The Failure of Evangelicalism
This is a post I wrote on my personal blog a few years ago. I think it still holds true but would like to hear your thoughts
I think evangelicalism has failed on two major fronts.
One is the preaching and teaching of the Sanctification process through the power of the Holy Spirit. So much of evangelicalism is about prompting people to make a decision for Christ and then counting them as a statistic. Baptisms and decisions are the current markers of a healthy church and constitute certain bragging rights at pastoral gatherings nationwide. Decisions for Christ are in no way bad thing (neither is baptism for that matter) but if Christianity is just about “getting saved” then all we have are a bunch of baby Christians running around making legalistic messes in their spiritual training-pants all the while forcing people to wonder, “If God loves them so much, why do they smell so bad?”
In order to truly change the culture we live in (and be missional), we need to be maturing IN Christ and IN sensitivity to the work of the Holy Spirit. Being “saved” is the essential starting point but not the goal of a life lived in submission to Christ. Evangelicalism has historically taught salvation is a prayer that is said while committing your life to Christ. We sign a “commitment card”, we re-“commit” our lives to Christ after conviction that something is currently wrong in the way we are living, we commit ourselves ministry, etc. This is not semantics! It is a mindset.
Evangelicalism teaches that as WE mature as Christians and WE become stronger but the truth is just the opposite. The sanctification process is about breaking down our human pride and being used by God to bring Him honor and glory. Sanctification is about realizing our need to submit to Christ in our everyday lives and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, accomplish the work He has planned for us. It is the process where we learn God is the source of our strength and we can accomplish nothing without Him. As this realization takes hold our priorities for our lives fall away and God’s intentions for us become our passion. Sanctification is about God preparing us for his work, work that is sadly lacking in our culture today.
The Holy Spirit, who Jesus promised would guide us through this crazy process of life and ministry, has been largely regulated to the position of a gnostic demi-urge in Evangelicalism today. He is God the Spirit the third person of the Trinity in name only. This is prevalent in the thought/practical theology of many pastors and Christians. It seems His role is that of an impersonal omnipresent force rather than the life and breath of the Church (as scripture teaches). This mindset seems to be a reaction to the ecstatic experiences so many Evangelicals fear because of the potential for abuse. Consequently we quietly refrain from preaching and teaching about the power we have, through the gifts He provides, for the purpose of pointing people to Christ and giving the Father glory. Oh sure we throw Him the proverbial bone by invoking His name during the pre-sermon prayer and occasionally mentioning His inspiration of scripture but for the most part His presence is assumed and His gifting taken for granted.
When sanctification becomes about human effort and the Holy Spirit is neglected several things happen. Faith becomes an intellectual task rather than an abiding in Christ. Works become about accomplishing things for God rather than acts born out of joyful submission to His will. Religion becomes more about buildings, numbers, money, power prestige and stadium seating than about an intimate relationship with our loving Creator. Instead of a mobilizing, missional, unstoppable movement Evangelicalism becomes a bone dry house of cards that trembles at the approaching wind knowing its destruction is imminent.
Which leads me to the second failure of Evangelicalism; the failure to feed the hungry. When people are spiritually hungry the above mentioned “religion” will not satisfy. Hence the rise of the emergent church movement. Evangelicalism has become so dry that sons and daughters of Evangelicals are searching for life in the context of the church. The sons and daughters of the unchurched have also realized that their parents way of life is empty and they to are searching for a spiritual experience. Something more to life than the mathematically “proven” and scientifically “accurate” atheistic worldview that is predominate in our culture today. Both parties are searching for life that past systems have attempted to explain but failed to exemplify. Thus, causing a raging hunger that won’t be filled by apologetics or logical intellectual arguments that we first fumble for in our bag of evangelical evangelism tricks.
When people are physically hungry their pain is swept under the rug of fat evangelicals. It’s easier not to follow the basic command of Christ to His disciples to take care of the widows and the orphans, empower the disenfranchised marginal, and feed the poor. It’s simple to assume the government social services have that sort of thing covered. It’s routine to take a mission trip to a far away country and “serve” people less fortunate than you then come back home on a spiritual high. It’s optimistic to speak of planting churches in the ghettos that will change the community. It’s even easier to turn off the news, bypass the section of the paper, scroll quickly through the internet site, get out of your car and not look the panhandler in the eye; to basically not think about those in need. But if Christ and the early Church are to be our example we need to get our hands dirty with spit and mud, embrace the festering sore covered lepers, empower the minority, and expect the Holy Spirit to do amazing things with them!
Just a few thoughts (I don’t have it all figured out)…. I’d love your comments!