December 15, 2017

The Naked Emperor

I am going to spend a little time talking about what I see in the evangelical world. I believe I can write about this from a well-informed viewpoint. For thirty-some years now I have been involved in mass media in one form or another, with much of that time involved in Christian radio, TV, and publishing. I know many of those who head the largest churches in the country. Think of those with the largest radio and TV presence, and I worked with many of them. I have represented many of these church leaders in book deals. I have even written some of their books myself. So I’m not just a casual observer whining and complaining. I’m an informed observer whining and complaining.

I am an observer of the church in America from the standpoint of watching trends that would make good topics for books (written by ghostwriters like me for “big names”) and finding the next up-and-coming talented teacher/preacher. And in these years of observing, I have come to a conclusion. The emperor called “evangelicalism” has no clothes. Yet we in the crowd continue to stand and applaud and talk about how pleasant the emperor looks. I was among this crowd, though I hid in the back because I could see his nakedness and emptiness. I thought I must be wrong somehow—there must be something wrong with my vision. Certainly all of my elders and peers who were clamoring aboard the Evangelical Circus Train couldn’t be wrong.

I came to faith in a Baptist church in the time of the Charismatic renewal of the 70s. We got much teaching of Scripture as well as the experience of the Holy Spirit. But we were also trained to believe anyone who went to any church other than ours was probably not even saved. And Catholics? Oh my. They were a cult, just like Jehovah Witnesses, only worse. Rules and regulations were firmly in place. Liturgy was evil. Secular was evil. This whole world, outside of perhaps our church, was evil.

When I went off to college, I met many there who came from different backgrounds. Methodist. Episcopal. Assembly of God. And, yes, even Catholic. I was at first amazed at the fact there were really Christians who didn’t believe exactly as I believed.  I had professors who hadn’t swallowed the latest Kool-Aid. I was stretching my beliefs, but each night I still huddled safely in evangelicalism. It was easy to do. I had clear-cut rules to follow, things I should say (“Oh, praise God, brother!”) and things I shouldn’t say (“Well, that certainly sucks!). Things I could and could not do. I did all that I was supposed to do in order to be accepted under the circus tent.

Many of those I was in school with were aiming for a career in “ministry,” with a variety of definitions for “ministry.” I majored in broadcasting, so those I was in class with were wanting to go into Christian broadcasting ministry. To go “secular” was a compromise, if not backsliding. I fell into this thinking, and became more deeply enmeshed in the Christian ghetto. I worked at a Christian radio station. I listened to Christian music. I only read Christian books. I was in church Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night. And yet for years—decades, really—there was a gnawing emptiness in my spirit.

At some point I had to admit what I had pushed down in my mind for so long: the evangelical world was an empty shell. There was nothing to it. It was all hat and no cattle. The writer of Hebrews encouraged readers of that epistle to grow up, to begin eating solid food instead of just drinking mother’s milk. This evangelical world didn’t even offer me milk. It was all sugar. And increasingly I was bombarded by messages telling me why this preacher’s sugar was sweeter than any other preacher’s. Why their circus was the best circus around.

Thirty years later I was tired of all of the clowns, barking dogs, trained and tamed lions. Now (thirty-eight years after Jesus invaded my life) I will stand—alone, if need be—and say this loud and clear.

The Evangelical Emperor has no clothes. A scheming tailor made him think he did, and he has been proudly parading naked for many years, with the crowd cheering wildly with their eyes wide shut. In reality, the emperor is butt naked, with no substance other than his pride in himself. I am no longer going to be silent. Many evangelical churches in our nation are as shallow as a puddle, as empty as crushed Coke can.

What good does it do for this unknown writer in Oklahoma to say this? Well, for one, I can finally stop pretending that maybe, perhaps, some of these celebrity naked preachers have something to good to offer if we just dig hard enough. I can say outloud what I have felt for so long: A steady diet of cotton candy does not satisfy. As a matter of fact, it leaves me sick to my stomach.

Listen to me. I live in the bucket of evangelicalism here in Tulsa. You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting two churches and a “ministry” of some kind. The number of shepherds who care for their sheep is far outdone by those who want to “build a ministry.” I hear it all day long. The object of the game is to get as many people into their church as possible by offering the latest gimmick or fad. I have people come into my store everyday who are wearing rubber bracelets with the name of their church on them. The purpose is to get others to say, “What’s on your bracelet?” so they can then invite the other to their church. Once there, they get to hear and see the preacher on video piped in from some other location. Let’s get as many people as we can under the Big Tent. Then it’s time for the trapeze artists and the guy to get shot from a cannon to entertain the crowd.

No more for me, please. And I am no longer going to just smile and say, “Well, that’s good for you, but it’s not my style.” My style has nothing to do with it. We are here to bring glory to God by receiving his grace and mercy for our sins. Period. I hate to break it to you, but this life is not about you or me. God is the creator of this universe, and it is all for his glory alone.

So for the next few days I want to talk about the naked emperor. There are three things I want to explore that has led to this empty shell we’ve been living in for too long.

  • The Americanization of God
  • The marketing of the church
  • Our penchent for safety

Along the way I will no doubt step on many toes. I make no apologies for that. If you were wearing good shoes, it wouldn’t hurt so much. Far too many, however, are going around barefoot. It matches the rest of their outfit.

Comments

  1. Matt Purdum says:

    I’m excited to read what’s coming in the next few days. Say it strong, say it loud!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Jeff would have to get taken ill (and have computer problems on top of that) right after he starts this series. We’re chewing fingernails waiting for the next installment…

  2. Amen, and amen.

    Thank you, Jeff, for stating this so clearly and so articulately: Indeed, the Emperor has no clothes! I remember, several years ago, stating much the same to friends of mine (as well as writing same on a now-defunct Forum) and being roundly shot at from the True Believers… :sigh: I’m *still* being shot at when I try my best to wrest some poor soul from the trappings of it all ( not to mention the bankrupt, contradictory theology(ies) ). I pray you have good armour.

    In a rather arduous journey, I’ve left Evangelicalism. And now, from my vantage point, I wonder about my years there and how I managed to keep my thoughts to myself for ever so long. It wasn’t the Church of my youth; it was the Church of my first marriage, and, by God’s Grace, whilst I’ve learnt a lot, I am now (more or less) free of it…

    Thank you, God.

    I look forward to the on-going dialogue. And, yes, I’ll wear my Docs. ;D

  3. Maybe the problem is that the American church grew from Reformed churches, a liberal, humanist theology that intentionally separated itself from the long tradition and history of the church in pursuit of an “early church” model that did not exist, was nowhere uniform, and was actually much closer to traditional practice and belief.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      And when Reformed wasn’t enough (or got old-fashioned), you had the Truly Reformed. Parsing theology to the point they ceased to be human.

    • FWIW, the Pope has even agreed that Presbyterianism was likely the polity of the early church. The argument is not over what the early church did, but whether or not that is normative or ideal.

      • For me, the argument is about whether or not what Christ taught (by word and example) and what the apostles presented as the highest priorities to the early church should still be at the center and the top of the priority list of what the church teaches and does.
        As I see it, it’s in keeping central what belongs at the center that we as the church (and I include every denomination and historical branching of tradition and institution) have most often failed. In my opinion, the real nakedness of the emperor comes from trying to cover a lack of Christ-like character and Spirit-led, Christ-centered living with the trappings and garments of religion, impressive productions, and a crack PR department.

    • Careful here. Your terms are historically inaccurate, and your point is reductionistic. We should all beware of agenda-driven finger pointing. It isn’t “them,” it’s “us”.

  4. On Sunday I had the guts to visit a church in Fairfax, Virignia that was an evangelical. First time I tried a church in 3 or 4 months. I do have to admit the people were warm. They had a visiting pastor from the Ukraine who is a church supportted missionary who as I listened to what he had to say just made me cringe… Talk about legalism… It’s not fair to judge a book by this visiting pastor…so I’ll probably head back one day to try it out again.

    The $100,000,000 question is this: Would they allow someone of no faith to participate as that person tries to figure themself out? Is that even possible? Could I find the grace and lvoe to heal my fried soul. Or do I risk being burned again and making a bad situation worse? I don’t know….

    But I’m 37 burned out from prior expereinces. I struggle with anger after all the harm that came from these expereicnes. I’ve only found a couple of people I can talk to and yet I am so wreary. I have gone over my tipping point in the name of trying to live “faith”. In the time of faith I…

    1. Moved across country..
    2. Took a job in Washington, D.C. that I would otherwise not have taken. But it was God’s will right? That’s what some people talk it up to…. (You have no idea how hard it is to drag oneself out of bed each day and go to a job you just feel sick about. Today’s commutte in lovely Washington, D.C. traffic was 2.5 hours. And that was going 20 miles….)
    3. Confessed sin and got hammered.
    4. Discipled others and harmed them.
    5. Evangelzied Catholics and others who were not “true Christians” or in heresy.
    6. Evangelized anyone anywhere to include on an airline flight and the Miller Brewery tour (sigh…..)
    7. Sought a spiritual answer for absolutely everything. Everything….
    8. Created a bubble where I withdrew from. Looked at the outside world and everyone and thing as being evil and a potential to corrupt.
    9. Became the most arrogant asshole you could imagine at times….

