"I remember sitting in a “family” meeting about 2 years ago where the SGM debacle was being discussed. Ron Boomsma was doing his best (and using a diagram) to explain the “new” polity adopted by SGM. While he was very excited about it, the diagram and explanation provided little clarity. The floor was opened for questions. One woman asked very simply, “Who’s going to tell us what to do?” I knew my time there was quickly coming to an end."
(Done) Just Watching SGM Survivors Blog August 12, 2014
“I’ve seen many friends make bad choices in their 20s. For some, regular partying quickly turned into alcoholism; for others, prescription drugs led them into dark places. For me, it was religion.”
Mike Anderson, former Director of The Resurgence Mars Hill Seattle
Dee and I are so proud of our friend and brother-in-Christ Eagle. It has been such an incredible experience to see him struggle with his faith and then embrace it with such passion. In this post, he shares his constructive criticism of the Christian faith and encourages evangelicals to have discernment with regard to their churches, ministries, and leaders.
Eagle Discusses Evangelical Discernment
Christianity as a faith system was once known for its sacrifice and selfless service. When you look back at the history of Christianity, the way many Christians lived and showed love under adverse conditions is the love that touched and moved the world. Consider the case of Polycarp. Here was a man who, while facing death at the hands of the Romans, still expressed concern and love for those who came for his arrest.
They were amazed at his age and steadfastness, and some of them said, “Why did we go to so much trouble to capture a man like this?” Immediately he called for food and drink for them, and asked for an hour to pray uninterrupted. Amidst an angry mob, the Roman proconsul took pity on such a gentle old man and urged Polycarp to proclaim, "Caesar is Lord". If only Polycarp would make this declaration and offer a small pinch of incense to Caesar's statue he would escape torture and death. To this Polycarp responded, "Eighty-six years I have served Christ, and He never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?" Steadfast in his stand for Christ, Polycarp refused to compromise his beliefs, and thus, was burned alive at the stake. Hundreds of years later, the known world was dealing with devastating plagues that were taking out massive populations in Europe. Despite the bubonic plagues and their near lethal rate, many Christians selflessly sacrificed in loving those who were sick, helping those dealing with illness, and giving themselves in such a sacrificial way that they put those sick with disease above their own needs. This was how Christianity spread in Europe….Christians were known for their love and great compassion. Christians also stood for the marginalized, whether it be rescuing babies alongside the road left for dead or looking out for women when ancient society didn’t respect or treat women with the dignity they deserved.
Compare what I wrote above to what the world sees today. The brutal reality is that many evangelicals needlessly create their own enemies. Christians are contributing to a rise in atheism and the secularization of the nation. Frankly, the death of Christian culture as it currently exists could be the single best thing that could happen to Christianity in the western hemisphere. If Christians lived their faith with selfless love and grace, then I don’t think we’d see the Richard Dawkins or Greta Christinas to the extent to which they exist because they would be disarmed by the love that Christians would show them.
Last Monday I wrote about my journey toward finding peace, the Lord, and a way forward out of the position in which I was stuck. My story dealt with atheism, Sovereign Grace, doubts, and a false accusation from a member at Eric Simmon’s Redeemer of Arlington, which turned my life upside down. I also discussed finding grace after hitting bottom. Going forward my personal commitment is to show love and grace. That’s how I want to be remembered.
That said, we need to have a long, hard, blunt talk about evangelicalism and its culture. Remember, I chose to walk back and loosely embrace evangelicalism, symbolized by my baptism on November 24, 2013. I am not writing this from the perspective of an atheist who is tossing a Molotov cocktail toward the faith. Furthermore, I am not trying to trash the Christian faith but am writing this constructive criticism as a means to help evangelical Christianity – which I view as a sick and dying movement – to become healthy. We really need to look inward and examine the issues coming from evangelicalism which are dragging down the faith and harming the Gospel message. Before we condemn, criticize, etc…I am proposing we evangelicals look at ourselves and remove the plank from our own eye.
