I am not a fan of being on the communicating end of negative things. Most people don’t enjoy that role, I certainly don’t. As one who has to field a lot of critical knocks on my own door, I know what it feels like to be misunderstood, misrepresented, and criticized irresponsibly. So, as I write about things that are not so positive regarding Evangelical Christianity, I do so with much carefulness to avoid becoming a part of the problem, as I truly desire to be a part of the solution.
As I address issues related to Evangelical Christianity in this writing, I am well aware that many Evangelicals, many of which I have as close friends, have wonderful hearts, do great things for Jesus, and are not aware of any harm in which they may or may not participate by being connected intimately or in part to Evangelical Christianity. That was true of me when I was an Evangelical pastor. In fact, I would suspect many Christians who would fall into the category of “Evangelical” don’t even realize it, nor have they considered any negative ramifications to the beliefs they hold and the Evangelical culture thereof.
Yet, when I observe something so alarmingly and clearly wrong, harmful, and deceptive, I feel a responsibility to at least articulate what I see and believe. Not with a spirit of condemnation, but with one of deep concern. No one person or group is perfect. Certainly, not I. For so many years as an Evangelical, I didn’t realize what I was truly participating in and what its ramifications truly were in people’s lives.
From as early as my boyhood sand box experiences, I have learned that many of the people who are repeatedly pointing at problems and things they don’t like from an aggressive, self-righteous posture are often those themselves who have something to conceal. From the bully on the playground to the podium pounding preacher, behind nearly every harsh, judging, fear-inducing, intimidating, and problem-pointing finger is often a Wizard of Oz like coward hiding behind a curtain, concealing the real issues.
The overarching chorus of Evangelical Christianity for years has been that the world is bad, needs to repent, and become like them. They passionately declare their morals, beliefs, and standards are not only the foundation of America, but that which is needed to reverse, what is in their minds, a terrible, declining culture. There is an inner consensus among many Evangelicals that if people just believed, lived, and acted like them, America would be a much better place.
Spokespersons and leaders of Evangelical Christianity such as Franklin Graham almost weekly, make public statements repeating this rehearsed theme that the world is bad, needs to repent, and become more like them in adopted values and lifestyle. A prevailing sentiment seems to suggest that if we would just return to the days of “Father Knows Best” where everything was seemingly simple and clean, things would be so much better.
Many of these statements, communicated in many and various ways, are often textured with judgement, fear tactics, and condemnation of a world that, in their minds, is not so simple and clean anymore. The underlying message is, “we know best.” “We are right, you are wrong, we have it, you don’t; repent, turn to our Jesus, become one of us, or pay the price.” Like in a scene from The Wizard of Oz, from behind the curtain, as the room fills will smoke and the volume knobs of this rhetoric is turned up with deep, Darth Vader tones, many approach the microphone to communicate their displeasures and religious prescriptions at the world, all while declaring it to be “the Gospel.”
Years ago, this Evangelical wizardry was directed against divorce and remarriage, later the issue became blacks marrying whites, today it’s homosexuality and gay marriage. All with the same battle cry, “we are right, you are wrong; repent, turn to our Jesus, think, believe and behave like us, or pay the price.” This has been the underlying missional/discipleship philosophy and posture of Evangelical Christianity for decades. “You are lost, we are found, our job is to get you to our Jesus and “disciple” you to think, believe, and behave like us.” The world is our project, people are a notch on the “got saved” belt. Baptism is an initiation rite, and membership is the entry way into our club.
Of course, it’s never articulated like that, but having been an Evangelical pastor for many years, I know this to be true. This is their Gospel, this is their “salvation,” this is the Evangelical “vision.” In Evangelical Christian produced movies, tv shows, concerts, churches, books, and alike, this is the flavor of Gospel being communicated.
Recently, many Evangelical Christians and leaders have turned up the heat on declaring that America is in desperate moral and spiritual decline. As they gaze out into the world and even within their own organizations and churches, they realize there is a growing number of people who don’t believe and behave as they prescribe. In their mind, the world has turned away from their brand of Jesus, Bible, and Church, and therefore is the cause of all things that are eroding our culture. With labels like “lost,” “sinner,” “progressive,” “liberal,” people who don’t fit their mold become the mission to change, and if resistant, become a kind of enemy.
