November 26, 2020

David Fitch: The Caffeine Free Diet Coke: A Metaphor for Evangelicalism 4 years later


Note from CM: Thanks to David Fitch for permission to re-post this insightful article about the nature of evangelicalism. I have highlighted one group of sentences below that I think is most important for understanding where Fitch is coming from. He says, “I think it’s been proven that we cannot overlay “missional” over the same scaffolding of evangelical church and expect it to change.” The very nature of evangelicalism has changed. No longer does it represent “a life together shaped into and from the fullness of Christ’s presence in the world.” Instead, it has become an ideology, comparable to a caffeine free Diet Coke that does not fulfill the functions a drink should. I’m very interested in your response to what David says here. As for me, I think he’s right on the money.

* * *

Almost 4 years ago now, I was in the middle of writing The End of Evangelicalism? Discerning a New Faithfulness for Mission, and I wrote a post on my blog comparing evangelicalism to an ‘empty’ Caffeine-Free Diet Coke. I was referring to philosopher Slavoj Zizek’s famous cultural analyses found in his book, The Fragile Absolute (chapter 3). I later used it in the intro to The End of Evangelicalism?

What led me to this? Soon after writing The Great Giveaway I sensed a need for the church to understand its relation to culture in more vital ways than even my mentors Hauerwas, Yoder, Lindbeck, Chas Taylor had provided me. I saw swirling ideologies within U.S. culture taking over the church. We had no way to think about culture as a flow of ideologies. This led me to study ideology more closely (I got my intro to it at Northwestern University). And this led me to Slavoj Zizek. I’ve never really quit studying Zizek since. Among other things, Zizek illumined how my own church functioned as an ideology, the very opposite of a life together shaped into and from the fullness of Christ’s presence in the world through the Triune God’s sending the Son and the Spirit into the world via the incarnation. My opening salvo therefore was to compare evangelical church to an empty caffeine free Diet Coke. Today, almost four years later, I think it still holds. I think it’s been proven that we cannot overlay “missional” over the same scaffolding of evangelical church and expect it to change. Here’s the meat of that post below. I offer it again 3+ years after the publishing of that book. As always I welcome any comments as to where you’ve seen these dynamics in place in your own church lives.

Diet CokeZizek narrates how Coca-Cola was originally concocted as a medicine (originally known as a nerve tonic, stimulant and headache remedy). It was eventually sweetened and its strange taste was made more palatable. Soon it became a popular drink during prohibition, replacing alcohol, with its medicinal stimulant qualities (it was deemed “refreshing” as well as the perfect “temperance drink”). Over time, however, its sugar was replaced with sweetener, its caffeine extracted, and so today we are left with Caffeine-Free Diet Coke: a drink that does not fulfil any of the original concrete needs of a drink. The two reasons why anyone would drink anything: it quenches thirst/provides nutrition and it tastes good, have in Zizek’s words “been suspended.”

Today, Coke has become a drink that does not quench thirst, does not provide any stimulant and whose strange taste is not particularly satisfying. Nonetheless, it is the most consumed beverage in the world. It plays on the mysterious enjoyment we get out of consuming it as something to enjoy in surplus after we have already quenched our thirst.  We drink Coke because “Coke is “it”” not because it satisfies anything material. In essence, all that remains of what was once Coke is a pure semblance, an artificial promise of a substance which never materialized. In Zizek’s words, we ‘drink nothing in the guise of something …” It is “in effect merely an envelope of a void.”(22-23).