Hands down, the biggest issue facing evangelical Christianity today in my opinion is the lack of discernment that exists in many camps of evangelicalism. To put it bluntly, many evangelicals need to learn how to process and practice discernment. They need to learn how to think critically and think for themselves. Many churches and ministries teach people what to think, not how to think. Why are evangelicals supporting ministry leaders who cover up child abuse, practice and/or defend cronyism, or teach a prosperity gospel? If Christians were discerning, many blogs such as the one publishing this article would not be needed. (And the Deebs could actually enjoy their vacation!) If evangelical Christians practiced discernment, they could bring to an end many of the problems that exist in Christianity. It would also put the Joel Olsteens and John Haggees on one side of the spectrum to the Mark Devers, Mark Driscolls, Jonathan Leemans and C.J. Mahaneys out of business. If Christians practiced discernment, many of the concerns I discuss below would not be an issue today.
1. Evangelicals need to leave their bubbles. Many evangelicals in churches and Christian ministries are operating in bubbles isolated from the world. They are often clueless as to what members of the congregation are dealing with. Some teach a faith system that implodes upon an individual when he/she decides to exit that bubble. I am currently in my 30s, and as I have aged I have noticed more situations where people I have known and done ministry with in the past have moved away from the faith. Why? The faith they were taught worked well in a bubble but did not work at all in the real world (outside the bubble). When a committed person who invests time in such a faith system finally discovers it doesn’t work, he/she lets it go and moves on. The reaction by those inside the bubble is that this person either fell away from the faith or never really had it to begin with. What those in the bubble don’t realize is that the “faith” they have taught them, is the issue. Since more and more evangelicals are retreating from society, I expect this issue to increase in the future.
2. What is it with some Christians and yelling? Andrew White and 9 Marks actually inspire this bullet point. Do you honestly think you can yell and scream a person into faith? I’ve been yelled at twice – not in an argument, but pre-planned, pre-conceived screaming – by 2 members I have known in a 9 Marks Church. Jonathan Leeman…my question to you is what value does yelling hold? Is yelling now a new 9 Mark? Andrew White if you’re reading this…what purpose did you have for yelling at me from across the table? You apologized for yelling at me, however on May 8, 2013 you also took all apologies back – so I am waiting to hear you take action for this one as well. And if the reason why members of 9 Marks churches yell is because Jonathan Edwards yelled…then Jonathan Leeman I expect you to advocate slavery since Jonathan Edwards also was a slave holder.
3. Christians need to take a strong stands against pedophilia. I honestly can’t believe I am even addressing this topic as this seems to be common sense, but Christians need to take strong stand against child sexual abuse. Christian churches and ministries need to train their staffs on child abuse, educate the flock on the recidivism rate of pedophiles, and make sure that churches are following local and state laws. Many Christian denominations need to create databases to track, monitor, and help sex offenders. Christians also need to understand that the Gospel is for everyone – even a sex offender with a criminal record. And churches need to find ways to help and serve sex offenders. I believe some sex offenders are repentant but have a difficult time living with that designation. Others are not and see churches as an opportunity to gain access to children and further their abuse. Many evangelical Christians need to be aware and not be naïve on this topic. I first learned about this issue at Elmbrook Church in the suburbs of Milwaukee. The scars caused by a popular youth minister who was a sexual predator in the late 90s lasted for years – long after he committed suicide in a West Baraboo, Wisconsin motel. But I would suggest that many evangelical Christians have not learned from the Roman Catholic child sex abuse scandal.
4. Christians need to hold their evangelical leaders accountable. Why is it when John Piper taught women to submit to domestic abuse in marriage that not many Christians called him out and publicly corrected him? Do many Christians believe that it’s okay for a man to commit battery on his wife? Do many Christians realize that that their silence condones domestic abuse? Why do Christian churches, conferences, and organizations like Cru push John Piper’s material or have him speak at conferences? Do organizations like Cru sanction his teaching on domestic abuse? Domestic abuse is one of the many sins that evangelicals turn a blind eye to….and frankly it’s an epidemic in society today. Furthermore, it’s also a crime, and yet many evangelicals don’t talk about it and promote leaders like John Piper whose teachings encourage domestic abuse. I don’t get this….what many evangelicals need to understand is that silence means it’s accepted practice. And even if there was push back behind the scenes to John Piper, does that really help a watching world? How will the leaders in New Atheism know that Christians are holding their leaders accountable if everything is hush, hush behind the scenes?
