December 3, 2020

Naked Emperor, Part Two: The Americanization Of God

I started a series last week called The Naked Emperor. It is one man’s look at the empty shell of evangelicalism. I said that I have been intimately involved in what I call the “evangelical circus” for way too long. And while others have said, “What lovely clothes the emperor is wearing,” I have seen this “emperor” as naked but have been afraid to say so. Now I am saying so. Now I am saying that the emperor has no clothes. Evangelicalism, at least on the whole, is void of depth. It is smoke and mirrors designed to bring people under the tent to enjoy a good show. But all it has to feed these people is cotton candy.

Today I want to look at one of three tentpoles erected to prop up the evangelical circus big-top, the Americanization of God.

American Exceptionalism

The Americanization of God is not a new phenomenon. Its roots go back to one of the greatest of American theologians and philosophers, Jonathan Edwards. It was his writings and sermons that proclaimed that revivalism in the New World would usher in the Kingdom of God. Edwards was an early proponent of the idea that one must have a personal relationship with God in order to know he was saved. And being very American, Edward’s God—with whom one was to have a relationship—took on distinctive American qualities. Independence and self-reliance were among the most important of these.

Americans became very parochial, especially right after the Revolutionary War. We were the new chosen people, elected by God to lead the way in the world. There existed a “manifest destiny” to which we were called to take over lands from those who were ignorant, those who didn’t follow the same God we did. If we saw it and liked it, then it was right for us to make it ours.

Alexis de Tocqueville observed this “American exceptionalism” in his Democracy In America:

The position of the Americans is therefore quite exceptional, and it may be believed that no democratic people will ever be placed in a similar one. Their strictly Puritanical origin, their exclusively commercial habits, even the country they inhabit, which seems to divert their minds from the pursuit of science, literature, and the arts, the proximity of Europe, which allows them to neglect these pursuits without relapsing into barbarism, a thousand special causes, of which I have only been able to point out the most important, have singularly concurred to fix the mind of the American upon purely practical objects. His passions, his wants, his education, and everything about him seem to unite in drawing the native of the United States earthward; his religion alone bids him turn, from time to time, a transient and distracted glance to heaven.

This brief glance to heaven found Americans staring into the face of a God made in their own image. God became an American, applauding the pioneer spirit, a “go get ’em” attitude, and above all, capitalism. Religion and Americanism went hand-in-hand to the point where if you were an American, it was assumed you were a Christian. And if you were a Christian, you were following an American God who was very personal—not the stodgy old European God who was only found in sacraments and traditions.

Personal experience was elevated to the same level as deep theological study. God loved the common man and his commonsense. Every American had access to a Bible and could make of it as he wanted. This attitude of independence in one’s religion was cool with God who, after all, shared our same thoughts.

Churches soon began to function as capitalistic enterprises themselves. If a town had a church that was relatively full on Sundays, then it seemed to make sense for someone to start a new church in that same town. This new church would offer a better menu of services to attract the churchgoing crowd, the same way a new restaurant would offer a better menu to draw in the patrons of existing restaurants. It was not much of a leap for churches to begin acting like a business would—for that was the American way of the American God.

This growth in individualism in American religion led Pope Leo XIII in the 1890s to respond to what he called “Americanist Heresy.” He cited four aspects to this heresy that concerned him greatly:

  1. Undue insistence on individual initiative in the spiritual life, as this leads to disobedience
  2. Attacks on religious vows, and the questioning of religious orders in the modern world
  3. Reducing the importance of Catholic doctrine
  4. Minimizing the importance of spiritual direction

The response among Catholics to this indictment from the Pope was slight; but non-Catholics used it as just one more reason they wanted nothing to do with Rome. The American God served them so much better. There was no need for authority in churches directed by someone in another country.

I could cite many more examples of how we got to where we are, but let me conclude the history lesson portion of this with a snippet from Ronald Reagan’s farewell speech to the nation in January of 1989. In it he makes reference to Puritan preacher John Winthrop’s idea that the New World was to become a “shining city on a hill.”

I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it and see it still…

Just how has the American gung-ho attitude shaped the evangelical church of today? I see it in several ways.

Lack of authority

American evangelicals have rejected not only the authority of the Pope, but most any hierarchy in the church—at least in form.  In function, we now have a lot of individual popes overseeing one large church or, increasingly, multiple franchises of a church. The entrepreneurial spirit pervades among church leaders in our capitalistic society. Mark Batterson, a church leader outside of Washington, DC, said this when he opened his sixth church site:

Lord willing, I want to pastor one church for life. But I have an entrepreneurial itch that needs to be scratched. Multi-site does that. You never stand still. It never gets boring. And I think it keeps you focused on what’s next.

Craig Groeschel’s Life Church has fourteen campuses spreading from Oklahoma to Tennessee to Florida to New York. More than 25,000 gather on Sundays to watch Groeschel preach on video transmitted from the main campus in Edmond, Oklahoma.  Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church currently has ten campuses, with two more about to open. Seacoast Church has twelve locations in North and South Carolina and Georgia. The tens of thousands of people who gather to hear messages from their “pastor” in these multi-site churches would vehemently deny that they have a pope leading them. They are individuals with a personal relationship with God. But is that how it really works in their lives?


Because God is an American in the evangelical mindset, he must want us to spread American Christianity to the rest of the world. Unfortunately, we have become very good at that. Look at the number of “prosperity” churches that are growing in South America and Africa. The idea that God is here to meet our every need just when we need him is now pervasive wherever we have had a strong missionary presence. In our American way of thinking, suffering is insufferable. Anyone who lacks anything needs to find a way to meet that lack and end the suffering. Fortunately, we have a benevolent government that does not want anyone (at least, any voter) to suffer. This idea is now part of evangelicalism, and we’ve exported it to other nations. Suffering is taught as something brought by the devil; God would never allow suffering. Get active. Increase your faith. Give (to the missions organization) so God can give to you. Lift yourself up by your own bootstraps. It’s the American God’s way—and it needs to be the way in any nation that wants God’s blessings.

My way is the right way

One last aspect of the Americanization of God is this. My way is always the right way. I have a personal faith, and thus what I believe must be right. If I believe that the handing out of money to those I deem able to work is wrong, then it must be wrong in God’s eyes as well. If I think that we need to bomb some country into oblivion, then obviously God does as well. We tend to gather with other Christians who agree with us, thus making whole communities of people whose ideas are completely right and godly. And if our ideas are right, then yours must be wrong. If you are not part of our community, then you must be a bleeding-heart liberal or a compassionless conservative. God is on my side, not yours. If you want to be a “real Christian,” you’ll change your thinking to be like mine. And if you don’t, well, good luck come judgment day.

The making of God into an American in our own image has helped strip the evangelical emperor buck naked. But very few are willing to say this out loud. I just did. Your thoughts?

Next tentpole: The marketing of the church.



  1. “The making of God into an American in our own image has helped strip the evangelical emperor buck naked. But very few are willing to say this out loud. I just did. Your thoughts?”

    So what you’re saying is, because my personal salvation is the primary goal of seeking God, the world revolves around me?

    Or around him, or her, or you, as the case may be?

    • More like, the church has abandoned its mission and Gospel to attract new members and obtain worldly success. Like the Roman church competing with kings for worldly power, and creating new doctrine to support that power, the American church competes in the political and economic realm for power and money, and tailors doctrines to support those worldly goals. Instead of worrying about success, it should worry about staying faithful to “teaching all that [christ] commanded” and preaching Christ crucified.