    So here I am 37 and I have no idea what to do. I don’t consider msyelf to have faith and am angry over what I saw and participated in. Yet I also don’t like the fact that I have no faith. I don’t know where to turn. I feel like a good chunk of my life was lost. And due to some Christians I also feel like my future was stolen as well.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I’ll turn 56 next Thanksgiving. The Gospel According to Hal Lindsay and “It’s All Gonna Burn” stole my future for several years back in the Seventies.

      Who will restore the years those locusts have eaten?

      • HUG…..you were learning. The locusts didn’t eat anything…….and Heaven lasts a really long time! Promise!

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Pattie, I also got taught a LOT about Heaven (TM) in my Evangelical Wilderness days. (We were all going to be Raptured up to it any minute now… any minute now… any minute now…)

          Heaven as Neverending Compulsory Bible Study. I have also never been able to completely shake that first impression.

          • Really, ‘cuz my view of heaven involves unending bliss, meanining that there MUST be chocolate involved somehow!

    • Eagle, you went for a very pretty, nicely wrapped gift basket, for very good reasons, likely based on people you loved and trusted. You were misled but well intended, and God loves you for all that tried to be and do.

      Is it time for you to just fall into the arms that love you beyond understanding, just the way you are this minute? We cannot be “good enough” to deserve His love—ever! And that’s OK, He loves you (and me) as the confused, angry, frustrated and sinful idiots we are. End. Of. Lecture.

    • May I pray for you?

      I’ve gotten my answer…and a great person who is guiding me. He also writes a blog… (like, who doesn’t?). Hang in there, Eagle. I am sorry that sounds so incredibly trite…

    • Eagle, I don’t know how to counsel you, other than to recommend to you the image of Christ driving the moneychangers out of the temple. Plus that text about how all they that cry “Lord, Lord” will not be saved. Some Christians are going to get an awful surprise at the end.

      Have you completely given up on the notion of God, any god one cares to mention (not just the Jewish/Christian God) or is it just that you’ve been scalded too badly by Christians to trust in Christ anymore?

      Wherever your path takes you, good luck and blessings to you.

      • Martha…how about going to a bar in Ireland and have a nice, ice cold Guiness… I’ll take that anyday!! 😉 Thanks for your warm thoughts..

        Seriously I don’t know what to believe about God. I truly don’t. I’m weary and cautious…. From my POV Christianity is only for the prefect.

        • Ever considered Pastafarianism? May you be touched by His Noodly Appendage, the Appendage of the Flying Spaghetti Monster! It also means you can legally wear a colander on your head for your driver’s licence photo in Austria!

          Ice-cold Guinness? *sigh* What is this modern craze for chilling drinks? Even here in Ireland, they are recommending the black stuff be served at six degrees Centigrade, when our forefathers drank it at room temperature and were grateful!

          Ah, well: here in tribute to Uncle Arthur’s finest, is an excerpt from a one-man show based on the writings of Flann O’Brien (a.k.a. Myles na Gopaleen, real name Brian O’Nolan). A poem entitled “The Workman’s Friend” and attributed to Jem Casey, the “Poet of the Pick” (that is, the pickaxe). Real pints of beer were really consumed in the acting of this show! 🙂

    • Josh in FW says:

      Thanks for all your comments on here, even the ones that sometimes tick me off. I can relate to a lot you’ve said, but to a much lesser degree as I have not been hurt by “Christians” as badly as you have. In your comments your said, “Yet I also don’t like the fact that I have no faith.” I can relate to this in particualar. In my case this was the beggining of a search for a sincere faith. I pray that you will hear that still, small voice of the Father.

      • Josh in FW says:

        or is it the voice of the Spirit or Son? The Trinity thing continues to mess with my mind.

        Seriously though, I wish you the best in your Journey.

    • Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says:

      When you ask if they’d allow a person of no faith to participate, what do you mean by ‘participate,’ Eagle?

      • Someone who could ask questions constantly. Someone who is not 100% certain. Someone who is weary and learning to trust again. Someone who is terrified of having a recap or encore to what happened from 2000 to 2009. Somneone who won’t be in a setting where the lesser issues of the rapture, End Times theology and literal 6 day creation rear their ugly head and won’t become divisive issues. Does that make sense?

        • Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says:

          Totally. I think you’d need to find a place where the pastor is very ‘pastoral’ in his or her mindset. By that I mean that the spiritual welfare of the congregation is top-priority, and they’re used to dealing with the various struggles that folks go through. Unfortunately, that seems to be pretty rare these days, especially in larger Evangelical churches. In a smaller church, you may find that more readily, but the trade-off is that you’d probably find yourself in a more vulnerable position as it’s hard to disappear into the crowd when the crowd is extra-small.

          Sometimes it’s really hard to find a place where you can just heal and try to seek God. I spent a couple of years needing that, and where it ended up happening was mostly at my then-girlfriend’s Catholic church. The expectations were pretty low, and the priest really had a good handle on the Gospel. But I wasn’t really looking for community at that time, just a place to lay low and sort stuff out.

          • Yes, if you just want a place to sit in the pew and keep your head down, a Catholic church is very good for that 🙂

          • What Martha said!

            You can come listen in the back pew (or front one!) for as long as you like. No one will make you (A) come to the altar to be saved (B) hand over 10% of your income (C) convert or (D) get involved in the “ministry” by working at the bookstore, writing anti-gay letters to the editor, or leading the Wednesday night Men’s Fellowship and Bible Study Group.

            The only “exclusive” thing is receieving the Eucharist, but until (or if) you get to that point, you can still come forward for a blessing at the Table.

        • When you write: “I don’t consider msyelf to have faith and am angry over what I saw and participated in. Yet I also don’t like the fact that I have no faith.”

          That says that you have faith, but not the kind of faith American evanglicalism teaches. You want to believe, but you’ve been burdened by too much Law. Faith is simply trusting God’s promises and desiring to be with him. That’s it. With that comes the freedom to mess up and make huge, fantastic, life-changing mistakes. Sin boldy, but let your faith be bolder. Christ only died for the sinner; nobody else needs him.

          Can I make a recommendation? Find a Lutheran pastor and schedule time with him just to talk, the smaller and more liturgical the church the better (less influenced by American evangelicalism). He will listen, offer absolution if you want, and offer to give you regular instruction or meeting time, at your convenience. He won’t twist the Gospel into a tool to guilt you into being salesmen for the is congregation.

          Mission is Law, and can be the most soul-crushing Law there is. the constant, driving emphasis on missions in American churches is destroying souls. The Holy Spirit does mission through the Gospel. He goes where he wishes, our sin and failure don’t stop him.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Mission is Law, and can be the most soul-crushing Law there is. the constant, driving emphasis on missions in American churches is destroying souls.

            I refer you to “Wretched Urgency” by the original Internet Monk.

            This turns “the Gospel of Jesus Christ” into nothing more than a high-pressure sales pitch for Fire Insurance, with a Rapture Boarding Pass free with every policy — just sign here/Say the Magic Words. And just like Amway, once you get your Fire Insurance (and bonus Rapture Boarding Pass), you have to start selling it to everyone else like an MLM pyramid scheme — Always Be Closing, Always Be Closing, Always Be Closing. Christ as Amway Fire Insurance Upline.

          • Maybe I can’t see it? Maybe I can’t take my mind past the obstacles in front of me? I feel so confused, frustrated, and angry. It never used to be like this. NEVER….. I don’t consider myself to have faith. Maybe I’m just lost and confused. I don’t know….

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Eagle:

            The reason it’s tearing you up like that is because faith was something you poured your being into before getting burned by it. You invested a lot of yourself in it, then got betrayed and damaged by the very thing that should have protected and healed you.

            I’ve heard it likened to going through a messy divorce, a nasty family feud, or an abusive past. The previous amount of trust and the damage caused by breaking that trust (and accompanying/resulting abuse & victimization) is similar.

    • Eagle,

      I will be blunt with you for what its worth. A man does not gain wisdom unless he risks. You have done and are doing that. You broke out of your bubble and are looking around with eyes wide open, and seeing things for yourself. You will soon start claiming things again because you are hungry for it, not because someone told you its the right thing to do. You have been burned son, and being burned causes you to feel pain, relect and attain wisdom. You are in an area of the country that has more diversity and culture and different faith traditions than anywhere else save NYC. I know, I’ve spent lots of time there. And somewhere deep inside you will begin to understand what is really important to you (and your current circumstances may not be it but you are learning from it).

      Now super blunt. Wise people try not to make the same mistake twice. You have been burned badly in a conservative fundy setting. Try something different. You are an open book right now. Secondly – there are no perfect churches or perfect people and if someone begins telling you to act or behave a certain way run for the hills.

      As for me Eagle – I love my faith tradition warts and all. I love my church – which most people who are seeking would run from – it is made up of an aging community, membership is dropping, we are bleeding a bit, it is not always warm, and the preaching is luke warm at best . Sometimes it seems that my wife, my kids and myself are disproportionally representing the roles at our service (alter servers, eucharitic ministers, readers, children’s liturgy). And if my church is at the end of its lifecycle then I will move to the next closest church – cause it don’t matter to me…because I am home.

      Also – look around at the folks at this community (IMonk Blog) and see what kind of churches they belong. It won’t take you long to realize where the focus seems to lie, and ask yourself if you feel at home around this way of thinking.