5. Christians need to repent of how they have treated gays and lesbians. You can still hold to a conservative theological belief that such behavior is a sin, but Christians need to repent of how they have treated gays for generations. Just because James Dobson has driven the bus over the cliff, why do so many evangelicals need to be like lemmings diving into the ocean after him? When you look at the divorce rate amongst evangelicals, why are so many evangelicals concerned about gay marriage being a threat to the family? I would suggest that many evangelicals need to focus on their internal problems.
6. Christians need to stop waging war against science. In the years to come, it’s going to make them less and less relevant to able to contribute to any credible scientific discussion. For example if Christians remain stuck on the topic of creationism and can’t move beyond that; when science starts to debate and look at issues such as human cloning many evangelicals are not going to be able to contribute to the ethics discussions because they are still stuck on creationism. And at a time when the world will need Christian guidance, ethics and participation they will not be there or taken seriously. In addition, the Vatican has an Observatory while evangelicals have the Creation Museum in Kentucky. Is a literal 6 day creation hill evangelicals want to die on? There are other explanations, and we need to create more Francis Collins.
7. Due to the Neo-reformed crowd, many parts of Evangelical Christianity more closely resemble Islam than Christianity. The sovereignty that John Piper or Mark Dever teaches belongs more in a Mosque in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, or Lahore, Pakistan than in a Baptist church in Texas, Minnesota or Virginia. But the Islamization of Christianity is contributing great harm and is also a new legalism that needs to be preached against.
8. Evangelical Christians need to understand that faith is about struggle. Life is hard and many aspects of evangelicalism deny this fact. I would challenge many evangelical pastors to be open about their anger, disappointment, and the times they believe God has let them down. All too often what exists in many evangelical churches is a faith system that shows a faith that is more “happy clappy” than real. This is so much in opposition to stories where Elijah yelled at God, John the Baptist doubted, and even Jesus himself felt that God had abandoned him. So why can’t evangelical pastors live more like that? I would only think it would help pastors like Mark Batterson, and others if they stood before their congregation and talked openly about their own personal disappointments in God. For those sitting in the pews or in the back of the church it could be a source of great comfort and empathy to know they are not struggling alone.
9. For those on the dispensational side of the church, they need to tone down – IF not drop their obsession with End Times theology. Here’s the problem that has developed…any event that takes place in the Middle East or Global Stage, (i.e. Syrian Civil War; Iranian Nuclear Program; Iraq War, Global Financial Crisis, Russia invading Georgia, etc…) becomes viewed through an End Times perspective. The constant failure rate that many Christians place these global events in is beyond ridiculous – it’s embarrassing. And when Christian pastors or leaders keep talking about these Middle East or Global events in an End Times perspective and nothing happens…how is that pastor or leader any different than Brigham Young or Joseph Smith? Also, it’s created a situation where its lead some Christians to look upon bad news as being “good” news because it is going to usher in End Times. One final point is that the United States of America is not Israel, and no such covenant exists between God and the United States. Christians need to remember this fact.
10. Many evangelical churches need to stop their obsession with growth. It’s faith – it’s not a business. It’s not being traded on the New York Stock Exchange, Chicago Mercantile Exchange, and last I heard Standard and Poors isn’t rating Mega churches; why must evangelicalism mirror American business practices? All that is being sold is the brand of a pastor. For example, when a mega-church launches a plan of “encircling” the Washington, D.C. area with multiple campuses, I must ask who exactly is being worshiped? Why is faith treated like a business franchise? In other words, when faith is treated like a business franchise is God being worshipped or Ray Kroc or Dave Thomas? One more thing….can you really measure spiritual growth by numbers? Are numbers indicative of spiritual maturity or discipleship? Do numbers measure where people will be in 5 years or more? Also when you look at mega churches that are consumed with growth, I have to ask the question….given how many mega churches can’t be good stewards of what they have, why do they want more?
11. In a mega church model, can we agree that the ‘Senior Pastor’ is NOT a pastor but rather an evangelist? Can we also agree that many mega churches lack bona fide accountability? One of the lessons from Mars Hill Seattle is what happens when you have a spiritual tyrant surrounded by an Elder Board comprised of nothing but ‘Yes Men’. Too many mega churches have wrapped up their identity in the ‘Senior Pastor’ instead of Jesus Christ.
