December 2, 2020

Open Mic: Heresy Hunters and The “American Spirit”

By Chaplain Mike

I’d like to pose an Open Mic question today to our entire Internet Monk community. I’d like input from readers in the United States reflecting our own self-awareness (or lack thereof). I’d also like to get perspectives from our international participants.

This question finds its genesis in a post by theologian Roger E. Olson. At his blog, in a March 5 post called, “N.T. Wright, Richard Bauckham, British evangelicals and Me,” Olson reflects on how refreshing it is to interact with British theologians like those he mentions, who seem to serve in a context that is more generous in spirit and respectful of differences than we here in the U.S. This leads him to wonder why the United States seems to provide such a unique arena for intense theological conflict and conflagration.

Here are a few excerpts from his post:

We seem to be the only country where evangelicals feel compelled to debate not just with vim and vigor but with serious intent to expose heresies among us and even cast each other out of the evangelical movement.

…Only (or primarily) in the U.S., it seems, do we have fundamentalists who have the power to dog cutting edge evangelical scholars and actually force them into constantly defending themselves against charges of heresy for fresh and faithful biblical scholarship.

…I once wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper (where I used to work and live) explaining that Westboro Baptist Church (Fred Phelps’ church that pickets funerals) does not represent all Baptists’ views.  In my lengthy letter (which was published in its entirety) I explained that Baptists are diverse and there is no “headquarters” of all Baptists.  I explained that some Baptists are fundamentalists and some are liberals; some refuse to ordain women and some ordain women; some would never ordain a gay person and some do.  (There were Baptist churches in that city all across that spectrum, but most people were Lutheran or Catholic and tended to tar all Baptists with the ultra-fundamentalist brush.)

My letter contained simply facts; it did not advocate anything except knowledge and understanding of Baptist diversity.  Apparently my president was fine with it until a parent (who I later discovered was also a donor to the college) called him and complained about me to the point of suggesting I be fired!  (I also found out later this man was a King James Only fundamentalist Baptist.)  My president, with whom I got along very well, called me in and chided me for writing the letter and asked me to let him view and censor my letters to the editor henceforth.  Of course, I refused.  Why was he surprised when I left?  (Well, it wasn’t for that alone, but partly, at least, because of that tendency to allow loud fundamentalists to cast a chill over academic freedom even to write completely innocuous letters to the editor!)

Now obviously, Olson is writing from one perspective—that of a “progressive” evangelical being dogged by those he views as conservative, fundamentalist interests. We all know the issue is much broader than this and that condemnation bombs get launched from theological foxholes on every conceivable side against others perceived as heretics, compromisers, and enemies.

So, today’s Open Mic question involves more than how the bad ol’ conservatives persecute the good ol’ progressives or any other single part of the broader conflict. No, my real question is, is there something unique in the American spirit that leads us to engage in such constant theological warfare?

The mic is open. I’m anxious to hear from you.


  1. Competition, pure and simple. America has always been about “winning.”

    Theologically, it seems like “winning” has gotten the Church about as far as it has for Charlie Sheen.


    • +1

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      And in a Zero-Sum Game, one way to Win is by making the other Lose.

    • headless unicorn guy and Sean – You nail it…. Is it our DNA ? the founding frontiers, etc ? I don’t know, but that zero-sum game, unconditional surrender ethos(and taken to extreme: eliminationism) pervades in many areas of american culture, past & present…not just religion. It does seem to be ‘exceptional’ but it certainly doesn’t look or sound like Jesus Christ.

  2. Yes. There is a reason. American evangelicalism is a vacuous wasteland devoid of any practical following of Christ. If you took away the visceral name-calling, there would be nothing to talk about whatsoever.

    • Dumb Ox, I usually like your comments, but blanket statements like this don’t help anything. American evangelicalism is a diverse movements of tens of millions of people. It has strengths and weaknesses. To call it all bad is as fallacious as to say it is entirely good.

  3. Richard Hershberger says

    No, of course not. This goes on all over the world. Just take a look at current politics in the Anglican communion. To the extent that this goes on more in America (a proposition I take as far from established), my guess is that a likely explanation lies in our diversity of positions, with no single dominant voice to shout down the rest.

    That being said, some well-directed and well-considered denunciations of heresy aren’t necessarily a bad thing. The Prosperity Gospel is the characteristic heresy of 21st century America. I wouldn’t might hearing more voices calling it out.

    • David Cornwell says

      “The Prosperity Gospel is the characteristic heresy of 21st century America. ”

      For sure.

    • You have a point….I think some more loving rebuke of some misguided ideas wouldn’t be a bad thing – but you have to get past the majority that says “Why are you judging…how do you know God isn’t using this or that – in some way however small – you shouldn’t judge something if there’s a 1% chance God might be using it for some good, etc, etc.” From my observations, a lot of american evangelicalism, especially the fun/games/growth varieties are very touchy about any “quality control”.

      I’ll admit I don’t have a good answer to the whole mess. On one hand I decry the mud slingin…but on the other hand – some things in american churches should be called out – lovingly but firmly.

  4. I think Michael Spencer’s analysis of “Wretched Urgency” sums up the problem. I wish Rick Warren could be blamed for the driven-ness of evangelicalism, but it predates him by decades if not centuries.

    I recently had my first full dose of American evangelicalism for the first time in several years. It was at a very difficult funeral, where an opportunity to bow your head and say a prayer had to be incorporated into the service. Had I not understood the evangelical culture, I would have been livid.

    I think evangelicals do what they do out of the blindness of this driven-ness. They aren’t trying to be insensitive, ignorant jerks; I think they are just doing what they are compelled to do. It’s all about the bottom line; it’s all about results. If someone is hurt or slandered in the process, or if truth is trampled in the name of truthiness and the advancement of the cultural war, oh well.

    “Driven to the margin of error
    Driven to the edge of control
    Driven to the margin of terror
    Driven to the edge of a deep, dark hole”
    – Neil Peart

    • Don’t Americans like the use the gospel itself as a weaspon? Recent example: Franklin Graham recently appeared, presumably voluntarily, on MSNBC to be interviewed by Lawrence O’Donnell, who asked Graham why he thought so highly of Trump’s attacks on Obama.

      I think O’Donnell got the better of Graham; Graham must have thought so too because he started answering by quoting John 3:16 again and again. Graham later congratulated himself on how he’d stood up the liberals. But Graham sounded stupid and immature. It was the way he used Scripture as the equivalent to sticking his fingers in his ears and yelling nonnsense that really repulsed me.

      • Yes, I felt the same way about Graham! he left me cold. He would go blank faced & start spewing “magic words” with no meaning or anything. At first I thought, does he really think this is going to convert someone? saying these “magic phases” with no connection, seemingly no care? Later I realized, it was pure politics. he was playing to his base so he could tell them he presented “the gospel” on MSNBC.
        That man gives me the chills, he seems like an empty suit.

    • David L says

      It was at a very difficult funeral, where an opportunity to bow your head and say a prayer had to be incorporated into the service. Had I not understood the evangelical culture, I would have been livid.

