January 23, 2021

My long slow journey away from Evangelicalism

A little over 10 years ago I started writing for Internet Monk. If you had asked me at that point if I was an Evangelical I would have answered with an enthusiastic “Yes!”

Well, actually it would have been a qualified yes, because one of the tenets of the Evangelical movement was “Inerrancy”. I really had to do some mental gymnastics while simultaneously holding my nose to sign a Statement of Faith of an Evangelical church that included a form of the word “Inerrant”.

If truth be known though, my move away from Evangelicalism started long before that.

For as long as I can remember, through my Father’s influence, I have held two views that have limited the sphere of Evangelicalism in which I felt comfortable: I believed in old earth, and I didn’t hold to a “rapture” focused dispensationalism. There was still plenty of room within evangelicalism for those who held positions like mine, but they were certainly limiting the churches in which I would feel comfortable.

I should note, that before anyone dismisses me for “not believing the bible”, I felt that my beliefs on the age of the earth and on end times were entirely consistent with what the bible taught. In fact, I would argue that those who held to a “Rapture” were being the unbiblical ones.

In 1986 I was in a Bible study where the leader tried to dismiss verses that didn’t agree with his Calvinistic viewpoint. Upon further questioning I was provided with a little book entitled “Eternal Security”. My take after reading the book was that the biblical basis for that point of Calvinism was very flimsy. I left my church and started looking for a church that had more of an Arminian perspective.

You can see how the subset of Evangelicalism that was a fit for me was starting to shrink.

In 1990 I went to further my studies and started a Masters of Divinity at an Evangelical seminary. My move from a complementarian to an egalitarian view of leadership had probably started before then, but my exposure to a string of competent women leaders, along with the study of scripture on the topic, put me fully into the egalitarian camp by the time of my graduation in 1993.

My subset of evangelical churches continued to shrink, though not so much as you might think, as complementarianism and Calvinism seemed to be strongly aligned in the Evangelical world.

1994 saw a move to Hamilton, my current community. I should note that from 1994 to 2016 I attended four churches (two of which closed), all of whom were firmly aligned with the Evangelical movement.

So what changed. The first thing was that I became increasingly uncomfortable with the word “Inerrancy”. I know Evangelicals tend to define it in such a way to make the meaning so broad that you could drive a truck through it, but I really developed a distaste for a word that did not seem to encapsulate that which I knew of scripture.

I realized that even if I attended an Evangelical church, I could probably never be a member again, at least as long as membership required adherence to a statement of faith that included inerrancy.

The second thing was the move to legalize gay marriage in Canada, which became law in 2005. Evangelical churches moved to protect themselves and added statements about marriage to their statements of faith. My prior church’s denomination adopted language against gay marriage in 2012. I did find it objectionable that in order to become a member I had to affirm the statement of faith, but that the statement of faith could then be changed without members having any say in the matter. I have written extensively on my thoughts on the matter on this site.

The final straw came in March of 2014, when Evangelicals withdrew child sponsorships from World Vision when World Vision in the U.S.A. changed their hiring practices (then subsequently did a reversal because of the Evangelical outcry). It was at that point that I realized that I no longer wanted to be identified as an Evangelical. As a side note, that event was the final straw for Rachel Held Evans as well as I found out after the fact.

In 2018 I decided I needed to be a little more upfront with my support and I wrote my series on “Why I am an Ally”. At the time I surveyed my Evangelical Pastoral friends about Gay marriage. They universally called it a sin. It was then I decided the split was irrevocable.

There is still a lot I appreciate about Evangelical Theology, especially the desire to let others know about Jesus. Like Michael Spencer, despite all of my criticisms of Evangelicalism, in regards to the importance of placing your trust in Jesus, and encouraging others to to do the same, I would still fit right in.

Finally, There are few other aspects of Evangelical Theology where I don’t necessarily disagree the definitions, but I disagree with the narrowness, and so have moved away in those aspects as well.

Baptism – Like Evangelicals I would practice adult (age of knowledge) baptism by immersion. Unlike Evangelicals I am accepting of those who have been baptized in other ways and forms.

The Christian Life – Klasie described the “Cult of Happiness”: the Evangelical’s need for a “Testimony” to show that his or her life is so much better since becoming a Christian. In the Evangelical world there is little room for lament, for honesty about mental health, for admitting that sometimes life just sucks.

Hell – The Evangelical understanding of Hell is a place of eternal torment. Maybe. I think just as strong a biblical argument can be made for Hell being a purifying force, or an extinguishing force.

There is a lot to unpack here, and I am sure I am missing a few things, but this lays out the path I have taken. I might get criticized for not justifying a lot of my decisions here, but I am not sure that that can be done in the context of a blog. I wrote a thirty page paper once on my views on Baptism – it would make for a VERY long series.

I want to thank all the contributors to Internet Monk, both the writers and the readers. You have been very much a part of this journey, and I am not sure I would have survived spiritually without Michael Spencer, Chaplain Mike and the rest of you. Thank you for walking this path for the last 10+ years with me. But here I am, this many years later, no longer an Evangelical, but still very much in love with Jesus.

As usual your thoughts and comments are welcome.

Comments

  1. “I wrote a thirty page paper once on my views on Baptism – it would make for a VERY long series.”

    and a LOT of symbolism,
    were it not for what we humans actually go through in this life:

    ““Deep is calling on Deep in the roar of waters;
    Your torrents and waves have swept over me”
    (Psalm 42)

    and

    “He reached from on high and took hold of me;
    He drew me out of deep waters.”
    (Psalm 18)

  2. I was going to post this under the previous day’s post but it actually works best here.

    I do not thing there will be an Evangelical collapse. But I do think it will shrink down. The “true believers” have spent the last 40+ years purging and are getting close to or into the bone.

    First the liberals at the seminaries, then young earth, then Calvinism, now political power, etc… With lots of overlap in these topics and time lines and there is so much more.