12. Evangelicals need to abandon the dogma that has defined their faith. They need to abandon how they do evangelism. It’s cheap, shoddy, and I like to call more reflective of ‘spiritual ADD’ than anything else. Bonheoffer coined the term ‘cheap grace’. With evangelicals I would like to coin the term ‘cheap evangelism’. This ‘evangelism’ is just focusing on someone for a brief time and moving on. Christians need to love, serve, and brace themselves for serving their neighbors and communities for the long haul. I’m talking about months, even years. They need to approach the world and their neighbor with pure love. Anything less can be detected by those on the outside of the faith easily. With regard to tracting, the 4 Spiritual Laws, etc… needs to go as this only reinforces cheap evangelism and must be changed.
13. Prosperity Theology needs to end. Prosperity Theology as taught by Joel Osteen or Benny Hinn is easy to spot. What is difficult and more pervasive is that its broadly accepted in many churches across evangelicalism I’d argue unknowingly. When programs teach spiritual formulas, push AWANA, etc… there is a belief that can develop that if you do the right thing your child will turn out right; you won’t have another miscarriage or your marriage will be strengthened. Sorry, but life is not like that… The cold truth that evangelicals need to hear is that you can do all the right things as a parent, and your child still can become addicted to drugs. You can attend every marriage seminar and find out that you spouse is having an affair. And when life takes a turn for the worse, the evangelical church can be the cruelest place for someone experiencing suffering. Roman Catholicism and mainstream Protestantism do not have this problem. And I would suggest that this is one of the only selling points of modern reformed theology – you don’t have to deal with prosperity theology. But I would suggest that about 90 to 95% of evangelical churches struggle with prosperity theology in some form.
14. Heresy comes from BOTH sides of the spectrum. Many conservative evangelicals have become so focused on the threat of emergent theology that they have continued to move to the right and brought into mainstream churches heresy from the extreme right. Patriarchy and extreme gender roles have no place in many mainstream evangelical churches. This is the reason why I would not explore Christianity in the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA). The EFCA that I knew in 1999 is not the EFCA that I see today, and when I see Evangelical Free Churches bringing in extreme reformed theology with extreme gender roles, I see a church that is needlessly being hijacked. Much of what John Piper and his minions teach are more reflective of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church; and they have no place in the Evangelical Free Church of America, or many other churches.
15. I’ve alluded to this already. But gender roles have become too extreme. One of my favorite questions that I loved to ask during my time in agnosticism is the following: What offends God more? The fact that there is a women teaching a man and leading him to faith or that an agnostic male will walk into hell, proud with their head held high? Many talented women have contributed greatly in evangelical history, and the strict gender roles are more about control and patriarchy than anything else. Women have a right to teach and work with men and when that door is shut so much is being denied to the Christian church. Think of what Corrie Ten Boom, Elizabeth Elliot, Lonnie Moon, Murril Burnham, offer to the modern evangelical church. Also to what extent is the gender role issue going to go? Are parts of Christianity going to develop a faith that prevents Elizabeth Elliot teaching men and talking about the death of her husband in Ecuador? Take John Piper’s teaching about how women can’t be drill sergeants in the US Army?
Does this restriction on women serving apply to all branches of the US military? Washington, D.C. is a military town. Let me make a hypothetical situation. Say you graduated from the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs in 2005. You served in various capacities at different military bases, both domestically and abroad. Now if you’re a Captain in the USAF who drools to every word John Piper says but in your work environment you have a female in rank above you, are you going to refuse to submit to her authority because it’s not Biblical? What about the teachings of Romans and Titus of submitting to the state? What happens if that military officer is deployed in the US military to Baghdad or forward deployed to Khowst, Afghanistan? Are you still going to practice gender roles in a combat situation? True story as this happened to me…what would you do if you were pulled over by a local Police Officer who was a female who wanted to check your license and registration because you purchased a new car? Would you tell her “I’m sorry officer you’re a woman I am a man…I can’t listen to you or have you in a position of authority."
16. The fads in Christendom need to end. All they are doing is hurting people. When I started my faith journey in an Evangelical Free Church in 1999 the fad at the time was the Left Behind craze. That was followed by the Prayer of Jabez fad, followed by Seeker Sensitive Church movement, followed by the Purpose Driven Life fad, followed by Neo-Calvinism. Why do evangelicals need a fad every few years? Again, “Spiritual ADD?”
