Evangellyfish or Spiritual Warriors?
Two recent articles coming out of the US present contrasting visions of the Christian life in general, and the culture wars in particular. One laments the sad state of affairs found amongst young evangelicals, while the other calls us to re-examine Jesus, and develop some backbone.
The first piece, by Mark Tooley, contrasts today’s effeminate evangellyfish with the more manly and virile believers of not so long ago. He laments how so many young believers today have simply renounced political involvement and social engagement, because they somehow think it is not “Christlike” or “loving”.
Sadly this retreat should come as no surprise. When the surrounding culture emphasises a false notion of tolerance and acceptance, and the church simply soaks up what the world is doing and saying, such results are not unexpected. We have a generation of believers who are really wimps for Jesus, who would never dare rock the boat for anything.
Says Tooley, “Many young evangelicals today shun conflict – a posture at odds with evangelical history. A new generation of evangelical elites is imploring evangelicals to step back from the culture wars. Mostly they want to escape polarizing strong stances on same-sex marriage and abortion, and perhaps also contentious church-state issues, like the Obamacare contraceptive mandate.
“Purportedly the evangelical church is failing to reach young, upwardly mobile professionals because evangelicals, who now broadly comprise perhaps one third of all Americans, are seen as reactionary and hateful. On their college campuses, at their coffee shops, and in their yoga classes, among other venues, some outspoken hip young evangelicals want a new public image for their faith.”
Tooley has to remind these folks that culture warfare has long been a part of the American church scene. We are simply forgetting our own heritage. He says: “Most of these young evangelicals, and many of their older supporters, often seem to forget that culture wars are not new for Americans or its churches. America has had dozens of them, all of them with intense religious involvement.
“And some of them have exemplified some of religion’s finest moments in shaping America. Across several decades, the Civil Rights Movement, led primarily by clergy, was intensely gut wrenching and sometimes precipitated violence. Some churches, black and white, lost members over it. The push for women’s rights of the 1960s and 1970s that closely followed was also deeply controversial and was at least initially often rooted in faith before secular feminists took the fore.”
He offers more examples, including this one: “Recently I visited central New York to visit the home of William Seward, abolitionist, Republican Party founder, and most famously Lincoln’s secretary of state. Central and western New York in the early 19th century was called the ‘burned over’ district, having boiled over with revivalism and social reforms, including abolitionism. Seward’s home in Auburn, New York, also served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Mrs. Seward was especially a fervent abolitionist, having been raised a Quaker. Sometimes she chided her politically pragmatic husband, an Episcopalian, for not being sufficiently zealous.
“But Seward’s anti-slavery speeches as a U.S. Senator about ‘irrepressible conflict’ and a ‘higher law’ helped to inflame the nation. Seward had been influenced toward abolitionism by the religious college he attended, headed by a Presbyterian clergy. The Sewards were close to freed slave and abolitionist leader Harriett Tubman, who bought land from the Sewards and built her home down the street. Besides religious influences, the Sewards’ anti-slavery stance was reinforced early in their marriage when they visited Virginia, witnessing young slave boys chained together and herded like cattle, later crying themselves to sleep when locked in a barn.”
He concludes, “Today’s culture wars over marriage, abortion, and domestic religious freedom seem terribly tame compared to the supreme culture war over slavery that concluded with Civil War. Even before the war, abolitionists, including Seward, often risked mobs and lynching, even in the north. In the interest of social harmony, should they have relented?…
“The non-confrontational, therapeutic evangelicalism that some young evangelicals, and their older mentors, seemingly advocate today as they denounce culture war is at odds with much of evangelical history, which has always thrived on conflict. No less important, it’s also at odds with much of American history, dating to the 17th century New England Puritan divines, who envisioned a righteous nation. Even supposed secularists of today often walk in that tradition as they demand contentious social reforms, including, in their view, same sex marriage.
“Hoping evangelicals and other serious religious believers in America will en masse shun social controversy as they retreat to quiet cafes to read the New York Times is not realistic. The antebellum Methodists and Baptists who abandoned earlier convictions to accommodate their culture’s acceptance of slavery purchased only a temporary peace. Today’s evangelicals who hope they can delete marriage, abortion, and religious freedom from their political menu might be similarly outflanked by irrepressible historical tides rooted in four centuries of American religion.”