      Good quote I saw recently:

      The pastors of America have metamorphosed into a company of shopkeepers and the shop they keep are churches. They are preoccupied with shopkeeper’s concerns—how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the street, how to package the goods so that the customers will lay out more money…The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in town and villages all over the world. The Holy Spirit gathers them and does his work in them. In these communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called pastor and given a designated responsibility in the community. It is this responsibility that is being abandoned in spades. (Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity,1987, p. 2)

  2. I think a change in nomenclature is in order for “multi-site churches”. Call it what it is – a group of churches with one leadership. Let “pastor” describe leaders in the individual churches. The big-name leaders are basically preaching bishops.

    I am impressed with the sermons of some of the men you mention there, more so with the fact that they put their videos up for free – too many Christians leaders appear to be in it for the money.

    • Eric….what it ends up is nothing but the franchising of Christianity. It’s a business…and what drives many churches is business decisions.

  3. Stephen S. Mack says

    And quoting someone whom I can’t immediately remember, to give credit to, “You can be sure you’ve created God in your own image when He hates the very same people you do.”

    With best regards,

    Stephen S. Mack

  4. You are spot on. This Americanization of the church is something that I have found so insidious as to make me question the very bearings of my beliefs. I know Christians who have told me flat out that no Christian would vote any way but Republican. With the economic meltdown, I have been utterly appalled at the uncompassionate response by so many good church people who truly believe that the unemployed and poor have only themselves to blame. I have heard numerous discussions that if Americans would simply turn back to God, He would once again bless them economically. If I hear one more Christian complain about the mythical “Media” who ridicule all Christians while the reality is that, for example, a young man recently died at a church sponsored cage fight, I think I might have to start drinkin’! All my life, I have followed Christianity, but I am increasingly wondering if it isn’t just a cruel joke played on a whole lotta people.

    • Lets not confuse Biblical Christianty with the mess we have made of it.

    • Cage ifight eh? Sounds like it’s up Mark Driscoll’s ally!!!

    • Suzanne, I think you just gave an incredible example the chasm Jeff was talking about ….”My way is the right way.”

      I don’t mean to sound insensitive, but YOUR post seems to say, “If you are not a progressive democrat, with nothing but unabridged sympathy for those in finacial distress (who are all innocent victims of the system) and you think that the concept of mainstream media bias against Christians is a fabrication of right-wing nut cases, then YOU are not a real Christian and are someone I don’t want to talk to…or pray with.

      You are welcome to your beliefs, but please don’t use YOUR politics as an example of sanity and reason in an otherwise crazy world. God is not a Democrat-or anything else political. THAT is the point of this whole series!

      • Perhaps I wasn’t clear. I didn’t say you shouldn’t vote for a certain political party, but honestly, I have never been told by a church goer that if I didn’t vote Democratic, I wasn’t a Christian. Perhaps it happens, but it has never happened to me, but I have been told that Christians can and should only vote Republican. I believe it is a personal choice. However, I do know a number of people who have been struggling in this economic downturn, through no fault of their own, and am sickened by Christians that simply dismiss them as lazy. Christ preached compassion and as I see the suffering around me, and so little compassion from followers of Christ who flaunt their good fortune as proof that God loves them, I get a little miffed.

        • Suzanne,

          I agree that too often people today, (and really always) have blamed the poor for their condidtion. What I have started to do is to not worry about so much how the poor got that way, b/c regardless of how it happened we are compelled to show charity so long as we are not enabling the problem to become worse, and we are most certainly compelled to show charity to those stuck in situations not of their own creation (for example children).

          As far as no one being told that they should vote democrat in churches, I would suggest that in many black churches for over 50 years people have been told just that by their pastors.


          • Probably so, Austin, in black churches. Again, I never said that no one ever says true Christians only vote Democratic; it simply has never happened to me but the opposite has happened plenty of times.

      • Richard Hershberger says

        Actually “nothing but unabridged sympathy for those in financial distress” is a pretty fair summary of quite a lot of what Jesus had to say.

        • …except for the parable of the talents, and noting that the poor will always be with us, and Paul’s later admonishment that those (able bodied) who do not work, should likewise not eat.

          I see His EMPATHY (not sympathy) as being for the poor, but not for the slothful. And the two groups are QUITE different, with only a minor overlap.

    • I’ve encountered shock and disbelief that I would even consider voting Republican in my Church and my Parish.
      As for the poor, I think the principle of subsidiarity, handling problems at the most local, personal level is appropriate. Some need total care, comfort and support. Others need encouragement to see opportunities and others need “tough love” but you can’t do any of those with a government program. The Church is responsible for caring for the poor, the widow and orphan.
      I think it goes either way, Suzanne.

      • Thanks for clarifying my point. It is disingenious to complain about politics in Christianity and then only cite one side of the fence as culprits. The two large political parties both claim to be morally superior with the best plans for the most Americans.

        I am not a member of either party, but totally agree with Anne. Large federal and state programs are not efficient or effective, and many cause secondary problems worse than the poverty they set out to correct or mitigate. True charity (I am thinking of the Salvation Army as an example) offer assitance AND accountablity with an ideal of making their supportive services unneccessary. Government programs generally promote helplessness and PUNISH success (i.e., single mothers who make slightly above minimum wage lose ALL supports for health care and babysitting, making it better NOT to owrk.)

        • I agree that religious organizations can and do help people and often better than government assistance, but what is stopping churches from doing more poor assistance now? Why do churches seem to want to wait for the government to step out of the way before they will step in? I think it’s wonderful that churches help people, but in reality could the average church pay the health care bill of one or two people without insurance with long term cancer treatments or an accident that required a long hospital stay and months of rehab? I doubt it as the bills could run in the hundreds of thousands or millions. Even a short hospital stay for someone with no insurance can be in the tens of thousands. Could or would the average church pay the mortgages of two or three members who had lost their jobs? Would they pay for health insurance for someone who has a job with no benefits? What about the long term care of a severely handicapped child? Or the nursing home bill of an elderly person who has spent his or her life savings and it still isn’t enough? And if we Christians can afford to do all these things now, why aren’t we?

          • What makes you think that Christians are NOT doing this already?

            Our parish is the sole support of a 12 bed home for the mentally retarded, located on our property. Staff salaries, food and utilites……all covered. And many, many churches do the same thing, quietly and without fanfare.

            It is reminds me of the critism of pro-life groups, that we only care about children until they are born. Also a straw man argument….except that the state is trying to shut down Catholic Charities in some areas for non placing infants with homosexual couples!

          • Suzanne & Pattie, I just saw this. Pattie’s & my Church gives away more free medical care for people who need it but cannot afford it than many countries spend on medical care. We help support people in difficult situations from group homes, emergency food aid, aid for utilities, almost everything. Interesting that the government is trying to stop us from doing any of those things and force those same institutions to do things that are immoral and against our teachings.
            As for mortgage payments, that is not really what we should do, helping with lodging, yes, but mortgages are a legal contract and not a NEED. Lodging is a need.

  5. Where is the still small voice in that passing storm? I know it’s there but must be difficult to hear.

  6. Again, it is easier to recognize nakedness in others than in oneself. Post-Evangelicals are no less molded by their culture than regular Evangelicals, or indeed, human beings in general. U.S. Catholics, Jews, Lutherans, Presbyterians, etc. all differ in suble ways from their overseas coreligionists–and not always in a bad way. (American Muslims, for example, tend to be models of moderation and tolerance.)

    The Internet Monk circle positions itself somewhat to the right of Rob Bell or Brian McLaren, in terms of your reaction to various ethical and scholarly issues, but to the left of mainstream U.S. Evangelicalism. This means that from the former perspective, you are basically a reactionary trend, sharing many of the faults of the Evangelicals whom you criticize. For example, you mock the anti-intellectualism of “YEC” but are highly selective (in an ideological sense, not in terms of academic quality) as to which scholars you give a hearing to.