    What it comes down to, as Michael Bell and I and others have discovered, is the Evangelical big tent has been continuously putting up more and more “if you are not … then go away signs” to the point where more and more of us don’t fit in.

    And half of those left don’t really think. To them their church is always right (even when reversing course) and just go along. It is as much a social club as anything else. So for a while, due to the momentum of Billy Graham and similar, it was growing. But now is dealing with the prosperity folks and other non hard line groups. They are torn between power the purity.

    My father would most likely have been considered in the Billy Graham mode. He, his brothers, and father have names on corner stones of the church I grew up in as they led various building committees to build new buildings over the years. Today I’m not sure any would want to associate with the Evangelical movement (as it exists now) in general or Franklin Graham in specific.

    In so many ways like you, Michael, I no longer recognize or fit into the churches I grew up in and even raised my kids in.

    • ‘if you’re not …………, then go away’

      sad, but true

      so filled with hubris and pride are these modern pharisees, and they don’t even realize it

  3. Thanks for laying out your journey like this, Mike Bell. It made for an interesting read, and the steps/progressions you took along the way to get where you are today certainly seem to make sense.

    • Michael Bell says

      A little over halfway through your first novel. Loving it!

      • Glad you’re liking it!! As a fellow “creator,” you know as well as I do that it’s one thing to “create” your baby, and quite another to put your baby (“creation”) on display!

  4. Enjoyed reading this essay Michael.

    I did not grow up in “Evangelicalism”, rather, I grew up and into near mid-life in the churches of Christ (Stone-Campbell “unification” movement) which prior to Max Lucado would never have considered itself “Evangelical” because that would have been identifying with Billy Graham who being a fine man was none the less wrong about the Plan of Salvation…

    My journey was one of slow but steady liberalization relative to my origin. Similar to you, Inerrancy of the text became a sticking point. One of the strengths–and its Achilles Heel–of the CofC of my younger years was that biblical literacy was stressed and very important, perhaps to the extreme. When it came to an argument of scripture we could always hold our own and often prevail against Jehovah’s Witnesses. The weakness of being very literate of the text meant that over time I accumulated a lot of data that demonstrated significant internal inconsistency. This pushed me into studying Koine and textual criticism–and those two areas only intensified the inconsistencies.

    Since my mid-40’s I’ve been an ecclesial mutt. In the early 2000s we had been part of a stealth SBC congregation, a charismatic Calvinistic group, house churched for 7 yrs, RC, Episcopal, Emergent, and now PCUSA (because that’s where our children and grand children attend). At this point my wife makes no claim of being a “Christian” though if asked I would likely say that I am, at least of heritage.

    I find it difficult to say anything good about Evangelicalism, especially since the 2016 election–and things did not improve since. I think the idea of ETC is perverse. I think PSA is also perverse and a terrible way of looking at “redemption/salvation”. Premillennial Dispensationalism is a silly eschatology with horrendous ramifications, several of which HUG aptly illustrates.

    Question for you Mike; did your family Irish ancestors have connections to the Plymouth Brethren? (asking now that I’ve bad mouthed their central tenant ;o/ ).

  5. senecagriggs says

    Mike Bell, I think the Evangelical tent has expanded to include more and more liberal views that would not have been recognized as Evangelical 30 years ago. I think you’re right in step with the ever increasing liberalization of “Evangelical”
    I have found myself stunned by the liberal beliefs of so many who claim to be “Evangelical.” It’s increasingly a meaningless tent with no standards.
    It’s like the tenets of the current United Presbyterian Church. You can believe anything you wish as long as you are sincere.

    • As indicators of the jig being up for Evangelicalism…When Evan’s in general accepted and adopted The Pill, divorce and remarriage, and IVF.

      With those compromises EVERYTHING was compromised.

    • Michael Bell says

      Not my experience. And my experiences are not from 30 years ago but are very fresh.

    • Yeah, I’m not seeing it. It’s certainly not true from a cultural/political perspective, and frankly not from the doctrinal either, if only because most non-academics who claim the title don’t care much about theology to begin with.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        Yep. From the Manhattan Declaration to the SBC’s recent declaration on Critical Race Theory the tent of Evangelicalism has only gotten smaller.

    • –> “It’s increasingly a meaningless tent with no standards.”

      Do Love and Grace not have standards? In fact, LOVE is the greatest command, whether it is Love God or Love Others. Seems Evangelicals have gotten away from that standard, that command, by insisting making Christianity about other things, like fighting the culture wars.

      • –> “Seems Evangelicals have gotten away from that standard, that command, by insisting making Christianity about other things, like fighting the culture wars.”

        Additional: “And by Loving He-Who-Shall-Remain-Nameless (who has orange hair) over Love of Christ.”

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        No, THEOLOGICAL CORRECTNESS and RIGHTEOUSNESS is the greatest command.
        That’s what polishes your Halo.

    • –> “It’s increasingly a meaningless tent with no standards.”

      So… what happened to the standards of Evangelicals when they went all-in with a man who is one of the most narcissistic, bullying, vindictive, arrogant, not-an-iota-of-humility human beings who ever graced this planet? What happened to “character is important”? Seems their tent has almost no standards now, either!

  6. I’ve never been a member of an evangelical church, though I visited a good number of them from the early 1980s to the early 1990s as a seeker, and recognize now that evangelicalism via evangelical media culture had a significant effect on my spiritual formation (or malformation) as I struggled to find my place in Christianity over the decades. Just a drop of evangelicalism in the water will taint and discolor the whole glass, that’s what I’ve found. But I continue to believe that it was the fundamentalism of certain types of understanding of Roman Catholicism, the church I was baptized and raised in, that set me up for later struggles with fundamentalism in Protestant evangelicalism. If you have ever read Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man you will know what I mean by fundamentalist Catholicism: the fear of Hell/Eternal Conscious Torment is really what it seeks to evangelize the believer to, and keep the believer enslaved in; that fear is more central to its self-understanding than the living Christ is, and without that fear Christ is irrelevant to its belief system. I’ve left that fundamentalism behind, though one can never really extricate one’s soul completely from the tenacious and malign roots it plants deep down in the soft parts of the inner human spirit.