      Please tell this ignorant person what is wrong with this?

      • Just guessing, but the implication is that this was an evangelical invitation minus walking down the aisle.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          I agree. The same thing happened at my mother’s funeral; we had to line up someone to do the funeral fast, and the only church we had any connection with at the time was that one splinter church, through me.

          Funeral turned into an Altar Call. Looking back, it was kind of funny in a black-humor way. Wasn’t so funny at the time. Caught some hell from a couple of relatives over it.

          • As a former hospice nurse, I got to witness this at a tiny funeral service, where the only mourners were hospice affliated, her elderly neighbor, and the woman’s flamingly gay son and partner. The imported fundy preacher was conjured up by the funeral home and knew no one in the chapel. Never before or since have I covered my face in prayer to hide hysterical laughter!

  5. Your question is hard to answer for those of us who have lived only the U.S.

    I spent some time in Russia, and talked to some religious leaders there. The Protestants there were rather divided, and did not work well together. Doctrinal/ecclesiastical disagreements were not handled with any more grace than here. And the Russian Orthodox church was pretty intolerant of any other religious group.

    • Damaris says

      I second your comment, Daniel. Perhaps Americans are more heated and intolerant than some Europeans (Maybe because we care more?), but on the whole we tolerate a far greater spectrum of ideas than most cultures ever have. Perhaps it’s because we have so many different viewpoints that we get defensive and argumentative. The other — and far more typical — way to be is to enjoy the peace of uniformity. I’ve heard people say, “I’m Kyrgyz, therefore I’m Muslim.” “I’m Greek, therefore I’m Orthodox.” There isn’t much challenge to tolerance in places where people aim for unity of that degree. I’ve heard far more sweeping generalizations and condemnations in other countries than I have here. Perhaps we just think we’re more educated and enlightened and should hold ourselves to higher standards. Hmm.

    • My experience was similar in Eastern Europe. Protestant churches didn’t work well together, and of course, Orthodox leadership didn’t care for the Protestant presence. Protestant churches also were infrequently supportive of parachurch organizations like Campus Crusade, even though CCI would attempt to plug new believers into a local church body. There was lots of back and forth between Orthodox and Protestant factions, name-calling each other “cults” and “heretics”.

      The competitive nature is even greater here in the US, though, I perceive. Talk to pastors, and the inevitable question of average attendance comes up, closely followed by a downward look to the left (the universal symbol for “I’m telling a lie”), and a figure that is likely the number of attendees on the past Easter, not the attendance of the past Sunday. We feel like we’re failures if we aren’t putting butts in the seats! We also feel in the US that we must advertise success in order to be appealing…just look at our websites…One local church of about 200 that I once served at has one of the most broad, “fancy” web pages I’ve ever seen for a church…and announced proudly that they had 487 attendees last week (their counting practices include the attendees for Sunday School and early service, as “first service” attendees; then Sunday School and late service as “second service” attendees. Lots of double-dipping going on! I know, because I was once a counter, and had to be reminded of the counting policies several times…:o) For some reason, we feel we must out-program, out-draw, out-advertise, and be more sexy than the church down the street.

      Why is this? To spread the Gospel? Grow the Kingdom? Or so our churches can be more financially viable, have more full-time staff, offer more programs, etc.? Or just to thinly veil the business model of “doing church” that we say the post-postmodern church is running away from?

      I do find that some local churches are more likely to participate in multi-church projects when it comes to issues like social justice…but even programs for the poor…Christmas gift giveaways, back-to-school supplies for the needy…seem to be as much of a selling point as they do sincere outreach.

      • BTW…I also see the same labeling of “cult” and “heretic” placed onto Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox believers here in the US by Protestants, mainly because there’s just a lack of understanding. How many times have I heard a good, seminary-educated, Baptist pastor tell me that Catholicism is “works-based”? Council of Trent, for your reading pleasure…

  6. Chaplain Mike,
    There’s a problem with the link you put up to Olson’s page. I believe you have an extra “http” in the URL.

  7. Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

    I see a few possibilities.

    For one, this seems to reflect the polarization that has come into effect in all areas of American life. It seems that most everything is an us-versus-them whether it be politics, religion, or even soft drink preference. Much of this seems to me to be a by-product of our commercial and consumerist society. Pitting customers against the competition is simply good business.

    Another possibility is the difference between American and European models of doctoral studies in theology and religion. Typically, the European model is research-only, and that research often has to be somewhat innovative. In America, there’s the dissertation and research, but there’s also a lot of didactic classroom work before that. And American seminaries and universities are often content with less innovative research. It seems to me that this fosters more open-mindedness (for good or ill) in European theological studies than in American theological studies. This can easily lead to a traditional vs. innovative dichotomy in America.

    A third possibility is that European theology has largely been dominated by 19th Century Protestant Liberalism and its theological descender for over a century. Theologians that are more traditional/conservative have had to play nice in order to have any voice. In America, that hasn’t been the case. In America the fundamentalists theologians created their own seminaries. That gave students and theologians of more traditional/conservative bent more options that didn’t require dealing with the more liberal theological positions. Therefore we have more extremes in the States, while even the most conservative of European theologians would be considered moderates by American standards. In other words, the’s more diversity (or at least more extremes) in the States than in Europe when it comes to theological positions.

  8. Wish I’d paid more attention in my history classes. I might be able to put a few particulars in this comment.

    Well, on the one hand, it isn’t too bad, historically speaking. There’s been no Spanish Inquisition equivalent in American history, for example. I vaguely remember a few incidents where people were kicked out of colonies for their denominational beliefs, but no one condemned to death or anything like that.

    But at the same time, there’s always been a strain of “shun the nonbeliever Charlie” that is unique to America’s circumstances. A big motivation for the Puritans coming over here was to get away and form their own purer and holier church, away from pretty much everyone else. And I think there’s also an anti-sacramental sentiment within the American church; and when the Gospel becomes intellectual rather than sacramental, believing all the right things suddenly becomes vitally important.

    My instincts also tell me that the Second Great Awakening is somewhat to blame for this as well, mostly because it seems like a lot of the things that suck about American evangelicalism (over-emphasizing revivalism, for example) have some origin in the Second Great Awakening. But I freely admit that I can’t think of an example that reinforces that idea.

    • I have to quibble a bit with you here. The puritans had laws sentencing Quakers to death in colonial times, at least four quakers were put to death in 1659-1661.

      Know-nothing party and the KKK persecuted catholics in the 19 and early 20th centuries very often using violence or the threat of it to stay in power.

      Also Missouri Executive Order 44 known also as the Mormon Extermination Order was law in Missouri until 1976.

      Jehovah’s Whitnesses have also experience a level of persecution throughout their history.

      I guess America has never had a systematic, state run persecution of religious dissidents, but there has been a significant . In “The Myth of American Religious Freedom” David Sehat points out that protestant Christianity maintained religious dominance for a long time in the U.S.

