As I survey the contemporary evangelical church today in the west I would often characterize it as shallow, lacking in substance, Christianity light and easy grace. In some cases, there is not much difference between a self help seminar (think Tony Robins) and what is shared in the name of God’s word from the pulpit – as if the Scriptures are primarily a self help manual that if followed will bring us prosperity and health. Certainly it should not get too personal or interfere with our lives.
Some will think this too critical and I don’t desire to be an angry modern day prophet who throws stones. And, I am sure based on past history that I will lose some Twitter followers over this blog. That being said, here are some of the things we don’t see among many western evangelicals that lead me to my conclusion.
One: suffering seems to be a lost subject and we are surprised when it surfaces in our lives. When it does it often causes Western believers to question the goodness of God and leads many to bitterness and doubt. Yet, Jesus made it abundantly clear that the way of the cross is the way of suffering. What does it mean when He says, “Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me (Luke 9:23).” A cross is, by definition the metaphor for suffering and Jesus says it is a daily occurrence for those who follow Him. The Apostle Paul talked with emotion about sharing in the fellowship of His sufferings.
Two: Western believers as a group are, (how do I say it?), stingy with God. The average evangelical gives something like two percent of their income back to Him. Now, in case you think I have gone legalistic here, bear with me a moment. It is not about legalism but about value. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16).
I believe that we have so cheaply sold what God did on our behalf, even though He gave His only son – to become sin for us so that we could know Him who knew no sin – and be justified through His righteousness and death on our behalf that our gratitude is shallow and our response is cheap. Second Corinthians 8 and 9 speak of giving as a direct response to His grace. If that is so our giving does not reflect much value toward His amazing grace but is often pocket change tossed into His hat on occasion. We simply don’t value His gift to us very much as evidenced by our response.
Three: American evangelicalism has very little to say about sin. OK, I don’t like the subject much either but Scripture has a lot to say about it in relation to a Holy God. The Scriptures talk about sin on 1365 occasions. But mostly this gets lost in the CliffsNotes version of Evangelicalism. After all you have to cut somewhere and this is most convenient place to do it.
Except, that without an understanding of my depravity I cannot understand God’s grace. Why did the woman in John 12:3 use all of her saving to pour pure nard on the feet of Jesus and then wipe them clean with her hair? She understood her sin and therefore the amazing grace that Jesus had blessed her with. Her desire to follow was directly connected with the grace she had been given and her acute awareness of her fallen condition. A sinless Christianity is a cheap parody of the true human condition – even those who know and follow Jesus. Paul described himself as the chief of sinners and that was toward the end of his life. It is what drove him to live in God’s grace on a daily basis.
Four: We are far more consumed with our, lives, careers, pleasures and interests than we are with joining God in His work in our world. Some of the blame here can be laid at the door of the church that has defined ministry as what happens inside its four walls with its programs. Thus, I minister when I bow to the church’s agenda and fill needed spots in their programs. But what ever happened to ministry being with the people I work with and live with or who hang out at the local tavern? Where was Jesus found most of the time?
That being said, in general, we are so consumed with our agendas that we lose sight of God’s agenda – which requires that we read His book, another lost art (I am heartened by the Eat This Book challenge that has thousands of believers reading through the Bible this year). When our life agenda takes precedence over God’s agenda we have reimaged God after our own image.
Five: American Evangelicals don’t truly believe that lost people are lost for eternity apart from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We are more likely to share our latest weight loss plan than we are Jesus. Losing weight has its place, and I am vigorously pursuing that, but the Gospel is good news for time and eternity. If we do believe that lost people are truly lost apart from Jesus, we assume that it is the church’s responsibility to share the news not us.
When I tell my wife I love her but don’t demonstrate that love she knows my words are shallow and lack sincerity. When we tell God we love Him but don’t walk the walk of our talk we are guilty of shallow Christianity. What do you think when you consider the Western version of evangelicalism? There are wonderful exceptions of course but I fear that our version of Christianity is often far more cultural than it is Biblical.
Having written this, I am of course obliged to consider each of these five areas in light of my own life and practice: irritating but instructive. Come to think of it, maybe I’ll unsubscribe me from Twitter as well. I don’t like being uncomfortable any more than others.