    • If I were to say what kind of Christian I am today, I would say that spiritually I’m a Quaker, though I continue in membership of a mainline Lutheran congregation for complicated life reasons.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        My response today if asked – which I doubt will ever happen, that’s a weird conversation – would be: “yeah, about 30%, give or take”

        30% Christian
        25% Northern-Spirit Pagan
        45% Atheist

        They are all chiming in from the gallery; and I’ve grown comfortable with their mostly friendly squabbling. I doubt I will ever eject any of them, each of them occasionally says something profound and useful.

  7. I’ve been a Southern Baptist all my life. Part of what drew me to Internet Monk was the fact that Michael Spencer was a Southern Baptist saying a lot out loud a lot of things I was only thinking to myself. Growing up I never would have said I was an Evangelical, I would have said I’m a Baptist. But as I learned about Evangelicalism and the basic theology of Evangelicalism I didn’t see anything I disagreed with too much, so sure, I’m an Evangelical. But over the last few years it seems that the term has come to mean whatever is convenient for the person talking about it. I don’t know what to point to in order to definitively say, “This is an Evangelical.” I don’t even know what leaving Evangelicalism would look like. Is there an organization I’m leaving? Do they have me on Evangelical membership somewhere? So now, I’m a Baptist, particularly a Southern Baptist. I know for many on Internet monk that is probably worse that just an Evangelical. But at least there is a statement of faith I can point to and say, “This is what Southern Baptists generally believe.” If I choose to leave the SBC or my church does, I know what I’ll be leaving from.

    Mike, one thing I would say about finding a church, don’t sacrifice the good while looking for the perfect. You may never find a church that perfectly aligns with your beliefs, but you still need to belong to a body of believers. I don’t perfectly align with my church, but I’ve also never been in a church that forced you to sign a statement saying you did.

    • >”So now, I’m a Baptist, particularly a Southern Baptist. I know for many on Internet monk that is probably worse that just an Evangelical.”

      Well, at least you’re not an Independent Baptist (INSERT SMILEY FACE EMOJI HERE).

      • If I ever do leave the SBC, it will probably be to a conservative liturgical church. I hate the lack of awareness of church history in most SBC churches, and usually I think liturgical worship services are closer to what worship should be than what is found in a lot of SBC churches. But there are some theological things I’ve yet to come around on. Also, I’ve known a lot of good people in the churches I’ve been a part of, people who I would truly describe as godly, sincere in their faith, and demonstrating the love that Christ tells us to give. That keeps me around more than anything. There have been some bad ones too, but the good ones have more than made up for it.

        • Steve Newell says

          As one raised in the SBC, I am now part of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS).

          I didn’t realize how much I would come to love the historic Christian liturgy, the following of the Christian calendar, and the common lectionary since these were foreign concepts in the SBC.

          • Steve Newell says

            In addition, I appreciate that the Lutheran Tradition is build on solid theological footing that I can read in The Book of Concord.

            Luther’s Small Catechism was my introduction into the Lutheran theology.

          • I was raised LCMS. It’s kind of like Church of Christ but with organ and liturgy.

            • CofC has “liturgy”, just no organ. Three songs (a cappella of course), a prayer, another song, another prayer, sermon, then the “song of invitation and a final prayer. To have 2 or 4 songs before the first prayer is considered INNOVATIVE.

          • I don’t understand why SBC churches will follow a secular calendar, recognizing mother’s day, father’s day, the fourth of July, veterans day, etc., but ignores the church calendar.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          I ended up conservative liturgical.
          You get a historical trace, and at least they’re not making the same beginners’ mistakes.

          • I’m heading in the same general direction as Headless Unicorn Guy. Generally, there is no sense of rootedness in the evangelical world, and no interest in it. I need rootedness and the liturgy that enables that.

        • My preferred flavor is Episcopal, Rite I.

          • I’m okay with Rite II. It’s language isn’t as beautiful as Rite I, but it’s theology is more influenced by Anglo-Catholicism, and less Reformed.

            • You’re right about the Reformed overtones of Rite I, but for me, an ex-calvinista, it is subdued enough and you and I are probably in the very small group of people who would recognize it.

              From my perspective Rite I retains a greater theological perspective. For instance, before the collect of the day the celebrant says;

              The Lord be with you.

              To which the People respond; “And with thy spirit.”

              In Rite II the people respond; “And also with you.”

              In Rite I the emphasis of the response is the “spirit” of Christ within the celebrant, where as Rite II the emphasis is on the celebrant. That difference was pointed out to me by a priest of the Anglican Church in North America.

              I also like the older form of English. I grew up reading KJV and I flow with it easily.

              • I should like Reformed language and theology more than I do, being an admirer of and learner from Barth, but my Catholic upbringing sticks with me in regard to liturgical theology and language. I didn’t grow up with the KJV, but with the St. Joseph’s edition (for children) of a Catholic translation — I forget which one exactly, and at the moment I’m too lazy to go and look at it on the bookshelf!

    • Well, to be technical, yes, evangelicalism was never a structure or a denomination per se. When we discussed this two weeks ago (only two weeks? Already seems like ages ago) I argued that it’s a milieu, an ethos. Some of the most “evangelical” people I’ve met were practicing Roman Catholics. ;-).

      • The milieu of evangelicalism permeates the mainline Lutheran church I’m member of. The belief and piety of the laity has been formed more by evangelicalism than Lutheranism by a long shot, and the political overlap is significant too, though not as monolithic as in evangelicalism. The clergy, on the other hand, is stolidly liberal in politics; but their theological positions vary, and not just between different pastors but sometimes within the same sermon!