      • I don’t know that the KKK counts, exactly. But I did not know about the Puritans executing Quakers. Thanks for educating me.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Outside of the Former Confederate States themselves, the Second Klan of the Roaring Twenties primarily targeted Catholics. Number Three on the KKK hit list, after Blacks and Jews.

          (I’m posting this from the former “Klanaheim, Kalifornia.”)

  9. I think there are a number of things at play. For one, I don’t think I would want to paint all American evangelicals with the same broad brush. For as much as a lot of them get on my nerve, there are still some who manage to exhibit grace in disagreement. It does seem that in some circles that’s few and far between though. I think it’s kind of like politics. Unfortunately, I think people have bought into the idea that the only way to be heard is scream the loudest and take a hardline of everything. I think many Americans simply still like the swagger of the “if you’re not for me, you’re against me attitude”. It’s not everyone, of course, but I know a lot of people who think that way.

    I also think that epistemological humility isn’t a trait that evangelicals are taught to embrace. I know growing up when I was taught apologetics on different subjects, the goal was simply to defeat or embarrass my ideological opponent. Trying to understand where they were coming from would simply be akin to admitting they were right about something, and we can’t have that, can we?

    I don’t know, as I get older I just see a lot of the bravado I grew up with as simply a facade for people’s weaknesses and doubts. I think a lot of the venom people throw at others is simply projection. Rather than deal with their own theological crises, people take their frustration out on others. I believe that’s behind a lot of it.

    • Wise observations I believe. You also imply the emphasis towards binary choices in your “if you’re not for me, you’re against me” I think the either/or mentality may be an evangelical over-emphasis….that’s more conducive to bravado – whereas the more ambiguous, both/and thinking requires greater humility and admitted uncertainty.

  10. Let’s be careful not to pose a false dilemma. The issue is not between uber legalistic fundamentalism and Christ like open arms. One extreme is to say “Eat the TULIP or go to hell!” but the other extreme, a sort of pantheistic universalism that holds to absolutely NO absolute truth, is equally an idea with potentially heinous outcomes. The problem is not that too many Christians are over-zealously defending minor points of niche doctrine. There will always be those, just as there will always be universalists and those denying the divinity of Christ claiming to be orthodox. Both are over-reactions to the other. I believe the problem is that as followers of Christ we have a poor understanding of theological priorities, and that says something about our understanding of the very nature of our central message, the gospel. The gospel draws the world into two camps (the “in” and the “out”) while simultaneously seeking to embrace all in it’s offer of reconciliation with God.

    In Europe they don’t have those problems because the liberal extreme is just so accepted in society, it seems. Keep in mind that Olson is not only progressive, but staunchly Arminian. This combination seems to have strong potential to smell more like humanism than Jesus.

  11. Paul davis says

    I read that article, then this weekend I read James White respond to an article written by Francis Beckwith, who has left the evangelical circus and gone to Rome. I was appalled by not only how inflammatory white was, but how aggressive and dismissive he was of Beckwiths article (it was on the real presence in the eucharist).

    I have read Beckwiths book on his conversion and he did a great deal of study before making his decision, but white accusses him of abandoning scripture for tradition. That is simply not true, one of the reasons I converted was Beckwiths honest take on the Catholic faith, he in fact did a great deal of scriptural study.

    When you consider this, piper and others who seem to always be on the attack, I think it comes down to two factors:

    1.arrogance of belief, in that my way is the ONLY way.
    2.belief that there is a war that MUST be won at any cost.

    When you combine those, with an American spirit of independence you lose the community aspect of the gospel, because your…well… American, and you MATTER. Your important to the world.

    Throwing accusations becomes part of your strategy, you don’t discuss, you debate. Irenic theology goes out the window.

    I am so tired of my fellow citizens who suddenly find you less than worthy if you don’t believe like they do, it certainly isn’t the gospel that I read, even though I’m still using my protestant ESV. It embarrassing to be quite honest.


    • Hmmm….. James White, John Piper, Albert Mohler, John MacArthur….
      What do all these men have in common? They are Reformed Baptists! Keep in mind this personality quirk you find offensive (and I concur!) is not equally distributed across all of evangelicalism, even though no tradition is immune. There is a strong tendency to say, “The Bible says THIS right here, and THIS is my interpretation of it. If you disagree with my interpretation, you obviously are a liberal heretic that is trying to subvert the authority of both Scripture and Christ! Burn him alive!”
      But seriously. Where are the voices saying this outside the Reformed Baptist universe? They’re out there, but admit it, it took you a while to think of one. Fundamentalism of this stripe happens even in the Roman Catholic church. This is not an valid argument for or against the truthfulness of a particular belief, only a demonstration for or against the pleasantness of a particular individual’s personality. We need to also remember, however, that no amount of pleasantness can compensate for the promulgation of abject lies.

      • Paul davis says

        Fair enough, I was not trying to pick on reformed theologians, I was using it as an example. It exists in every single church, it s a human thing, pure and simple. I have little stomach for most Catholic apologists either, who espouse their positions as if there is no room for doubt in their answers. Theologians like Olson, and Beckwith are good examples of men who want to have an open discussion, and leave all the hate behind.

        I came from the Baptist faith, did the reformed thing for a while and finally just got tired of all the bashing and guilt, it was so damn hipocritical that at times I was left wondering if someone could even actually live that way. I never thought I would end up Catholic, I was taught to be wary of them, that they where heretics and a bunch of mislead individuals who never read their bible. There is a grain of thuth in there, but I found that the people who had been telling me what to believe never took the time to actually UNDERSTAND what anyone actually believed. They just spewed thei half truths as thought it was all fact, then turn around in the same breath and talk about the love of Christ.

        I don’t have to agree with reformed theology, or baptist, or any other. But I also am not going to simply bash it because I’m now catholic, whats the point? I also don’t need to be wishy washy either, I’ll happily call foul when I see the need. But there’s no room in the body of christ for this battle mentality, let’s sit have a beer ( or tea if you don’t partake) and discuss our differences like old friends. We don’t have to agree, but we can agree to disagree and not start this cycle of nonsense. Disagree, I do with Olson, but I would never attack him. Same with Michael Patton, I personally think his reformed theology has overtaken his site, but Michael is a great teacher and I owe a great deal to him. I very much disagree with him on theology, and he knows that and respects my beliefs and I enjoy taking his classes.

        Do I really need to qoute Rodney king 😉

      • The Senior Super Pastor of the mega “fundegelical” church in the DC area took that line of thinking about the pre-tribulation rapture. It was a laundry list of what you had to believe in order to be an “orthodox christian” and he said if we didn’t agree, or were emergent to get out of the chruch. I wasn’t emergent…but his advice to this agnostic was some of the healthiest I ever heard!!! 😀

  12. Maybe it’s the culture-war mentality at hand? If you see yourself and your faith as constantly being assaulted by outside forces, then the last thing you want is your fellow Christians to start disagreeing with you. A church divided against itself cannot stand.

