Recently, my wife and I visited a church in the Nashville area. Everyone was very nice, welcoming and sincere – I say that because I have a complaint to make, and certainly don’t mean to malign anyone there. During the worship service, we were singing a song that I had never heard. It was building up to the climax of a passionate chorus and the first line of that chorus read “All I need is to feel Your love”.
In that moment I had inadvertently stumbled upon a portion of the complaint I have with evangelical Christianity. I have become more and more convinced that the ‘currents’ of evangelical Christianity are hostile (mostly unintentionally/unknowingly, sometimes intentionally) to intellectual discussion, and obsessed with feeling and experience over any other aspect of ‘understanding’. That statement may sound harsh, and to my evangelical peers, I can only say that I’m sorry if it does, please hear me out.
I understand the evangelical case against many mainline denominations. I grew up Presbyterian, and as I began to read the Bible for myself, I questioned why certain topics and passages were ignored. As a 15-year-old, I saw no real passion or vibrancy in the faith of those around me. Instead, I saw a group of people adhering to a particular Protestant tradition – and many were not recognizable as Christians when I saw them during the week. Something inside me knew instinctively that if a Creator existed, then He wasn’t limited to the ‘safe’ and ‘docile’ presentation of Him that I witnessed at that particular church. In my teens I was introduced to evangelical churches, and discovered Christians who were passionate about their faith, and who wanted to impact those around them. I was fascinated with Scripture, and being around others so passionate about their faith was a breath of fresh air. It wasn’t until years later that I began to discern some issues.
Around 13 years ago, a conversation with a co-worker revealed to me just how ill-equipped I was to discuss hard issues – life, death, suffering, justice, purpose – with those who didn’t hold the same faith. I began to see that there wasn’t really much of an effort in many of the evangelical churches I’d attended to understand the world around them. No one seemed to be asking “how did we get to where we are?”, and “How do we answer the questions posed by a postmodern world?” Oh, don’t get me wrong, those churches were asking “How can we make Christianity appeal to those who don’t believe?” Some call it “seeker-sensitive” – but that’s just one of many frustrating examples of a language ghetto that is encouraged. Absolutely no effort was being made to understand the mix of philosophies that had led Western culture to where it now sits. As a result, many evangelical churches have accepted premises that find their roots in worldviews hostile to Christian thought. We’re encouraged to share our faith, but without any foundation in apologetics. And when we encounter someone who questions back, we’re given a trite response of encouragement, as if the sole failure is on the part of the ‘hearer’.
My Presbyterian heritage was fairly rich when it came to thought and teaching, though it was sorely lacking in many other respects. But my complaint with evangelicalism is that anything smacking of tradition is dismissed as legalism and intellectual debate is dismissed as “the pride of man”. There is such an emphasis on feeling and experience – both of which are an integral part of a much larger whole – but I fear it’s an over-emphasis. Evangelical leaders lament the ‘consumer’ nature of many congregants, but their whole system lends itself to “what can I experience?” – since that’s all that appears to matter. So, no, I’m sorry, I need much more than to just “feel” His love. I need to understand how what Christianity teaches is relevant to my life – from the big, epic questions down to how I love my wife and sons, how I perform at my job, and how I take care of my property. I need to stop chasing experience from weekly pep-rally service to service. That kind of ‘consumerism’ only breeds an inability to understand or esteem anything other than the pursuit of the next ‘fix’. That mindset, in my opinion, has dumbed-down religious discussion among evangelical Christians, it has robbed them of a critical tool in applying Christian teaching to daily life, and it has driven others away from Christianity as a whole.
More on this in the future….