    • You may never find a church that perfectly aligns with your beliefs, but you still need to belong to a body of believers. I don’t perfectly align with my church, but I’ve also never been in a church that forced you to sign a statement saying you did.

      Most churches around me (all that I’ve dipped my toe into) want statements of faith with things that I just say aren’t true.

  8. My problem with evangelicalism isn’t the theology, per se – there’s a lot of theological diversity within evangelicalism, mostly because evangelical theology is so shallow and evangelical knowledge of the Bible is so limited that people can get away with just about anything.

    My problem, rather, is that “evangelicalism,” especially in the US, is a culture, not a religion. In the US, probably our single biggest cultural split is between two different narratives about what masculinity and femininity look like. If you’re on the “boys will be boys” side (a little boy afraid of acting like a girl), you’ll feel comfortable in evangelicalism. If you’re on the “men should be men” side (a grown man choosing not to act like a little boy) you won’t, and a similar dynamic holds true for women. It’s basically that simple. And all the other evangelical positions – about abortion, gay marriage, guns, war, politics, etc. – all flow out of that masculinity/femininity of perpetual adolescence.

  9. Thank you, Mike Bell, for this walk through your journey.

    In 2018 I decided I needed to be a little more upfront with my support and I wrote my series on “Why I am an Ally”. At the time I surveyed my Evangelical Pastoral friends about Gay marriage. They universally called it a sin. It was then I decided the split was irrevocable.

    It was this very honest and compassionate, and dare I say “loving” consideration that caught my attention here. And I appreciate the courage involved.

    Your comment about the cult of happiness and the lack of any tolerance for the misery that life often involves also rings true to me. My particular grief comes from an intersection of these two facets. I have issues around my gender identity; married a bi woman who later decided she was a lesbian. There was no way to talk about the grief because nobody wanted to talk about being gay, let alone genderqueer.

    There’s a saying of (I think) St Teresa of Avila, that Christ has no hands on this earth but yours. Dorothy Day was fond of quoting that, in support of her ministry with the Catholic Worker program. The idea is that we pray, yes, and then we go out and work in the name of Christ, doing his work here on this earth with our hands. We are, in this sense, literally the body of Christ.

    And I slipped through the enervated hands of Christ, his people being unable or unwilling to wrap their minds around who I was and what I needed. To love, in a word.

    So the issue, as I see it, is whether Jesus has anything to say, to offer, people who are queer.

    Thanks, Mike, for listening, and for being here, writing.

    • Burro (Mule) says

      Sorting out male and female is going to be the Arian Controversy of the next three hundred years or so. The Church hasn’t really gone there yet, so we may be leaning kind of hard on sexual nonconformists to preserve and present their stories in ways that will make sense to the rest of us.

      So, your suffering has a purpose.

      In the meantime, struggle towards sanctity like the rest of us sinners. Forgive your enemies. Do good to those who spitefully treat you. Pray. Fast. Give alms.

      • “Sorting out male and female is going to be the Arian Controversy of the next three hundred years or so.”

        I don’t think it will take that long. And I have a pretty good idea which way it might go…

        “In Christ there is no male or female…”

        “When the Kingdom comes they will not be given in marriage…’

        • Burro (Mule) says

          So, you are planning a monastic vocation?

          In the meantime, gelding men and spaying women to produce an androgynous slurry will produce its own issues, not a return to Eden.

          “male and female He created them”

          • Actually, I would welcome careful and honest discussion of celibacy, how you do it in a world full of couples and sexualized advertising. The church seems to be especially shy about those things. Folks who take a dim view of gay people are happy to recommend or impose celibacy on queer people, but they have no idea what they’re asking.

            (Episcopal) Bishop Tom Shaw, late of Massachusetts, stood up when his fellow bishops were arguing, yet again, about the status of gay people. He was gay, but didn’t make an issue of it. He was also a monk, one time superior of the Society of St. John the Evangelist (checkout ssje.org for lots of interesting information). His remarks were to the effect that his celibacy was a gift he had given to God, freely, but that imposing celibacy on a slice of the population as a price of admission to the fellowship was not at all the same kind of thing.

            • Burro (Mule) says

              This whole planet has gone nuts on the subject of sex. Somewhere around 1925 someone decided that orgasms were the path to theosis rather than prayer, self-denial and the Holy Sacrament.

              If I could rule by ukase, the first thing I’d do is prohibit the use of the human form in all advertising.

              That being said, one very helpful place to help is to inform straight Christians on what it feels like to be a male sexually attracted to men, or a woman sexually attracted to women, What are the distinctions that you find attractive? That would help discernif there actually was a nature, a ‘deep structure’ of masculinity and femininity apart from cultural conditioning.

              • Douglas J Burtt says

                That’s the problem with conservatism – always wanting to go back to the Garden, when God is leading us to a City.

                • Headless Unicorn Guy says

                  Don’t you know the Rural Garden has Divine Right to Rule instead of the Wicked City? That they’re Entitled by God because of their Righteous Moral Superiority?

                  It’s been that way since nomad tribes painted cities as EVIL Sodoms & Gomorrah’s to make sure their kids wouldn’t flee the sheep dip in the desert which was a Far Superior Life.

                • Burro (Mule) says

                  I was thinking of using Paradise instead, but the same image obtains. Paradise for me contrasts with Utopia instead of Garden/City

                  The big, big problem with whatever you want to fill in as the ideology preferable to conservatism is the law of Unintended Consequences.

            • Headless Unicorn Guy says

              I would welcome careful and honest discussion of celibacy, how you do it in a world full of couples and sexualized advertising. The church seems to be especially shy about those things.

              The church is just as sexually screwed up as everyone else, just in a different (and often opposite) direction.

