Michael Spencer: The Unresolved Tensions of Evangelicalism

Today I would like to direct your attention to a series of posts over at Michael Spencer’s blog, in which he looks at unresolved tensions in evangelicalism.

In the first post of the series, he looks at that mostrosity known as the Christian worldview (some of us might call it the Biblical worldview or other things).  Basically, the Christian worldview is the idea that when you accept the Bible as true you accept a whole host of things which go monumentally far beyond what the Bible actually says, including (for instance) but by no means limited to the following:  that the earth was created in six actual, literal days; that there was an actual flood covering the entire surface of planet Earth about four thousand years ago; that the sun actually stood still as described in Joshua 10:13-14; that everything the Israelites did to the children of the Canaanites was right because God ordered it; that Saul’s exhibition of what we in modern times would describe as mental illness was in fact the result of an evil spirit sent by God and that most if not all mental illness is the result of demonic activity; that abortion is wrong in all circumstances and anyone who supports it in any instance for any reason whatsoever is an evil murderer with the blood of millions of innocent unborn children on his/her hands; that the only place for a woman in society is in the home; that there will be an actual literal Rapture where all the true believers will be taken away before the second coming of Christ…you get the idea.  Disagreement with any of these, either in whole or in part, to any extent whatsoever, is a rejection of the Bible as authoritatively true, and therefore a rejection of the Christian faith.

In part two of the series, he looks at Christian experience which claims to prove to us that God exists, that He is exactly who He says He is, and that all His promises to us are true.  We evangelicals are all about making bold, confident, even arrogant claims about the quality of our experience of God in our Christian lives.  Catholics have their miracles, their relics, their Medjugordjes, etc. so it is vitally important to us as evangelicals that we are able to counter this with legion examples of supernatural provision, answered prayer, and other miraculous interventions.  Personal testimony is at the heart of all this, and it is vitally important that we have a torrential flood of personal examples of conversion, miraculous healing, divine vision and revelation, etc. to back us up or our message sounds dreadfully hollow.  But what about when religious experience (or the lack thereof) fails to sustain our faith in God?  Well, we have developed a whole industry devoted to churning out ready explanations for the failure of religious experience:  human beings are sinful, God is sovereign, people experience the Holy Spirit differently, many exemplary Christians had seasons of minimal experience of God…stop me if you’ve heard any of these before.

In part three of the series, he looks at Christian community.  Now there are many examples of quality Christian community in evangelical Protestant-dom, but there are many places where we just don’t get the community thing right at all.  A secularist, a Muslim, a Hindu, or a Buddhist can read the Bible and come away with a basic idea of what a community of Jesus-followers is supposed to look like.  But one sure way to get in trouble within the ranks of evangelical Protestant-dom is to raise any question of whether our way of doing Christian community conforms with the way Jesus would have us to do it.  Jesus may have written the charter for our little country club but we’ll choose who gets to be in it and what the club looks like and how it functions.  And as a result you have the spectacle of situations where Christian community is trumped by racial prejudice as was the case in the South back in the 1960s and in many parts of rural Georgia and other places even to this day, or where Christian community is trumped by consumer-shaped branding and niche marketing, as is the case in most of contemporary evangelicalism nowadays.  On top of that you have a long and daunting list of actual breakdowns of Christian community, such as…well, I will leave it to Michael Spencer to enumerate these.  After all, since I am linking to his piece I have to give you some reason to actually read it.  But the most disheartening of all is when people speak out about their experiences of the failure of Christian community and their churches say things to the effect of “Don’t believe these people.  They’re just malcontents, troublemakers, the spawn of Satan trying to sow division and discord within our community.  The system works, they just won’t let it.  You can’t please everybody.  We’re not focused on who we’re trying to keep, we’re focused on who we’re trying to reach.”

In part four of the series, he looks at Christian commitment.  A growing number of evangelicals are simply unwilling to do what is required to meet the standard for Christian commitment.  Not in the sense of atheism or agnosticism, mind you, although the refusal of these people to do what is required by the culture of evangelical Protestant-dom to demonstrate their commitment to the cause of Christ may cause a lot of people to think them atheist or agnostic or at least moving in that direction.  But they are not rejecting Christianity so much as reducing their expression of Christianity to something humbler which does not make all the arrogant claims that evangelical Protestant-dom requires in order to prove one’s dedication to the cause of Christ.

I am putting this out there because I believe that these are issues which we desperately need to talk about.  All is NOT hunky-dory in the realm of evangelical Protestant-dom, and the issues which have been raised in these posts are a huge part of our problems.  Hushing these things up and pretending that they don’t exist is not going to make them go away, and if we persist in such conduct then evangelical Protestant-dom will lose any and all relevance that it has ever had in our culture and our society.  So I am going to be the incessant drumbeat for getting these issues out into the open and talking honestly about them, even if it means making a complete and utter ass of myself.  Deal with it, people.