    In terms of political identity, Spencer was a right-winger who decried the Clinton presidency, while his successors have sought an “apolitical” (i.e. bipartisan, moderate) stance–another familiar U.S. political option. A European blog, by contrast, would show more of an interest in economic or environmental issues (which would be seen as having spiritual import), and less interest in purely dogmatic matters. On the other hand, skepticism within the church is less of an issue than it would be for Americans, and “cultural Christians” are usually respected.

    These are just a couple of examples. I find it a very worthwhile exercise to consider the various influences (often hidden or subconscious) upon my own ways of thinking.

    • “I find it a very worthwhile exercise to consider the various influences (often hidden or subconscious) upon my own ways of thinking.”

      What makes you think we don’t?

      • Well, the fact that your criticism is generally directed outward.

        • How long have you been reading here? In nine months (whcih involved reading about 90% of the archived material) I see nothing of the kind. I see brilliant and Godly men and women trying to figure out how to love and serve the Lord, including hard looks at the variousl methods of worshipping Him that exist in the 21st century.

          Add in the comments, and I see nothing EXCEPT a balanced and deeply serious look at the Path to Him……because frankly, nothing else matters.

        • The thing is, Blake, that most of us here used be exactly the thing that you say this site chiefly criticizes. Criticism isn’t being directed outward towards others, but backwards at ourselves. This isn’t “Man, those people are really wrong,” it’s “Man, we were really wrong.”

        • I guess I thought that’s what “critique” is. Funny the perceptions different people have. I’ve been told by lots of folks that they appreciate the transparency, vulnerability, and self-critique of our iMonk writers. Michael Spencer was rather well known for that, in addition to his “critic” role. We’re trying to maintain the entire legacy.

          • That’s just it. You think you are being “self” critical when you are actually targeting a different group of Evangelicals.

    • The imonk circle is a reactionary trend in the way that the Protestant reformation was. We call the emperor naked when he plainly is. It’s not about being the complete opposite of “those idiots over there,” so much as it is a battle to recover idealogical sanity while still holding to Christ. This is not necessarily a critique from our “lofty reserves high above the evangelical circus.” We are all in the trenches and have a right to complain. Calling this site “highly selective” is such a little silly. Christians of every stripe are given space here. And every position in turn is open to critique.

      • “Christians of every stripe are given space here.”

        This is manifestly untrue. The main group of bloggers were recruited for the similarity of their views. I am aware that one of them is Catholic, but her inclusion is meant as a intra-Evangelical statement about the nature of the church and church tradition. Notice the support given to the “U.S. Anglican” schism over the rump Episcopalian.

  7. Jeff….I’d be happy if I got some cotton candy. But I didn’t even get that!!

    BTW I used to attend National Community Church, Mark Batterson pasters it within DC. They just purcahsed a movie theater near the USMC Barracks near 8th and I St SE, Washington, D.C. They operate in a number of movie theaters and open and run Ebenezers coffee house near Union Station. That was the church that John Ashcroft attended as well.

    Christianity has been Americanized and what is sold is a version of God meshed in with the American Dream. It’s that simple. This explains why people who are suffering are exluded from large parts of American Evangelicalism today becuase they they don’t belong. Their life doesn’t mesh in well with the facade that is projected. Another part of the American Dream is prosperity, and the prosperity gospel is alive and well.

    Let me tell you of one way that the prosperity gospel plays out today. It means that things always go well in the end, and that things work out. Is that always true? No… A few years back when I was an NCCer they did a series on “Scars” that really embodied the prosperity gospel deeply. The story at the end of the Mark Batterson sermon had a testimony of a woman who found grace after killing a person while dirving intoxicated. You can listen to it here…

    The story ended with a person talking about how she recevied grace and didn’t receive prison. I’m the agnostic here but is that what grace is? Can you see the harm that this teaching has for people? Can you imagine if there was a NCCer who went to a Christmas party and had one drink too many and and kills someone becuase they drove intoxicated and thus finds herself in court. So in her mind she thinks, “Well I remember hearing this sermon at NCC where a judge gave grace and kept her out of prision, etc..” So with that mindset she is found guilty and the judge sentances her to 15 years in prision.

    Can you imagine the harm that young girl now faces? She was taught at church and told a story of grace, WHICH she expected to happen. Instead the cold, hard reality of life has taught her something different.

    That is how a person looses faith, and in this illustration that is how a church can be an accessory to lost faith.
    That was one of the reasons why I lost faith. Americanized Christianity played a contributing part in that fiasco.
    Grace should be dispensed by the chruch but even there I found that grace was a myth. Churches are great for legalism, and formulas. To worship God you do this and this and this, and in the end your life will turn out like that.

    Life doesn’t work like that…and is it any reason why alcoholics, addicts, those who live with the shame of sexual sin, gays, etc.. can’t find grace and walk away from Christianity in the United States? Many people arn’t good enough for the facade that is presented. That’s what 10 years of evangelical Christianity including time in an evangelical free church, third wave charismatic, 2 mega churches, non denominational, and Campus Crusade all taught me….

    Now to be fair you point toward the Catholic chruch Jeff…and the Catholic chruch can just as easily deny grace as well. Try receiving communion if you went through a divorce. I know in the past couple of days people have mentioend that women who have had abortions find grace; I still have to think otherwise based upon what I saw in the Catholic church growing up. The Catholic chruch has its issues as well.

    • Eagle, I’m well aware there are faults in the Catholic Church–in all denominations and movements, for that matter. But we have Martha of Ireland to take her Church to task. She can do that much better than I.

      And there are faults aplenty in the post-evangelical wilderness as well. Yet I think we do a pretty good job here at the iMonastery keeping one another focused on the only thing that matters: Jesus.

      • Sometimes the post-evangelical wilderness seems a bit like the theological parallel of the occupy wall st. thing. At least, in terms of identity. We’re all here for different reasons and looking for different things. It’s tough to pin a critique on us because our we are so diverse, few critiques apply evenly to all. It’s really a melting-pot of disillusionments and hope, yet with poorly defined goals, if any at all.

        • No…I think what brings us together here is one SINGLE goal: Jesus Christ.

          All the questions swirl around who He is, and how to find and serve Him.

    • Eagle: I want to affirm your response to the story of the lady who didn’t do prison time, supposedly because of God’s grace towards her. Prior to my present job in hospital chaplaincy I served as a full time staff chaplain in a large county corrections facility. I can’t tell you how many inmates would tell me, as they approached their sentencing hearing, that they were making and saying “positive confessions” about what was going to happen at their hearing and that all would go well, (Charles Capps et. al) Well, they would go to court and get 5, 15 sometimes 20 years. And I had the agonizing experience of watching what happened to these young men’s response to a God whom they were told would make everything turn out well if they only believed and “confessed it”. What you said, was well said.

      • Ronh-

        I would be fascinated to know. How many people did you know of in the situations you saw who lost faith because of experiences like that?

    • Eagle, I your comment here hit home with me. I was listening to a sermon on the way to work that made the point basically that God sends us suffering to build our character and faith. The flip side of course is that you are required to become stronger and better through any suffering you have, else you are obviously spiritually deficient. American exceptionalism has now extended itself to include individual exceptionalism.

      This is, as you say, another iteration of the prosperity gospel. The error is somewhat subtle because the God who is present with us in all our sufferings and who loves us can build us up through that suffering. The question is must he always? I used to think so. I used to believe it quite strong. But I don’t any more. We live in a broken, fallen and ugly world and sometimes it is just that. God is with us, and that is enough. Jesus is present, and that is enough. But the American psyche yearns for a victorious ending and hates to delay gratification, so the theology bends toward indivudual triumph. The pastor in the sermon I heard even used the phrase. “God is obligated.” Whoa! When we start defining what God must do, we are going off the edge.

      • Well said, John. Prosperity, health, happy families in a happy safe world are the only things that prove God’s love…..where does this manure COME from?