              (Episcopal) Bishop Tom Shaw, late of Massachusetts, stood up when his fellow bishops were arguing, yet again, about the status of gay people. He was gay, but didn’t make an issue of it.

              In an RCC milieu, one guy I used to know put it “Vow of celibacy applies whether gay or straight.”

              • Which leads to a question of why care about anyone’s gender (except your own spouse)? I’m imagining that’s kind of what was the point of the “In Christ there is no male or female” quotation above.

                But seriously, there are single people out there. If you think they should be celibate, they might need help imagining a life course. Especially since monasteries are largely out of fashion.

                • Headless Unicorn Guy says

                  I never married and I just turned 65.

                  I’m “incel” in the original meaning of the word; never been attractive to women. The difference between me and the InCels who get in the News and on the Net these days is I got myself a life that doesn’t depend on Perfect 10s throwing themselves on me or obsessing with revenge on anything without a Y Chromosome.

                  Yes, it’s a bummer being single in a world of couples.
                  Yes, it’s a bummer that the only time I had a girlfriend it didn’t work out.
                  But I didn’t get myself on the evening news or the wrong end of the record books.

                  • Huh. I was also on Alana’s listserv back in the early days, but bailed out before the haters took over the “incel” thing. I’m 67, married at 50, it lasted 5 years (5 together, and another 9 before we filed for divorce since i was moving out of state).

                    And much like learning to live with grief, I’ve learned to live with what I’ve come to understand as genderfluidity.

                    Somehow I suspect that any thoughts about celibacy coming from the outside would be hopelessly naive and useless. But they tell us God loves everyone (with some exceptions, the way they would have it, but surely they’re wrong about the exceptions?). So perhaps there’s some comfort to be found in a contemplative sense. I don’t know. Not knowing is part of the contemplative way.

                • You’re right, Richard. This is something all flavors of Christianity need to figure out. Although, you don’t have to want to become a monastic to benefit from going to a monastery, and folks do find help in regular contact with a monastic house.

                  Dana

                  • I did hang out with the monks at SSJE for a while. Their house was a mile or less from my office. It’s… amazingly quiet and comforting, a great place to be alone with God in a community. They’re very generous with their time, and also very clear about who is and who is not in the community, or at least in the inner circle of actual monks. There are lots of “Friends of the Society” who are welcome to worship with them.

                    In previous decades I’ve also considered exploring whether I had a vocation to such a life. I don’t think I do, but grief certainly scrambles the still, small voice.

          • Yes.

        • What I find interesting is that there is much evidence in archaeology and anthropology, not to mention history, that “religion” was originally the purview of women and the feminine. I believe that men masculinized religion in order to take control of its power within culture. I think that the church of the first 100yrs or so was very much “egalitarian” and some aspects of that was embodied in the Montanist movement. Adoration of Mary is indicative of the feminine.

          Also, I think that religion and sex are tightly associated. Maybe this is why Christianity plays down sexuality.

          • You should check out William Irwin Thompon’s The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light: Mythology, Sexuality, and the Origins of Culture. He deals with the place of the feminine and women in human culture and religion throughout prehistory and history. Be be ready for a wild and heady ride: Thompson, who only recently died, was a man of vast and encyclopedic learning and interests, articulate, imaginative, and unafraid to go where no man, or possibly woman, had gone before. Aside from his books, he’s worth checking out himself. I really do recommend the book, and him, to you — I think you would like both.

            I’m sorry to hear you’re still in pain and needing painkillers, Tom. I’ll contact you soon.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Also, I think that religion and sex are tightly associated. Maybe this is why Christianity plays down sexuality.

            I figure it’s because humans have a real poor track record when mixing the Sacred with the Erotic.The Erotic tends to take over like a virus infecting/hijacking a cell.

          • Burro (Mule) says

            It makes sense. Religious and sexual ecstasy run down the same pathways in the brain.

            The town swells always told me the best time to pick up Pentecostal girls was after a revival meeting.

            • Headless Unicorn Guy says

              When they’re already “aroused” by the emotional high.
              All that’s needed is to divert that “arousal” into Arousal and go to town.

  10. Just yesterday I was rereading Michael’s “The Coming Collapse……..” posts. And because of his commenting, also the posts on post-evangelicalism. Michael touched my heart on these issues. Just cherry picking one comment by Michael…”I’m credo, but if paedo is your position of conscience you can join my church. Of course I don’t have a church.” Followed by smile emoji. After all, it is Jesus’ church.
    I want that paragraph to be what people take away today. Back then on internet monk with so many more who shared life and love. Not something with like today with so few that share their opinions. And similarly to be avoided. Good to be voided.

  11. Burro (Mule) says

    One thing that picks at the periphery of my thinking and won’t go away is that Evangelicalism excelled at presenting Jesus Christ to people, You can complain that the Jesus that the Evangelicals present is not the Jesus who Is, or the Jesus they present has some significant shortcomings and drawbacks, but I at least still believe that having access to Jesus is still superior to just having each other. In the next forty years we’re gonna be needing Jesus a lot.

    “It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.”

    It is pretty apparent to me that Jesus’ plan was for us to take His place. This hasn’t happened, and I don’t think He had a plan ‘B’. After the ‘Evangelical-Trump’ disaster, I cannot see much future in presenting the Royal Roman Road to someone and getting them to sign off on the dotted line. I just don’t see many people at this juncture showing an interest in going over to the enemy.

    The Catholics have their own PR problems. When I was a kid, Catholicism invoked that Irish family with the serious girl who wanted to become a nun, or the big Polish family with all the linebacker sons named after saints, or the Mexican family with the Virgin of Guadalupe splashed on the side of their truck. Now you think about grown men in lace diddling little boys.

    And Orthodoxy? Fuggeddaboudit. Even though Jesus is clearly here, and knowing Him in an Orthodox context is about as authentic a connection as you can possibly make, Orthodoxy is as alien as ET. It’s a daily struggle for me to remain even marginally Orthodox.