17. Evangelicalism is rife with idols. And many of these idols need to be let go, plus I would suggest that there are more idols in evangelicalism than in a faith system such as Roman Catholicism. Here are the idols I see, and this is just a sampling:
Emergent – Compromise, Brian McLaren, tolerating sin, and mysticism.
Mainstream Evangelicalism – Church pastors, growth, Willow Creek Model, nuclear family, “Family Values”, children, and marriage.
Charismatic Evangelicalism – Signs and wonders, tongues, spiritual gifts, miracles, and prophecy.
Neo-Reformed Evangelicalism – John Calvin, John Piper, Jonathan Edwards, ESV, Conferences, Celebrity Personalities, and Discipline.
There are two prominent idols that need to be discussed in detail as they pose a great danger to evangelicalism and cause deep harm. Those two idols are testimonies and the obsession with avoiding sin.
Each year Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin holds their annual men’s conference called No Regrets. It’s one of the largest Men’s conferences in the country, and Elmbrook is marketing it. In 2010 they featured the testimony of a United States Marine – Benjamin Sabena. In his testimony he spoke about his problem with anger, being in a combat zone and how he realized he needed to give his life to Christ. Two years later on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2012, Benjamin Sabena stalked and brutally murdered his wife – Police Officer Jennifer Lynn Sabena.
Since the time that the city of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin was chartered in 1897, Jennifer Sabena’s death is the only recorded death of a police officer being killed in the line of duty. During sentencing the judge remarked that it was one of the most brutal murders he had seen. Elmbrook quietly removed Benjamin Sabena’s testimony from YouTube. Milwaukee’s main newspaper (The Journal Sentinel), anticipating the removal, made a transcript of the video before it was removed.
Evangelicals need to have a brutal talk about testimonies. For many evangelicals testimonies are like ‘Spiritual Pornography’, meaning they can’t resist them. I would suggest that many evangelicals are in denial about how sinful, cruel and evil people can truly be. And testimonies, while popularized by ministries for fundraising, baptisms, etc., can cause a great deal of harm. First, they create guilt trips on members of the congregation or ministry. For those struggling with an issue or doubt, they can create a facade which leads evangelicals to be dishonest so that they can fit into the program or culture they are in. Third, people outside the faith know and can see through the facade. An alcoholic who is an atheist or those struggling in their marriage know that Christians have problems, and the lack of being forthright only feeds atheists, especially when the facade comes undone. So how can evangelicals find a way forward with this? Well…in my case knowing my brokenness and demons, I refuse to call what I wrote a testimony. My story is still unfolding, and the placing of evangelicals on a pedestal through testimony really needs to end. Why can’t evangelicals just say that this is a story and leave it at that and take off a lot of pressure off people?
The second major idol in modern evangelicalism is the obsession many Christians have with avoiding sin. Many evangelicals are too hard on themselves, deny grace to themselves and others and set the bar way too high. I learned this the hard way with Men’s Accountability, and what I discovered was a system that was cruel, legalistic and spiritually crushing. The problem with setting the bar too high is that when evangelicals do sin they don’t know how to deal with it. I would suggest that this is why some evangelicals commit spiritual suicide. They became so focused on avoiding sin that when they do sin, they don’t know how to recover. Now am I saying its okay to get drunk, look at porn, or pick up someone at a bar. No…what I am suggesting is that many evangelicals lower the expectations of themselves and others. If they do this they will show grace to themselves and others, and those on the outside will have a better understanding of what Christianity is. I will explore the issue of the problem evangelical Christians have with grace below.
18. The role of Pastor has changed. I thought a Pastor meant someone who made emergency calls, visited the sick at home, and labored effortlessly for his congregation. And to be fair there are many hard working pastors in the United States who do this. But I’m deeply concerned that many people view ministry as a means to success and growth – and financial wealth. I’m disturbed by the growth of churches who wrap their identity around the life of one man, and whose success rises and falls on such a person. When I look at megachurch pastors today I must ask the question…who exists for whom? Does the Pastor exist for the congregation or does the congregation exist for the Pastor? And can we agree that a pastor is not someone in a mega church who pops out on stage in front of 2,000 people, speaks for 30 minutes and then disappears. That’s more of an evangelist. The role and focus of pastor is in the process of being redefined, and not for the better I would suggest.