Zizek uses the caffeine free diet Coke as an illustration of how capitalism works. Taking some liberties with Zizek and his excellent illustration, I believe the Coke metaphor works for understanding some things about evangelicalism as well in the present period of its history. Many of evangelicalism’s beliefs and practices have become separated from the concrete reality around which they first came into being. In its beginnings, the inerrant Bible, the decision for Christ and the idea of the Christian Nation articulated beliefs for evangelicals that helped connect them to the realities of our life in Christ in the face of several cultural challenges. (these were the ways we thought about the authority of the Bible, conversion into salvation and the church’s activity in society). For fifty to seventy-five years, these articulations of what we believe served us well but also evolved and become hardened. As American society advanced, and our lives became busier and ordered towards American affluence, we practice these same beliefs but they have become disconnected from what they meant several generations ago. As a result, the inerrant Bible, the decision for Christ and the Christian Nation mean very little for how we live our day-to-day lives as evangelical Christians. They are ideological banners that we assent to. They are tied to behavioral practices that we engage in but they bear little or no connection to our lives in Christ for His Mission in the world. Just as our society drinks Coke as an “it,” as something that makes us feel good but has little substantial value as a drink, so we practice these beliefs as something we add on to our lives – not as something we need to live. It is something we do as an extra to our already busy lives that makes us feel better. Evangelical church, as symbolized in many ways by the large consumer mega churches, has become an “add-on,” “a semblance” of something which once meant something real. It is a surplus enjoyment we enjoy after we have secured all of our immediate needs.

Surely there are many evangelical churches of all sizes which do not fit this description, and God’s work continues among us despite our falleness. Yet as is typical of Zizek, his Coke illustration provokes us to ask questions about the things that drive us to come together. He describes in multiple ways what a politic looks like, when, like Caffeine-Free Diet Coke, it is “empty” at its core driven by forces other than what we accept as real. Zizek, of course, sees all social reality as ‘empty’ driven by antagonisms and contradictions as opposed to something real that we aspire to.

In the the End of Evangelicalism?, I wish to explore, with Zizek’s help, how evangelicalism in particular has become this kind of “empty politic” driven by other things than our life together in Christ for the world. In the face of its failings, ( and in response to Zizek) I offer an alternative politic for evangelicalism where our everyday way of life is once again centered (by these beliefs) into a participation in the Incarnate Christ and the life we have with God in and through the “Sent One.” If “the inerrant Bible,” “the decision for Christ” and “the Christian Nation” were formulations that were meant for good, years later they have malformed us for Mission. I offer an alternative which preserves the core. I show how each of three emphasies of evangelicalism – a high view of the authority of Scripture, a conversionist salvation and an activist church in the world – can be rearticulated and reoriented in practice so as to shape a people for hospitality, inclusion, authenticity, faithfulness and compassion among the lost and hurting. Although challenging, I contend Zizek provides the basis for a fresh look at evangelicalism along these lines in the midst of our political malaise.

What do you think? Is there some validity in this socio-political analysis of evangelicalism and what it has become in the twenty first century? Can you think of other ways evangelicalism is like a Caffeine Free Diet Coke?

* * *

David Fitch is B. R. Lindner Chair of Evangelical Theology at Northern Seminary Chicago, IL. He is also founding pastor of Life on the Vine Christian Community, a missional church in the Northwest Suburbs of Chicago. David blogs at Reclaiming the Mission, and is the author of The End of Evangelicalism? Discerning a New Faithfulness for Mission: Towards an Evangelical Political Theology.


  1. I think Fitch’s analysis holds merit. I would tend to frame the issue in Sacramental instead of missional terms; the root of the issue goes far beyond what he addresses (at least in this article) and gets to the very root of how the church perceives its relationship to God. Connecting ideology to mission is important (since both ideals and practice depend upon each other) but if the evangelical sector of the church continues to say “it’s all about Jesus” while really focusing on what WE can do for God, if it dilutes its Christology with a denial of Christ’s true and real presence in Word and Sacrament, no amount of missional thinking is going to repair the damaged core.

    Of course, Fitch might well be getting at that, but I can’t tell from this particular article.

    • I agree….the Sacraments connect us to the glorious but oh-so-difficult (and different) road that Christ demands. We are blessed beyond measure to know and serve the Lord, but to pretend that this grace equals a happy, unfettered, and painless life on this earth is wrong, so very wrong.

      We are offered a deep and complex Blood-red wine, and instead go for that insipid but common can of diet soda!

      • On the other hand, I can fully imagine Zizek’s wonderfully useful metaphor being applied to sacramentalism itself by those so inclined. Certainly many out there would posit that imbibing that complex Blood-red wine (hurray for metaphors that produce other good ones in their turn!) can function as a substitute for actually knowing Christ personally.