    Mainline Protestants? All intersectionality and anti-deadnaming and structure analysis who invoke Jesus’ moral authority from time to time to justify their constant Puritanical nagging.

    So, who is going to present Jesus to my kids’ generation? Or the Muslims who are sick of the constant violence and power maneouvers? Or the Hindus who chafe under the caste system that has spread its tentacles even into small town America and Silicon Valley?

    • >Mainline Protestants? All intersectionality and anti-deadnaming and structure analysis who invoke Jesus’ moral authority from time to time to justify their constant Puritanical nagging.

      Bullshit. Or, more exactly, donkey dust — no, make that mule dust.

      • Burro (Mule) says

        Change my mind.

        • “Change my mind” is equivalent to the other phrase I’m seeing on social media an awful lot these days: “Prove me wrong.” It is not an honest request, but a ploy to dismiss claims with which one disagrees that is as near to asking for proof of a negative as you can get without actually asking for it.

          • Or to put it differently: since your comments regarding the mainline churches amount to accusations, and the burden of proof is with the accuser, prove to me that what you are saying is accurate from your own personal and direct experience with mainline churches, since I’m basing my rejection of your accusations on my own personal decades-long experience with them. I will trust that you are speaking in good faith and honesty, though your experience will not “prove” anything except that my experience is not universal.

            • Burro (Mule) says

              You’re right. I’ll fold on this one.

              My experiences with mainline Protestants have been limited since the 70s. My premonition is that my opinions of sex and ethnicity would not be welcome there, and that I would be as subject to as many pressures to conform as would RichardEdgar in a Calvary Chapel.

              • As one who has in the past served UCC (United Church of Christ) churches, I think Burro is more right than not. A generalization? Yes, of course. But, a generalization that too often rings true.

                • At denominational headquarters, he is no doubt right in many cases; but at the local level in for instance South Central PA congregations, where people meet and pray together, he’s more wrong than right.

                • And his insulting and dismissive attitude is the wrong approach both at local and denominational levels.

        • Better yet, try visiting one, and talking to some of them. (Hint: some of them are right here.) It helped change my mind, and if it could change *my* mind, it might change yours. 😉

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        Yeah, I don’t recognize this description of real-world Mainline Protestantism. But, whatever.

        On the other hand Burro may be giving Mainline Protestantism too much credit.
        If they managed to be that ardent about something… with some exceptions my experience is they are so cautiously vanilla as to be easy to forget about.

    • Burro (Mule) says

      PS – I’m gonna add that presenting Jesus without presenting Him in relationship to Mary is a Bad Idea, and is the root of a lot of the toxic masculinity issues Michael Z objected to above.

      • Not so sure about that. There’s a lot of toxic masculinity in Catholic and Orthodox circles too, even (dare I say especially?) In places where Mary is highly exalted. We’re both familiar with Latin American machismo, so I think you know whereof I speak…

        • Burro (Mule) says

          Somehow, I have the distinct feeling that we would differ on our definitions of toxic masculinity, or whether there was such a thing as toxic femininty. I’ll stick with Douglas Wilson’s anthropology in this area.

          I am familiar with arguments that Latin machismo and its mirror image hembrisma (the belief in the spiritual superiority of women) is commonly used by Protestant apologists in South America to denigrate devotion to Our Lady.

          I used to use them myself.

          Then someone pointed out to me that we gringos were probably just as screwed up, if not more so, in our relationships as Latin Americans. They like their machismo and hembrisma. It works remarkably well when they get it right.

          • I think there is such a thing as toxic femininity. It began when Christianity used the image of Mary to divorce motherhood from sexuality.

          • Mule,

            when you have a few dollars to spend on a book, send for “The Ethics of Beauty” from St Nicholas Press (the same folks who put out the”Road to Emmaus” magazine). You’ll find much to think about, especially wrt gender. Fr Stephen likes it a lot. I’m spending time with it, with great benefit. Some parts need to be read more than once, not because of difficult language, but because of its depth. I heartily commend it to you as at least a good first step in wrestling with the matter.

            Dana

          • “I have the distinct feeling that we would differ on our definitions of toxic masculinity, or whether there was such a thing as toxic femininty.”

            I’m sure we would. But I’m more inclined to go with how women define it than men – *especially* men like Wilson.

      • Spencer hated Orthodox Mary-worship. He once wrote about some Ethiopian girl at his school who he hated for always going on about the Virgin Mary. (Racism might have played a role as well.)

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > It is pretty apparent to me that Jesus’ plan was for us to take His place. This hasn’t happened,
      > and I don’t think He had a plan ‘B’.

      Yep. 🙁

      • Burro (Mule) says

        Then we might have to face up to the uncomfortable possibility that He failed.

        • It’s not like He didn’t know ahead of time. “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”

          • Burro (Mule) says

            An interesting aside:

            The reading for this passage, when translated into English, goes like this:

            “When the Son of Man comes, will He find the Faith in the Land?”

            Given the precarious situation of Christians in the Middle East, often caught between Muslim extremism and Zionist pressure, this is a more immediate and immanent reading.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          Yep, I’m there, open to the possibility.

        • No, never.

          We are in the midst of what Tolkien described as”the long decline”. Just as the world was in a low spot in many ways at Christ’s first Advent, so it will be with his second. Yes, there were also advantageous aspects then, and we have such things as well (one is the general decline in world poverty over the last couple of decades – largely because of a Christian understanding of what it means to relieve it, even among non-Christians, as Tom Holland has recently explained very convincingly). But the only way Christ can be said to fail is when we who are called by his name fail to heed his Spirit. Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death!

          Go to Fr Stephen’s blog and look up “the long decline” in the archives. He explains it better than I can.