Quite so. But much of this attitude comes from a wimpy – and unbiblical – view of Jesus. In the second article, Johnnie Moore says that “Christians should be tough – like Jesus”. Referring to a recent speech given by Donald Trump at Liberty University, he urges believers to drop spineless Christianity for the real deal.
He writes: “Read the Bible. It’s filled with God pursuing justice, settling scores with folks who messed with him, or who messed with his people, and – believe it or not – Jesus is ‘Exhibit A.’ The prevailing view of Jesus, mainly among liberal Christians, might be that he was a blond-haired, blue-eyed, fluffy little self-help teacher who spent lots of time tip-toeing through the lilies, doling out softly worded pieces of advice to children, and saying things like, ‘can’t we all get along.’
“However, Jesus was no ‘patsy,’ (as Trump might say) and being around him wasn’t always like being cuddled up in a nice, warm Snuggie. Jesus was a tough character. The same Jesus who preached compassion is the same Jesus who publicly embarrassed his nemeses (the Pharisees) by calling them ‘a bunch of snakes’ in front of a large crowd of people.
“The same Jesus who said, in a particular and oft-misunderstood context, that we ought to ‘turn the other cheek’ is the same Jesus who made a royal mess out of the temple by taking a whip to a bunch of moneychangers. Does that sound like a cuddly Jesus who lets people run all over him? Jesus didn’t float on down to planet earth like a deflating balloon. He dropped down like an atom bomb, and his very presence was a provocation.”
He concludes, “We must be wise about ‘when’ and ‘how’ we react when someone has treated us unjustly, but we mustn’t be fearful of standing up for ourselves. Of course, Christians shouldn’t treat people maliciously and they shouldn’t fight arbitrarily, but Christians – like Jesus – should pursue justice, and they should – like Jesus – not let people take advantage of them. Jesus might have been meek, but he sure wasn’t weak. He had a steel spine; he spoke boldly and strongly. In the end he had lots of enemies who nailed him to a tree to shut him up.”
Yes, being a wimpy hippy will not get you nailed to a tree. Only someone with backbone, authority and forthrightness will meet a fate like that. Perhaps that is why so many believers today have wimped out of the important social struggles of our day. They seem to prefer living a quiet and comfortable life instead of experiencing what Jesus and the disciples did: opposition, rejection and enmity.
No wonder Leonard Ravenhill could say: “If Jesus had preached the same message that ministers preach today, He would never have been crucified.”
17 Replies to “Evangellyfish or Spiritual Warriors?”
Dorothy L. Sayers wrote, in “Christian Letters to a Post-Christian World”, a few decades ago…
“We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrine — ‘dull dogma,’ as people call it. The fact is the precise opposite. It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness. The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man — and the dogma is the drama. . . . This is the dogma we find so dull — this terrifying drama which God is the victim and the hero. If this is dull, then what, in Heaven’s name, is worthy to be called exciting? The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused Him of being a bore — on the contrary; they thought Him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround Him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certifying Him ‘meek and mild,’ and recommended Him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.”
Effectively, the “evangellyfish” have turned Christ into a mere man.
Yes exactly right Monica
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
A particularly galling feature of the present era is that (most?) people seem to have carelessly abandoned the beliefs for which real Christians gave their lives two millennia ago.
I wonder whether this is why there is a shortage of men in our churches. There is definitely a perception that Christianity is not manly – its all sitting in meetings and being nice.
Yes quite so Gary
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
Thanks Bill I needed the encouragement.
I agree with Monica. Churches should be the most vibrant of all places where people can hear the truth and have their lives transformed by it.
Speaking the Word with conviction will certainly offend some, but it will draw others like a magnet.
The truth will set people free but our churches are so paralyzed by fear and so obsessed with keeping everyone happy, they soften The Word so much, it becomes just religious mash.
A few weeks ago the youth minister of my church approached me to say he did not agree with my opposition to same sex marriage and it took about ten minutes for him to actually say that homosexuality was actually……’not ideal’. I think he would have keeled over if I had used words like ‘sin’ ‘perversion’ ‘abomination’.