        Like yourself, I’d strongly disagree with them, but we should perhaps be forewarned that we may have just encountered The Metaphor with a Thousand Faces.

        • I agree with you, Trevis. A sacrement is a sacrement only when the person taking it views it as such. Otherwise, they’re just drinking caffiene free diet Coke.

          • And simply believing that there is something transformative or grace-imparting or supernatural (e.g., transubstantiation; removal of sins/original sin) about the bread and wine or the baptismal waters does not make it so. Just because someone holds a sacramental view of Christianity doesn’t mean real Christianity is actually tied to or dependant upon there being sacraments or there being actual versus placebo activity in the partaking of the bread and wine or being immersed or sprinkled.

          • @Eric….I would flip your statement, and suggest that those who do not recognize Christ in the sacraments are as yet unaccustomed to the actual presence of Him who loves us….primarily because the juice and crackers that are part of faux-communion cannot be anything BUT a placebo. Christ was pretty clear about baptism and bread & wine….This IS my BODY.

          • No he wasn’t. Study Koine Greek and the Jewish context of the Last Supper.

    • David Cornwell says

      Jacob, I am not sure I can address your concern here, but will attempt to add some context to what David Fitch says in this article.

      First one must remember that he comes from and evangelical background that has over the years been affected by his “mentors Hauerwas, Yoder, Lindbeck, Chas Taylor” who do not define themselves as evangelicals in the way we have defined it. And as he states he has sensed a need to go even further than these theologians advocate. I have read much from Stanley Hauerwas, and believe that his position is strongly “sacramental.” This is probably true of Lindbeck also, but the others I believe to be true, but perhaps in ways that are open to more interpretation.

      Secondly, in his book “The Great Giveaway” David Fitch makes a strong argument for moving formerly evangelical churches toward “immersive worship.” A quotation from page 105 of this book:

      “Evangelical worshipers therefore have need for more than a lecture hall or a feel-good pep rally. We unconsciously hunger for an alive body of Christ we can be immersed into, an encultured organism that orders our desire, orients our vision, and livens our worship through art, symbol, prayers, mutual exchanges, participatory rituals, readings of the Word, and the Eucharist every Sunday morning. Only through immersion can our ‘selves’ be ordered doxologically so as to experience God as he is and live the Christian life in the world.”

      And, of course, this must be liturgical in form.

      And if one has heard what he has to say, or reads much of his writing, it will become evident that he believes that this can only take place through education and practice. Change does not happen overnight, and so requires patience and prayer.

  2. I’m getting stuck on the first part of the analogy: as being able to consider any version of Coke as something positive 🙂 Old or new, both seem thirst-inducing to me. It’s the anti-drink 🙂

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      You may be on to something. The metaphor fails for me because DCFCoke is an answer to a demand; if the author appreciates it as a beverage or not – people want Coke. Most of the people I meet find Evangelicalism to be offensive, off-putting, and notable undesirable; it doesn’t have an undesirable after taste, it has a bad reputation – one this author chooses to sort-of acknowledge. Maybe he goes further in his full text; I haven’t read that, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

      What continually bothers me about the “End Of Evangelicalism” meme, which takes a lot of forms – many of which come up here – is that they never ask Why? I mean, if Evangelicalism ends… so what? Maybe death is the answer. That there *always* needs to be some missional reinvention tells me that at the root they still believe in their exclusive value, they are still on the same root quest [and it is a Quest, hence the necessity of living in terms of Mission]. An end to evangelicalism is hardly in any sense at all an end to Christianity, the study of Scripture, Christian community, or Christ’s message.

      This is a call for Yet More Reformation; and how has that worked so far?

      And –
      > and “the Christian Nation” were formulations that were meant for good
      – No, I just do not believe that. This was a notion simply inherited and re-purposed [manifold times], with little evidence there has been much consideration of its merit.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        If Coke took a poll and found most people felt towards the brand “Coke” the way most people react towards “Evangelical”… they’d fire their marketing department and change the company’s name, post haste. But Weeping Evangelical always demands to keep the flag. Why not take a page from the corporate play book and lay down the flag? Its just a flag.

        • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

          Makes perfect sense from a branding standpoint, but I somewhat appreciate churches sticking to their brands. It makes avoiding a bad church easier.

        • Perhaps it’s cause laying down the flash implies surrendering? People don’t like surrendering, even I the Christian life is surrendering to Christ the Lord.

  3. Paqtricia says

    When Coke wants to boost sales, they don’t change the product, they change the can. Perhaps the evangelical church is doing much of the same thing. I think the church works hard to address the “packaging” without considering there might be a deficiency in their product. (Since there is NO deficiency in Jesus, what needs to be addressed and corrected? Perhaps revisiting the character of the early church as described in Acts might be instructional.)

    • In an industrial process, changing the composition of the product entails major changes to the production process. It’s much simpler to just change the packaging and the marketing campaign. (The analogy Fitch chose works on SO many levels…)

  4. Robert F says

    Never been evangelical, but regularly drink, and like, Caffeine-Free Diet Coke, so please get your hands off my soft drink of choice!

    • Robert F says

      You forgot one thing that Caffeine-Free Diet Coke has in common with all other carbonated soft drinks, diet, caffeine-free or not: the refreshing bubbliness! Which is one of the qualities I see in evangelicalism that I don’t like. It’s good for a soft drink, not so good for Christianity, imo.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      Sadly there is now a round of research studies indicating that the majority of artificial sweeteners contribute to the development of diabetes as they trigger hormonal and digestive reactions much like actual sugars – then there is no sugar to be processed. Very sad. There seems to be no escape from diet-n-exercise.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Just like High Fructose Corn Syrup(TM).

        I’m sticking with my Mexican green apple sodas.

  5. “Surely there are many evangelical churches of all sizes which do not fit this description”

    So perhaps a closer study needs to be done that discusses the difference between those churches and the ones he is criticizing.

  6. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    “Caffeine-free Diet Coke”

    Caffeine removed, sugar removed, but it’s still COKE!

    All that’s left is the Label.

    All that’s left is the Brand Name Recognition.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      It still tastes pretty much like Coke, at least at first. Except in cocktails; whiskey & Coke is good, whiskey is DCFCoke is disgusting.

      >All that’s left is the Label.

      Nah, it is still soda, and exactly what is advertised. Maybe the metaphor is even larger than the author suggests – carbonation stimulates the taste sensors in much the same manner as slightly desiccated flesh [which human’s crave] but actually dehydrates the digestive system. Even real Coke is dietary slight-of-hand.

      • Robert F says

        “… whiskey & Coke is good, whiskey is DCFCoke is disgusting.”

        Caffeine does lend a subtle but real flavor; when it’s missing, you can taste a difference, though you’d be hard pressed to describe what exactly it is in the flavor that is different.

        • Only water is allowed on the floor of NYSE, so caffeinated water is a pretty big thing up that way. If you ever try it, you will immediately taste the caffeine, and ever after you will be able to taste the caffeine in any other drink. For kicks at the coffee chop I worked at we would brew coffee with caffeinated water. Several of the locals paid a premium for it 🙂

  7. “,,,today we are left with Caffeine-Free Diet Coke: a drink that does not fulfill any of the original concrete needs of a drink. The two reasons why anyone would drink anything: it quenches thirst/provides nutrition and it tastes good”

    Wait just one minute. Who gets to decide what functions a drink should have? Mr. Zizek? Mr. Fitch? The Pope? The correct answer is “each individual person” and the reasons might include things like it is wet and I like wet things, it is cold and I like cold things, even (in the case of intoxicants) it induces drunkenness and I like to get drunk. Thirst/nutrition/taste are most decidedly NOT the only reasons why anyone would drink something.

    So the basis of the argument and the article and the book is flawed — and in that sense only is it like modern American evangelicalism.