          Dana

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      After the ‘Evangelical-Trump’ disaster, I cannot see much future in presenting the Royal Roman Road to someone and getting them to sign off on the dotted line.

      Not even if you get a complementary MAGA hat with your free Rapture Boarding Pass?

      Orthodoxy is as alien as ET. It’s a daily struggle for me to remain even marginally Orthodox.

      Of all the “Only True Church”es, Orthodoxy’s main lure is that of the EXOTIC. With the most extreme and strict fasting and devotional requirements which appeal to the “More Mortification Than Thou” personality.

      • HUG,

        It’s really not like that, at least not for most people. We’re advised NOT to fast if we’re pregnant or a child. A lot of people have a modified fast, according to “economia”, the needs of the household. Being diabetic and with a husband who is not Orthodox, my obedience is to not do the”regular” stricter fast, but rather a modified program. Many people, especially if older or/and with medical or other issues are on a modified fast. Orthodoxy discourages a “more mortification than thou” attitude. This, and our prayer rule, are matters we settle with our confessor, who often tells you to do the less strict thing. The point is to practice denying yourself in small ways so that when needful you can deny yourself in larger ways – like loving your enemies. Or the person next to you.

        Having been raised Catholic, I am very familiar with the mortification thing. Orthodoxy has it, but it’s very different and doesn’t see the body as the true problem. It’s really at a different sort of attitude than in the Catholic Church. We don’t have anyone like St Rose.

        Dana

    • Iain Lovejoy says

      The only way that has ever been effective in presenting Jesus Christ to people is when Christian’s themselves present as the reflection and image of Christ in how they are and what they do. Nothing else ever works.
      Evangelicalism as it has become, essentially a euphemism for “right wing fundamentalism”, now presents nothing resembling the image of Christ to others. It is therefore doomed, however long it takes to die.
      Mainstream Protestantism’s problem isn’t I think “Puritanical nagging” or its radical inclusionism (both of which could easily describe Jesus, and I think are no more than love of – different – neighbour). Their message “Christ accepts everyone as they are” is fine but, much like evangelicalism in fact, once people have said “OK, I’ll give it a try”, they don’t have much idea of what is supposed to happen next. They come from essentially the same place as evangelicalisim of seeing Christ’s incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension as essentially only about securing God’s permission to enter heaven, but just say that God, in fact, just lets everyone in. God moves from being horrible to being pointless, which is sort of an advance, but not much of one or one likely to attract that much more enthusiasm.
      What is lacking, I think, in a lot of the church is that, even where they rightly emphasise the need to follow Jesus’s teaching and become Christ-like, is an understanding of, or a willingness to proclaim, the transforming power of Christ to enable us to do so. That is both the witness required and a major missing element inside the church as well.

  12. “Inerrant”: This word actually doesn’t bother me, because it is so vague that used in isolation it is nearly meaningless. So ask me if I consider the Bible “inerrant,” and if I’m not in the mood to dance, I will smile and nod and agree that yes, of course it is. If I am in the mood to dance, I will ask you to define what you mean by “the Bible.” This comes long before we get to the definition of “inerrant.” The discussion is unlikely to ever get that far.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      The word is more a stick than a container of meaning; a stick which can be used to strike.
      I’m out as I just don’t want to spend my life with people who are into that.

  13. senecagriggs says

    I would opine, Mike, that what you really walked away from is Biblical Orthodox;. Sexuality only within the bounds of heterosexual marriage and of course the rise of feminism – though Paul clearly presents the case, based upon creation that men and women have different roles and functions, progressivist are horrified by that thought.
    ____

    Headless is always trying to make the case that conservative Christians are obsessed with sexuality BUT it is the progressive religionists who truly are obsessed with sexuality.

    For the Biblical Orthodox, we stand where that church has stood for milennia.
    Scripture, unlike Windows, doesn’t need to be updated to fit the culture.

  14. Klasie Kraalogies says

    Douglas Wilson? As an aside he has gone into full conspiracy lunacy (not that he wasn’t prone to it already). Anti-mask protests, broadcasting stolen-election conspiracies etc.

    As to his views on masculinity- he is the guy who knowingly married a serial child molester of very young children to a girl in his congregation, encouraging them to have kids – while it wa.sknown that the molester had a very high charge of reoffending.

    So no, Douglas Wilson has no say on masculinity or anything else.

    • Klasie Kraalogies says

      This was in response to Mule upthread

    • Burro (Mule) says

      That’s a shame. i hadn’t been keeping up on him much. I heard of the sexual controversy, but I seriously don’t know what I would have done in a situation like that. Recidivism is extremely high for sex offenders of this kind. Sixty years ago they’d have shot the guy and dumped his body somewhere where a dam was scheduled to be built, so kudos to Wilson for trying to offer a pastoral solution.

      Four hundred years ago they’d have stuck him in a monastery and tried to keep him away from the novices.

      What is the enlightened, woke solution to this issue? Is there one yet? It’s not like the problem is unheard of in progressive precincts.

      I was hoping he hadn’t gotten sidetracked by the Trump nonsense, as he is usually a very clear thinker except that he is limited, as are we all, by our assumptions. He was exhibiting signs of Obama Derangement Syndrome the last time I dropped in on him so I guess I’m not surprised.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Douglas Wilson? As an aside he has gone into full conspiracy lunacy (not that he wasn’t prone to it already). Anti-mask protests, broadcasting stolen-election conspiracies etc.

      And keeps trying to buy out/take over Moscow Idaho with his “KIrk” like the Rajneesh tried with Antelope/Rajneeshpuram Oregon

      As to his views on masculinity-

      “The Man PENETRATES! COLONIZES! CONQUERS! PLANTS! The Woman lies back and Accepts.”