I long for the day I will find a church, where giving out the truth is more important than giving out Christmas boxes.
You mention the so-called ‘burned-out area’ western New York. Much of this can be laid squarely at the feet of the still much-revered American revivalist Charles Finney. Have a read of this analysis from 1984 by Gary North.
Your comment above rings a bell: I’m almost finished reading Francis Schaeffer’s The Church before the Watching World. God is still looking for men and women who will be his watchmen and women in their generation [Ezek 33:1-20; Ac 20:26,27]. Loyalty to Christ and his kingdom is likely to make His servants marked men and women [Ezek 9:3,4; Joh 15:18 – 16:3] – targets of the enemies of God, but kept by Him against all odds until they hear His “Come up here!”
Jesus, like his father and the Holy Spirit hates evil, because it was never part of his created world and I am so glad he pursues it to utter annihilation. That means the evil, the sin in me as well as that everywhere else. And of course, that is not painless, but I don’t want him to stop until it is all gone and He can once again reign over a good and perfect world, which, of course won’t happen completely until He returns.
These strong abolitionists you describe, Bill, stood up like Jesus for right and the vulnerable, not so much for themselves, as they, like Jesus often gave their lives for that which was right and good.
We must be likewise prepared to give our lives. God may not always take us up on that offer, but He can direct a surrendered life to where it does most good, either through life or death, the choice is His. Gal 2:22
I managed to catch the last 15 minutes of “big ideas” on the abc today 9/10, they did a discussion on religion, specificaly Christianity, in that time what I witnessed was three suposedly Christians throw Christ, the Bible and Christianity under the bus.
One comment by an ex Anglican priest was that they took their vows, 9 statements of faith I believe he stated, with their fingers crossed behind their back, he even claimed to have taken them full well knowing that he did not believe in any of them, or the Bible, or Jesus, along with many others who he trained with.
Is it any wonder why the Christian churches are in trouble, with those suppose to lead Christs flock whilst on earth not even believing what they preach from the pulpit. I for one will pray for those who are stuck under such apostate wolves.
Its a worry, Neil. I just read in the paper today about the Anglican clergy in WA voting in favour of SSM. It makes our witness so much more difficult when the leadership are spouting such apostasy.
I too have been feeling a bit ‘down’ lately – feeling rather glad to be old now that the world is becoming such an awful place with same sex marriage rearing its ugly head and even more proposals for euthanasia (I’d probably be on that list as caring for chronic illness is expensive), but this morning I happened to catch the tail end of an ABC interview with Archbishop Jensen. He was so uplifting, in that he simply stated that people are beginning to return to the Church slowly, but surely and that the reason is Jesus. For some reason the conversation came to asking the Archbishop about his own Funeral plans, and his reply was – “I don’t want people to talk about me – but rather talk about Jesus Christ”. It made my day – week – month!
My post about marriage (on your other latest) would fit better here and is encouraging. We do have some real men of God leading us.
Excellent piece, Bill. I particularly like your final paragraph with that brilliant quote from Leonard Ravenhill:
“If Jesus had preached the same message that ministers preach today, He would never have been crucified.”
Dominic Baron, NZ
Annette Williams, Yes I hear you. I too, have got myself into hot water, again. For me I’ve been assigned to work for the next 12 weeks with a particular woman at my church. This woman is the PC queen. After all God’s work on me, over the last few years this woman got under my skin and all my prayers/self control/patience went out the window within 3 weeks. In a heated debate about how the church is hurting from all this PC, I lost it. I raised my voice and gave her both barrels. Fortunately no one else was there to witness my foolishness, but the damage was done. Church leaders got wind of it, and I’m banished from doing anything in the church for 3 months. I’m struggling, Lord have mercy on me.
For those that are in churches in which the leadership is for same-sex marriage or pro-abortion or pro-any form of sin, you need to confront your ministers with the word.
If they refuse to repent and submit to Biblical authority, then you need to find yourself a church that holds the teachings of the Bible in the highest esteem.
I promise you, they do exist!
Mario Del Giudice
Thanks Mario, I needed to read this! God help me to stand up for You, with strength of my conviction when I confront those who are erring and leading the people away from You.