    • And individual choice is indeed the major hallmark of evangelicalism. All that matters is whether I like it or not.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        “When What is Right has been thoroughly deconstructed, What I Want will still remain.”
        — C.S.Lewis(?)

        • Faulty O-Ring says

          Pepsi–Orthodoxy (they taste the same to me, but oh well)
          7-Up / Sprite–Episcopalianism
          Dr. Pepper–???
          Mr. Pibb–???
          Big Red–???

          Islam would have to be expresso or something

    • +1!

    • Robert F says

      I have to agree.

  8. He forgot to mention that Coca Cola originally had cocaine as one of it’s ingredients!

    Ok, so modern, American evangelicalism is a big target, and big targets never fire back because there is no central authority to defend itself. This makes it a very EASY target, too!

    It’s ascendancy and popularity coincided with a criticism of high church and Roman Catholic church establishments. People felt that they were dead and more interested in process than actual life, but within the past 25 years or so many in the evangelical camp have migrated back to Orthodox, Catholic and high church membership because they were disillusioned with, or just tired of, the evangelical brand as it has developed from its inception.

    Have these older churches changed? Of COURSE not! There have been some cosmetic changes here and there, but the doctrines have no changed. So, if they were once criticized so heavily then why are they now “OK”?

    It seems that a pendulum effect is again taking place and it is swinging away from “evangelicalism” (whatever THAT has come to mean) and is moving toward…WHAT? Those doing the criticizing as mostly still a part of the evangelical system while, at the same time, trying to formulate some new and better brand of organized Christianity.

    I am beginning to have a “sneaking suspicion” that this is more about NORTH AMERICAN evangelicalism than it is anything else. In other words: culture wars in reverse!

    As long as the fingers are pointed at the proper targets, that is, human hearts, I am just fine with criticism. THAT is the only way things will change, if individuals begin to become more Christ-like and, thereby, influence their immediate surroundings.

    Criticizing a large, amoeba-like movement is easy, looking in the mirror and effecting change is NOT!

    • I would add one little nuance to this comment: “…as long as fingers are pointed at the proper targets, that is, human hearts, AND pointed toward the proper goal, Jesus Christ, I am fine with the criticism.” Let’s not leave Jesus out of the Coke can.

    • culture wars in reverse…i like it.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Those doing the criticizing as mostly still a part of the evangelical system while, at the same time, trying to formulate some new and better brand of organized Christianity.

      With themselves as Head Apostle/True Pope?

  9. So let me get this straight…caffeine free diet Coke is NOT Christ-in-a-Can? Dang. I thought I’d achieved holiness!

    Most metaphors fall apart if over-analyzed (which some are doing here, and I could certainly pokes holes in this can, too), but overall I like it!

    • To further expound upon why I like it, I like the idea of how “substitution” diminishes the original. If you assume at one time the initial Coke recipe was the perfect recipe (aka Christ), then what has happened over time is ingredients have been substituted in that change that initial perfect recipe. High fructose corn syrup instead of sugar. Eliminate the caffeine. Replace the corn syrup with an artificial sweetener. Soon, because of substitutions, your end product is nothing like the perfect original. What have we done in our churches via “substitution” (thinking we were meeting a need or improving upon the good news of the Gospel) that has diminished the original good news story?

  10. Christiane says

    I’m not sure we can stereotype ‘evangelical’ groups easily, but in a way, some evangelical groups on the far-right have chosen to stereotype themselves and the result is that their identity is more consistent with the far-right wing of the Republican Party than with the Church.

    That is a concern . . . do they want to be perceived as a political force in this country? I think, ‘yes’, after reading comments on Southern Baptist blogs around the time of the 2012 elections. The main thing was the implication that you could not be a ‘Christian’ and support Obama.

    The funny thing is that evangelicals are losing members, but these people leaving retain their political loyalties almost like a religion . . . that is my opinion, and it is gleaned from reading extensively in comment streams.