    We don’t always stop to think that maybe a Christian has a better reason for their interpretation of Scripture than you do for your own. We tend to enter discussions with the mindset that we’re already correct and people who disagree haven’t reached the level of spiritual maturity that we’ve achieved for ourselves. What we need to remember is that even if the Bible is inerrant, our interpretations of it aren’t.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      If you see yourself and your faith as constantly being assaulted by outside forces, then the last thing you want is your fellow Christians to start disagreeing with you.

      This was one of the forgotten factors in the Galileo Affair. Galileo went down in the late period of the Reformation Wars, when the Church — and all Europe — was on a war footing, Protestant vs Catholic. And in wartime, you don’t dare let anything go down that could possibly weaken the home front.

      • Interesting how you mention that, because in his analysis of the Galileo trial in “Atheist Delusions,” David Bentley Hart suggested that the Protestant Reformation played a factor in how everything went down. Views that might not have been so controversial before suddenly were after the Reformation because they were different.

        • It also didn’t help that Galileo seemed to go out of his way to make things difficult for himself; he managed to alienate the Pope who had been a friend and supporter by writing a polemical book in which the arguments for the Ptolemaic system are put in the mouth of a character called “Simplicius” (who very much comes off the worse in the argument) and who just happens to quote some of the words of Pope Urban VIII – ouch!

          Also, it wasn’t as simple a matter as Obviously Wrong Ptolomaic system versus Obviously Right Copernican system; apparently there were at least four contenders for a new astronomical model and in the end, the Keplerian (not the Copernican) one is the one that best describes reality – and Galileo studiously avoided all contact with Kepler, even when Kepler had written asking for a telescope to verify Galileo’s observations of the moons of Jupiter, for example.

          Mike Flynn (over at Mike Flynn’s Journal on LiveJournal) has a fascinating collection of articles dealing with the whole Galileo topic. Well worth checking out, if you’re interested for a background look at the science, the history, the politics and the religion.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Yeah, calling the Pope an idiot in print (even under a pseudonym) kind of does that. And Galileo was the sort of “I Am Right, You Are WRONG!” intellecual bully that doesn’t get many defenders when he finds himself in trouble. He ended up making a LOT of enemies that way.

            And the Keplerian system was a refinement of the Copernican, using Tycho’s observational data.

            One time-travel SF novel, 1634: The Galileo Affair, not only gets the story straight but the difference between common Uptimer knowledge of the Galileo Affair and what actually happened is one of the major plot drivers.

  13. Here’s how this has taken shape in my own life: overcorrection.

    Every time I’ve sensed myself slipping and sliding away from God, or find myself upset with the spirit of Christianity around me – too soft, too easy, too strict, too boring, dumbed-down, watered-down, dispassionate, uncaring, too social-gospel, not social-gospel enough, etc. – I have the tendency to over-correct.

    I was in a huge spiritual slump about five years ago. Then I discovered reformed theology and passionate “Christ-centered” preaching. Not only was I re-invigorated, but I seemed to have found the answers for my biggest questions: Why was the church the way it was? Because not everyone has been truly regenerated! If you’re not bearing the fruit of passion for Christ, it may be evidence that you’re not saved! The solution was ‘better’ (read: reformed) theology and bolder Gospel preaching.

    Well, that kept me afloat for awhile. But the line between passion (or substitute “radical” to keep up with the current theme here) and antagonism towards anyone who didn’t seem passionate/radical became awfully thin.

    In time I became wearied with my efforts to sustain passion. Life had beat me up a bit, and I couldn’t sustain devotion on my own. Then I realized that everyone I had criticized couldn’t keep it up on their own, either. This is where I discovered grace, for myself and for the rest of us pilgrims.

    So yeah, I overcorrected. Just like I overcorrected against Catholicism when I had my conversion experience in an evangelical church, despite being raised Catholic.

    Now that I’m in seminary and learning about all sorts of things, I’m continually trying not to overcorrect as I constantly see my/our limits and failings. I’m trying to let grace reign ever more.

    In sum, you can read a lot of testimonies on blogs about the lukewarmness-to-passion journey, which causes the testifier to degrade the beliefs they have recently left behind. In their newfound zeal and joy, thinking they found “it,” they often push ahead and become leaders in their theological circles, and ultimately become the voices for and against certain practices. That’s how I’ve seen in play out, something I was coming close to myself, and still need to be aware of.

    • and Internet Monk has played a huge role in my understanding of grace, from the journey of Michael Spencer to the insights and stories of our current authors and commenters.

    • There’s a lot of wisdom there, Sean. And that’s an excellent point you make in your last paragraph.

      • I agree. That was an excellent comment, Sean. Fertile soil for some future discussion on our tendency to “over correct.” Thanks.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I think more thoughtful Calvinists call this “The Cage Phase.”

    • Sean, I would suggest it comes from “cult” like attributes in many fundgelical cultures. Too often fundgelicals have this morbid obsession about persecution (makes me wonder how many would have faired in Rome… rolls eyes…) and all too often have this “us” vs. “them” view of the world. Thus faith becomes part of an obsessive effort to point out the flaws in other people’s theology. That’s all some Christians know how to do, and it contributes to the division of the church, which I would suggest is a sin. When my faith was collapsing and I found myself growing into a spiritual crisis I was being overwhelmed with doubt. My questions were received harshly by some…but then I also had to contend with fundys who felt the need to inquire or correct me on other points which at the time were not issues. Evolution and YEC was not an issue for me, but for some I had to believe that the world was 6,000 years old!! Their pushing and my resistance made me pretty pissed and it became another factor of “geez do I want to be around a culture like this?”

      • Eagle,

        I’ve been following your comments for awhile, and while I didn’t go through nearly the amount of crap it seems you have, I had a mini-crisis which included thoughts of “would these people still be my friends, or even care about me at all, if we didn’t share the same faith?” I was at a spiritual low point. Thankfully, I was able to peel away at some layers, and it came down to a “God is either real or not and loves me or not” appeal. He showed up. A lot of my other friends also went through a similar period of doubts. Most of us came out on the other side with a more mature, gracious, and compassionate faith.

        Jesus had to purge some religion, among other things. Sounds like he would care to do some of the same with those you’ve dealt with.

        • also, you might be interested to know I was briefly on staff with CCC, right out of college. I wince every time you talk about those experiences.

          • Sean…here’s how I look at it. Life is hard and difficult. There are lots of frauds out there and I was stung. Now I know, and it doesn’t matter if its Mormonism or Fundegelicalism…be careful becuase you’ll get stung.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Because you observed the same thing in your CCC chapter or because your chapter had a very different attitude? During my college years I noticed local CCC chapters tended to vary a lot in attitude.

          • I lived in Orlando for many years surrounded by CCC families (as well as Bible Translaters) and it was an educational experience for me.

            A neighbor came to borrow Nyquil of a Sunday evening. I did not have any, but as an RN, I offered to make up a bioeviqualent compound from cough meds, Tylenol, an anithistamine, and 1 oz. of vodka.