19. Words are being redefined today. And they are being redefined in ways that warp and twist theology. I have to give credit to many of the Neo-Reformed for creating this mess. Take the word ‘allow’. It used to be that allow meant that God let something happen. It didn’t mean that God sanctioned, approved OR wanted it to happen. It was something that just happened. Today due to many Neo-Reformed leaders, the word ‘allow’ has been redefined. Now it means that since God allows something to happen it's because he wants it to happen and has foreordained it to happen. This puts a total spin on issues such as child molestation, murder, rape, terrorism, etc… (For the record is this why Sovereign Grace protected child molesters while disciplining and shunning families and victims who reported the abuse of a child to local law enforcement?) If God foreordains evil then could one say that the molester is living out his faith and being obedient to the Lord while the victim or family who challenge and report to law enforcement are being sinful, pride-filled and rebelling against the Lord’s will? Just a thought…. ) Other words being redefined today include sovereignty, faith, fundamentalist, evangelical, gospel, etc…
20. Evangelicals need to be honest and open with doubt. Doubt is not trendy and its not cool. But for me it was terrifying. Doubt stripped away everything that I once believed, and I realize today that many churches are not havens for doubters. Christians are afraid of doubters. Furthermore, can I also suggest that doubt is not a sin and can also be healthy? How can a 25 or 30 year old grow in faith if they have all the answers and are 100% certain about everything in life? This mentality needs to change, and evangelicals must realize that doubt is a part of faith. Furthermore, in the grand scheme of things where do you thinks it healthiest for someone to deal with doubt…inside a church? Or after they walk away?
21. Evangelical churches need to stop being exclusionary. Two years ago when I visited Montana I caught up with a Catholic friend of mine from college who when discussing evangelicalism commented about how exclusionary the evangelical faith is. This is an accurate observation and ties into the issue of idols, which are rampant in evangelicalism. Christians need to make churches open to the disabled, mentally handicapped, immigrants, singles, people caught up in sin, gays, workaholics, elderly, divorced, sex offenders, chronically ill, etc… Currently, many evangelical churches cater to those who are married, have children and are Caucasian – in other words those who represent white, upper middle class America suburbia.
22. Evangelicals have one trump card, and it blows my mind as to how little they use it – It is grace. Can I be honest about this? The first things evangelicals need to acknowledge is that evangelicals have problems with grace. Many evangelicals gravitate toward legalism. Why? It’s easier to live by rules. Do this, don’t do that, avoid that, etc… And yet this way of living is the inspiration for many evangelicals today. Christianity for far too long has been nothing but sin management. And this is killing people. The way to reverse the trend and go forward is to live by grace and make it center. If it appears grace is being abused, then I would suggest that the church is moving in the right direction.
23. The shepherding movement needs to be kicked to the curb – PERMANENTLY! It needs to go into the dustbin of history. It keeps getting re-packaged, sold and becomes the nice new shiny object. When churches who have joined the shepherding movement start having members cranking out blogs like SGM Survivors, SGM Refuge, We Love Mars Hill, Mars Hill Refuge, Musings Under the Bus, The Elephant’s Debt, etc… you know you have a problem. Evangelicals need to repent of using abusive and questionable theology.
24. Fundamentalism needs to be checked and rolled back. I must ask…in a macro view what good has fundamentalism ever accomplished? How has it contributed to evangelicalism? Or bettered it? It hasn’t, as fundamentalism has marginalized and disenfranchised many segments of the population and faith. The damage, havoc and harm that are brought upon many will be deep. This is why Christian leaders should rebuke fundamentalism and challenge it. However, analytically thinking…my prediction will be that the atheist leaders of tomorrow will be those who follow the John Pipers and the Mark Driscolls of today. Furthermore, I would also suggest that fundamentalism has been redefined. Today it means toting an ESV Bible and forcing your wife to give you oral sex, while facing discipline and being kicked out of a church for not signing a membership covenant (which is not Biblical to begin with!)
