On Modern Evangelical Rhetoric

Whenever I feel particularly in the mood to deprive myself of all human sympathy and remind myself just how devoid of hope humanity can be I turn on the television and flip between MSNBC and FOX News. The complete arrogance and self-righteous belligerence of both channels is dumbfounding; on the one hand (the left hand) you have a smarmy liberal elitism and on the other (right hand) you have an often incoherent and ignorant conservative rage. Both are horrifying.

But as I sat and watched the talking heads yell at each other last night, I began to think of some current rhetoric within the Evangelical community and the way we as the Church treat each other and the manner in which we “dialogue”. I found it deeply disturbing that the rhetoric of the Church in recent years has become indistinguishable from the rhetoric of the world…and that I fall prey to the same problem. On the one hand you have the kind of condescending “progressive” Christianity which looks down their noses at more narrow-minded ways of thinking and on the other you have a particularly antagonizing (and rapidly growing) group of neo-reformed Christians who seem more concerned with whether or not you agree theologically with Calvin than they do with whether or not you love and walk with Jesus.

I am not writing to wag my finger (to quote Stephen Colbert) at any of these groups, especially since I can be just as prideful and dismissive when it comes to certain topics, but to appeal to Christ who has the only corner on truth.

G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “There are no Revolutions, only Counter-Revolutions” and this idea has been gnawing at my brain recently. His point is that society tends to swing like a pendulum, a constant give and take and everything is a reaction to/against something before it. The current Evangelical climate is a perfect example: the rise of a particularly strong-headed reformed group today is a reaction to the particularly wishy-washy Emergent community which saw its hey-day in the early 00’s, which itself was a reaction against the cultural cluelessness of certain influential pockets of a Fundamentalist bent in the 80’s and 90’s.

Jesus and the Kingdom of God is the only real Revolution. Everything else is a Counter Revolution to something else and while certain Counter Revolutions have far more truth than others, none are perfect. Problems arise when Counter Revolutions present and artificially replace themselves as THE ULTIMATE end all be all of truth when really only Christ holds that position of perfection and finality.

It is out of this mindset I appeal to both sides. To the young neo-reformed community and myself, I would remind us that just because someone doesn’t see it your way (or Calvin’s way or John Piper’s way or whoever) doesn’t mean they are heretics and should be ostracized. The reformed movement doesn’t have everything figured out but it can act like it does. There is a level of arrogant anger and lack of joy in your particular community that people perceive which rightly makes them feel unwelcomed and unloved; two things very uncharacteristic of the Kingdom of God. The answer is not more Calvin or more doctrine, it is more Jesus.

To the “cultured” idealistic progressive left of center Church community and myself, I would remind us, that Jesus never saw a person condescendingly and he did stand for very objective truth. Just because you do not agree with someone’s way of thinking doesn’t mean you can dismiss them as ignorant or inferior. To do so (and I struggle greatly with this) dehumanizes them, allows for all sorts of sin to seep into your heart and above all prevents you from truly loving them. The answer is not more “progress” or “cultural relevance” but more Jesus.

It is only after we focus on Christ that both sides of the spectrum will begin to learn greatly from the other, but I fear nowadays each side is never given the chance. For me, it can be far easier to think like the world and justify my unloving and unempathetic attitude in the name of Christ than it is to simply do my best to be Christ’s representative in the world and to love the way Christ loves. The truth is the world is crying out for Christians not to throw doctrine at it but to shower it with the love, hope and actions of Jesus. We have an unprecedented opportunity in our time to do just that.

Dallas Willard once said, “We must give up the burden of being right and focus on the opportunity to be Christ-like”. Let us focus on the beauty of Christ and seize the opportunity.


jw said...

1 Cor 3:1-7 seems to confirm what you are saying. Different context same admonition.

Paul said...

As usual you present your argument fairly, calmly, and in an impressive style. Aside from the validity of your claims, you write well. Not sure if that matters to you here, but maybe it does. Keep up the insightful looks into the Church.