            You would have though I suggested a night of drunken debauchery at a strip club!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Too often fundgelicals have this morbid obsession about persecution…

        In Conventional Christian attempts at SF, the dominant future is Near Future Persecution Dystopia. (The blog Heathen Critique is currently going through one chapter-by-chapter.) This is probably overlap from Christian Apocalyptic — after all, what is the Great Tribulation but the Ultimate Near Future Persecution Dystopia?

        … (makes me wonder how many would have faired in Rome… rolls eyes…)

        Probably the same dynamic as the Survivalist Fanboys you heard so much about during the Reagan years. A form of Fantasy Role-Playing that doesn’t admit to being such. “What I Would Do/Would Have Done in That Situation…”

  14. dumb ox says

    America could learn a few things from the history of European religious wars. I think some American evangelicals still believe in the winnable religious war, and Europe is long past such optimism.

    • dumb ox says

      Bosnia was a sad exception. I think centuries of repression kept ancient religious tensions from boiling over until then. Rick Steves did an episode of his travel show which showed the recovery of that region and the lingering scars and tensions. Again, there is a lot we could learn from these events, but the lessons never be learned if our pride and fears cannot be conquered.

      • cermak_rd says

        I’m not sure Bosnia was all about religion. Then again, I’m not so sure the European religious wars were solely about religion either. I think the Croats aligning with the Nazis and the Serbs feeling their demographic clock tick as Tito fell were also crucial factors to what happened there.

        • I lived there for 9 years. Religion is synonymous with ethnicity. In that respect it was definitely a religious conflict and continues so now without bullets.

  15. I think that Distinction Bias has a lot to do with it.

    We all have a tendency to see two things as more different when we view them together than when we see them separately (see here for more info

    British religious belief is much more varied than our own (in a bad way, IMHO). For example, recent polls indicate that only half of all British people believe in an actual living God–ANY God. By comparison, nearly 80% of Americans believe specifically in the Christian God, and 35% of us are evangelicals.

    So when a British theologian is examining religious beliefs, he does so in a context where half of his peers do not believe in any God at all; by comparison, he will naturally see the exegetical differences of our faith as having less import than his American counterpart.

    To put it another way – the British evangelical theologian finds himself debating with those who are agnostics and atheists; the American evangelical theologian finds himself debating other evangelicals and Protestants. So variations in belief which seem significant to an American are not, in the context of what the British person sees, as significant. And therefore, there is less judgmentalism.

    Remember in Mere Christianity, when CS Lewis used the analogy of the Christian faith being a house with many rooms, and each denomination/belief system is a room? 35% of Americans live down the evanglical hallway, another 16% in the mainline Protestant hall, and another 23% in the Catholic hallway. So we spend a great deal of time arguing which room in our hallway is the best. By comparison, the British theologian finds that half the people he knows don’t live in the house at all, and some don’t even think the house exists. His perspective is, I think superior because he can see minor differences as minor; to us, they seem more significant because we lack the context of a society which is truly a disbelieving society.

  16. i see much of the denominational/faith expression & doctrinal wars driven by fear. fear of being ignored. fear of being insignificant. fear of being out-of-control. fear of hearing alternate viewpoints. fear of being wrong…

    much of the vitriol being spewed forth in blogs or opinion polls or staunch defenders of their pristine brand of religious rhetoric is fear based. you would think that if Jesus said the world would know us by our pure apologetic posturing, we might be as right as rain in our pursuit of doctrinal correctness.

    since Jesus did emphasize though that the world would know us not by our doctrinal stance, but our love, then the manner which passionate debate & disagreement are carried out in the name of Jesus should be infused with it. the superior, self-righteous, condemning, smug, dismissive, derogatory, etc. posturing does nothing to convince me. not sure it has any positive impact on other saints & those in the world simply scoff & point to the fleshly mud-slinging as proof such Christians simply hypocritical snake oil salesmen trying to shout over their competition. no one i know of has been converted to a particular viewpoint using the log impaired approach to making a clear case for or against. lots of noisy gongs/cymbals out there doing their best to be heard above the cacophony they are only adding to by their participation.

    the challenge then to do all things in love, patience, forbearance, gentleness, meekness, kindness, respect, etc. gets easily swallowed up my human passions that are easily excused due to the reason or nature of their stirring. something like seeing everyone of contrary opinion the infidel that has besmirched God’s reputation. they do not deserve being treated as image bearers of the very God they are out to defend, they simply are not worthy of respect because they are of the devil, the antichrist, the heretics ready to storm the gates. religion does crazy things to people. in can be a very volatile combination when mixed with the fallen/sinful emotional condition of humankind…

    Lord have mercy… 🙁

    • Thoughtful points.

      Is it also that no premium is ever put on compromise in American religion? Compromisin’ is for losers! And nothing says “America” like the right to grab your Bible and storm out of your congregation to start your own congregation. You can’t do that without the anathemas flying back and forth.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Wiccans have told me that the reason their covens are limited to 13 members is because more than that and the coven becomes unstable and splits apart, usually over some power play or personality conflict.

        Conspiracy Theories and Secret Societies for Dummies (good read) calls this “the ten guys in socks chanting in somebody’s living room” phenomenon. The similarity to church splits and house churches going sour is obvious.

        In the average human psyche, there appears to be a limit of close intimacy at around a dozen — the size of a large family.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        And nothing says “America” like the right to grab your Bible and storm out of your congregation to start your own congregation. You can’t do that without the anathemas flying back and forth.

        And the theoretcal end state of Millions of One True Churches, each with only one member, each denouncing all the others ex cathedra as Heretics and Apostates.

    • I think you hit the nail on the head about fear. What if what I believe is wrong or that I am swayed by a new thought. My father used to say “Just because you can out yell someone does not make you right” I also think that words we use are so important. I know certain words push my buttons. Another word meaning the same may not as much. I try to listen with my head and not my gut. Sometimes people don’t feel sure of their beliefs. They want a “Greek answer”(right/wrong, yes/no heaven/hell) when the only answer is in the middle .

  17. greed, competition, paranoia and guilt. oh, and maybe because most north american christians see nothing wrong with singing ‘God bless america’ on our nation’s capitol in response to the state sanctioned murder of a sinful human being that was created in God’s own image but whom nevertheless Christ deemed worthy enough to die for. in other words, the north american evangelical empire has a different spirit than the HS informing, shaping, impacting and giving motion to its corporeal expression.

  18. Why does American Evangelicalism go after heretics? Probably the same reason that Micheal Spencer went after Joel Osteen and why iMonk can’t resist posting something about John Piper at least once a week…

    • Now you’re meddling, Cipher!

    • I know…if John Piper or John MacArthur doesn’t up once a week…I start to nervously twitch in my seat!!!

    • Hehehe…I did think of this when I first saw the title.

      However, there is a notable difference between IMonk and the Discernablogs that attempt to tie everyone to Rick Warren and Rob Bell (and therefore the New Age/contemplative/Emergent boogeyman). Michael tended to respond to what he came across, and didn’t go out seeking in order to generate content.

      I’m all for discernment, but I’ve found that most situations call for more discernment, not less. More discernment means not finding the wrong in everything, but learning how best to respond when you disagree.