        Seriously, look at Saints, the Twelve, and Christ Himself……no sign of the prosperity “gospel” in any of their lives, is there? Out perfect paradise is “not of this world”, as the Boss stated before Pilate.

        • Jack Heron says

          I couldn’t agree more. I’m reminded of what Michaelangelo (reportedly) said to the Pope when he complained that certain saintly figures he had painted looked poor. ‘They did not bedeck themselves with gold. They were holy men’.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        The pastor in the sermon I heard even used the phrase. “God is obligated.” Whoa!

        As in “We got God by the short hairs. He HAS to do what we want Him to do!”?

        The classic distinction between religion and magick is that in magick the mortal magick -user is the one in control, not the supernatural being.

    • Eagle, I’m curious what your definition of Grace is.

      • …it probably doesn’t start with “T” and end with “ULIP” 😛

      • I do not know what grace is. I think if I were a Christian my view on grace would be different. Very different. I think many fundagelicals have this belief that grace results in forgiveness. You accept grace and you are instantly forgiven. So that abortion you had..the pain and difficulty is instantly gone becuase you are forgiven.

        Not true…

        I wonder if grace is a system that allows people to live in life. For example grace would allow you to live with your mistakes as you age. It would also allow you to live with the mistakes and pain you caused others. And grace I would assume would result in alllowing you to move forward when others have wronged you deeply.

        That’s kind of what I am wondering. I would suggest that many Christinas have grace backward and constantly deny it to others. Grace for many fundys is a tool for manipulation…

        • Eagle,

          I like your definition of Grace

        • Quixotequest says

          You’re not alone. Keller’s “Prodigal God” and Capons’ “Between Noon and Three” are both pretty radical explorations of Grace that I think would not be too foreign to you; but foreign enough to help loosen one from trappings of manipulative grace.

          (Living in a marriage healed from infidelity yet daily impacted by how that event changed us Capon’s book was something that took me a long long time to get through; an affair forms a central theme to his parable on radical grace.)

        • Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.
          Grace is a participation in the life of God. It introduces us into the intimacy of Trinitarian life: by Baptism the Christian participates in the grace of Christ, the Head of his Body. As an “adopted son” he can henceforth call God “Father,” in union with the only Son. He receives the life of the Spirit who breathes charity into him and who forms the Church.

          Those quotes are from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It looks to me like Grace is available in many ways to each person. It opens up access to the life of Christ for us. But, it doesn’t solve our problems.

  8. I shrink with fear that lightning bolts will fall from heaven as preachers stand in pulpits and declare how God has blessed America for how good she has been. Truly, we are much too impressed with ourselves. But pride is hardly the private domain of evangelicalism.

    I went on a mission trip to Eastern Europe with an evangelical crowd, and the American spirit just oozed out of our pores. “If only these people could be like us!” was our unspoken hope (sigh). Not all American missionaries have this attitude, however. Our church supports New Tribes missionaries, who make an intentional effort not to Americanize their disciples. They seek to create a community of believers centered on Christ and His gospel.

    I remember as a child the false comfort I had knowing that my group of Christians was superior to the rest. People in my tradition behave obnoxiously; I have seen it, and sadly, I have been a part of it. With such an experience behind me, I do what I can, with varying degrees of success, to be humble with my beliefs. But my faith tradition is hardly the first to think that it was on the sole path of truth. We have not had an inquisition, burned people at the stake, drowned them, or tortured them because they were “wrong”. Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Atheists, all worshipped freely in my evangelically dominated community (Atlanta, GA). There have not been many such expressions of tolerance in the history of the Christian church where it enjoyed such a majority.

    Like I said in a previous post, the emperor is very exposed, and he is quite deceived by his tailor. But he is not naked, even if he is clothed in only loincloth. If I leave evangelicalism, which is not out of the question, will I just see the same thing in a different form? Whose pope is right?

    I am thankful for evangelicalism. For all of its glaring faults, Christ and His Kingdom were proclaimed to me there, and I believed, and in Christ I have found abundant life (not evangelicalism). I have a suspicion that it works that way in churches all over the world.

  9. I do ask when you mention Groeschal’s teachings by video and with Driscoll’s I do ask the following. Is that any different than interent pornograghy? I mean it’s not real church. Its done through a false sense of community. It aims for the brain and emotions. It gives you the false sense of comfort. It’s artificial. And it can be quite stimulating. Is it fantasy in the same way I ask?

    I would say yes….

    • Actually, Eagle, I’d disagree. Although I’m not really on-board with video venue sites, to compare them to pornography is pretty short-sighted. The churches where Driscoll (I can’t speak for the other guy you named) is “beamed in,” have campus pastors that teach much of the time; congregants have the community of the other folks in the body; they serve together, encourage one another and challenge one another. I know this because I have good friends who are part of those churches. And to call their faith and comfort false, artificial and fantasy is insulting. You’d do well to extend the grace you so often see lacking in others.

      • Josh….I’ve been in the mega church model. It was hard as hell to get plugged in and it was phoney as heck. I’m not referring to to the people themself as being false, artifical, and fantasy. I’m refering to the experience of doing church through a videocast where people go and hear something broadcast in. That’s quite cheesy…and when it becomes like an assembly line. Church starts at this exact time, limit worship to this, have announcements, follow the schedule to the second and kick everyone out in an hour so the next service can begin; it’s super cheesey.

        The United States has seemed to export its industrial base and process abroad, yet it seems as if many fundy mega chruches have implemented a shoddy model in an effort to crank out as much as possible. It’s kind of like that cheap , plastic %^&$ that comes out of China. I see a lot of parallels.

        And I do believe grace is a myth…

  10. Jeff, I appreciate your efforts in this piece but it raises several issues for me, both historically and in its implications for the evangelical church of today.
    I think the best sources for the history of the evangelical church in America are Mark Noll’s America’s God and Nathan O. Hatch’s The Americanization of the Christian Church. Noll is an evangelical scholar who now teaches at Notre Dame and Hatch is now president of Wake Forest University. Nolls particularly draws a distinction between the religion of Jonathan Edwards, who while a Puritan, still maintained the Calvinististic view of the Continent and the religious leaders during the time of the American Revolution. He suggests it was the changing political views of the Revolution that brought a change in the church, not the church that shaped the Revolution. Religious leaders during and after the Revolution brought their desire for freedom that produced the new nation into the church. So rather than an elist church dependent upon educated clergy telling the people what to do, the evangelical church became a populist church of the people. Authority was individual, based on your experience and your reading of the bible, not based on what someone else told you to believe. This is what Americans were coming to believe in their political lives, so they naturally extended this to the church. This produced a vigor and energy in the evangelical church that far surpassed the staid and authoritarian Congregationalism of old New England. It also produced a sometime craziness and silliness that exists in some elements of the evangelical church even today. Yet this free-lance approach has existed in the evangelical church since the Revolution and, in Noll’s assessment, the evangelical church has tolerated the extremism and yet has remained within the mainstream of Christian orthodoxy.
    What about the Christian doctrine of incarnation here? Incarnation means Christ came to us, became like us and communicated to us in our own language that we might know God. The early church moved from a Hebrew mindset into a Greek way of understanding the world in order to evangelize the Greek world. The same happened whenever the church moved into a new culture, such as in Europe and in the British Isles. Perhaps the evangelical church is a vigorous expression of the church in an American context.
    I would ask you to not just judge the evangelical church on the basis of your own experience of it for to do so is to commit the same fallacy you claim they commit-basing truth only on your own experience. I would also ask you not to judge the evangelical church on the basis of its extremes–certainly expose the nitwits and fly-by-night preachers to your hearts desire, but don’t assume this portrait of American evangelicals is in any way representatiave of the church as a whole. And don’t fail to appreciate the positive influence evangelicals have had on American history. Chaplain Mike wrote about the harmful influence of evangelicals on Prohibition but apprarently missed the great influence Northern evangelicals had on the anti-slavery movement. Noll also attiributes the great vigor of religion in America to the evangelical church.
    The truth is, there are thousands of evangelical churches in America that worship together, share community and express the love of God in many ways. They are not perfect but they are an expression of the church.
    The evangelical church does have an anti-intellectual bias and that is part of the reason I no longer consider myself an evangelical, but that has to do with me, and not with them. Sorry this is so long but I have been frustrated by the what I often read here and the judgement of evangelicals based on limted experience and on the basis of the extemes.

