I am a member of an evangelical church.
I am ordained in an evangelical church.
I’ve spent my entire life in an evangelical church and anticipate spending the rest of it in that very same denomination.
However, I believe that we must find a way to abandon evangelicalism and relegate it to the ash heap of 20th century Christian phenomena if the church is going to be everything she needs to be in the 21st century.
Let me be very clear. When I say I want to abandon evangelicalism, I’m not saying I want to abandon evangelism or the gospel. Rather, it’s exactly because I love the gospel that I think we need to abandon evangelicalism. In short, I’m not convinced that American evangelicalism, in particular, actually resembles the gospel we read about in the New Testament, at least not in any significant way.
When I look out across the field of American evangelicalism and see a world dominated by celebrity pastors, turn-or-burn dogmatism, religiopolitical campaigns, anti-intellectualism, super-deluxe-mega-churches, and a nonstop stream of Christian merchandise to buy, it leaves me profoundly unconvinced that this is anything at all like what Jesus had in mind when he said “on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not overcome it.”
To be fair, there is not a singular expression of evangelicalism. Some evangelicals are very traditional, while others are very conservative, and still others are very much in the middle. Likewise, some evangelicals are Baptist, others are Methodist, and many others would label themselves “non-denominational.” So inevitably, there will be several expressions of evangelicalism that do not fall neatly within the bounds of my critique.
The evangelicalism which I will be examining over the next several days is the broad scope of evangelicalism I have experienced in my own life, read about in Christian literature, and witnessed in various forms of media.
In my experience, evangelicalism is a movement or phenomena largely characterized by a dangerously high view of scripture, a hyper-focus on the making of converts, dogmatism, an over-emphasis on personal piety, cultural exclusiveness, an obsession with both popularity and control, and a primary focus on a personal relationship with Jesus that results in a one-way ticket to heaven. I’m sure I’ve missed several things that ought to be included, but in my experience these are these things that largely shape evangelicalism today.
In the coming days I want to look at each of these areas and discuss why I think each either needs to be seriously reassessed or outright abandoned if the church is going to really be the church in the 21st century. I’m sure you won’t agree with me on every point, but I am convinced that the American church in particular, must undergo some fundamental changes if she is to remain relevant in a globalized, postmodern society.
During his travels in Alaska, the great environmentalist John Muir wrote, “One learns that the world, though made, is yet being made; that this is still the morning of creation.” I think the same can be said of the church. She was forged in the first century, but her practices, expressions of worship, and yes, even her theology would continue to be shaped for centuries to come.
That cycle of creation and recreation continues today. It should continue.
None of us live in first century Palestine. The world, though in many ways the same, is also radically different 2,000 years later. If the church is to take seriously her call to go into all the world and make disciples, she must understand that world in order to transmit her gospel in a relevant and effective way. That doesn’t mean she should abandon her theological and historical moorings. Far from it. Rather, it means tapping into the vast resources of the church that come from two millenia of engaging with countless cultures and traditions in order to be better equipped to continue that same work for millenia to come.
So, I want to invite you to join me on a journey I’ve been struggling with personally for quite some time now. It’s a path that leads away from evangelicalism and towards, what I believe, is a more authentic expression of the Christian faith.
I am in no way suggesting that I have all the answers to the problems facing the church. Instead, I want to begin to ask some serious questions and raise some deep seeded concerns that I have about the state of the church. It won’t be perfect, but I hope it challenges you to begin asking some serious questions too.
Grace and peace,
Coming tomorrow…..Evangelicalism and the Bible