My sincere apologies to anyone who considers the american evangelical subculture to be your home, but I must leave the compound. This may sound scandalous to some, and I apologize for the tone that it implies. I’m sorry that this declaration may come across as an insult – as if I’d joined Bill Maher in one of his crass putdowns of american evangelicals.
Unlike a foul Maher, my intentions are to be gracious as I ease out the door. But I do believe there are some valid reasons that much of the american evangelical subculture is such an easy target for scoffers, and it is not for being good followers of Jesus Christ. The claiming to be christian yet not talking or acting like Jesus (especially publicly) has disillusioned many. I am a living example of someone pushed towards the canyon of agnosticism by the shallowness, the corruption, the hypocrisy and above all, the un-Christ-likeness found in all too much of american Protestant evangelicalism. I would go so far as to say that the american evangelical subculture is as corrupt and far from imitating Christ as the Catholic Church was in the Middle Ages. Thankfully, God’s grace has intervened in my wilderness times and kept me from throwing it all out like many others have done. Prophetic, intellectual and Spirit-filled writers and speakers drew me towards a rediscovery of real, Jesus Christ, Kingdom Christianity.
In physical reality you will still find me serving and worshiping among evangelicals. In that sense I plan to stay, because I’m committed to the people within the evangelical subculture – kind of like a faithful husband to his bride no matter the imperfections. But in my heart and mind I am compelled to forsake some of its more shallow, stinking pools. I must disavow some of it’s most treasured assumptions. It’s golden sacred cows I now consider no better than dung. Here are a few things I would like to hammer onto evangelicalism’s “wittenburg door”:
1. The “relevance” game needs to be forsaken. The heedless thirst for cultural relevance is immature at best and pure cynical power-lust at its worst. Large parts of american evangelicalism’s “relevance” priorities do little in advancing the true priorities of the Kingdom of God. The church wallows in shallow gimmicks to ‘attract’ the unchurched. It spends millions in self-serving institutional building while throwing token crumbs at america’s naked, hungry, destitute and chained. It’s celebrity preachers and politicians engage in shameless attempts to gain notoriety. It’s entertainers merchandise tacky “christianized” remakes of pop culture. It’s parishioners live vapid lifestyles mostly indistinguishable from the status quo. Overall and ironically, it is less attractive or inviting.
2. The ‘judge not’ mantra – because God ‘could’ be using all of the aforementioned clap-trap for ‘some good’ has got to go. Today’s american evangelical subculture exhibits an almost pathological abhorrence of biblical, prophetic quality control. Your average evangelical is free to impugn and dismiss the culture and thought of everybody outside the subculture: gays, academics, mainliners, legalists (Amish, etc), liberals, Arabs, Europeans, Muslims. etc. But very little scrutiny of the subculture itself is tolerated. This intentional and concerted effort to avoid and deflect prophetic discernment and self-examination creates a hotbed for an abundance of shoddy art, literature, theology and lifestyle.
3. The spirituality that over-focuses on the self and an individualized, experiential romance with God (as if that were even possible this side of the afterlife.) is unrealistic and sets people up for apathy and frustration. I remember feeling like I couldn’t minister to anyone until my emotions/heart felt it had reached some kind of idealized emotional high which rarely if ever happened. Meanwhile I was blind to all the needs passing me by and deaf to God’s call through His Spirit and Word to just go minister. It is in the doing, (yes – the works of faith and obedience) that we draw closer to God. It may not even feel like it – a high possibility considering the veil between our world and the invisible – but it is that acting – even just gritting ones teeth and doing it no matter what, that Christ will draw near to. Much of evangelicalism disdains this as legalistic works salvation. It’s a big reason why the subculture seems so good at talking and blowing a lot of empty hot air, with little tangible effect – a ghostly narcissism with no hands or feet to make Jesus’ Light know in this dark world.
4. The myths that american evangelicals cling to need to be busted and forsaken. Too much of the subculture lives in an echo chamber that seems to willfully dwell in half-truths, paranoia and obvious untruths. Here’s a top ten (or more) dose of truth that would revolutionize american evangelicalism – in a good way.
- america never was a “christian” nation and its present world empire is not “christian” and allowing school prayer, electing more christians, defending Israel or banning gay marriage will not make it more “christian”
- no evangelical in gov power can “lead” the masses to righteousness if their hearts aren’t willing
- white, suburban evangelical cultural power is declining and is a minority that the culture does not want to follow
- riches and celebrity, even if it’s “christian” is not a sign of God’s blessing
- capitalism is not God’s ideal economic system
- the tiny plot of land known as Israel/Palestine is not the center of God’s Kingdom agenda
- american christianity is not being persecuted
- traditional marriage will continue and flourish even if gays can “marry”
- Jesus’ life was as important as His death and resurrection
- spirituality is holistic – it is equally orthodoxy and orthopraxy;
- Science, secular or otherwise is discovering the mysteries of God’s universe
5. The unhealthy, neo-Gnostic, binary (black or white) tendencies and thinking in the evangelical subculture encourages arrogance, divisiveness and insularity. This seems to be true especially in the public face that the subculture tries to portray. Who knows what God could and would do if the evangelical world, privately and publicly, would be more willing to accept, admit and embrace mystery, doubt, and uncertainty. All too often it goes to great lengths and employs a dizzying torrent of christianeze to imply that it has all the answers…
6. The clanging cymbals, hoopla, buzz and racket that seems to characterize most of evangelicalism’s gatherings offers an environment that is not much different than the raucous, distracting din found in the pleasure seeking venues of our culture. We desperately need a renewed serenity, peace, and reverence in our gatherings and daily life. The church should be a space that counters our culture’s bad tastes and immaturity. Stillness, rest, waiting and hushed meditation does not mean the Spirit isn’t present. These things need to become part of church life again no matter how many people leave because they’re ‘bored’. Let them go to a bar, dance club or sporting event if they want to get all worked up in an emotional lather where their hearts and short-attention-span minds won’t be able to think and process the still small voice of God.
Those are some of my reasons for leaving – in spirit. This leaving in full or in part is causing much consternation among preachers, media personalities, and evangelical politicians, and they are quick to blame it on “creeping secularism”. In my humble opinion much of their predicament is self-inflicted. The solution they seek is not found in blaming everything outside the camp. Rather, they and we need to examine our evangelical subculture, repent of our waywardness and seek to follow Jesus Christ more fully than in the past. My hope is that by “leaving” and renouncing the sins of the past, I can play a part in that repentance process. Will you join me in the leaving and in so doing, reform american evangelicalism from within?Photo courtesy of michelE spilleR at Flickr (Check him out – very nice work BTW – love the folksy, retro classy look his photo’s have)