    Sometimes, it looks like a whole denomination is moving steadily away from an identity with the Church and more towards something that can be classified as ‘culture-war-politics’, and here I am thinking about the latest attacks by the SBC on transgender people. . . .

    finger-pointing. . . shameless finger pointing and judgement . . . it’s hard to read the ‘resolutions’ that the recent SBC convention came up with that target transgender folks . . . but maybe I am not able to see their ‘truth in love’ philosophy clearly enough to comprehend anything more than seeing an obvious attack on a group of American citizens who are in the minority and who struggle with gender issues in a special way and don’t deserve the stones being thrown at them by people whose pride and hubris seems particularly out of control en masse in for a religious assembly that identifies with Our Lord. (sigh)

    Not all evangelical people throw stones. A lot of far right-wing Catholics do throw stones. I am not being honest if I don’t mention that truth. But at least in the Catholic faith I have some comfort that stone-throwing is not considered a way of celebrating Christ and that even my pride in this is likely to be a matter for my own conscience to confront after I put my own stones down and realize that the difference between judging the judgmental and praying for them is a vast chasm I have trouble crossing these days. Goal: a sense of peace towards all who are troubled and imperfect, not impatient ‘reaction’ towards what is the clearly provocative behavior of those seeking their own identity on a path that does not lead them to a good place.

    some thoughts

    • Some good stuff there, Christiane, especially the insight about a whole denomination that appears to have moved away from Christ and toward “culture-war-politics.” I’d even say that a denomination appears to be FORMING, as I’ve seen some of my friends in my church drift that way. They claim they are all about Christ, but when I hear them speak all that comes out is “we must uphold truth AKA fight!” And it’s not just transgender issues, it’s any issue that appears to have formed on the left. Those suddenly become “anti-Truth” and in need of drawing lines in the sand and planting the flag.

      These friends…I’m not sure what Truth they think they’re defending. It’s some sort of half-truth, a truth that sounds sort of Christ-like and/or “holy,” but certainly contains none of the grace/mercy/love/forgiveness/Good News aspect of the Truth.

      • Rick Ro. says

        Which is a long-winded way of saying, “I want the Real Thing (TM).”

      • I think you both are on to something here. These kinds of folks and their churches have a veneer of Jesus, but underneath, the things that are taught, and held to, and considered important and the bedrock of what they believe are often the opposite of what Jesus himself considered important and taught and lived.

        It looks more like the real religion at these sorts of places is hyper-individualistic, everyone for themselves and no mercy to those who don’t push themselves to exhaustion with work, or aren’t smart enough, or lucky enough or wealthy enough or male enough or Caucasian enough—the heck with them, we got ours and we want to keep it…..

        Because this faction is so loud (and is being amplified by the right), increasingly, that is the image all Christianity is being tarred with in the U.S. That’s what the generic term “Christian” is coming to mean here.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          > what they believe are often the opposite of what Jesus himself

          I’d rather not say it that way; the issue is not necessarily polar. I’d say what they say is just unrelated to the teachings of Jesus, and overall, with the story of Scripture.

          > , we got ours and we want to keep it…..

          Rugged Americanism.

          >Because this faction is so loud … hat is the image all Christianity

          I know that people fear this is the case; that Evangelicals == Christianity in the general consciousness. But it isn’t true; or it is only true sub-regionally. Only the most inward facing bigot could hold this belief and conflation in an urban environment – where diversity is plainly on display and in operation. I fear it exists in the suburban ghettos where the primary connection to the greater world is via mass media; Evangelicalism owns Christianity in mass media, with only a tiny slice left over for Catholics. My hope for the oft sited Death of Evangelicalism is that those places are rapidly falling in significant and political clout The entire narrative will slowly just cease to be relevant to people, particularly younger people as they migrate around the country and primarily into urban spaces.

          • Adam, I hear what you are saying. I do think though:

            when a very loud faction of Christianity appears to be rather blindly siding with and promoting the “show less” side of the mercy and compassion issues of the day, then those who are not Christians do tend to see “Christians” as those who are putting stumbling blocks in front of the poor, the non-white, the foreigner, etc. I do think these loud attitudes and political planks are antithetical to what Jesus taught, what he emphasized and how he lived.