      • I hope you are right, Justin. I hope the spirit of IM is different from that of the watchblogs. We certainly aim to promote a different ethos. That doesn’t mean we won’t be critical at times. Michael wrote a strong essay which has been posted a few times on the role of the critic in evangelicalism. There is a place and time for that. Just not in every place all the time.

        • I’m getting back to this a few days later, and I wanted to encourage you and the others who have serious issues with movements in the church (Osteen, IHOP, End Times predictions…), but steer away from the habits of calling everyone out at a given moment.

          I just spent some time going over the “Discernablog” world of those who make it their full-time job to smoke out anything that resembles heresy in their eyes. They are in the midst of cannibalizing themselves over who befriends emergents and who doesn’t. They are yelling over photos taken with “heretic” pastors, comparing each other to Rick Warren and breaking up blogs to separate from each other because they might be seen as associating with a liberal.

          It’s disgusting, and it’s part of a wrong-headed idea that guilt-by-association is the same thing as discernment. It’s not. and you and Michael have recognized this. Criticism is necessary, pretending to be a watchdog when you’re myopic isn’t.

  19. Randy Thompson says

    What’s unique to the “American spirit,” in my view,. is the fundamentalist-modernist split in the early 20th Century, which I would call the “myth of origins” of modern evangelicalism. (The “Scopes Trial” of the early 1920’s was the climax.) On one side, you had liberal protestants accommodating themselves to culture, and, on the other, fundamentalists rejecting culture. (“Culture” here includes science and other academic disciplines.)

    On the liberal side of things since then, namely mainline protestantism, this policy of accommodation has continued, despite Karl Barth and other neo-orthodox figures resisting it. On the fundamentalist side of things, the policy of rejecting culture continued, despite Harold John Ockenga, Karl Henry and others like them in the early 1950’s who resisted it (and were originally known as “neo-evangelicals”).

    However, despite Barth and neo-orthodoxy, and on the other side, despite Karl Henry and Harold John Ockenga, “orthodoxy” on the liberal side is still dominated by this policy of cultural accommodation, while “orthodoxy” on the fundamentalist side is still dominated by the policy of cultural rejection. This means that liberals tend to drift away from traditional Christianity while fundamentalists tend to drift away from reality. In short, the respective orthodoxies of both parties are controlled by the extremes, which is bad news for anybody in this country trying to be, in the words of a friend of mine, a “level-headed Christian.”

    Another big problem is evangelicalism’s refusal to note the difference between the Bible and traditions of Biblical interpretation. The latter, no matter how “biblical,” is a tradition, and most (not all) conflicts in the evangelical world have to do with warring traditions. Refusing to acknowledge tradition is to become imprisoned in a tradition. For example, if you’re a dispensational fundamentalist, you see yourself as “biblical.” You don’t see yourself in a tradition cooked up by John Darby in the mid-19th Century. Because you’re “biblical,” somebody who disagrees with you can only be “unbiblical.” I think this holds true for other evangelical “isms” as well.

    Finally, and briefly (because I’m running out of time), because evangelicalism tends to be entrepreneurial, and has a tendency to honors celebrity leaders (i.e., big church pastors), celebrity preachers (i.e., big church pastors), and celebrity authors (often big church pastors), there’s little room for humility and listening. Celebrities don’t listen; they are listened to.

    • Paul davis says

      Thats a great point, there are so many faiths that decry ceremony and tradition, and then have the same service structure each week based on their history and tradition. It’s all so circular, the pot calls the kettle black, and then crystal foul when your point out it’s black as well.

      You just made my day 😉

    • Randy Thompson says


      It seems to me that a sense of history and a sense of one’s place in a tradition brings one to humility and a willingness to talk with people who don’t see things like you do. American evangelicalism too often agree with Henry Ford: “History is bunk.” Without a sense of history and tradition, you’re left alone in the present moment with your sense of personal rightness.

      Being an evangelical at Yale Divinity School was a real blessing, because it forced you deal with (sometimes serious) disagreements face to face. For example, theological discussions about homosexuality are very different when you’re sitting across the seminar table from a gay classmate. Because of its bunker mentality, many evangelicals are cocooned in seminaries with people who think like they do. As a result, they tend to be more indoctrinated than educated.

  20. I couldn’t get the link to work, but found Olsen’s March 5 post using a search engine. Heresy hunting seems to be a hobby for some people. Based on my observations, it often comes down to “who is right and who is wrong and who is in control”. I do not need everyone to agree with me, but have observed many who cannot honestly make that statement.

  21. “Is there something unique in the American spirit that leads us to engage in such constant theological warfare?”

    I’d like to share a quote from a history book I’m reading.

    “The whole city was full of it, the squares, the marketplaces, the cross roads the alley ways; old-clothes men, money changers, food sellers; they are all busy arguing. If you ask someone to give you change, he philosophizes about the Begotten and the Unbegotten; if you enquire about the price of a loaf, you are told by way of reply that the Father is greater and the Son inferior; if you ask “Is my bath ready?” the attendant answers that the Son was made out of nothing.” Gregory of Nyssa, remarking on the state of Constantinople in 381

    The book follows up with this quote from Gregory of Nazianzus “Synods and councils I salute from a distance, for I know how troublesome they are. Never again will I sit in those gatherings of cranes and geese.”

    So, I’m going to say “no”, unique it certainly isn’t!

    But there are some interesting parallels between those places of intemperate theological debate and America. Both Rome in that time and America today are staunch meritocracies, and the Byzantines only became more meritocratic over time. Many of America’s colonies and Constantinople were both founded by a high percentage of religious radicals, and historically a good number of each’s citizens saw it as a visible image of the Kingdom of God, or the center of it anyway. Both were a huge producer of missions work in their heyday. So perhaps those sorts of qualities are contributors to this kind of theological warfare.

  22. Why do people become over corrective? Here are some reasons as I see it…

    1. Fear, I think fundys fear other faiths and other people. They correct out of a compulsion which is driven by fear. Fear of losing faith, fear of being wrong, fear of not knowing the answer, etc.. drives them in confronting others.
    2. Pride…fundys certainly operate out of pride and some do like to stick it to others. Just as confrontation toward someone in sin, is not always done out of love, but instead pride. Evangelicalism and pride seem linked to each other in order to exist. Maybe this is unfair, but it almost seems like this is a co-dependency issue, one needs the other to survive.
    3. Self fulfilling prophecy? Do Christians have this underlining hope that people will apostize and that we can enter the End Times? Do they try and force issues in order to create conflict and schism? Do they privately hope that their actions will in some way help create the rapture?
    4. I think some Christians thrive on conflict and love to combat others. Think of fundegelicalism as a grown up high school forensic club.
    5. Also many fundys can’t think for themself and let John Piper, John MacArthur do it for them. Could it be that they are just spewing out what they read, sermons downloaded from, or “Grace to You” (Eagle clings to his barf bag!!!) and don’t have a lot of independent thought processes?

    I hope those points make sense. Either way the fundys approach really burned me out. I grew to disdain certain conversations with Christians, and feared others. I hope this isn’t too harsh….