      I should know never to give counsel…But I am pulling for you (as a former agnostic) – hang in there….

      • Whereever I end up, if I end up in a faith setting again…it will be after cautious advancement. Every faith has its issues. The Catholcis have their’s as much as the fundagelicals. But I will only proceed slowly and if after a long time where I feel comfortable and safe. Maybe it will become home. It depends…but no it owuld not be wise to dive into a place head first without getting burned again. Any move I will make will be slowly…

        • I sense a theme in your writing when you talk about seeking a home. You are looking for warmth and acceptance. I was just wondering if it could be you and God for a while – in a church setting. In some churches this is actually possible. I understand though that from your background and spiritual formation this may be too foreign to you and in your current circumstances it may not resonate. It helped me while I found my way back, but each of us is different. And these days with all the stress life brings, for me it is welcoming in short spurts. Ok, enough advice…but I do hope you get to go back home once in a while to those big mountains and sparkling lakes, that in itself would peel away lots of layers of crud just standing under a fir tree…

    • Your story really irks me, eagle. What churches have done to you is (should be) a crime.

      Christ died for YOU. He has saved YOU.

      You don’t have to feel anything. And you can have your doubts about it.

      But in your baptism God made those promises to you and they are ALWAYS good and valid.

      When you taste the bread and the wine, you can know that it is true…and that it IS meant for you.

      Try and at least listen to the last half of this (about 10 minutes worth)

      http://theoldadam.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/pastor-mark-anderson-alltracks.mp3

      In it, my pastor speaks of how he believes that he cannot believe in Jesus Christ, or come to Him.

      It is a real eye opener, my friend.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Problem is, Steve, you’re telling Eagle this in the same Christianese jargon (and intensity) that he got during his burn job. Including a link to a Preacher.

        • What I told him was the gospel. More than tell him the gospel…the gospel was done to him.

          That is not the problem (for anyone).

          If he doesn’t hear it….then he doesn’t hear it.

          Oftentimes the gospel is covered up and smothered by shoulds and oughts. I gave him none of those.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            If he doesn’t hear it….then he doesn’t hear it.

            And you can shake the dust off your feet and go to the next guy.

            Or wash your hands along with a certain Prefect of Judea.

    • Love covers a multitude of sins.

      I left the evangelical church in 2007(ish) after being a part of it all my life for many of the same reasons you left. I still have an awfully hard time going to any church where I smell the remotest hint of fundigelicalism. Kind of like the the smell of the last alcohol one drank herself sick on. I pray that one day I can love those people again without having to battle back anger and disgust.

      Although I have yet to find a church home, one realization I came to (in part by visiting the IMonastery regularly) has helped me to move in the right direction. That this Christian life has much more to do with love than I originally thought. Forget all the works, accountability groups, evangelizing, self-righteousness, legalism and so on. The only way I can show Christ to people is to love them. My life is about learning to love better and pray better.

      I can’t tell you what will help you heal. I hope you can find some comfort in knowing that God loves you, I love you and many of the IMonks love you. And not the fakey high fructose corn syrupy “love” we were malnourished on for too long. The real kind.

    • Donalbain says:

      It seems to me that your problem is not necessarily a lack of faith, but the guilt you feel over that lack. Deal with the guilt, not the lack of faith.

    • One more Mike says:

      Eagle, never, ever, ever ever, go into an evangelical church again. Talk about a dog returning to its vomit. C’mon Man!!!!!!!

      • I won’t dive into a place. I almost would interrogate the pastor on a list of issues such as YEC, End Times theology, how they use the Bible, what are their views God’s blessing (to see if it’s really the Prosperity Gospel, etc..) , etc.. before getting involved. The last thing I would want to do so and be hip deep and find somethng or have something pop up which would cause me to leave.

        • One more Mike says:

          Then find a place where those things don’t generally come up; Liberal mainlines are a lot more accepting of doubt and questioning. The ELCA is being split by “inclusion issues” and any group that wants to include traditionally shunned groups ought to be willing to overlook my/your warts. That’s my experience anyway. YMMV. Peace

        • Eagle, I pastor an evangelical church, and from what I have seen from your posts, we would likely agree on the issues you mentioned. I don’t much care what a church-member believes about YEC, the rapture, and such forth, unless they are trying to be divisive about it, and I despise the prosperity gospel. And I would much rather see someone wrestle with doubts than have an un-thinking and un-fought-for faith. Maybe I’m mistaken, but it seems like most of the evangelical pastors I know feel much the same way. Of course, many of the fundamental pastors I know are a little bit different story.

          • Dan-

            I was told by one person that I needed to believe in YEC if I was going to have faith. The Senior Pastor of a large fundgelical mega church i used to attend actually taught that the pre-tribulation rapture was orthodox theology and not part of discussion. I saw and heard who was a Christian in a very narrow definition. Ever read John MacArthur’s stuff? Look at what John Piper teaches. I spent a good chunk of time in reformed theology. I think it’s also compounded by living in the Washington, D.C. area. This place is ground zero for the culture wars…and its ugly. If there is one place that needs hope and grace it’s Washington, D.C. But with the way many fundys are here…that’s just not going to happen.

          • Eagle

            I live in central Indiana. Perhaps the less politicized climate helps.

            Yeah, your past experiences suck, and I don’t doubt their veracity. I saw the same thing in my youth and college life. I’m just saying not all of us who call themselves evangelical have a problem with theological disagreement or honest doubts.

            For what it’s worth, here is our doctrinal statement in its entirety:

            We believe:

            In the Bible as the inspired Word of God; the final authority in all matters of faith and conduct.

            In one God, eternally existent in three Persons: Father; Son, and Holy Spirit.

            In Jesus Christ, His Deity, virgin birth, sinless life, vicarious death, burial and bodily resurrection, His ascension to the right hand of the Father; and His personal future return in power and glory.

            In the sinfulness of man, and salvation only by grace through faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

            In the present ministry of the Holy Spirit, by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life.

            In the resurrection of the dead, the believer to life everlasting and the unbeliever to the resurrection of judgment.

            In the church as the Body of Christ, comprised of all who have accepted the redemption provided in Him.

            We make it quite clear to prospective members that if they want to focus on issues other than the above, then we are not the church for them. And we would certainly welcome someone who was struggling believing the above statement of faith (unless their goal was to be divisive).

            I know there are a lot of churches like this in our area. For your sake, I hope there are some in yours also.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            I live in central Indiana. Perhaps the less politicized climate helps.

            While Eagle’s in a nest of vipers called DC, where everything’s as Political Political Political as the old USSR. Center of Power, where the game is called Power Struggle and can draw you in without knowing.

            He’s kind of in the position of the guy mentioned in one of the Epistles (Romans?), the one “in Caesar’s Household”. (And Caesar of the time was the former Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, better known as Nero. Talk about a nest of vipers…)

    • I can’t help but wonder sometimes, maybe is it possible that you have some faith at all, even if you don’t think you do? And if you’re feeling bold enough to step back into church, have you considered trying something other than evangelical? You might find something in the Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, or Anglican worlds to be somewhat of a bit safer. If you confess your sins there, the pastor is not going to betray you like you’ve experienced before. If he does, the church throws him out on his but, that’s the end of his career.

      • Miguel… I don’t know what I am. One day I wake up with this firm belief that Christinaity is a cancer on the world today. Other days I wake up really missing it and hoping maybe I was just wrong or went to the worng churches. I sitll have the issue of overwhleming doubt.

        • Well, if it makes you feel any better, there are many of us on the inside who feel the same way.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          I don’t know what I am. One day I wake up with this firm belief that Christinaity is a cancer on the world today. Other days I wake up really missing it and hoping maybe I was just wrong or went to the worng churches.

          You’ve been through a major earthquake in your life that’s shaken you to the core, and you’re still experiencing the aftershocks.

    • Eagle – back in the 1990’s when I used to come down to Herndon a lot for business my buddy and I use to stay at a bed and breakfast in the heart of Fairfax – I think it is now called the Stafford house – back then tons of period pieces and history – no TV’s and dinner for a few on certain sites. Very cool place if your into history (especially the Mosbey room where they had lots of books….)

      • Radagast… The Stafford House is down the street from where I live. The Stafford’s are pastors at Fairfax Community Church. You can read about it here.

        http://www.fairfax.cc/staff

        Here’s the link to the Stafford house…

        http://www.staffordhouse.net/

        BTW… I tried Fairfax Community Churvh when I moved here in 2005. And to reference the above posting I had a freind who got his girlfreind pregnant who I just hammered and was quite the Pharisee. This was in 2007 or so at the height of the ingestion of Kool-aide.

    • Have you considered a Quaker meeting or a Unitarian-Universalist Church? I don’t believe you will find any condemnation in either of those traditions. Also, because they’re both outside your former Fundamentalist-Evangelical traditions, you might be able to avoid any negative feelings toward them due to your history.

    • I wouldn’t say *never* go back to an evangelical church. But if you want some space from it all, and you also want to meet people who are not going to care one iota about any doubts you have, I would try out a few mainline churches. The mainline is not perfect. But I have always been made to feel welcomed and accepted in the mainline. Mainline pastors are generally not one bit surprised by doubt or skepticism, and a lot of parishioners are more interested in getting you to Tuesday night potluck than they are in finding out your theological beliefs. It can be a really safe place to hang out, get into a community, and sort through your thoughts.

