falling down. It is wide spread and gets ugly real fast.

          • David, thank you. The church needs to hear you. Now.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            The earth is 6000 years old and here’s how science about physics and geology and everything else is wrong and likely a conspiracy.

            In this group were 2 PHD’s in science. A few engineers, and others who follow science closely. We were basically told we were part of a conspiracy to deny the true faith.

            At which point, Grand Unified Conspiracy Theory logic is in effect. Where any evidence against The Conspiracy is PROOF of The Conspiracy. Where lack of evidence for The Conspiracy is PROOF of The Conspiracy. And anyone who doubts or denies The Conspiracy has proven himself to be ONE OF THEM.

            Result: A completely closed belief system where The Conspiracy has to grow until ALL but the Conspiracy Theorist is part of The Conspiracy. And with YEC, it gets ramped up still further to Cosmic importance: God vs Satan.

            “THE DWARFS ARE FOR THE DWARFS! WE WON’T BE TAKEN IN!”

          • You agree with me? Right?

            I agree with you, David. But it’s more than a science thing, it’s a life-or-death struggle on how one views the inspiration and authority of the bible. It’s all-or-nothing for some folks, and if you don’t believe in six literal, 24-hour days then you don’t really believe in the rest of the bible, and therefore you can’t be saved. Simple as that.

            I’m not sure that those folks have read past Genesis 1. Reading the creation story of Genesis 2 already shows some discrepancies in the order that God created all things, vegetation, critters and people. Is there any wonky math that can explain that? Or is the entire bible false after all? I mean, let’s call their bluff.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            It’s all-or-nothing for some folks, and if you don’t believe in six literal, 24-hour days then you don’t really believe in the rest of the bible, and therefore you can’t be saved. Simple as that.

            And with a Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation, any step away from YEC Uber Alles (no matter what the physical evidence) jeopardizes their own Personal Salvation. At which point, it becomes literally a matter of (Eternal) Life & Death and all bets are off.

    • David, I’m sorry you had to go through that. I hope you are able to find a Christ-centered church.

  26. Nice post, Jeff.

    I periodically look at the top of the Internet Monk site to see the words that remind me why this site exists: “Continuing Michael Spencer’s legacy of Jesus-shaped spirituality.” There’s nothing wrong with evangelism, not when it’s Jesus-shaped and Jesus-focused. Anything that exists in any church calling itself a “Christian” church that is not Jesus-shaped and Jesus-focused should be questioned.

    Jesus-shaped evangelism…I wonder what that would look like?

    • Rick Gibson says:

      Rick:

      If you are ever in Southern California, come to the Church at Rocky Peak. You will see what an Evangelical church looks like when its purpose is to create passionate Christ followers.

      • I live in the Seattle area, make it down there once every couple of years. Maybe I’ll drop in next time! Checked out your website, and it looks good!

        My church has seen a nice shift, too, toward Jesus-shaped evangelism.

  27. Evangelicalism is collapsing in North America for many reasons, including those cited in your article and the comments; but its collapse is ultimately really a part of the greater collapse of Christianity in Europe and the North America. The U.S. is headed the way of Europe, where a miniscule part of the population can be found in churches on any given Sunday morning. Is this a defeat for the gospel? I don’t believe so. For one thing, Christianity is spreading rapidly in the Global South; Africa and Asia are seeing unprecedented and astronomical increases the numbers of those who confess belief in Jesus Christ. Of course there are concerns: some of the churches in the Two Thirds World are syncretistic, charismatic churches that merge local animist and other occult beliefs with Christianity. That pattern is similar to the one that Christianity followed in Europe, where, for example, grottoes dedicated to the worship of pagan deities were assigned as shrines to Christian martyrs and saints even as the pagani, the heath dwellers, the bumpkins (yes, Christianity once was considered a sophisticated, urban religion, attractive to the Roman and Greek intelligentsia who scorned the ignorant country dwellers for continuing in their traditional pagan religious practices) continued to worship in the way they had for centuries before the advent of the gospel, only now using Christian names and language to gloss over what was essentially a continuing pagan religious practice. So its not so surprising to see the same pattern recurring around the world. But there is a big difference, a difference that illuminates the failure of Christendom to retain its cultural hold in Europe and North America: the vast majority of conversions that are occurring now involve no coercion of any kind, and they are conversions from the bottom up rather than the top down; the poor and downtrodden are converting rather than being annexed as part of the conversion of the powerful and connected, as was the case in the vast majority of conversions that took place in the spread of Christianity through Europe in the first centuries of the church and through the middle ages. The pattern that was followed in Europe left untouched the pagan soul of classical Europe, because it was not a path freely chosen but rather enforced from above by powerful converts who possessed the political mystique of pagan polity that allowed them to enforce their religious practice in the public square. And because of this history,Christian practice, such as it is, is disappearing in Europe and North America, even as the populations of these areas is in dramatic decline. But in the Global South, the gospel is spreading, almost entirely, without coercion of any kind, attracting the poor and oppressed because it holds a liberating message for those who suffer and are heavy laden, even as demographically the center of global civilization shifts to away from Europe and North America. This is the way God is spreading the gospel throughout the world, by casting down the mighty and lifting up the lowly. It has always been his way.