25. Mark Noll is correct about a lack of evangelical intellect. The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is no evangelical mind. Sadly, evangelical theology is a mile wide and an inch thick and lacks substance. And this issue deeply affects many seminaries and churches today. Why is it that in academia, humanities, science, engineering, and medicine there are people who challenge, argue, look at competing theories and expand a field of thought and contribute to its development? In evangelicalism just the opposite is true. Many people approach evangelical theology with a pre-determined conclusion (or a siege mentality), which closes any discussion or exploration. The lack of intellectual discussion is killing evangelicalism. The lack of intellectual discussion on many topics reveals evangelical insecurities. Plus I must ask…if you believe that faith is true and believe in the Lord…why be so afraid of difficult discussions or re-interpreting theories of faith? Lastly, I would say that when you take such a closed minded approach to theological training, I fail to see how seminaries such as SBTS or Trinity are any different than a radical Islamic madrassa on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. I became aware of this issue when I discovered the lack of intellect as I was looking for deep answers and discussions on philosophical questions related to the problem of evil.
26. Churches and organizations need to be transparent about their money. There are way too many financial scandals playing out in evangelicalism today. And I would argue it’s getting worse. I think about Stephen Furtick building one of the most expensive houses in North Carolina or James MacDonald of Harvest Bible Chapel purchasing a mansion from former Illinois U.S. Senator Peter Fitzgerald while demanding his churches do sacrificial tithing campaigns. I would propose that every church should allow its finances to be audited by a secular independent outside organization to make sure that financial abuse is not taking place. I would also suggest that each evangelical church be certified and part of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. (Though I think Mars Hill Seattle has showed how the EFCA lacks teeth…) To prevent fraud, I would also suggest that pastors make their salary transparent. Also, are Elders drawing a salary or paycheck from the church? This needs to be disclosed as well. This area of churches and finances is way too sensitive, and it needs to be reigned in.
27. I’ve already addressed mega church pastors but we also need to address celebrity pastors and their problems. The era of celebrity pastors needs to come to a close. Evangelical churches and seminaries need to adopt the same screening processes that the outside world has in the transportation industry, education, government, and financial world. You apply to work in the transportation industry and can go through psychological screening, a full background check, credit check, etc… By having screening standards in place, evangelicalism (which is a magnet for narcissists) would keep the CJ Mahaneys and Mark Driscolls out of ministry if this standard were adhered to. And speaking of celebrity pastors, though many people will dispute this…John Piper is not the 67th book of the Bible.
28. Evangelicals need to divorce politics from faith. Politics has no place in a pulpit or a church. It causes needless division and builds walls. By embracing the Republican or Democratic Party values, it forces people into camps and creates hindrances to the Gospel and those on the outside of the faith. The pulpit should never be used to push a political agenda.
29. God is oversold. Ask yourself….do you really need God to be a good father, husband, employee, or citizen? What about all the fine, upstanding, and ethical atheists, agnostics, Mormons, Muslims, Buddhists, etc…? The overselling of God creates problems. It sets up evangelicals for failure, and it belittles atheists and those on the outside. You can pick up on this theme in the L.A. Times article by William Lobdell. For me personally, the faith I was sold when I was in my late 20s turned out to be toxic. And I’ve interacted with others who feel like they were lied to about their need for God. When faith hits a road bump and people are pressing on in a career, they learn the hard way that a faith system needing God is not necessary. And much like the student in a Christian school who goes off to college and learns about evolution and believes they were lied to, the evangelical who leaves his sheltered life and interacts with kind, nice atheists or even American Indians are stunned to realize that much of what they were taught is not true.
I offer all these suggestions based on personal experiences and what I have observed both on the inside and outside of faith. So now that I have listed these criticisms, the million dollar question is why return to the evangelical faith? Quite simply, I learned that secular humanism/agnosticism/atheism etc… have flaws that can cripple it as well. I realized as flawed as Christianity is with its doubts and problems, atheism has even greater problems and doubts. That coupled with what I learned about grace and reconciliation helped me realize that evangelicalism is where I belong for now. I may be toward the peripheral edge….but I will believe in the Lord and to the best of my ability live a life of love and grace and hope that the issues I listed above about the evangelical culture can be tackled and changed to make evangelicalism healthier.