  5. I wouldn’t worry about stepping on any toes. The toes to which you refer are probably not reading THIS website.

    All hat and no cattle; must be an Oklahoma thing. I like it.

    • Dallas claims the saying. Or at least Texas.

      • Don’t know where it originated but we use it in Australia as well, so I guess we’ll all claim it!

        • There’s a somewhat cruder English expression which amounts to much the same, only with more of an edge. I think I’ll let an online site explain it to you all:

          “All fur coat and no knickers”
          1.(idiomatic, derogatory) Having a superficially positive appearance that is belied by the reality, e.g., superficially elegant and beautiful but actually sleazy.

          And now, having dragged the tone down, I slink away ashamed of myself 😉

          • Why, are you not wearing knickers? 😀

          • Sorry. Inappropriate. Just discovered that “knickers” has a different meaning in the British Isles than it does in US and Canada.

            But still… 😀

          • Jack Heron says:

            My mother always used to refer to boastful people who couldn’t live up to their claims as having ‘all mouth and no trousers’. For years the potential innuendoes passed me by.

  6. Jeff, this will be a wild ride and the fringe group will stomp all over you…..ignore those that are still trying SOOO hard to see all the pretty colors in the cloak, and cannot accept that the problem isn’t in their vision but in reality.

    And (you did not think I would drop this, did you?) how are you feeling and have you seen a Doctor????

  7. “The writer of Hebrews encouraged readers of that epistle to grow up, to begin eating solid food instead of just drinking mother’s milk. This evangelical world didn’t even offer me milk. It was all sugar.”

    Very true! I believe CS Lewis said Emotional enthusiaism has no direct link to Spiritual depth. Evangelicals would do well to learn from his wisdom.
    Thanks Jeff.

  8. Jeff, you’re starting to sound like Michael Spencer.

  9. You’re not alone Jeff.

    Thank you.

  10. Jeff, on this blog you will largely be preaching to the choir. But that’s okay. If anything that should encourage you to hold back absolutely nothing… and who knows, you might step on our toes too. Sometimes we need it.

  11. Well there’s the publican’s prayer, and then there’s the pharisee’s prayer. It’s easy to call other people naked, but how will you know if YOU’RE naked? From where I stand, you’re not so different from those bad evangelicals. (Ooooh, a Christian publisher! Greater evidence of scholarship and integrity is scarcely conceivable.) What if YOUR theology and religious life turn out to be based on a lie? Would you want to know?

    • We’re all naked. That’s the point.

    • YES! I certainly would. Thats kinda the point, though. Many of us here are or were part of evangelicalism. We can no longer embrace it in good conscience anymore. This is where we hash out the reasons and struggle to find a way forward as the scarred but smarter who somehow still believe that Jesus died and rose for our salvation. There’s no “S” on anyone’s chest here. We just want to throw out the bathwater and keep the baby. Would you fault us for trying?

  12. OK, I am going to take the bait here Jeff.

    The evangelical church has warts, I admit. But so do all the other versions of Christianity I look at. But I for one have found a wonderful evangelical church, full of caring loving people who earnestly seek after God. I hope that I show similar things. We have our clothes on. Literally and figuratively. I am content where I am, I have opportunities to minister to others and have them minister to me. I have the opportunity to grow deeper in the things of God. I appreciate the Pastor, who interns appreciates Church history, and the good things that other expressions of the faith have to offer. My children are following in the faith. (By the way did you know that on average Evangelical children know their Bibles more that any other church sub group?)

    It seems to me that those I have met who are anti-Catholic tend to be ex-Catholics. Perhaps the same can be said of ex-Evangelicals. If you think the Emperor has no clothes, perhaps you are only looking for the shirt.

    • interns = in turn

    • Is Canadian Evangelicalism different than American Evangelicalism??
      Less Militarism & Patriotism?
      Less Red State – Blue State fighting?
      Less Political?
      Curious? The only sermon I heard in Canada was from a Church of the Brethren Pastor – who used an example of Abraham Lincoln in the civil war. I thought that is weird, is this America???

      • Yes, Canadian Evangelism is definitely different, but we have some pretty ugly warts too. Interestingly enough, up until about 2000, evangelicals did not vote overwhelmingly with any political party, but attempts by the Liberal party to equate American Evangelicals with the leadership in the Conservative party have turned off evangelicals from voting liberal in increasing numbers. I think our evangelical churches probably cover a spectrum, but Canadians in general would identify much more with the Democrats in the U.S. than the Republicans, and Evangelicals here would not be an exception to this.

        By the way, Obama still has a 55% approval rating up here in Canada.

      • I have to say of the younger evangelicals I know, most of them aren’t nearly as interested in fighting over politics as their parents were. I attend an Evangelical Covenant Church at the moment, and I think, really, the pastor goes out his way to be apolitical.

        I have seen a lot of idiocy in the church – no doubt. But, I think Michael has a point here. The thing that prevents me from walking away completely is the fact that I have met some genuinely sincere people, and those people have actually been there for my wife and me when we had nowhere else to turn.

        In many ways, being in the church is like being in a family. It takes some major trauma for someone to walk away from their family. Sometimes it’s necessary, but it’s always with great difficulty.

    • “It seems to me that those I have met who are anti-Catholic tend to be ex-Catholics. Perhaps the same can be said of ex-Evangelicals.”

      Deep down inside of every cynic is a disappointed idealist. I know that’s certainly true for me. I have a hard time being objective about evangelicalism because I grew up in it, and was so 100% behind it, and found it wanting. But the thing is, every version of Christianity is wanting, in one way or another. The difference is that I’m able to give more grace to the flaws of Catholics or mainlines, because their problems didn’t affect me.

      It seems to me that evangelicalism (at least, the version that I grew up with) was, to a large extent, a result of the Christians who came of age in the 70s and 80s reacting against the failures of the mainlines. (I can’t really speak to the state of the mainlines at that time one way or the other–I was born in 1987.) In reacting against the mainlines, the baby probably got thrown out with the bathwater. And since a lot of post-evangelicalism is necessarily a reaction against evangelicalism, maybe we’re throwing out babies of our own now. Example: people overusing the phrase “personal relationship with your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” makes me cringe, because of the way I’ve heard it used to bash memorized prayers, liturgy, a lack of spontaneity in worship. Really though, if I’m being honest, it’s mostly just because it’s so freaking evangelical. But how can I disregard what that overused phrase is talking about? The lives of the saints were all marked with something that looked a lot like a personal relationship with Jesus.

      All the same, I’m still really looking forward to Jeff’s series, and will probably agree with much of it.

    • Josh in FW says:

      As a Christian who hasn’t yet given up on his Evangelical Church Home, I appreciate your defense of our particular stream of the Faith. I have my issues with my home congregation, but the other options don’t have any less issues, just different ones. So for now, I’ve decided to “dance with the one that brought me”.

    • Matt Purdum says:

      I’m happy to work with all but I don’t accept that one has to “pick a version” of Christianity. I pick Christ. Period. Burn everything else away.Period. Of course “versions” of Christianity are flawed because they are created by humans. Whether it’s a denomination or a creed, a doctrine, or even “the religion of Christianity” it cannot contain God.And I believe people are now coming out of many traditions into this kind of “central” place.

      • Amen to that.

      • Of course you have to pick a version of Christianity.

        Christ says “teach all that I have commanded you.” Christ is God. If you believe those things, then these teachigns are not “created by humans.”

        Did Christ institute baptism as the means by which the Holy Spirit brings Christians into a new life in Christ? Did he teach that we should eat his physical body and blood to remember is work on the cross, and thereby receive faith and forgiveness?

        If Christ taught those things, then we should follow them. The claim that these things don’t matter is sinful. Everything Christ taught is a matter of life or death.

        • Matt Purdum says:

          Dispensationalism, Calvinism, Anglicanism, Methodism, Evangelicalsim and Fundamentalism and all the rest most certainly were created by humans. For that matter the “religion” of Christianity was created by humans. When I say that “I follow Christ” I thinks it’s clear to most people that means following His teachings.

        • bz,

          I agree with you too. But I value many things about many different streams of Christianity. You mention some of the things that Lutherans like to emphasize. Mission minded evangelicals would tell you that the Great Commission is life and death. Pentecostals will tell you that being filled with Spirit is high on the list of importance. Baptists – immersions and a personal commitment.

      • Unfortunately it is not a central place. It is an individualistic place full of personal interpretation. Everyone has opinions and it is possible that everyone could be different, and so we continue with the fragmentation of christianity, that american individualism that continues to isolate the believer.

        • Matt Purdum says:

          Radagast, you are perceptive to come to that conclusion, and I would too, except for my experience of the central place and the people I meet there. Sure, we disagree on “doctrinal” and denominational matters. But we agree that these are secondary. Our unity in the person of Christ is so superior to our disagreements as to make them moot. But you have pointed to a real potential danger, especially in America.

          • Matt,

            What you describe I have also experienced in prayer groups that are more ecumenical. But we had some assumed rules that steered us away from doctorinal issues and also caused us to hold our tongue (more for us Catholics in the group in case we slipped and mentioned Mary). But this was on a very small scale with believers really dedicated and hungry to grow deeper. Not sure how well it would work with Chistians who live on the surface.

    • Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says:

      I remember Michael Spencer telling Steve Brown that the best things happening in Evangelicalism were all off the radar, and I suspect he was right. I’ve got little patience for most of what happens on Christian (read: Evangelical) radio, in Christian (read: evangelical) bookstores, etc. I live in a town with lots of megachurches, and generic big-box non-denoms that have aspirations of eventually becoming megachurches, I have little patience with those, also.

      That said, I still consider myself to be in the Evangelical camp, albeit within the context of Anglicanism. I find the Great Tradition to be a good counter-balance to some of Evangelicalism’s tendencies toward silliness and Evangelicalism to be a good counter-balance to some of the stodginess inherent to a more traditional denomination.

      Sometime I get a glimpse of the silliness still. And sometimes there’s a whiff of the stodginess.

      • Best service I ever attended was in a Charismatic Evangelical Anglican Church. Three elements of Charismatic, Evangelical, and Liturgical worked really well to complement each other.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        And it also burns me that Evangelicals have hijacked the word “Christian” without any modifiers to mean their type of Christian and their type of Christian ALONE. Leaving the rest of us to take the backlash.

        Over at Slacktivist, they snark the accompanying attitude as “RTC”s — “Real True Christians”.

        • HUG, good point. It is rotten that we have to say “I’m a Christian—but not one of those young earth types who thinks the Devil put fossils around and who thinks everyone except white, straight married Bible-belieiving reall AMERICANS are going to heaven”.

          • (last line)…to HELL!

            edit button, where art thou, my fairest friend?

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            It is rotten that we have to say “I’m a Christian—but not one of those young earth types who thinks the Devil put fossils around and who thinks everyone except white, straight married Bible-belieiving reall AMERICANS are going to HELL”.

            The power of redefinitions, My Dear Wormwood…
            — Screwtape

          • Maybe it’s just me …. but we don’t.

            I’m a Christian, and all of the Harold Campings and Creflo Dollars out there aren’t changing that fact. I’ve read too much about the Janani Luwums and Wang Zhimings to be embarrassed to be called a Christian.

        • Hasn’t the word “evangelical” being hijacked? If was intially used to differentiate from the Fundamentalists, but now is being equated with Funadamentalism.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Hence the coining of the word “Fundagelical”.

          • I used to think evangelical meant everyone except the mainlines and the penticostals. Recently I have been hearing mainlines use it too. I have heard Dobson and other Fundy groups considerthemselves Evangelical.. Can someone clear this up for me?

          • Originally, “evangelical” referred to the major Protestant denominations in the United States. They had bones to pick with each other, but they all grew rapidly following the Second Great Awakening and shared some common characteristics, including a tradition of revivalism. This broad consensus broke into “mainline” and “fundamentalist” streams in the early 20th century. So in terms of lineage, both groups are “evangelicals.” Today the conservatives have succeeded in attaching the term “evangelical” primarily to themselves. But sometimes mainliners try to take it back.

            The use of the term “evangelical” to refer to conservative Protestants dates to WWII & thereafter. By this time there was a thriving “fundamentalist” movement that rallied a lot of conservatives outside the “mainline” denominations. A new generation of fundamentalists tried to revitalize their movement and adopted a new term for themselves, “neo-evangelical.” The “evangelicals” were more interested in cooperation and making an aggressive bid for cultural leadership than were the fundamentalists. But the two groups have always shared a lot of common ideas and heritage. The line between them has never been clearly marked. I think of them as points on a continuum, and separated more my attitude and by traveling in different interpersonal networks than anything else.

            Today “fundamentalist” has such a negative connotation that most people call themselves evangelicals, esp. if they are coalition building (a la Dobson). If someone makes it a point to call themselves a “fundamentalist,” then they are probably going out of their way to emphasize their purity or strictness.

          • Danielle,

            Thank you for clarifying….

      • This has been my experience as well….and I work in Christian (read: Evangelical) radio and see them.

        I think Michael’s amendments to the “Evangelical Collapse” pronouncements have been muted a little, but he showed a bit of optimism for Evangelicalism with tones outside of the US. The Lausanne Conference was evidence of some of this, and just because Joel Osteen and the local non-denominational church were too busy trying to “Get you to be what God created you to be” or whatever doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

        I’m interested in this series as well, and I have a long list of times when I see Evangelicalism walking proudly nude down the middle of the road. But even then (and I thought the same when Michael was here), it doesn’t hurt to remember that Tulsa/Baptist/Southern Evangelicalism is not the whole of Evangelicalism.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      “It seems to me that those I have met who are anti-Catholic tend to be ex-Catholics. Perhaps the same can be said of ex-Evangelicals.”

      I’ve seen the same dynamic outside of churches, where a burn job or other severe disappointment flips someone one-eighty re their former obsession from Total Blind Adoration to Total Blind Hatred. And they go at the Total Blind Hatred with the same energy and tunnel vision as they did their former Total Blind Adoration.

    • “It seems to me that those I have met who are anti-Catholic tend to be ex-Catholics. Perhaps the same can be said of ex-Evangelicals.”

      Agreed and very irritating – because it turns out that these folks never knew their faith to begin with and end up parroting their pastor or a chick tract. I have much more respect for the ex catholic who knew their stuff but decided to leave, making an informed decision.

      As a Catholic I have no issue with Evangelicalism and specifically the mainline denoms whose ministers I’ve had the pleasure of having great faith discussions with. I will confess that I struggle almost everytime I talk with non-denoms and pentacostals. The narrowmindedness, snarky attitude and bible thumping I get leaves me with too much of a bad taste (and I am not an apologetic by a long shot). As an outsider I also see that the fad trends like church cafe’s, liturgical dance, zumba with Jesus and the like seems to come out of this camp. And when I see a mainline trying it (assuming to boost membership) I am thinking “don’t give in to the hype!”.

      We all have warts. I just put up with mine.

      • Rad…..ditto times a million.

        • Rad…..most Catholics who leave the Church stopped their religous education and growth in faith when they were confirmed at age twelve or so of COURSE they can’t accept the Faith….they are looking at the watered down, pureed version of Faith presented to childredn. They SHOULD reject this as adults, and learn what being an adult, passionate, informed Catholic looks and feels like. Then, if they still want to leave, we can Bless them on their journey. In my experience, this is rarely the case. Someone is still stuck on what crud they got fed by Sister Mary Joseph in 7th grade….and THAT is what they leave, It is a pity.

          • Pattie,

            I just had this talk with my confirmation parents on Monday – many of those who say “now they are confirmed they can make their own choice” to which I replied -NO… they are rookies and likened it to a new firefighter that has the knowledge but must accompany a more seasoned firefighter into a fire or risk death (they must gain experience under mentorship to gain wisdom)… problem is the parents themselves aren’t going to church which just harkens back to parents not wanting to parent… OK I am trying not to get on a soapbox here….

          • actually, Sister Joseph Eileen for my 7th grade education…

            a younger nun that eventually left the order (of the Sacred Heart if i remember correctly) & married later…

            she was the one nun that made the attempt at relating to us teenagers as a real person & not simply a religious persona…

            and the 8th grade nun, Sister Mary something-or-other, were the 2 nuns whose habits were cut from a different cloth i suppose. they both made deliberate efforts at being much more personable & approachable than the older nuns i had in the earlier grades…

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        “Zumba with Jesus”?

        Is that anything like the “Holy Ghost Hokey Pokey”?

      • Liturgical dance certainly didn’t come out of the Evangelical side of things… hey we don’t even like the word liturgical ! 🙂

        • Maybe liturgical isn’t the right word – I know it had something to do with dancing (this coming from a fundy relative I know)

          • Liturgical dancing is kinda fluffy and floofy and expressive, which I think freaks out fundamentalists. Women expressing their feelings about the divine in non-propositional form? No, sir!

            I don’t know what kind of dance was meant, but there’s spontaneous dancing in some Pentecostal and charismatic churches. It’s usually seen as an expression of being filled with the Holy Spirit and “moved” to act.

            (Ted… I did once see a charismatic traveling evangelist spend a week teaching a Baptist church to dance in the Lord…!)

        • Mike is right, and especially don’t blame dancing on us Baptists. The joke going around with us is that we disapprove of premarital sex because it may lead to dancing.

          • Danielle and Ted,

            I think this person more closely aligns themselves with Penticostals – so maybe that explains it – I have to get my faith traditions straight….

      • Josh in FW says:

        I really do enjoy the comments from you (Rad), Pattie, and Martha. If not for the infallibility thing and other abuses of the hiearchy, I just may have ‘swam the Tiber’ by now. I guess I just have a deep seated American distrust of authority.
        🙂

    • Micheal Bell….not to pull a phrase out of context, but “Evangelical children know their Bibles”……and??? So what????

      As a lifelong RC, I can tell you that many Catholics and those in other liturgical expressions of Christ-following find the obession with memorizing the Bible, complete with “zip codes”, to be more of an expression of Bible worship than worship of God Himself.

      I know without tradition that is all there is to “go on”, so to speak, but learning FROM Scripture about the LOrd is one thing, and being able to quote the Bible chapter and verse is another.