  28. Jeff,

    I haven’t read the entirety of the post yet, but just had to interject that the best way to move sheep is with well trained dogs. However, the best way to move cattle is to “drive” them from behind, unless those cattle are milch kine which are best moved by calling. I’m most familiar with hogs, which can be led with a bucket of feed if they’re hungry, otherwise, well trained dogs are best. I’ve tried singing, but it only holds their attention for a limited time. Experience leads me to believe that hogs and people behave very similarly in a church setting….

    T (Retired farmer, B.S.Agri., ’76)

  29. Vinnie from Tennessee says:

    Dear Joel, TBD, and Rick Gibson:

    I’ve been reading IM for about 7 years now, and was glad to see your comments challenging many of the posts on this particular subject. Sometimes I feel as if this site has become a meeting place for people to talk about evangelicalism (whatever folks think that means) going “down the tubes.” I hate to say it, but many seem to give off the vibe of “goodbye, good riddance, and don’t let the door hit you in the butt on the way out.” For the life of me, I don’t understand this! I became a Christian in 1979. When people ask me, “What’s your religion?,” my reply is usually, “I’m a follower of Jesus Christ, but I happen to attend a Baptist church.” I could give a rat’s fanny about people’s demonination! Follow Jesus, love Him, love others, and encourage your brothers and sisters in Christ to do the same. Grace and peace to you all. :)

    • Vinnie, you have earned yourself some homework.

      Please read Michael Spencer’s classic essay, Talk Hard (On the Role of the Critic)”

      • That’s a good essay!

      • Vinnie from Tennessee says:

        Chaplain Mike -

        Assignment completed. You’ll note I said I’ve been reading IM for a while, but didn’t say I agreed with everything Michael wrote (and would let him know on occasion). Personally, I think there is a difference between calling out a “ministry” for not preaching Christ, and being critical of a group for not following a liturgical tradition. I don’t see anything wrong with a liturgical church, but it’s not my preference. You must admit that many folks who post on this site tend to lump all evangelicals into one big tarnished group. For instance, Joel Osteen may call himself an evangelical, but I wouldn’t attend his church. I’m not a “name it and claim it” kind of guy. I don’t hate the gay community. I don’t believe we should send women who get an abortion to jail. Well, why would folks lump me into these categories? I don’t think that’s very fair, do you? :)

        • +1

        • Vinnie, we all know that your mileage may vary. Some of my best friends are in evangelical churches, and I know many fine congregations and good pastors.

          The critiques in our articles generally focus on the public face of evangelicalism, those who put themselves forward as spokespersons for Christianity, culture warriors, and those who dismiss historical traditions and practices in favor of do-it-yourself church. Frankly, we hardly even bother with the “fringes” anymore.

          “Liturgy” is not our soap box, but matters of worship are and have always been central to the faith, and one of the ways that many of us came to see the deficiencies of revivalist evangelicalism was through participating in and leading services that purported to be “worship” but bore little resemblance to the way the church has worshiped over the centuries.

          Most of us think we are at the end of an era. “Evangelicalism” had a great ascendancy in the 70′s and 80′s in conjunction with conservative politics in the U.S. It was characterized by the church growth movement in its various forms, several charismatic movements, the “Christian-industrial complex” of media and publishing, culture war politics and social engagement, and a number of doctrinal battles over such matters as inerrancy, creationism, eschatology, at the same time that churches were “dumbing down” and becoming more pragmatic and less dogmatic. That entire culture of evangelicalism is in serious trouble, in our view. It is that culture, not necessarily any particular church, leader, or ministry that is usually our focus.

          The reason many of us have fled to historic traditions is that we came to the conclusion that this “evangelical culture” has departed from historic Christian thought and practice in so many ways as to actually have become something new and different that has the power to disconnect people from our family heritage. The historic traditions we have joined have many, many problems too. But with such things as the liturgy, the church year, strong theological traditions, and respect for the past, these traditions at least don’t have the downside of being something recently created.

    • Vinnie, maybe we’re here to be the “critics” of IM. ;)

      “I’m a follower of Jesus Christ, but I happen to attend a Baptist church.” I could give a rat’s fanny about people’s demonination! Follow Jesus, love Him, love others, and encourage your brothers and sisters in Christ to do the same. Grace and peace to you all. ”

      Amen

      • Vinnie from Tennessee says:

        Joel – Sadly, I had that same thought. :) I do, however, like the diversity of ideas on this site. I always appreciated how Michael seemed to “think outside the box.” No sacred cows, and all that.

        • Ditto Vinnie. I learn a a lot and have been blessed by many of the things posted on here. I realize that many here have been hurt or disappointed by the “evangelical” church. I realize this website is based on the reality that many “evangelical” leaders have strayed from God’s Message of Grace and Truth In Jesus, becoming more obsessed with non-essentials than essentials. But being grouped in with these ideas on such a great website is a little hurtful as an “evangelical” because I love God’s Word and love our Lord Jesus and just want to follow and obey Him each and every day.