    • “5. Also many fundys can’t think for themself and let John Piper, John MacArthur do it for them. Could it be that they are just spewing out what they read, sermons downloaded from, or “Grace to You” (Eagle clings to his barf bag!!!) and don’t have a lot of independent thought processes?”

      What my son refers to as sheeple! 😉

      And yeah, they’re everywhere.

    • Eagle,

      Since this is my first response here I will be brief and not stupid. Having been a fundy for many years I agree with your assumptions 1. and 5. the most. I left the fundy crowd before attending Liberty University. I was the whipping boy of choice while I was there. I found it funny that they used the same tired arguments time-after-time, this became like a game for me and I got good at making them mad enough to leave me alone.

      I am actually surprised that I did not see any comments bashing everyone here as gay-leftwing-Jeus hating-liberals.

      That being said, if they are wrong then what do they have. When our heads are what we we use instead of our hearts we have to find something to fill our heads with. We enjoy listening to people who think like we do, it let’s us know that we are right and reinforces our beliefs. They have to fight for what they believe because if they are wrong, they won’t have anything of faith left. I agree with James the Mad, sheeple are everywhere, even on our side.

      • I get shivers down my spine when I think of that school you mention. Its sad as to how the local educational systems can really pollute the church environment. In Milwaukee I bumped into people who went to Trinity and Wheaton just to name a few. And I have a lot of respect for those schools becuase their agenda is very different. The people I met coming out of those places were more down to earth and more caring. Then I move to the DC area and realized that both Liberty and Pat Robertson’s school are now in my backyard. I bumped into people who went there, sometimes it was absolutely frustrating. Worse then that they come to DC to engage in the culture war. (This city attracts some interesting people from across the United States) And it frosted and frustrated me. I hate to say this…becuase this is awful, but I was thinking about this when I was at work today. I’ve been grateful that we caught Bin Laden and that he’s gone. The last time I felt like that was when Jerry Falwell passed away. That’s so awful to say…to be grateful for someone’s death but prior to that I never felt like that at all. It’s just that in this part of the country I felt like Christinaity was hijacked. I don’t think I would have had some of the problems I did if the church was not as political or fundementalist. I hope you understand what I am saying.

        • I completely understand. The funny thing is that most of the kids at Liberty don’t buy into the hate filled rants the founder is known for. Most of them don’t even believe what the school believes but that never comes out because it is the Law and Religion departments that get the focus. I went there as a 30 year-old to finish a degree in religion I started earlier. I had to defend everything I believed in from Armenianism to end-times but instead of letting the fundy’s strip me of my faith I let them make it stronger.

          I love Jesus more than anything, and am now starting to feel sorry for these guys who do these things to Christianity.

          • I lLIVE in the city that houses Liberty University.

            The “official” positions on the behavior of Liberty students is a local joke. If you get cut off in traffic by a drunk with one hand on his girlfriend’s “assests”…it WILL have a Liberty student decal on the lower right of the back windshield.

            And the Falwell family church has a “worship space” smaller than most performing arts arenas…not counting the bookstore, coffee shop, and endless classrooms.

            We think that whoever named a local RC parish after Sir. Tomas More had a sly snese of humor! and yes, they are the parish for all of the Catholic Liberty students! Who knew?

  23. David Cornwell says

    I can completely disagree with someone’s doctrinal/theological stance, but I’ve never seen the reason to judge another person because of a stance they take. Questioning someone’s salvation over these issues is dangerous and puts one in a position that is only occupied by God. Many answers to these complex issues that have dogged the Church will never be resolved by us. Whatever positions we take should be held with humility and without the judgement of others.

    That doesn’t mean we can’t disagree with each other, even argue and challenge another position. But again, it’s best done from a stance of love and humility.

  24. fame. ego. greed. pride. sin. wanting to be the standard bearer of TRUTH so that…
    MY church will grow.
    MY books will sell.

    come Lord Jesus.

  25. other thoughts sparked by some key comments+observations:

    there is an unique undercurrent of ‘rightness’ or ‘destiny’ or even divine favor bestowed upon the blessed nation of America. it is the apple of God’s eye. or at least a quince. or maybe a crabapple. anyway, the point is, the rallying cry of Rome burning around us (society/culture) while the atheists, heathens, Emergents, Catholics, Protestants, Calvinists, Arminians, Universalists, JWs, Mormons, Amyway salespeople, fill in the blank _____ types with their contrary agendas needs major correction…

    the fear of slipping down the slimy slope into Perdition with the rabble enough to put the fear of God in you & motivate you to some type of action. so, there are those that champion governmental ‘correction’ by doing this, or theological ‘correction’ by promoting/believing this, or developing new & more contorted conspiracy theories ‘exposing’ the insidiousness of the evil being battled…

    fight the ‘good’ fight. sounds biblical. only it has been hijacked by those that use it as the rallying cry around their particular hill top/flag. don’t fraternize with the enemy. don’t even touch their hands or stained clothing. and by all means, do not sit down with them over a meal & discuss things civilly…

    heaven forbid!

    the American Church is fractured into numerous splinter cells each convinced they are the last of the elect. they hunker down in their war rooms plotting out religious strategies that are intent on solidifying their God given place of glory in the neo-Israel theocracy of St. Americania. things will be set right if only…

    if only. if only they can get others to think like them. promote like them. walk like them. talk like them. look like them. recount the Company Line like them. then of course everything will be fine…

    so the doctrinal wars are symptomatic of this. it does include political viewpoints, sanctioned by the chosen one or few of course. worldview corrections. musical tastes. hair length. dress length. movie ratings. smoking/chewing/drinking…

    the concept of ‘overcorrection’ brought up in a previous comment. and the momentum of that pendulum coming back down mows down others like bowling pins in a strike. different folk on the other side. but it will certainly come back again & do the same to whatever side one clings to as their firm foundation…


    much zeal & learning & knowledge for naught it seems. so much wasted energy & finances & reputations having little or no return for the kingdom. are we so blind? stupid? prideful? what???

    Lord have mercy… 🙁

    • cermak_rd says

      Wait a minute! You forgot me (Jew) in that list of rabble. And I’m a former Christian so that probably even makes me more rabbley.

      • yeah, i left out those of Jewish faith & the Eastern Orthodox. only because they are less inclined to be staunch defenders of their beliefs+traditions+need to feel ‘understood’ in a defensive posture…

        but feel more than welcome to use the “fill in the blank _____” option to fullest advantage. 😉

  26. cermak_rd says

    I think some of the hysteria comes from two places. The first is the sheer fact that the internet gives everyone a platform so where at one time you might’ve heard bombastic rhetoric coming from the radio, today you get it there and also from millions of Joes and Henrys. The second is the fact that the Christian Church in the US is starting to shrink as a percentage of the population. This sets up a frenzy of competition as the Churches try to compete for the smaller group of people actually interested in being Christian. And not only that, but needing for their interpretation to be the TRUTH so that they can feel better about not having any new baptisms or members. Well we have the TRUTH and that’s all that matters.