    • JSturty, with all due respect, Jeff has been involved in almost every aspect of American evangelicalism since the 1970’s. I was a pastor and have been involved in evangelical churches or institutions since 1973. Michael Spencer had a similar resumé. I’m not sure what qualifies in your mind as “limited experience,” but I’d argue we have a bit more than that.

      I’m willing to take your point that we do not always say enough about the positives in evangelical circles, though I think we do try to bring out the best in our book reviews and references to other evangelical blogs we admire. Though critique is an important facet of IM, we do not intend that it be our sole approach.

      • Chaplain Mike-I did not mean to imply that Jeff was limited in his experience more than others, but that it was a single person’s experience and the reality is larger than any single person’s or even group’s experience. I pastored evangelical churches since 1975 and my experience is not like Jeff’s experience. He has not been where I have been, I have not been where he has been. Both of our experiences are limited, in that sense.
        I understand that the purpose of this site is to encourage evangelicals to experience the riches of the larger church and to find resources there to deepen and strengthen spiritual lives and to serve as a guide for some to move on into new communities of faith. I get that and wholly support that goal. I also understand it serves as a place where people who have been abused by evangelical churches can bring their grief and their rage. But I just wish these purposes could be met without the broad sweeping statements, such as Jeff’s here, that the evangelical church is empty and devoid of meaning-the Emperor is without clothes. That simply is not true. Maybe that is true to Jeff’s experiences, but not to millions of evangelicals across the country. I was nurtured in the faith by kind, loving and grace-filled evangelicals and abused by some along the way as well, and I deeply appreciate and thank God for all of them. I have moved on in my faith but that is because of who I am, not because of what they are not. I need to take responsiblity for myself and claim that and not indict others because they are not like me.

        • JSturty, I’m glad you have had (mostly) good experiences in the evangelical world. I, too, have had a number of good times with leaders and churches and events within evangelicalism. And even among those church leaders (I really hesitate to call them pastors) with whom I am in disagreement, I still count many of them as my friends. And many of my closest friends here in Tulsa disagree with much of what I write on this site. Yet we remain good friends and brothers/sisters in the Lord.

          We are flying at 35,000 feet here at InternetMonk. We are deliberately painting with a very broad brush. Yet we realize not all evangelicals preach heresy or are seeking celebrity status or are profit-driven. When we make these remarks, it is to get people to think, “Is my church/pastor like this?” We hope the majority will answer “No.” But we are not going to ignore the signs and trends we see in the evangelical world. And to us, it appears the emperor (evangelicalism in the Western culture) is naked.

          • Thanks for responding, Jeff. I hope you are feeling better.
            Looks like we’ll disagree here. May God bless you.

        • JS…sounds like this is hitting a bit close to home. Are you really THAT close a friend of the emperor?

  11. Jeff (and Chap. Mike, and everyone else!)

    I have absolutely no idea what to do about the authority issue. I have a shepherd’s heart (I think….others much more mature than I have affirmed it) and I love to share gospel and walk with people who are outside of church boundaries. I’d love to be a part of a church planting team.

    I don’t currently belong to a church. I have great relationships with the ones I’ve been with. Once I get settled somewhere the Lord always seems to move me to a different context. So I’m hunting again.

    If I feel I’m called to lead in some capacity, do I get ordained? Come under someone else’s authority, even though he (or she) may not be under any authority? Join a confessional church that would invalidate my current seminary experience. Take my M.Div and run, starting my own thing (like so many others I see)?

    The last few posts here at IM are really messing with me concerning the authority thing. I fear joining with a historic church for fear of being stifled, ministry wise as well as formation wise (I understand this may be a selfish fear). Yet I also fear becoming my own pope as well, stretching the priesthood of believers doctrine as far as it will go for the sake of gospel ministry.

    The tension hurts.

    • Does a Master of Div work in running a mega chruch? Or do you need a MBA in order to grease the system? 😉

    • There is also another side to consider, Sean, which I found out about the hard way. If you go the “entrepreneur” route where will your support come from? What will happen in times of trouble? You will have to determine your capacity for working without a net.

      • Eagle, I have no business savvy about me and no desire to work in a megachurch. Even if I did, I’m in the northeast. People aren’t having it up here.

        Chap Mike,

        That is indeed a practical consideration. But right now I’m wrestling with the identity/integrity issue more than anything. In what manner should I be connected to the body of Christ if I am to pursue church ministry? Even if I go with the denomination of my seminary, it’s barely a century old. I’m desiring a greater connection to the catholic church, while wanting the freedom to engage my context missionally and uniquely.

        • Sean, I can hear how you are struggling. My only concern is your use of the term “church plant”, which is 110% a fundamental evangelical term. It indicates to me that you want to start your OWN church, because not one of the hundreds of thousands that already exist are of value and theologically sound?

          • Pattie,

            You read to much into that word. I can tell you that “chuch plant team” is not a 110 fundamental evangelical. There is a lot of planting going on in Anglican churches right now and they are not 110 fundemental evangelical.

            You can plant and still be under authority, in fact to do it well you should be under authority. .


          • Pattie,

            Is “mission” also a fundamental evangelical term? Because it’s not one I’d be willing to part with, no matter where I end up.

        • Sean,

          I’d recommend whole heartedly you give Anglicanism a strong and long look. I don’t know the specifics of your thoughts on the sacraments etc but as far as being in a place that will allow you to blossom and develop as your gifts fit, but still offering great oversight and a connection to the church catholic, it can not be beat.

          I’m the vicar at a new church plant in the ACNA. We are the rarity in our diocese in that we are a very traditional parish. That is mainly because of the people we have attracted and not for any purposeful theological reasons. I know our Diocese alone has charismatic parishes, Anglo-Catholic parishes, and low church evangelical parishes. We have parishes that meet in beautiful gothic structures, convereted strip malls, inner city warehouses, and community centers. We have guys in collars, some in cassocks, some in jeans and some in suits. We have about 40 parishes and are adding more monthly. I have a great Bishop that is literally always just a phone call away any time I need something. We have a Canon Missioner that works with our new plants etc.

          Saturday is our annual snynod and gathered for Eucharist that morning will be old/young/black/white/asian/hispanic clergy and laymen.

          I’d be happy to talk with you more.


    • Sean, I will offer that I spent years as a pastor in independent, self-governing, evangelical churches. I value my time in those settings, have lots of great friends left over from that part of my life, and learned a lot about life, people, and ministry.

      I also saw rampant abuse…churches set up their own orders of deacons, elders, pastors, etc…according to “the authority of the Bible”…even though they were often twisting scripture to suit their own agendas. I saw two pastors at one church go through hundreds of thousands of dollars that was designated for a specific purpose, but ended up getting used to pay their own salaries. I saw pastors who wouldn’t keep office hours, provide people with their cell phone numbers, or do visitation…all of this based on the “authority of the Bible”. I saw church discipline mismanaged…how about a deacon being allowed to remain a deacon after making overtly racist comments to a second grader who was African-American, and nothing done to address the matter? Or someone who is very well-off financially being made an elder within three months of beginning to attend a church, so that they would be motivated to stay and tithe?