            My personal experience is living in the very multicultural, Washington, DC urban area, and interacting where I work (an engineering school within a university) with (mostly young) people from all around the world. Almost universally, the people I come in contact with are absolutely shocked when they discover I am a Christian, precisely because I do not espouse or live the kinds of platforms they *assume* would be typical for a Christian—which equal the loud right wing evangelical positions.

            My witness in the last 20 years in this setting has been simply to show a different face of what following Christ looks like. I hope it is a more authentic face. As the years go by, from what I see, US Christians as a whole are increasingly thought of in that other way. It is far from Jesus’ hope that his followers would be known by their love.

    • Robert F says

      “The funny thing is that evangelicals are losing members, but these people leaving retain their political loyalties almost like a religion . . ”

      Sociologist Peter Berger has repeatedly claimed that religious affiliation has far less effect on ethical alues than people generally have believed. He claims that ethical values are far less plastic than religious identification, that one may easily change one’s religious perspective overnight, or in a short time, without changing the content of one’s ethical values in the least. I would think this would be true for political values as well.

  11. “The whole history of Christian dogma is a continuous narrowing down, but at the same time a defining. And the definition is important, because without it many elements would have undercut the whole church, would have denied its existence. The dogma, therefore, the dogmatic development, is not something merely lamentable or evil. It was the necessary form by which the church kept its very identity…The tragic element in all history is that if something like this must be done, it immediately has the consequence of narrowing down and excluding very valuable elements, as in the development of the church… Luther said that all Christian dogmas were protective dogmas. They were not statements like philosophical affirmations, but protected something experienced as a living reality against distortions and misinterpretation and the invasion of foreign elements. But in doing so, they covered up something of the living power.” (Paul Tillich, from “Ultimate Concern – Tillich in Dialogue” by D. Mackenzie Brown).

    Evangelicalism, or what we should more accurately define as neo-evangelicalism, is a very late phenomenon in the history of Christianity. This dogmatic, defensive narrowing of the faith through self-definition described by Tillich has gone on for eons; however, I believe it explains why neo-evangelicalism seems so much like a can of an everything-free beverage. On one side is the narrowing due to the defenses against heresy; on the other side, which I think is very emblematic of neo-evangelicalism, is a narrowing due to cultural, political, and moral influences (left and right) and adaptation with modern pragmatism. Dogma on one side and pragmatism on the other carved it into a mere splinter – like the Warner Bros. cartoon where an entire tree is put through a giant pencil sharpener, and what comes out is a toothpick.

    Simply put, evangelicalism has been trapped into defining itself by what it is NOT (negation) rather than what it IS. Eventually, as mentioned by others earlier in this thread, all that is left is the label on the can.

  12. Faulty O-Ring says

    You remember that Christmas commercial from the hippie era that went, “I’d like to buy the world a coke…”? Some 1970’s-era Christian groups turned it into a Christian song.

  13. Actually, “I’d like to teach the world to sing” came first. It was kind of sad to see a song about unity co-opted into an ad for sugar laden soda. Maybe you had to be there?

    • Danielle says

      So the song went from Hippies—->corporate America—>religion?

      This would be funny, if it wasn’t actually a well-worn path along which many ideas and bits of culture have traveled.

      Stage 1: Real hippies, man! Whoo hoo!

      Stage 2: Businesses co-opt the hippy vibe. It is now an attitude and aesthetic we can buy at the boutique or eat in the form of Vermont ice cream. Phew! And here I thought I had to alter my consciousness or overthrow the city government.

      Stage 3: Pastor Bob says, “We’re cool too!”

  14. Free of everything but the fizz—reminds me of how it feels when attending many Evang church services, back when I did. One leaves with a faintly bitter taste in the mouth.

    One can end up diabetic from saccharine/sentimentalism, but in this case, without even providing calories for energy. And whereas CFDC is merely a snack drink, it is the main meal for many Evang Christians.

    Fatigue, disease, malnutrition in a brightly painted aluminum can. “Put a cross on it”. Yah. Good one.

  15. “Free of everything but the fizz.”

    Eloquent and sadly to the point.