My concern is about telling changes in us as practicing Christians rather than in the practices themselves. Mine is not a call to some form of evangelical museum mentality. Mine is, in the words of Wilmer MacNair, “more than the last whimper of a lost understanding of religion in the face of the emerging God-industry.”[i] MacNair calls out two sobering departures from the evangelical prototype. “First”, he laments, “the mega-church does not conceive of God as awesome and holy.”[ii] What now passes for spirituality would once have been inconceivable. Transcendence and mystery are no longer our experience; holiness no longer our objective.
We live in a post-whatever-that-was evangelicalism, where hearing musty old words like “holy”, “sacred”, or “sanctification” is a thing of the past. It’s not just abandoning some archaic “Christianese”. We’ve moved on from good and evil to the pursuit of happiness. And when you no longer have a sense of awe and wonderment in God’s presence, it’s a good bet he probably is no longer there. We are the master of our own destiny and have settled on “a less mighty, increasingly inconsequential version of God.” [iii] A god who is much less demanding of us, and of whom we expect very little. We needn’t have worried about secularists claiming God is dead. In making him irrelevant, we’ve done their work for them.
Second of MacNair’s laments is the sense that God’s righteousness has been usurped by a cult of individual supremacy. We look to Jesus the Life Coach for our personal success – his response to us – not as the object of loving obedience to him. Today we assent to the concept of sin as good people occasionally making bad choices, in a flippant sense that complements a conscience-salving message. One can sit through an entire sermon series without hearing of sin as an offense against God’s righteousness, and the need for repentance and obedience. The assumption, it seems, is that a half-Christ is better than none. This is no longer Christ’s atonement for sins, but religion without the sin part. Where Jesus is for people who like, but don’t necessarily need him, it is not Christianity. The normative tradition of faith is now radioactive, seen as inviting people to walk out of churches, not seekers to fill them. What sort of faith these distortions are creating, and reflections on where evangelicalism should be going instead, form the heart of this blog.
[i] Wilmer E. MacNair, Unraveling the Mega-Church: True Faith or False Promises? Westport CT: Praeger, 2009, p. vii.
[iii] Mitchell Stephens, “The Rise Of The Diminished, Ordinary God”, Religion News Service, February 19, 2014. https://religionnews.com/2014/02/19/commentary-rise-diinished-ordinary-god/ (accessed March 3, 2019).