Yet, like in the The Wizard of Oz, things are not always as they appear.
While smoke billowing Evangelical Christianity declares the world bad, those unlike them the source of blame, and the solution being to repent to their Jesus and learn to think, believe and behave like them, there is a coward pulling the strings behind a curtain. In fact, the one pointing fingers at all the problems in the world has in truth, ironically, become a major contributor to the existence of those problems. Yes, pull back the curtains and see for yourself, Evangelical Christianity is perhaps the greatest contributor to the moral and spiritual decline of America they so detest.
Now, this a bold statement that will surely offend many and likely cost me in relationships and otherwise. But before you write me off, disown me, or label me a heretic, hear me out.
God is love. He loves everyone unconditionally. Love is not a characteristic or attribute of God, it is who He is. God can do nothing else but love.
Out of His nature, which is love, it is articulated in scripture that through Jesus (the personification of Love), the Old Covenant of Law given through Moses has been replaced with a New Covenant of Grace given through Jesus.
As one writer described, “you are not under Law, but under Grace.” Romans 6:14b
This is a cataclysmic, cosmic shift in how God relates to people and people relate to God. Yet, Evangelical Christianity is super slow to the party.
It is a complete transition away from a conditional relationship with God and life that hinges on some level of our spiritual performance, and the ushering in of an unconditional relationship with God and life that is based solely on Christ’s performance. It is not just a move away from the letter of the Law, but the spirit of the Law as well. Let me repeat that, “it is not just a move away from the letter of the Law, but the spirit of the Law as well.” It’s not just Ten Commandments, Leviticus stuff, it’s any form of work, condemnation, judgement, performance expectation, condition, effort, or striving applied to any spiritual aspect of a person’s life. And let me add this, everything is spiritual.
The Bible in its reading and understanding must be interpreted through this covenant of Grace, whose personification is Jesus. This new covenant of Grace began at the cross.
Grace, with no mixture of the Law (or the spirit of the Law), received through faith, is the pure Gospel. And Faith, it’s not a work, effort, or doing, it is a rest. It is not a spiritual performance, it is a spiritual awakening to what Jesus has already done, without your faith, worthiness, or participation. It is not “faithfulness,” it is “faith.” And that faith, a gift from Jesus as well.
Because of Grace, Jesus has not only done something for all people, but also to all people. Beyond having peace with God for eternity, Jesus has made all people into a new creation. At the cross, humanity became a finished work. It was one and done. Period. Jesus didn’t just die as a human, He died as humanity. The old you, was crucified with Christ. Salvation (wholeness) has come.
As a new creation, you are the righteousness of Christ, holy, sanctified, forgiven (past, present, and future), justified, lacking no spiritual blessing. There is no work to be done on your life, you are completely complete. Grace has rendered spiritual growth as something you already are, not something you become or do. The Christian life is not about becoming something tomorrow you are not today through spiritual gymnastics, but about being more of who you already are because of Jesus, through believing. Your performance does not determine you identity, your identity determines your performance. Grace is the beginning and end of everything you are, do, and become. This is the Gospel, that your part is to realize you have no part, only believe. Anything less than this pure Grace Gospel, is Law.
With this in mind, writers in the New Testament, vehemently described how mixing this Gospel of Grace with remnants, portions, or vibes of the Law is not just false and damaging, but evil. Any form of condemnation, work, spiritual performance, earning of intimacy with God, intolerance, judgment, personal striving, finger-pointing, or communication of a God who loves conditionally is to mix the pure Gospel of Grace with Law and to render it a means of death not salvation.
“And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” Galatians 5:4
For this writer, a minimal spiritual performance or act so innocent, symbolic, and simple as circumcision, reflected the presence of the Law and when mixed into a person’s life rendered them severed from Christ. Yikes!