  15. Mike- I like your description of shrinking choices of churches. I can relate to that.

    However, your discussion seems to be more about what evangelicalism has become in North America, rather than what it was historically considered (Bebbington Quad), and how it is held in other quarters of the world. I have seen UK evangelicals, for example, not appreciating how American evangelicalism is being portrayed as representing how they think/feel too. Many of them would agree on many/all of your points.

    So I too have moved away, and feel as if I am walking a fine line with 1 foot in (with some historic evangelical definitions) and 1 foot out (the wider Christian world).

    • –> “I have seen UK evangelicals, for example, not appreciating how American evangelicalism is being portrayed as representing how they think/feel too. Many of them would agree on many/all of your points.”

      I just had a FB conversation with an atheist FB friend who lives in New Zealand and it is clear that he views “American” Christianity as its own beast, and he’s not sure it’s true “Christianity.” Yeah, this from an atheist living New Zealand.

      I agreed with him. I also tried to leave the impression that not all American Christians are into “American” Christianity, that some of us fully recognized the issues.

      • I’ve mentioned this before but I’m covering Scott Wesley Brown’s , I Am A Christian. I’ve had mixed thoughts about it and what it will mean to people but it’s so beautiful that I’ve decided to go with it. Nonetheless I hope, if it gets any air at all, that it’s not adopted by the crew who represent this thing we have going on in America today as I don’t sanction that.

    • I grew up as a missionary kid. Very international community. I stay in touch with a lot of them. Most are still very mainstream evangelical/conservative Christians in their own countries. You are right. Almost all of them view American white Christianity as something that has gone off the rails. All, with the exception of one Canadian, are appalled at Trump and the recent evangelical lockstep alignment with the GOP.

  16. True story…

    Before I accepted a Board position at my daughter’s Christian school (and before I was accepted), I had to read and sign a document “of faith.” I got to the end of it and told the Board chair that wasn’t sure I could sign it. When he asked why not, I told him because it says that I need to believe the Bible to be “inerrant,” and I’m not sure I believe that. After some brief discussion which concluded with him seeing my point, I ended up signing the thing with the caveat: “I don’t necessarily believe the Bible is inerrant.”

  17. Mike, I have two, count ’em, two in mod!

    Dana

  18. I still call myself an evangelical.

    Egalitarian. Non-inerrantist. Non-eternal conscious torment. Highly informed by multiple streams of the church: anabaptism, catholicism & orthodoxy, contemplative prayer, and more.

    Why do I still call myself evangelical? Because I believe in evangelism.

    Michael Spencer taught me well about “Wretched Urgency” (my favorite all-time writing of his). That’s not what I mean. I mean the constant gracious invitation by God into the life of the Trinity, modeled by Christ.

    I believe conversion is necessary, and repentance is for a lifetime, and a different kind of life is available. So I stay around the people that believe the same, even while I cringe at some of what can come with the package.

    To hell with evangelicalism as a culture.

    But may a tribe of Jesus-shaped evangelists rise-up.

    (Since this blog will come to its rest soon, I recommend Missio Alliance as a place of thoughtful theology, scholarship, and praxis from those who are trying to retain the best of evangelicalism).

    • Burro (Mule) says

      Finally, someone answered my larger question.

      How are we going to present Jesus going forward?

      • I loved your comment about that. It’s the right question. If we don’t keep it in front of us, we will fall prey to a lifetime of navel-gazing in the name of “deconstruction.”

        But there is a light to lead us out of the wilderness. There is a second naivete that gives us eyes to see not as a fundamentalist or a deconstructionist, but as a Christ-haunted wounded healer.

        The world is indeed enchanted by a Spirit that still broods over it, inviting us to invite others into its life.

      • Burro, do you write anywhere else? I’ll miss your perspective.

        • Burro (Mule) says

          I have/had a blog, but it’s mostly historical interest now.

          • You flubbed the link a bit. Sean, delete everything before asinus and you’ll get to Mule’s blog.

            Mule, has anyone told you that you look remarkably like Charles Williams? 🙂

            • Burro (Mule) says

              That is Charles Williams, and the error is mine, not Sean’s
              As far as I know, my actual image is nowhere on the Internet, except maybe my daughter’s Instagram. That is for the Internet’s benefit

              • No, when I said “You flubbed…” I meant YOU flubbed, not Sean. And yes, I know that pic is not the real you. Nor is the one on the right; that’s C.S. Lewis, lurking.

                I had Tom Howard for a prof, so I know this stuff. I also recognize the spooky image from That Hideous Strength.

                Tom Howard just died in October, btw, age 85. I was sad when I heard. Great memories of lecture hall.

                And, speaking of post-evangelicalism, Headless Unicorn Guy turned me onto Howard’s book Evangelical Is Not Enough. Excellent. Howard wrote that one post-evangelically, long after he had become Episcopalian and shortly before he swam the Tiber and, uh, had to leave Gordon College, preferably without letting the door slap his backside on the way out.

  19. Many of the same issues were also mine, Mike, just on a different time line.

    1) Dispensational eschatology.

    2a) Women’s place/meaning/existence.
    2b) Inerrancy.

    3) History and meaning of worship.

    4) Place and meaning of suffering.

    5) Nature of”hell”.

    I was out of my E’cal church at#4, and by the time I got to Orthodoxy I was at#5. There was no place in any Western church where I fit; I was deep in the wilderness.

    Dana

  20. Mike,
    I feel as though I have gotten to know you a little bit along this journey and do hope we may meet up for a beer down the line. It’s a long, winding journey but “the best roads of all are the ones that aren’t certain. One of those is where you’ll find me ‘til they drop the big curtain.”

  21. senecagriggs says

    The view of Scripture will always be the great divide.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      You mean WEAPONIZED Scripture(TM) like I remember?

    • I think it’s okay for there to be differing views of Scripture, and even that those views might cause some division. The thing that is NOT okay is for someone to declare their view as Absolute Truth and belittling those who might see things differently.

      Again, tribes are okay. Tribalism is not.

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