      I can still recite “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” from memory, but it hardly makes me an educated Historian of Early American History and Politics.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        All it does is turn the faith into a set of “Ees Party Line, Comrade!”, delivered one verse at a time.

        doubleplusgoodthink INGSOC,
        doubleplusbellyfeel INGSOC,
        doubleplusduckspeak INGSOC —
        and nothing more.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Micheal Bell….not to pull a phrase out of context, but “Evangelical children know their Bibles”……and??? So what????

        And Talibani Muslim children can recite the entire Koran from memory at age five or six. So early their brain actually develops around the forced memorization, leaving them incapable of thinking outside the box.

      • Fair enough comment Pattie… But did I say anything about memorization? Instead I encourage my children to ask questions of the text, to challenge predefined assumptions, I even encourage my son to read articles on Internet Monk showing different viewpoints.

        I think my comment had more to do with the fact that there was a recent study that showed that evangelical churches have put more resources into their youth than mainline churches. In my church it has meant that most of the people we have participating up front on a Sunday morning are under the age of 30, even though our congregation largest segment is over the age of 70. Our young people have stayed, they have gotten involved, they are being discipled, they read their Bibles, they are starting to lead. The church has a future.

        As a church we don’t get wrapped up in the issues that Jeff details, so I am happy where I am. We have some warts, but we have our clothes on!

        • The bible memorization thing…. subjective view here…. as an engineer, when it cam to formulas we knew we could look them up in the CRC book of tables so we didn’t memorize. I take the same approach with scripture, I read a lot of it (a little every day) so I can usually discuss what Paul meant in this letter or put a parable in my own words, I just can’t pull versus out of my head (heck- I’m forgetful anyway). For some I believe it can be useful. For others I believe the one line they recite can easily be used out of context if the rest of the text around it is not taken into consideration. Also sometimes I think it can be a way of boasting but I readily admit I could be off base here.

  13. Sounds like you are channeling Michael Spencer, and that’s great!! Look forward to the rest of the posts; this is an issue that needs to be out there every day, because it is not going away any time soon…unfortunately.

    I, was in the evangelical mindset, and during college I walked away; Catholicism held an attraction for me, although I never converted (but was pretty close). I couldn’t take the emperor(s) and his (their) subjects all parading around naked–what a great word picture you’ve given, Jeff. It was so empty and meaningless.

    It took having children to reevaluate what is important and what do I believe–not what someone else has told me to believe. It was quite a journey, but I found my way back to Jesus Christ–not evangelicalism. I feel like I’ve been banging my head against the evangelical-fundamentalist walls since then. They are the blind leading the blind–and no one wants to listen to what I (and others) have to say; they want to stay in their safety zones. And yes, they’re not even drinking milk…it’s probably kool-aid, as mentioned above.

    When one realizes it’s not the list of do’s and dont’s, ministry over-involvement as all churches demand, raising children according to Dobson or they’ll turn out to be hellions, etc etc

    What I concluded is that a huge majority of evang-fundies have not read the Bible they claim to know and love and obey. They have no idea what is buried in there–truth that sets free. Once I started reading scripture myself, I realized how misled I’d been by church, family, friends, speakers, camps, and so on.

    That is why I love this blog….I’ve found a family and home with fellow thinkers and believers, a place where I’m not the only one saying these things.

    Again, my THANKS to all those who make this blog possible, the writers, and the commenters. I don’t feel so alone in the Christian community when I read this!

    • David Cornwell says:

      “That is why I love this blog….I’ve found a family and home with fellow thinkers and believers”

      Amen to that.

      • This is a good place. I can’t tell you David how often I look forward to reading each post, and comment. I love everyone here. If there was a church in the DC area that had the warmth, love, and approach to life that the IM has. I’d be first in line for church.

    • Charlie – agreed. I’m so grateful to the writers and community here. We had no idea where to go after leaving the evangelical world…and then I found this site. Voices from all over Christendom, speaking love. And it gave me the strength to keep looking for good people. Much appreciation, all around!

    • Josh in FW says:

      ditto

  14. Well, I can echo what Jeff grew up with:

    “…we were also trained to believe anyone who went to any church other than ours was probably not even saved. And Catholics? Oh my. They were a cult, just like Jehovah Witnesses, only worse. Rules and regulations were firmly in place.”

    But in the church of my adult life, it was something else that drove me out. I gradually lost faith in politicians of all stripes somewhere around 2006. But a certain strain of political belief was the favorite hobby of most of the church members. And leaders. So people like us, who just wanted to unplug faith from politics (let alone “switch sides” – gasp) weren’t welcome in their club anymore. This is most certainly unbecoming for God’s holy people. We still have a few close friends there, people who talk kids, and caring for parents, and Jesus, and life…and we kept them as friends because they understand us and love us.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Which is a real hoot because a lot of Evangelical churches (mega and/or splinter) act pretty “cultic” themselves. Lots of control freaks out there.

  15. “Along the way I will no doubt step on many toes. I make no apologies for that. If you were wearing good shoes, it wouldn’t hurt so much. Far too many, however, are going around barefoot. It matches the rest of their outfit.”

    Great writing, Jeff! Content and style both.

  16. Dave K eh? says:

    I am really looking forward to the next couple of posts! I for one quite enjoy it when posts “step on my toes”. I feel it’s only when someone “steps on my toes” that I can really think about things and decide for myself what I believe.

    I have known a number of people through my life who have drifted away from church. They drifted away because when they made up their own minds about faith related questions, they felt like they no longer belonged in a church because they thought that their views would not be tolerated (which maybe they weren’t), I too, have felt the pressure at times that I have to believe exactly what everyone else believes so that I can belong to my church. At this stage of my life, I’m pretty open to others’ view points, even if I don’t agree with them.

    Thank you in advance for the upcoming posts!

  17. Gonna name names? Gotta name names.

    DSY

  18. Jessica Marie says:

    I cannot wait for you to talk about marketing. The church I worked for was run by businessmen instead of pastors and I’m still working through the issues I saw there. Stay rad!

    • Not in the US myself, but I have vivid memories of visiting a church here that was run by a pastor from the US, who explained that “some people think the church should be modelled on the family, our church is modelled on business”.

  19. It’s not about style, or emotion, or charisma or lack of it.

    it’s about what come out of the preacher’s mouth. Is he or she leading you back into yourself? Or are they using the law to expose yuor need of Christ and show you that you are not up to it…and then announce to you the One who is up to it.

    NO religious ladders to climb! Christ has done away with the need for any of that.

  20. I would have to agree with those who have pointed out that it is more than just evangelicalism that is struting around with no clothes.

    Finding an honest, loving Christian community being led by people who place the care of those being led as their highest priority is very rare and even among those that do exist you’l find people doing and believing stupid things. It’s what people do.

    I don’t say any of this to discourage critique, but I do hope that you will make much narrower brushstrokes than just picking on evangelicalism. Churches who fit that label are as much different as they are the same.

    • Oh yeah. Right now I am an American living in the UAE (Abu Dhabi) and participating in the life of an Anglican church. There is nothing specificly American about the nakedness to which you are writing.

      Even here, people apparently find Christianity boring and difficult, which makes all the rest of the crap we do quite tempting.

      • wow….didn’t think the UAE allowed open Christian worship…but THAT is another series all together, isn’t it?

      • Hey George,

        I would love your feedback on my post on the Evangelical Community Church of Abu Dhabi.

        From my perspective it sounds wonderful!

        • My wife and I visited there first, Michael. We thought that Evangelical Community Church of Abu Dhabi might be a good fit. It was not over the top horrible, but there are numerous reasons why I would have ultimately have decided to skip the whole worship service thing altogether, if that was my only choice.

          I can’t see any point in talking about their specific flaws here. I’d be happy to exchange emails with you if there is a real need for my opinion of them, but I try to hold to a policy of only giving negative information about someone to people whom that information will actually help in some way.

          • I have a friend in leadership there. Leave a comment on my blog with your contact information, and we can discuss further. If you have feedback that could help them constructively I am sure they would like to hear it.

  21. I’m not an Evangelical but neither am I much of a critic. Evangelicalism mostly just baffles me. Perhaps I’ve been baffled because I assumed the emperor was wearing clothes but couldn’t figure out what the outfit looked like. In particular I don’t quite get:

    — Evangelicalism’s “born again” conversion experience

    — Evangelicalism’s appetite for theatrics and dramma

    — Evangelicalism’s religious affections of “feeling close to God or far away from God”

    — Evangelicalism’s undefined expressions of folk religious language

    — Evangelicalism’s semi-hidden haunted conscience

    • to add to the list…

      -the emphasis on sin and Hell combined with an absence of the real GOOD NEWS about God’s passionate, crazy, no-hold-barred LOVE and acceptance of us, regardless of how mired in sin and broken we are.

      -the use of the tem “audience” rather than “congregation” or “worshippers”.

      -the worship of the Bible rather than God

      -the public judgement of “sinners”; as defined by the person in the pulpit, especially of sexual sins, while ignoring greed, xenophobia, pride, gluttony and all those other “deadly sins”

      -the elevation of the PASTOR to performing artist and super-star, capped white teeth, $80 haircut, and Italian suit and shoes to match the image

      -the apparent lack of any need for a broad and deep theological education, leading to horrible mutilation of Scripture by someone who “hears the Lord telling him to preach about_________________ . “

      • I think you are right, Pattie.

        And ‘how to’ lists, galore.