Sadly, knowingly or unknowingly, much of what Evangelical Christianity presents to believers and non believers in regards to the Gospel, discipleship, and the Christian life is a mixture of “Law” at best, if not pure Law. Many of them declare unconditional love with conditions, spiritual growth through personal obedience, sin overcoming through sin management, discipleship through behavior modification and doctrinal unity, and the Christian life an increasing level of personal devotion to Christ. I don’t care how you slice it or how much lipstick you put on that pig, it’s Law, Law, and more Law.
What many Evangelicals declare as needing to have a “balance,” of Grace and Law, one can just hear many of the New Testament writers declaring, “bullshit!” Not because it’s fun to be vulgar, but because of the ramifications of a death cocktail mixture of Grace with Law. Mix the Gospel with any amount, however small, of the Law, and guess what you have? Law. Let me bake you a cake, and drop a wee-little speck of poop into it. Just a smidgen. Don’t worry, you won’t notice. It’s fresh out the oven, you going to eat it?
As one scripture writer discovered, the ministry of the Law is death and condemnation. (2 Corinthians 3:7,9) That same writer also discovered that it is actually the Law that entices people to sin. (1 Corinthians 15:56) Yes, the Law… in letter or spirit is the great sin enticer; not pornography, Miley Cyrus, rap music, or Play Station.
See first, the Law in all its forms, in letter or spirit, condemns. Find me a person with a sin problem and I will have found you a person with a condemnation problem.
Second, the Law appeals to the flesh. The flesh, is not our evil lustful side as some would have us believe, it is actually when we attempt, through any kind of effort on our part to gain or receive from God something He has already freely given; salvation, forgiveness, intimacy, blessing, favor, righteousness, holiness, sanctification, and the list goes on and on.
This is a futile, evil endeavor. It’s a dead end.
First because God has already given completely that which is trying to be gained, and second, because you can’t gain, earn, or receive anything from God through your performance, effort, pursuit, pressing in, or actions, no matter how spiritual they may seem. To do so, is to fall from Grace and declare the cross as foolish and insufficient, and yourself as capable and worthy at some level or another. That is what it looks like to be deceived, to walk in darkness, to water-down the Law (as you think you can handle it), and therefore, to minimize and marginalize Grace (because you think you don’t completely need it). It is the height of anti-Christ. It is to be bewitched by another Gospel, which is no Gospel at all. And worst of all, it is to entice and imprison people to sin, hypocrisy, and a lifestyle thereof.
The Evangelical prescription for sin is at best, a mixture of Gospel and Law. God loves you, BUT… you need to repent (which in their mind, wrongly means “to change”). Do these spiritual things, apply these formulas, attend these groups, solicit this accountability partner, press into this experience with God, say this prayer, read this book, partner with Jesus, attend this conference, take these steps, believe these beliefs, be all you can be for Jesus, follow these rules etc. etc. Problem is, it not only all doesn’t work, it all makes things worse.
For much of Evangelical Christianity, the Gospel is “behavior modification” through some level of personal effort or spiritual performance. All of this, declaring the Law and packaging as the Gospel, and then wondering why people fall away and morals decline for both nonbelievers and believers.
If you take the Law seriously, if you take Grace seriously, if you take the consequences of mixing any amount of Law with the Gospel of Grace, it is clear that much of Evangelical Christianity has actually been prescribing the cancer, not the cure; at best, withholding the cure. Whether they realize it or not, they have been baking cakes with crap in it, and then wondering why people are getting sick, spitting it out of their mouths, and not getting any better. All while some of them have the gaul to sprout their spiritual feathers, get mad, bark their religious rants, throw up their hands, and act so disgusted (and surprised) when they see a nation that, in their minds, is spiritually dying. Of course it is! That’s what happens when one supplies the cancer as the cure. That’s what happens when you feed people cakes with crap in them.
