In my last article, I wrote about what defines an evangelical. The gospel itself flows into four attitudes about the Bible, salvation, evangelism, and outreach. These anchor who Evangelicals are, but they doesn’t resolve the tension and dissonance felt among evangelicals today.
Yes, evangelicals share common beliefs about God, humanity, Jesus, and our response: well and good! But even with shared beliefs, people commonly discuss how they feel a good “fit” in their church … or that they don’t feel it anymore. The list of beliefs doesn’t address whether they belong. And it’s not that beliefs have changed: rather, expected behaviors have. We feel that we belong where people act like we expect them to (like us). We feel out of place where people act and respond differently. The behavior unsettles us and raises doubt about who “my people” are and where we belong.
Before going further, take a moment to consider that every movement has unique ways in which they fall apart, decay, or atrophy. The Black Lives Matter Movement has become notorious for violence, anarchy, and rioting. Conservatism is under fire for alt-right racism and gun-toting intimidation. Even in the Bible, Israel and Judah lapsed into abusive economical and social practices, worshiping the worthless idols of the Canaanites whose land they conquered! As an American evangelical pastor looking at American evangelicalism, I don’t wonder, “Would we ever fall away from our roots?” Instead, I’m asking: “If we fell away from our roots, how would that look?”
Our sense of belonging in evangelicalism is challenged when we sense that the behavior of the people under its umbrella no longer matches its rooted beliefs in the gospel.
My last article shared Bebbington’s four hallmarks of evangelicalism that come from the Christian good news. But in 2018, Kirt E. Lewis shared four hallmarks of American evangelicalism which paint a much less flattering picture …
- Moralism: Enforcing their moral convictions on a few select issues, those being abortion and homosexuality
- Ethnocentrism: Defending their religious freedom and instituting as the informal civic religion of the United States of America a form of “Christianity” that strongly reflects a dominant white culture
- Authoritarianism: Demanding an absolute commitment to those in authority as long as they preserve their moralistic and ethnocentric vision of America
- Consumerism: Enjoying without interruption their distinct brand of cross-less, consumer Christianity (from https://kirtelewis.com/blog/the-real-quadrilateral)
Popular evangelical pastor Kevin DeYoung offers a wise warning in the same way when he says, “I worry that people will not first think of gospel convictions or theological commitments when they hear of our churches and ministries, but they will first think of whether we were for or against a certain candidate. … More than anything else, I fear we are letting the world’s priorities dictate what the church is most passionate about.” (from https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevin-deyoung/when-you-say-nothing-at-all/)
What will define our belonging within evangelicalism? A return to our beliefs, or an insistence upon certain political priorities? In the Bible, God sent prophets to call His people back from their rebellious deeds to the Law that would ground them in His ways. The same holds for today: evangelicals need prophetic voices calling back from decay and rebellion to our first love.
The prophets never received a hero’s welcome, but I still pray that we evangelicals in our county will use our energy for these things God has called us to:
- to get back to personal and group Bible study, grounding us in the fullness of His Word
- to keep repenting and clinging to the cross of Jesus for forgiveness––that we might be known for extending grace and forgiveness even as we have received it
- to have more conversations about where someone stands with Jesus than where someone stands politically
- and to be a light and a force for good, not only in the spotlighted and culturally-contested issues of abortion and sexuality, but also in other biblical causes for the orphan, the widow, the poor, and the oppressed.