      • Pattie, I don’t think our lists are coming from the same place or with the same tone. I don’t understand Evangelicals very well but I’m neither anti-evangelical or upset with them in any way.

        • I’ve never been one either, and I would say “confused, and annoyed at the lives I see being ruined” rather than angry or upset.

          But give me a break, I DO live in Jerry Falwell’s hometown, amist his empire. It is like watching the world in a parellel universe, and they have freakin’ COMMERIALS on the local channels!

      • Don’t forget…

        1. Aversion to hard questions that pose a dilemma to fundgelical worship.
        2. The worship of the family, marriage, children and programs which support all of that…
        3. The total absence of grace
        4. The “us” vs. “them” mindset with the “them” being mainline Protestants, Catholics, gays, liberals, etc..
        5. Creation of a bubble that remvoes people from the world that ultimately fails painfully in the end
        6. The nepotism and cronyism that runs rampant in many fundgelcial setings. I guess God only “calls” certian families (rolls eyes…)
        7. Over embrace of the rapture and End Times theology
        8. The entire saved mentality where people are always guessing, “Is so and so a Christian and saved?” which applies oto Catholcis, etc..
        9. Abscence of love and grace. If there is love and grace as I leanred it is condiitonal to fitting into the “program” and belief system.
        10. Using a Bible to beat the shit out of people or to pikc apart another person’s “sin”. Many fundgelcials define sin as sometihng the other person has and never themself

        • My original list was an expression of bewilderment at what makes Evangelicals tic not an expression of what ticks me off about Evangelicalism. I realize that there are those who have been hurt through their Evangelical experience and others who are simply annoyed at what they have seen of it but that is not where I come from. I simply don’t understand the evangelical experience.

          There are some deep rooted things, it seems to me, that haunt the Evangelical about their Evangelical experience. There is something subtle and somehow yet traumatic about the Evangelical religious experience for so many– even those who would never leave or consider opting for another religious environment.

          And so I am curious as to why– if the emperor has been proudly parading naked for many years– the crowd is cheering wildly with their eyes wide shut? Why is it so hard for those with a deep religious convictions to maintain an Evangelical identity and even harder to find alternative? Why do so many Evangelicals feel dissatisfied and disenfranchised but fail to search for something else or move on? What makes the journey away from Evangelicalism so difficult for so many?

  22. It looks like you have stirred up the waters already, Jeff, and so much stuff is rising to the surface! It seems that part of our human condition is to follow rules,or strong leaders, or just the crowd – much easier to do that than to follow Jesus, and we wonder why we get our fingers burnt! (She said, reaching for the ointment!)

  23. Ahhhh ~ as I read all your differing points of view I can’t help but think of the warning that was given to Martin Luther by one of his supporters. He told him that if he persisted in his plan to get the Scriptures into the hands of every person he would be unleashing 10,000 popes. Luther’s response was something to the effect that he felt it was more worth it. I agree. The blessed freedom that we have to disagree, to worship in different styles, to search the Scriptures and have healthy debate is something I treasure. It is such a joy to read each day here in the IAbbey.

    As we approach Reformation Sunday I thank God for Martin Luther and for giving him the faith and courage to nail those thesis to that door which gave ME such freedom. And I thank Jesus for offering Himself to be nailed to that cross to purchase my FREEDOM.

    “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is FREEDOM” God bless each of you IMonks.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I can’t help but think of the warning that was given to Martin Luther by one of his supporters. He told him that if he persisted in his plan to get the Scriptures into the hands of every person he would be unleashing 10,000 popes.

      ONLY 10,000?

      More like MILLIONS of One True Churches, each with only one member, each denouncing all others ex cathedra as Heretics and Apostates.

      • Tom Huguenot says:

        I am not sure your description is accurate. There is a good deal of heresy hunting within evangelicalism (rightly so, sometimes) but this vision of an overly fragmented Protestantism has more to do with poor Roman Catholic apologetics than with reality.
        Besides, living in a predominantly RC country, I can tell you the Roman church is as fragmented as any other trend of Christianity.

        • ..and here in Falwellville, with less than 5% of the population RC, it looks like the opposite craziness!

  24. This post is so true that I no longer have within me to even be angry about it anymore. I am just broken-hearted. I went and visited a local community church the other day that had broken off of the church I work for and took the younger generation with it. Christless Christianity exhibit 1a. It had more in common with a pagan cult than anything based on the life and teaching of Jesus. Business is big. Celebrity power is leveraged. They stopped about 3 inches short of the fog machine. Every time I hear this soteriological utilitarianism it induces vomiting: People are being “reached” and “fed…” All that really means is market shares are up and the customers are hooked. Please just take the cross out of your building. For all you do with it, its just an ambiguous letter “T.”
    …oh wait… they already did.

  25. I am relatively new to the “monastery”, and I can certainly relate to many of you who are disappointed, even disgusted with, evangelicalism/fundamentalism. I grew up in that church that was always “right” and quick to demonize others. I have been damaged and hurt by extreme legalism. I have been embarrassed by the shameless grab for political power made in the name of God. I have been sickened by the marketing of the church. I agree with Jeff that it is high time the emperor was called out and exposed for who he is.

    But I have to say, that after all the anger and all the tears over all that was wrong in my “camp”, I am thankful for some things.

    * Sin was defined. By that I mean adultery, stealing, lying, hating, murder and the like are not God’s will. This is a good thing to know! I admit that there was much confusion when matters of liberty were also classified as sin , and that keeping a list of rules was often elevated above faith in God’s grace. But it is always good to be reminded that there are actions that always bring grief to God and that always hurt people. I am glad I was taught that.

    * Faith in Jesus and His atonement was presented as the only hope for salvation. Granted, we were taught to trust Christ at conversion, and then to work like mad your whole life to please Him and “stay in fellowship” (essentially you did not need Jesus again until you got cancer!). I left God and the church as a young man, and when the Lord called me back, He called me back to Jesus. He called me back to the mercy, love, grace, and kindness of Jesus which I learned about in my fundy church. Though it was not emphasized nearly enough, it was taught, and I am thankful for that.

    * People were genuinely moved by their love for Jesus. Yes, some of the most hateful people I ever met were in my church, and all too often in our pulpit. Yes, look up the word Pharisee and there is a picture of my home church beside the definition. But underneath all that were some amazing acts of kindness and love. Right along with all the negative experiences with people I must remember the positive ones. I am thankful for Mr. Dorsey, Caroline Sanders, Sam and Florence Hill, Phil and Mary Mason; very real people in a very flawed church who humbly understood Christ and the great commandment.

    I look forward to your articles, Jeff, and I will doubtlessly agree with much of what you write. But I disagree with you about the emperor being naked. While the emperor may be very exposed to the elements and very deceived by his tailor, he has some clothing, if only a very thin loin cloth. You said “I came to faith in a Baptist church . . .” which you went on to describe as grossly exclusive in its attitude. You and I both came to faith in similar churches. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God,” said the apostle. I heard enough of the word to come to faith in my very flawed church, and so did you. Remember that, please, as you write.

    • What I leanred is that sin is subjectivley defined through the lens of white, upper middle class surburbia. This si why sexual sins are so demonized but gluttony, materialism and greed are embraced. There is a blending of the “American Dream” (If that exists….) with faith. It’s quite ugly….. From the evangelical free chruch I attended to the the fundgelical mage church empire known as McLean Bible.. It’s a part of the culture.

      • Eagle, I could have,should have, listed that as a fault as well. It always seemed like the sins that were harped on were the most were the sins someone else was committing! But that is hardly unique to evangelicalism. I was saying that in spite of all the outrageous faults, I learned enough about sin to understand that I needed Jesus. And I am still thankful for that . . . am I wrong to be?

  26. Chill:

    Your words remind me of what St. Augustine wrote many centuries ago. He stated that the church on earth is made up of both the wheat and the tares: the true believers and the real unbelievers. To me, the point is which one will we choose to be? And also that, by God’s grace, may we not get too disillusioned with those in the church who chose not to live in faith or at others, and our own, stumbling attempts to live in faith.

    God bless.

  27. It’s an important awareness to have and to declare, but there’s nothing new here. I have a book in my collection written some written some 28 years ago by the late Dr Francis Schaeffer entitled ‘The Great Evangelical Disaster’ which shows how (then) the rot had already set in. We could no doubt point to other similar periods in history (America at the end of the 19th century springs to mind) where this problem has been evident before, but what is truly needed is the remedy, and the remedy must be a departure from our ‘do it yourself’ praxis to the the freedom in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which, when properly understood and applied, allows us to look outward, not inward, to meet the world with a message which is rich, deep and enduring. When considering the Reformation, C S Lewis once wrote: “In reality, William Tyndale is trying to express an obstinate fact which meets us long before we venture into the realm of theology; the fact that morality or duty (what he calls ‘the Law’) never yet made a man happy in himself or dear to others. It is shocking, but it is undeniable. We do not wish either to be, or to live among, people who are clean or honest or kind as a matter of duty: we want to be, and associate with, people who like being clean and honest and kind. The mere suspicion that what seemed an act of spontaneous friendliness or generosity was really done as a duty subtly poisons it. In philosophical language, the ethical category is self-destructive; morality is healthy only when it is trying to abolish itself. In theological language, no man can be saved by works. The whole purpose of the “Gospel,” for Tyndale, is to deliver us from morality. Thus, paradoxically, the “Puritan” of modern imagination—the cold, gloomy heart, doing as duty what happier and richer souls do without thinking of it—is precisely the enemy which historical Protestantism arose and smote”. Analysis of this nature is vital, imperative today, but it must point to the same remedy as aided the men of those times.