A few years back, the Barna Research Group showed that the overall divorce rate among Evangelical themed denominations was between 27-34%, while the divorce rate among atheists… 21%. Evidently, in our country, you have a better chance at having a holy, Jesus-like life out of church than you do in it. If perhaps the largest Christian representation in America, Evangelical Christianity is engaging in the ministry of the Law, should we be surprised at the amount of spiritual decline we see in America? Should we be surprised that people are seemingly more enticed and imprisoned to sin now, more than ever? That’s what the Law does. Should we be surprised that Christians exposed to Evangelical Christianity don’t get better, and the world that is watching, has become disinterested and “done” with church.
The truth is, the spiritual prescriptions of much of Evangelical Christianity entice and imprison people to sin, not free them. We can change nothing in ourselves or others. The Holy Spirit does that, and that through pure Grace, not Law or any mixture thereof. The very thing that many Evangelicals declare as too soft (Grace) is actually the one and only thing that has the teeth and grip to change anything.
As one scripture writer discovered, “For the Grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, teaching us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” Titus 2:12
What teaches, what changes, what influences? Grace.
Jesus mentioned that you can sense a certain amount of the quality of a spiritual thing by the fruit it bares.
Much of Evangelical Christianity has sadly produced… 1) selfish, consumer minded Christians who believe that “church” is about meeting their particular needs. Thus, Christianity isn’t growing but is actually in severe decline as believers are continually shuffling around to whatever church has the best show and better meets their needs 2) Christians who believe the Bible is equal to Jesus/God and place their understanding of it over standing with people and declare their particular understanding to be “truly biblical.” 3) churches where Christians mainly talk amongst themselves and judge the world, believing they’re right and everyone just needs to become right like them 4) celebrity pastors and leaders who franchise church, their egos, and a performance-driven, hyped up perversion of the Gospel. 5) churches that might welcome a sinner or two into their mix as they look down upon them as their “mission”, but don’t truly “want” them unless they clean up and adopt their values and beliefs. 6) Christians who believe the Gospel is a mixture of Grace and Law, Jesus does His part, but one needs to do their part, or else. 7) Christians and Christian leaders who believe their job is to point out sin in the world, and declare that God loves people so much that if they don’t say a certain prayer and clean up their act, He will justly throw them into an eternity of torture by demons, flames, and a desire to die that will never be granted; calling it all… good news.
In my humble opinion, no one is perfect, especially me, but that is no fruit.
I believe much of Evangelical Christianity, particularly those who embody a more judgmental, prideful, elitist, legalistic, and performance-driven Christian flavor would do well to repent (which really means to “change your mind”) about Jesus, the Gospel, love, bible, the Christian life, sin, and Church so that these areas and their understanding thereof reflect the pure Grace of God and the finished work of Jesus on the cross.
I believe much of Evangelical Christianity would do well to focus on modeling Jesus who is pure Grace and unconditional love. They would do well to stand with people over and above their biblical stances on the issues. They would do well to learn to rightly divide the word of God between the Old Testament and the New, interpreting all scripture through the lens of Grace as Jesus did.
They would do well to move away from “hating the sin and loving the sinner,” and just loving people, period. They would do well to let the Holy Spirit discern and change people, and instead, concentrate on doing their job, which is to love people, unconditionally. They would do well to direct their finger pointing to the loveliness of Jesus, not to the ugliness they deem to see in people. They would do well to trust Grace to do what only Grace can do, which is most everything they think they are capable of doing and charge everybody else to do.
They would do well to live from a posture of, “all of have sinned and fallen short” as Grace levels the playing field for everyone, and everyone needs Grace equally. They would do well to stop marginalizing, labeling, belittling, and treating as second class citizens those who sin (in their judgment) differently then they do. They would do well to proclaim that God loves, accepts, embraces, favors, and blesses all people far beyond what they could ever imagine. He is not angry, vengeful, waiting to punish, or licking His lips to pour out wrath, but rather, His love is deeper, wider, stronger, and more generous and scandalous than they ever imagined.
They would do well to teach, preach, declare and manifest Grace, and Grace alone. Shout it from the mountain tops. Let every word drip with Grace. Then and only then, will any one person, group, country, nation, or world change. This is the Gospel.
It’s all Grace, or it’s not the Gospel.
For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work… Romans 1:16