Michelle Van Loon: Unintended Consequences of the Jesus Movement

Today I wish to direct your attention to a periodic series at Michelle Van Loon’s blog entitled “Unintended Consequences of the Jesus Movement”.  Look through the archives and you can find posts which address various aspects of the Jesus Movement’s influence on evangelicalism, such as the seeker-sensitive model of doing church, the corporate org-chart model of church leadership, voting Republican, and Christian kitsch.  Each post looks at what the original Jesus movement had hoped to reap through each of these phenomena and contrasts it with what we have seen instead now that we are a generation removed from the Jesus Movement.  These are well worth a read, if you have the time or the inclination.

The one I wish to highlight is the latest in the series, which deals with the unintended consequences of evangelicalism’s emphasis upon decisions:  that is, trying to get people to make “decisions” for Christ and “pray the prayer”.  This impulse is not new in evangelicalism; it has been around ever since the days of Charles Finney and Billy Sunday.  But the Jesus Movement has seized upon this impulse and ratcheted it up several notches within the past generation.  Here is Van Loon’s analysis of what the Jesus Movement hoped to gain through the emphasis upon decisions for Christ, as contrasted with the fruit we are now reaping a generation later.  See if this doesn’t ring true for you:

What we hoped for a generation ago when we focused on encouraging others to pray that prayer:

  • Individual responsibility for faith – Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus called individual people to follow him. A “Get Out Of Hell Free” card inked with infant baptism or childhood church attendance was not the way Jesus changed lives.
  • Simplicity – We could talk about faith in an easily understandable way. You didn’t need to be a theologian or a pastor to understand the message in the Four Spiritual Laws.
  • Marketability – Too many of us downplayed what discipleship might cost in our excitement to invite others to join our team. (See Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, and Luke 9:23.) We may have done so because we ourselves simply didn’t understand the cost.

What we’re reaping today:

  • Confusion – Stories abound of kids who’ve prayed that prayer dozens of times, insecure about whether they’re “in” or “out”. Others rest in the notion that they just prayed that prayer at some point, and can tuck that salvation card in their back pocket and go on with their regularly-scheduled program. A prayer of repentance is one step in the marathon. It is not the entire race.
  • Frustration – Simplicity in presenting the decision was a bait-and-switch for the Christian life. “Just pray this prayer and you’ll be saved” was a gateway drug to “Just send the televangelist your paycheck and you’ll be blessed” for some. Others discovered that praying a short prayer had little to do with the challenges of lifelong fidelity to Jesus. We don’t live it alone, because God himself is with us, but neither is it easy – and may cost us our lives.
  • Abandoning of the faith – Shallow roots don’t grow healthy plants. A measure of the statistical numerical decline in Christianity in recent years comes from those who once prayed a prayer and were taught this was the most important thing they could do to sew up their eternity.