      I chose the “ancient-future” path of Anglicanism, because I respect church history, love ancient practices and liturgies, and saw firsthand the tremendous need for episcopal oversight in churches. Sean, I won’t say that choosing this path is without consequence. I don’t know your seminary or pastoral background, but my guess is that many will think you’ve gone off your rocker if you choose to be a part of a denomination with episcopal oversight. I’ve heard that around the conference table at one of my previous churches, the joke is that I’m “chanting and waving incense and wearing flowing robes”. It doesn’t matter whether you become Presbyterian, Methodist, Anglican, Catholic, or Orthodox…most Baptists/non-denominationals/charismatics will swear you’re apostate and hell-bound, because, as Jeff is pointing out, it’s just not the American way.

      Funny, though, it is the Christian way…the largest denominations in the world are…

      1) Catholic
      2) Orthodox
      3) Anglican
      4) Lutheran

      …all with a healthy regard for church history and episcopal oversight…

      • Let me add that I don’t necessarily consider Orthodox Christianity a denomination, as they rightly state that they are “pre-denominational”.

      • Sean,

        I can attest to Lee’s character:) We were ordained as deacons on the same day. 🙂


        How’s it going?


      • Hi Lee,

        Thanks for the advisement.

        I am by no means naive to the potential abuses in independent evangelical churches. Thankfully I’ve also been exposed to true shepherds in some of these churches as well. who truly live for the people.

        I’m also not scared off by who may think what of me. I have friends of all stripes, and even the seminary I attend is very diverse (within evangelicalism at least).

        As I mentioned, what I’m wrestling with right now is the authority issue and the identity issue. I fear that to go catholic (in some sense) would be to sell myself short on mission. Ultimately I want to be about the *local* church. I don’t want to drive an hour to a church of a preferred denomination/ecclesiology. I want to be in a neighborhood, living life in the same context that I worship in.

        I’m also still a bit skeptical of the clergy factor – I’m familiar with one AMiA church that talked very highly of mission and outreach, but every effort had to be sanctioned and approved by the local priest. It was all about inviting people to church – attractional instead of incarnational.

        Do you think my hesitations are fair?

        • Sean,

          I’ll be happy to briefly share my own story. I can only speak from my own experiences. When I was making the move over to Anglicanism I looked at both the AM or AMiA as it was called then and the Anglican Diocese of the South that was a new diocese in formation in the ACNA. Ultimatley, I, and the group I was leading then “Word and Table Liturgical Baptist Fellowship” (talk about trying to hold on to two worlds- geeze:) decided that we prefered to have a more regional traditional Diocese instead of the affinity grouped networks of the AM. That’s not a criticism of the AM jut our own preference.

          I can tell you in dealing with both groups that I was always encouraged to “do mission” in the way that best fit the needs of my area. The bulk of my expereince has been with my Diocese and I can tell you that from our Canon Missioner to our Bishop the feeling is that they want the Diocese to exist to help serve the plants, missions, and parishes of the Diocese. That is always the number one concern. It is not about what we can do to be part of a system or program. We have a great mix. I know I’m singing their praises a lot today but I’m just feeling really blessed. We have very contemporary groups. high churhc Anglo-Catholic groups and everything in between. We have white suburb types, several African parishes, and inner city hippster churches as I call them. It’s just a great big family united around our shared love of Christ, our mutual understanding of the sacramental nature of the church, and our commitment to accountabilty in the historic episcopate. So I think your identity would be very much protected, and you would find the authority of a Bishop a blessing and not a distraction.

        • I’ll agree with Austin here. I’ve visited Anglican bodies that were a little more focused on the needs of the congregation, and some that were very, very outwardly focused. I think that the priest, along with the congregation, establishes the mindset of the church in that regard…any church, any denomination.

          One of the things that draws me toward Anglicanism is the parish model of doing ministry. You’re not going to find guys fixated on creating “satellite campuses” and what-not. There is a prevailing idea, and I think Austin will agree, that you have a responsibility to minister to the community, whether they’re a part of your regular church attendance or not. The parish is defined by geography, and gives you a well-defined focus when you’re looking at doing evangelistic outreach, community service projects, etc. A church in the parish system works to make itself the center of community activity…if it’s doing what it’s supposed to do.

          Anglicanism is also very mission-minded, not narrowly defining who our “neighbors” are. I read somewhere a while back that the Anglican church in Africa had sent more missionaries to the US in the past 5 years than the US had sent to the entire rest of the world…I don’t know if it’s true, because, you know, I read it somewhere on the internet, and can’t recall the site right now. It was Wesley (an Anglican priest) who coined the phrase “All the world my parish”. So, to sum up, a parish based system of “doing church”, whether it’s Anglican or Catholic, lends itself well to the concept of neighborhood, or community churches.

          I think you are correct in your idea that the priest will be the driving force in how active congregants will be in terms of mission. Priests/pastors should all have an emphasis on “sending out”, but unfortunately…not all do.

  12. I think I’ve found the Ring Master . . . and the clown:

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      And the accompanying “World Headquarters”/Circus Tent is about 10-15 miles south of me along the 405 Freeway. You can’t miss it. An ornate wedding-cake of a building so gaudy it would be an embarrassment to Liberace.

    • Um, who are these people and what is with her hair?

      • These are the faces of Evangelicalism around the world. I’ve watched them on a hotel TV in Pakistan . . . and in Egypt. My Austrian friends (who are Christians) honestly thought it was a comedy show, like Monty Python. They couldn’t believe it when I tried to explain that these folks are serious.

        • I love John Cleese… My favorite movie of him is A Fish Called Wanda….

          However in that flick Kevin Kline has all the memorable lines. My favorite scene is when John Cleese’s wife (Wendy), and daughter come back early and Jamie Lee Curtis (Wanda) is hiding in the room along with Kevin Kline. So Wendy asks whose car is blocking the drive way and Kevin Kline pops up and explains how he’s working for the CIA and doing a debreifing of a KGB agent; only to be called stupid by Wendy. This is his response. CLASSIC!!!!! 😛 😛 😛

          OH you English are so superior…..

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says


            TBN is THAT much of a Freak Show. (And this is being stated by a guy with 20+ years in Furry Fandom. TBN is freakier.)

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Um, who are these people and what is with her hair?

        Paul & Janet Crouch of TBN.
        BIG-name Celebrity Televangelists.
        The Jim & Tammy Bakker of the 21st Century.
        Whose Christian (TM) TV channel extends all over the world 24/7.

  13. people reaching up to God is pleasing to Him . . .
    how they do it may seem strange to us, but if the way they reach for Him is THEIR way, He will understand.

    We don’t have to approve or disapprove.

    What has meaning for one may not have meaning for another.
    But that’s okay.

  14. Good post Jeff.

    The Pentecostalism, and prosperity message, of South America and Africa (or the “Global South” as it is called) is disturbing. I heard a story on NPR that when the Catholic Church sends a bishop or missionary to Africa they are frequently asked to take over the part of the service where they exorcise demons. The Catholic pastor usually is freaked out by this, since he doesn’t see this at home.

    • I’ve seen the prosperity gospel in Central America over a long period of time, up close. The founder of one church in Guatemala wants to lead the largest church in Guate. That’s his goal. Lots of others are similar. It’s a pretty Latin culture church, though, not really an import.
      I know several African priests who are very familiar with the Rite of Exorcism. They don’t do it on demand, though. They are each adamant about the need for exorcists, though, don’t run from it and most are authorized to practice as necessary.

  15. Excellent article Jeff, and in some ways echoes what I have been seeing in the evangelical world from my outside position. Especially within the last century and accelerating within the last 50 years the individualistic thread has run heavy through it with the rejection of authority, combined with the American capitalistic spirit. But I never wanted that in a church.

