I realize that it is not a fashionable thing to admit these days. It’s about as acceptable as ordering a hamburger at a PETA convention. But I am an evangelical at the time of the collapse of evangelicalism. We can toss more gasoline on the fire and watch it all burn, or …
If this Christian movement is to be saved or revived—and I believe it can and should be—then we need to make some changes. Last week I shared some ideas that evangelical church leaders could implement. Today I’d like to share some things that I and other individuals who identify with evangelicalism can and must do in order to get this movement pointed in the right direction.
Is there any reason you should listen to my thoughts and ideas? Well, I’ve identified with evangelicalism for nearly 40 years. I have been a part of the Christian entertainment complex in broadcasting and publishing. I’ve worked with pastors of megachurches as well as bestselling authors and musicians. I know the “backroom workings” of evangelicalism. I’ve seen how sausage is made, and I still eat it. Is that good enough for you?
Yes, I know I am painting with a rather wide brush, and no, not all evangelicals are as I describe here. Yes, I know that many, if not all, of the critiques I make about evangelicals can be made about Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists—even Lutherans. But today I am looking at how to save evangelicalism for no reason other than I think I am some ideas worth considering.
There have been times when I considered jumping ship. Catholicism has many qualities that attract me. And I’m very curious about the Orthodox church. But for better or worse I remain on the USS Evangelical. Yet it is weighted down with so much unnecessary freight it is about to sink. So here are my thoughts on how to shore up the boat to keep it from slipping under the icy waters. (How is that for sticking with a metaphor?)
Share the Gospel. We are people of the Gospel, messengers of the Good News. So why do we talk about everything but? We are to be witnesses to Good News of God’s grace. Good News? This is Great News. When World War II was over, there was unbridled joy and shouting in the streets. Yet with the war between God and man officially over (“It is finished”), we stay silent. Why are we so afraid to share the Gospel of Jesus? Is it because we don’t really believe it? Or are we so focused on cultural issues and defending our turf that we’ve forgotten the essence of who we are?
I suppose the first thing we must do is to recapture what the Gospel truly is. We had a death sentence hanging over our heads because of sin. Jesus, the lamb slain from the foundation of the world, has rescued (saved) us by his death. His resurrection opened the doors of heaven for us. We are the prodigal, and the Father has run to us to welcome us home. That is the Gospel. We need to share it.
Remember, it’s Jesus Jesus Jesus. Our faith is based on the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, period. Without Jesus all we have is a moralistic religion, and a boring one at that. Yet so many evangelicals have shouldered Jesus aside in favor of “causes” that it is hard to even refer to such as Christianity any longer. Some are good enough to make Jesus the mascot for their cause, although it is typically in a non-speaking role. For whatever reason we would much rather talk about parenting skills or abortion or prayer in schools or sex than Jesus Christ crucified.
It is not hard at all to find churches on any given Sunday who don’t even mention Jesus. And often times when he is mentioned it is a Jesus unrecognizable as the Jesus shown us in Scripture. He has become Jesus our life coach, Jesus our cheerleader, Jesus our butler. Instead of the One by whom and for whom all things were created, he has become poster child of our own religion, the portrait of God as we have made him to be to suit our whims.
And that is if he gets a mention at all. For many evangelicals, Jesus is simply an embarrassment, the crazy uncle who you hoped wouldn’t show up at your wedding. Sound harsh? Consider that in Joel Osteen’s second book he didn’t mention Jesus at all so that he wouldn’t offend anyone.
Stop trying to make the Bible what it is not intended to be. The Bible was given us for one reason: to show us God in the person of Jesus Christ. When we try to make it something else we are treading on very dangerous ground. The Bible is not a science text. It is not a manual on how to live a good life. It is not a list of moral rules and regulations that, if we would just follow, will insure that we will all just get along. The Bible is a collection of 66 books written by men and women over centuries who, through stories and songs and prayers and snapshots of history, are showing us Jesus. I have zero interest in the Bible aside from Jesus. But as a lens with which to see Jesus it is an amazing book.
The Bible is not God. We don’t have to be afraid of it. We can read it critically. We can question the parts we don’t understand. We can admit there are parts that seem inconsistant. The Bible was written during ages and eras and in cultures that we cannot even begin to understand, and yet we insist on trying to make it fit into our era and culture as if it were just published last year.
Read the Bible. But read it to see Jesus and nothing else.
Learn to think. Yes, I said this last week regarding church leaders. Now I repeat it for the “person in the pew.” If we don’t learn how to think critically, then we are allowing someone else to do our thinking for us. Are you simply swallowing what is being spoonfed you by preachers or authors? Or are you wrestling with ideas and and concepts to decide what you believe and why? Evangelicals often lean much more on feeling than on thinking. Visions and dreams are very real, and a very real part of the Christian life. Yet that does not mean we are to toss aside our brains. If evangelicalism is to survive, it will need thinkers as well as dreamers.
Love one another. Jesus gave us a new commandment: Love one another. He said it was this mark that would identify us as his followers. Not our political affiliation. Not our social status. Not the clothes we wear or the church we attend. We will be known as Christ’s disciples by our love for one another.
Love. Always err on the side of love. When you don’t know what to do, love. When you are in doubt, love.
Evangelicalism is always going to have its jerks, its egomaniacs, its wackos. Don’t worry about them. Instead, love. Love your friends, love your neighbors, and especially love your enemies. It is not easy. As a matter of fact, loving others is the most radical, revolutionary thing you can do. It is dangerous. Love has cost many their lives.
Love doesn’t make sense. Love doesn’t add up. Love flies in the face of what is expected of you. Love will make others mad—sometimes very mad. But love anyway. We are commanded to.