  28. I’m looking forward to these as well as everything else you write Jeff!

  29. Who are you and how have I never come across you before?!

    This is the first post I’ve read of yours and I’m hooked. Your writing is wonderful, your honesty refreshing and your topic RIGHT ON TARGET with my own experience give or take a few interpretive differences.

    I’m sure I’ll have many more comments to come but just wanted to shout out that I’m so glad to have found you!

    Terrisa

    • Welcome to our little world, Terrisa! We here in the peanut gallery rarely pull punches, but since everyone (except the odd troll) is really trying in their own way to follow Christ, we (usually) don’t get mean or ugly. Often. Or if we do, we say we’re sorry…

    • Terrisa,

      When you get time also read some of Michael’s writings in the archive section of this site – good stuff.

    • Welcome Radagast,

      You will find a number of different contributors to the blog posts on here. The founder of the site, Michael Spencer, unfortunately died of brain cancer in April of last year.

      Into his place stepped Michael Mercer, who now contributes the majority of the posts. Michael is currently on a one month sabbatical.

      This post was written by Jeff Dunn, who is the publisher of the site and related materials.

      There are a number of other excellent writers from various backgrounds who each contribute as they are able.

      I hope we can all assist you in your journey.

  30. Radagast, may I say, I appreciated your comments and found them comforting and hopeful for folks like Eagle and I with regard to “anger issues with Evangelicalism . . . or I liked the word in one of the comments, fundagelicalism.

    Eagle,

    I feel you.

    The resentment, anger, tempting regret for the amount of time and energy you spent pouring your life into something that – well, sort-of only MATTERS if you hold onto it if we’re honest. And now, you are different. You believe differently. You’ve seen more contradictions than you can deal with anymore. Things that used to make so much sense no longer do – and in fact you wonder how you believed them for so long (or maybe you never did but how would you know because you were too busy concentrating on keeping all the dogma straight in the first place).

    You’ve probably dealt with tons of crap from your family and friends in the ‘church’ and it’s driven you mental since your ‘break’ from church. Of course, we both know all those friends and family believe they’re reaching out to save you from walking to the slaughter or from backsliding with no end. Some are even very genuine.

    But the questions, the NECESSITY of having an answer for everything in this particular faith framework, feels completely confining and you think God MUST be bigger than all this doctrine – he MUST be bigger than all these answers! And if he’s not, then that will be pretty damn disappointing.

    My own evangelical experience in list form ::

    In the time of faith I . . .

    1. Grew up in a loving ‘nondenominational’ house with an increasingly sensitive conscience
    2. Decided to go to Bible school in a Latin American country (where, since they have been mostly evangelized by American evangelicals, they are even more legalistic)
    3. Then decided to finish school in a Southern Baptist Seminary because the only thing I was interested in was theology (which I might still do today) and the ministry; and it was all that really mattered
    4. Believed God had promised me a man I met at Bible school (our preacher – of one of the biggest mega-churches in Atlanta – would often refer to me by his last name shortly after we started dating b/c this was clearly God’s will)
    So, for 3 years of my early twenties I waited for this man, the fulfillment of that promise an indication of God’s faithfulness to me
    And then he got engaged and my entire future became a fog
    5. I struggled since a young adult with depression and anxiety, which were greatly intensified by my infused legalist tendencies
    6. After 3 more years of chasing God’s will in different areas and never finding it because I only found what didn’t work for me, I moved to COlorado from Washington DC (where I had attended Capitol Hill Baptist Church and worked for a conservative Christian congresswoman). The plan was to get a job with Focus on the Family.
    7. Having never been outside of a majority Christian environment for any length of time I began to work with a crew of non-Christians at Apple
    8. I had shut myself off from any form of sexuality (not to mention the many things we learn about ourselves because of our sexuality) in myself or others until 26 and when I finally experienced this my family was devastated.
    9. The next year was the hardest of my life as I felt increasingly claustrophobic and disingenuous within my comfortable evangelical faith structure. I was meeting so many people with questions I genuinely UNDERSTOOD when I ran back to my learned “answers” I was coming up short in my own heart. These answers weren’t making sense in light of the vastness of human experience. I cried out to God on my face more times than I could count for some sort of peace and understanding of how to believe and how to proceed.
    It never came.
    10. I tried life without God for a time and figured out that God wasn’t the problem at all.
    11. I left Jesus out for a time and figured out he wasn’t the problem either.
    12. During this year I never felt once that I shouldn’t be asking the questions I was asking in my head and heart. I heard plenty of other people try to explain the answers and/or tell me I should repent and turn to Christ (which was the simplistic answer I received from a former seminary professor when I wrote to him for counsel). But it was never the same kind of guilt. For all of my questioning, all of my screaming prayers and being frustrated with God, I’ve learned more about the unconditional love of God than at any other time.
    13. I tried going back to a community church out here and still felt out of place. At times I wasn’t sure what to “call” myself . . . was unsure of my religio-spiritual “label”
    13. My family dynamic has significantly changed because we’re now THEOLOGICALLY out of line on some things
    14. My new niece will possibly grow up seeing me as the misguided liberal aunt that I remember having as a child
    15. I’ve tried many churches out here in Colorado, some of which have been BETTER – of the type that Ratagast mentioned, but not where I belong.
    I’m not even super sure what I think ‘church’ should look like

    Now, I don’t have all the answers. I still have a bit of resentment but continue to work through it. I pray and read the Bible – as well as other spiritual texts. I listen to sermons and share my story of God and his love. I’ve figured out what the problem is and isn’t. The problem is the “trappings” of modern-day Western Christianity. The problem isn’t God, Jesus, the Bible, the gospel. Now that I’ve figured that out (dunno why it had to take three years – I guess 26 years of evangelical consumption takes some time to break), I am able to pursue God and everything about him with a clear mind and heart – for I’ve finally broken out of the cocoon.

    Does any of this sound familiar?

    • BTW…my very devout son is an Apple tech rep, so there are Christians in your work world. This is my strong willed kid who I was afraid would be in jail, but who took his stubborness to Christ and loving instead. Forgive me if I am so happy about this…his dad and I taught the faith, but it was his to accept and run with. I “get” that God doesn’t have grandchildren. (His brother is a work in progres….)

    • One more Mike says:

      Welcome to the post-evangelical wilderness. There are many of us wandering here, but none of us are lost. Not for very long anyway, someone will always come after you. Usually Martha. Did you bring some beer?

  31. Patty and Radagast,

    Thanks for the welcome! I’m genuinely happy I’ve found this lovely community and look forward to reading and engaging!

    • ..and we are glad you are here! I found this slice of heaven from a friend of a friend FaceBook quote, and fell in love with everyone here in the real brotherhhood/Sisterhood meaning of the term. It has only been since the early summer (of this year) and I feel as home here as with my family or my parish family.

      ps…if you see “Vern”…….ignore the troll! The price of open internet access!

  32. “At some point I had to admit what I had pushed down in my mind for so long: the evangelical world was an empty shell. There was nothing to it. It was all hat and no cattle”

    I have some of your same background. I watched people get thrown under the bus all the time if they dared to question the emperor. Of course, the emporer is never overt about it so it takes a while to catch on. Where did Joe go? That sort of thing. Then you learn not to ask.

    At first I thought it was one mega church but as I consulted with many, I found the exact same things, over and over as if they had the same playbook. It is the system that is evil and it creates emperors with no clothes and no one who will tell him.

    I am out but had to leave family and friends behind who think I am overly judgemental. but my favorite is when they whip out the: Nobody is perfect, line. Gee, how about they act like Chrisitans off stage? I would settle for that.

    • In many mega churches the pastor is worshipped and the pastor can do no wrong. The best example I saw this at was at McLean Bible which the Senior Pastor almost ran it like a feudal kingdom of the Middle Ages. In these settings the Pastor is worshipped and very much treated like a God. Many people check out their brains on a shelf when they attend and practice what I like to call “Christianity by osmosis” where they just soak it in and never think for themself. God help you if you question the system or go into the area where questions are discouraged or people are nervous about.

      • This might be pushing the envelope…but in these mega chruch settings I wonder if these are the evangelical equivilents to Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. Whatever the pastor says is okay and followed blindly.

        • This is more true than anyone wants to admit. These “leaders” are accountable to nobody, so they can and do take large congregations through drastic theological changes in relatively short periods of time, at their own personal whim. Especially in the more charismatic types, where the lights are dimmed and the music is blared, psychological manipulation is bombarded upon hapless spectators in order to turn them into zealots. In environments like these, orthodoxy could get left or lost, and nobody would notice or care.

  33. One more Mike says:

    Jeff, you haven’t even started yet and you’re over 150 comments. This series may completely blow up the internet.

  34. Haha! I couldn’t help but to laugh out loud when I read this. Why? Because I feel the exact same way and I had actually just blogged on this subject. Have a read:

    http://therighttobealive.blogspot.com/2011/10/luke-641-42.html