    And this is where I definitely separate church and state in my personal beliefs. I always viewed the Catholic structure at the least socialistic. As I have stated before my political view is conservative (not extreme right wing but definitely right of center) and after remembering vividly Carter forward (I was a bit young to digest Nixon and Watergate), it was during the Reagan era (who I didn’t like initially – but grew very fond of) that I moved to the right. Most of the catholic’s I know lean left, except for maybe on moral issues.

    But I agree with the above. This almost narcissistic hold on individualism when it comes to faith, the idea that the mainlines are not good enough, that there’s always a better way (better program, better structure, better focus), and when that doesn’t work for us we’ll start our own house church – when all along we are losing site of the long term vision, that if we keep moving down this road of individualism, this “my way is best ” mindset, the church will become so fragmented it will be unrecognisable, or worse, and its happening now, we won’t need the church, we will just need our bibles and our own interpretations. We will be in our own self centered bubbles – with our own visions of what God should be, made in our own image, and all will be good, until it conflicts with our neighbor.

    In my view there is a reason why the ancient chuches elevated the Church over scripture, because scripture itself does not house a community, and instead of “where two or three gather so Jesus will be” it will be replaced with “whatever I need my God will provide….”

    Good stuff….

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      …if we keep moving down this road of individualism, this “my way is best ” mindset, the church will become so fragmented it will be unrecognisable, or worse, and its happening now, we won’t need the church, we will just need our bibles and our own interpretations. We will be in our own self centered bubbles – with our own visions of what God should be, made in our own image, and all will be good, until it conflicts with our neighbor.

      Until you have millions of One True Churches, each with only one member, each denouncing all the others as Heretics and Apostates.

      The original IMonk used to cite an “A.W.Pink” as an example of this ultimate end state.

  16. OK.. I am making a plea to Jeff and Chaplain Mike and anyone out there who cares to listen… Almost everything I post these days goes into moderation. Trying not to take it personally but you know….

    Not sure if I am using a certain string of words that does this (like conservative) or I pissed someone off but maybe I need a break….

    • Your not the only one. I get moderated too, and some of my posts get edited. It’s not you…. 🙂

      • The post I did when Adam wrote his last article went into moderation and I had no links in it. I don’t know why either, but it did eventually show up on the blog. So don’t take it personally, Radagast as I think it is just “something that is happening.” 🙂

        • I really don’t know why some comments go into moderation. It puzzles me as well. I try to free them as soon as I can, but usually they will post on their own after a little while.

          Yes, Eagle, I do edit your comments at times. There are ladies present, you know! And JoanieD has sensitive ears…!

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            I think your moderation filter software must be buggy or something.

            Occasionally I have a comment just disappear and never show up. No discernible pattern.

          • I work with a different blog with Christain themed posts. We used to allow unmoderated comments. But after a while we attracted too many folks who seem to refuse to ” stay on there meds”. So after a few temporary attempts we gave up and went fully moderated. We don’t like it but it was the only way to keep things civil.

            I don’t known the details about how things are done here at IM but we all need to cut them some slack. It’s very hard to run a blog where you want CIVIL discussions on topics some find controversial or even heretical.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Tip, David L:

            On the Internet, EVERYBODY IS OFF THEIR MEDS. It’s called “Net Drunk Syndrome”. Something about the anonymity of being online and faceless and safely out of fist range.

  17. “Evangelicalism, at least on the whole, is void of depth.” J.I. Packer said that American Christianity is 3000 miles wide and an inch deep.

    Another very ingrained aspect of our confusion as American Christians, is fleshed out in Stanley Hauerwas’ new book, War and the American Difference, His focus is on “the world redeemed by Christ” and in that context sees war as “is America’s central liturgical act…”

    It is why topics such as this are taboo in evangelical circles.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      “Evangelicalism, at least on the whole, is void of depth.” J.I. Packer said that American Christianity is 3000 miles wide and an inch deep.

      Yeah, when you distill 66+ books of Bible and a track record of tradition & precedent down to a couple sound bites and tract one-liners you end up losing a lot of depth. Same when you strip a 2000-year-old spiritual tradition down to Fire Insurance and a Rapture Boarding Pass.

      • Seems none of us merited that pass since Oct. 21 has left us behind. I wonder what percentage of evangelicals buy into the dispensational theology. They certainly make the most noise.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          I don’t know what the percentage is, but it must be large. During my time in-country in the mid-Seventies (the heyday of Hal Lindsay), I heard nothing else. It wasn’t until I was in the post-Evangelical wilderness that I even knew there were other EotW choreographies.

          • Glenn A Bolas says

            End of the World choreographies, eh? I just had the strangely compelling mental image of fire, brimstone and Bob Fosse.

  18. “Edwards was an early proponent of the idea that one must have a personal relationship with God in order to know he was saved.”

    I’ve got to say that I’ve not quite understood the nuance of what exactly a “personal relationship” with God is suppose to be. I hear Evangelicals use the phrase A LOT. I think I may have some sense at what is being addressed but the emphasis seems odd to me.

    • A personal relationship = an insurance policy that saved you from hell!!! Translation…business decision!!! 😯

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        And when the Gospel — the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God, the ultimate Tikkun Olam — becomes nothing more than a Fire Insurance Policy (with bonus Rapture Boarding Pass), all the ugliness of high-pressure salesmanship and manipulation to close the deal comes with it.

    • I can only state that as a Catholic I receive Almighty God, in the Body of His Son, into my body and soul one a week. That is about as “personal” relationship as I can imagine.

      And if you don’t share my belief, please go love the Lord in your own way. But don’t waste your time trying to talk me out of my Faith and my experience of the Eucharist.

      • I get that Eucharistic reception of the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus involves the person and is personal. I don’t think many Evangelicals are using the term “personal relationship” in that sort of way though. Perhaps it is more similiar than I assume, however.

        • Pretty sure they don’t, either.

          But I needed to add the impact of the Eucharist, and the Intimacy It can bring.

          I do not know what the Evangelicals mean by “personal relationship”. Revelations? Conversations? Unique Knowlege? But I do know I have the hope of Salvation, but not the cojones to ever state that “I am Saved!” That is not my decision….

    • Josh in FW says


      I’ve heard the phrase, “personal relationship” my whole life and still can’t figure it out. My lack of “feeling” a “personal relationship” has been the primary factor in my doubts about my salvation. I’m trying to give up on this concept which is difficult here in the Bible belt, but it is very difficult to leave behind what you have grown up with and your entire extended family (and in-laws) are currently a part of.

      • I’ve felt exactly the same thing Josh and I haven’t figured out what to do either – but here is one encouragement: The mere fact that I’ve realized the difficulty in the “personal relationship” theology and that there may be other, better ways of understanding/living spiritually has given me hope – and peace – and a small measure of calm amidst the doubts. In other words, I haven’t really found something solid to replace the “personal relationship” mantra with – but the stress of trying to have one like others around me seem to have is mostly gone – maybe it’s a wrong direction but in some measure I don’t care anymore…

        Here’s an article I stumbled onto recently that really resonated (The whole article is not online) Found it at my library but look up The Christian Century magazine, John Suk is the author and the article is entitled “A friend in Jesus?” He gives some idea of what a deeper, more honest spirituality/faith can be. Hope this helps in some way.

      • I’m curious as to why this has to be a “feeling”. Sometimes when I kneel, especially after receiving Communion, but other times as well, I experience the presence of our Crucified Lord with and in me.
        We have this prayer:
        Look down upon me, good and gentle Jesus,
        while before Your face I humbly kneel and,
        with burning soul,
        pray and beseech You
        to fix deep in my heart lively sentiments
        of faith, hope and charity;
        true contrition for my sins,
        and a firm purpose of amendment.
        While I contemplate,
        with great love and tender pity,
        Your five most precious wounds,
        pondering over them within me
        and calling to mind the words which David,
        Your prophet, said of You, my Jesus:
        “They have pierced My hands and My feet,
        they have numbered all My bones.”

  19. “I have seen this “emperor” as naked but have been afraid to say so.”


    It seems hard for many Evangelicals with deep religious convictions to maintain an Evangelical identity. There is, I think, something deeply rooted in the Evangelical experience that haunts many Evangelicals. Whatever this “thing” is it seems in some sense to be subtle and yet notwithstanding quite traumatic for so many– even those who would never consider opting for another religious environment.

    So why is it that so many Evangelicals who feel dissatisfied about their experience find it so difficult to come to come to grips with it, to own how they feel, and give voice to that experience? Why do those who feel disenfranchised by their Evangelical experience find it so difficult to move on? What makes this journey so difficult?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      It seems hard for many Evangelicals with deep religious convictions to maintain an Evangelical identity. There is, I think, something deeply rooted in the Evangelical experience that haunts many Evangelicals.

      Maybe it’s because there’s very little substance left at the core and you have to replace that void with emotional frenzy, theology-turned-ideology, and/or conflict with (1) Heathen, (2) Apostates, and/or (3) Heretics? So empty and fragile you HAVE to isolate yourself behind the four walls of Christianese Culture or lose what you have when it contacts the Outside/Other?

    • Because in general people don’t want to attack something they have a big and/or long term involvement in. Especially something they’ve been telling others is so wonderful. It comes from mixing up the church / denom you attend with your faith in Christ.

      Several times with RCs I know their biggest complaint about the last decade or so of issues where about how it took money from the parish school system. And NOT about the ruined lives.

      When you think you see a naked emporer and it s your emporer you’re first reaction of most people is “I can’t really be seeing this?” And some never admit to seeing it as doing so might get them ostracized.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Because in general people don’t want to attack something they have a big and/or long term involvement in. Especially something they’ve been telling others is so wonderful.

        That’s also the dynamic of a successful con game. Get the mugu so financially/emotionally invested in the con that they CAN’T leave, even when they realize they’re being taken to the cleaners.

        Not a dynamic you want associated with the Gospel.

    • Josh in FW says

      great questions

  20. I really identified with this article. It describes quite well what I see in churches and in my friends and acquaintances. But your brush is too wide. I am involved in missions, in a very large mission in fact. While the attitudes in our society do indeed seep into the mission and come out in the actions and words of some individuals, the leadership and most of the members specifically reject the things you characterize as mission and at the same time they consider themselves evangelical. The health and wealth Gospel is not part of their thinking or practice. They study missiology literature and work hard to present the Gospel without an American (or German, or Korean) face. They rejoice when people do Christianity differently. Your description misses a quite numerous section of serious, reflective and self-critical evangelicalism. So, I agree with what you write, with the exception of equating all of evangelicalism with it.

    • I’m glad you are involved with such a mission, Ed. Unfortunately these are too few in number. I have worked with missions who are run just like a business, where human souls are seen as another commodity. But I also have a good friend who arranges missions trips and goes to the toughest places on earth. He does it because he has an incredible desire to see the lost saved. So yes, there are good missions organizations and very many missionaries who desire to bring Christ to those who have never heard the Good News.

      • But Jeff, can you see the sad irony in some evangelicals being so eager to go and “save” countries and regions that are 90% Catholic already? It is really Christ and the Good News that are the missionary concerns, or is it scoring for “our team” (NOT in general, only regarding trying to save non-American Catholic)

        • I find it sad that so many evangelicals pack up and go ot Africa to work with HIV infected people in Kenya, Ethiopia, etc.. and yet they ignore gay men dying of AIDS in most major metropolitian areas in the United States. The same holds true for the mentally ill, divorced, etc…

          • Margaret Catherine says

            Amen, amen, and amen. Yes, go to “the missions”, but don’t ignore the “mission” when it turns up down the street from you.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            For some reason, “Missionary to Darkest Africa” became THE Ultimate Prestige Posting for Full Time Christian (TM) Work. Shows everyone you’re More Christian Than Thou.

            Anybody know the history about how that attitude came about?

  21. In considering the “blessed America” syndrome, I remember something related by Rich Mullins in “An Arrow Pointing to Heaven” :

    “Someone once asked Mother Teresa is she thought we didn’t suffer in the United States like other people did because we were a righteous nation and Mother Teresa said, ‘Oh no, I’m afraid you’re so wrong….. I don’t think you suffer because I don’t think you are worthy to suffer'”.

    Right or wrong, it definitely turns the typical evangelical viewpoint on its head.

    • What a vile, hateful woman.

      • Glenn A Bolas says

        Do you think so?

        Mother Teresa lived in permanent proximity to greater suffering than you or I are ever likely to see, let alone experience. And from her journals we now know that she had her own fair share. Seems to me someone like that might be worth listening to on the subject.

        • And yet she never once offered painkillers to her “patients”. Vile, vile woman. And her continual glorification of suffering as if it were a good thing is just one aspect of her vileness.

      • How anyone could characterize Mother Teresa that way is beyond me, unless they are themselves a vile hateful person. I believe the mechanism is called ‘projection.’

  22. Jeff, I found this fascinating. I realized that, despite being non-believer, the personal and individual relationship with God had infused my way of thinking about Christianity. It’s what drew me towards Quaker meetings at times, as the idea that all should be able to directly access the divine, that all could have that individual relationship. It colored my view in such a way that it made me think that within denominations (I include non-denominational churches here, as they tend to be a denomination of one) with a clergy, there must be a view that the clergy was closer to god and had a more personal relationship.

    I’ve since realized how wrong that perception about clergy is (well, usually). But it blew me away that despite not being a Christian and being able to count on one hand the number of services that I have been to that had a clergy member of some kind, I had internalized this American view of Christianity. It’s pervasive in the culture. It reminds me of something my high school history teacher said, “All Americans receive Locke in their mother’s milk.”

    It hit me even more because I have done my best to actively acknowledge American Exceptionalism when it shows up in my thinking and try to consider it on its merits. There are certain things that I think we do do better than anywhere else. But not everything. But this was a blindspot. So thank you.

    I really need to read de Tocqueville.

    • …I especially smile when he notes (over 200 years ago) his predictions about what would happen when voters found out they could vote themselves money from the public coffers!

    • ““All Americans receive Locke in their mother’s milk.”

      I always thought we came to school with our minds as blank slates.


  23. The ways that Christianity has adapted to and been effected by various cultures and cultural changes throughout history and in various parts of globe would be a topic worth exploring — though exploring something that complicated in depth would take more than a few blog entries.
    From very Jewish origins to a gradually increasing Greco-Roman flavor in the early church — from a church of the persecuted, poor, and oppressed to high church catered to the tastes of the ruling Roman aristocracy in the imperial age — from the lone surviving Roman institution in a crumbling Western empire at the start of the middle ages to the most politically powerful, influential, and wealthy entity in Europe at the height of the middle ages — I could go on.
    The point I’m getting at is that the entire history of the church has been a constant give and take of church influencing culture and culture influencing the church.
    As an American Protestant, I do recognize how Americanized Christianity (particular evangelicalism) in America has become. But are returning to the past and older traditions the right road to take from here? When and where in the history of the church is the place and time in which the church stood unblemished by worldly cultural influences? How much of what is now called traditional was once seen as a new and questionable compromise with the surrounding culture? How many years or centuries of continual practice does it take a Christianized borrowing from heathen culture to attain the status of “sacred”?
    I don’t like many of the directions in which American Christianity seems to be going, and, in my own small ways, I try to put up some resistance. But I don’t think we’re ever going to get back to some idealized past. American culture is going to keep changing at break neck speed, and American Christianity is going to keep changing right beside it.

  24. “How many years or centuries of continual practice does it take a Christianized borrowing from heathen culture to attain the status of “sacred”?” Do you have any specific borrowing in mind?

    “past and older traditions” How are you defining these? Any specifically in mind?