    England sounds like paradise sometimes, even with its State church. At least most of the English Anglicans aren’t in-your-face offensive about their beliefs.

    • Or that the church shrinking is causing a panic in fundegelicals. Will it only become more shrill as time passes?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        As the pond dries up and shrinks, the struggle for survival gets more and more violent and vicious.

        James Dunnigan (military-affairs consultant and wargame designer) said once that “The wildest fantasy fiction ever written appears in a wartime country’s media the day before that country loses the war.”

  27. I wonder if the underground church in China has these issues?

    Anyway, here’s my war story. I moved to a small town and became the director of a parachurch ministry, mainly staffed by volunteers. After the Bush/Kerry election, I received a phone call from a board member. She had received a phone call from a former board member to tell her that one of the volunteers had voted for Kerry and could, therefore, not be a Christian and involved with the ministry. Sigh.

    I soon after left the evangelical church (and that ministry) and have not looked back. Of course, that was not the only reason; there are many.

    • The “left” has the same issues. My wife was on the board of the local rape crisis center. Things blew up when a lawyer on the board got ASSIGNED by a judge to represent 5 teens in a date rape party situation. The staff said he could not be on the board because anyone who took the side of an accused rapist was wrong. Because they teens had to be guilty. This guy would someone who had put years into teen education about date rape and free legal work for the center.

      The staff threatened to quit so eventually he, my wife, and other left over the issue.

      • Not sure how that represents the “left.” Speaking stereotypically, to take the side of the accused is a “liberal” not “conservative” thing. But I get your point.

      • Donalbain says

        I can really see their point. Imagine being the woman who was raped. You attend the rape crisis centre, and there, in a position of authority is the person who has defended the people who you believe raped you. The person who will have, in the court case, asked you horrible, horrible questions, who will have tried to imply to others that you AGREED to the disgusting things that these men did to you. In the course of the case he will have talked to the jury about your sexlife, probably painting you as a slut as he did so. How safe would you feel?

        No. I am sorry, but while there is nothing wrong in itself with taking the defence of people accused of these crimes, it is not compatible with being in a position of authority or even being present in any way, shape or form with a rape crisis centre.

  28. I alot about England & Europe, but they are much more secular than America. They probably have less of a political or theological “base”. We in America have a big “base” in Evangelicalism. So our debates are naturally going to have people in them who do nothing but play to the base. That’s the action that kills good debate. In America most people are fighting a defensive war “for their Chistian nation”. In Europe they are fighting a offensive war ( maybe even gorrilla war) to bring the Gospel back to the masses. Rebels debate better.
    I think this is the difference. could be wrong.

  29. Kelby Carlson says

    I don’t frequent a ton of religious blogs, but I do read quite a bit of theological literature. While there is significan disagreement among different people and traditions, most of the theologians I read are pretty accommodating. Typically Reformed people can use strong language–but it’s not all Reformed theologians, nor do I know why this can sometimes be the case. And speaking of–am I the only one hear who likes John Piper? I think he’s wrong on complementarianism, but a lot of the stuff he has to say is worth hearing, I think.

    • I know so many really like John Piper, but for the life of me I don’t know why.

      In my opinion, he gives the gospel with one hand, and takes it back with the other by laying demands on the hearer. How you ought feel.What you ought do, or what you ought not be doing.

      So many times that I have heard him preach, I have said to myself “OK, good…stop right there…but he doesn’t, and then here comes the law.

  30. these are my observations as a non-American who became a Christain as an adult, and who for the past 17 years of my Christian walk have been trying to figure out where all this vehement fighting comes from:

    1. political influences frightening churches into thinking that they are a marginalized and persecuted people in America, leading to a frenzy of outspoken desire (to “be heard”) in a generation where no one is listening. thus creating even more fear, and louder cries. (this creates a “if we don’t stand for the truth, we as Americans are going to lose our precious place as a world power, )
    2. lack of orthopraxis: when you do not live the life, all you have left is mental assent to doctrine. the less you carry out your daily life in Christlike obedience through prayer and lifestyle, the more likely you are to cling to doctrine and fight for it. because that is all you got.
    3. a history of a-historical movements where theology begins with a singular event (pentecostals: Asuza st.; Reformed: Calvin). these are then mythologized and further removed from both reality and the church at large.
    4. pastors, shepherding the flock, who are fully entrenched within these a-historical boxes.
    5. gullible parishioners who believe anything their pastor tells them (like Charles Darwin converted on his deathbed, or NASA discovered some lost hours because God brought the sundial back a few hours, etc etc).

    i would like to say that i see a great awakening these days among Christians, and that the above problems are growing less and less a problem. this is yesterdays news. it is just that the people still stuck in these types of places also seem to be the loudest.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      1. political influences frightening churches into thinking that they are a marginalized and persecuted people in America, leading to a frenzy of outspoken desire (to “be heard”) in a generation where no one is listening. thus creating even more fear, and louder cries.

      For what it’s worh, Near Future Persecution Dystopia is the most common setting in attempts at Christian SF. To the point where it’s become as much of a default shtick as Amish Bonnets in Christian Romances.

  31. I have to concur with a few others here: The grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side.

    I have family that goes to Eastern Europe on a near-annual basis, and has ministry connections there. The relationships between groups can be pretty strained, and the Orthodox church and Protestant pretty much treated each other as adversaries until recent years. Same when I was in Central America: I heard a fair amount about the other Christians who didn’t agree with them on the Holy Spirit. They worked with some, but it was clear it was with reservations. “The Spirit of Religion” was prayed against, with specific people in mind.

    And as appreciative as I am of Olsen, “The British Evangelicals” he talks about are but a subsection who largely agree with him. He doesn’t discuss the elephant in the room that is the Church of England rift – and those evangelicals who are of different viewpoints on how to proceed. My assumption is that Evangelicalism in England is much larger than NT Wright.

    As for America, we are a diverse country. You can go thousands of miles in one direction be in the same country, yet experience numerous cultures. It’s a country where both our current and former President have spoken and written passionately about their Christian faith, yet disagree considerably on politics. We are ostensibly a Protestant country, and with the diversity of opinions is going to come disagreement.

    As for the constant theological warfare, it wouldn’t hurt to remember than the Internet is not always representative of real life. Michael talked a bit about the online world inviting this kind of thing, and with the last two months of insanity and one-upping, we’ve seen plenty of evidence.

  32. Ben Carmack says

    We Americans are a naturally competitive people. This is not necessarily a bad thing; I suspect it makes us more open to change and innovation. We are capable of rolling up our sleeves and getting things done if we have to.

    At times our competitiveness has caused us to be cruel and heartless. The independence that built our country out of an untamed wilderness has proven to be an impediment to social cohesion. A lot of our people are isolated and lonely. We lack the solidarity that seems to come naturally in foreign countries.

    Even though foreigners disagree strongly on matters of religion just like we do, the independent streak is unique to America, I think.

    With due respect to Dr. Olson, I think probably developing a thicker skin on these matters would do all of us a lot of good. People feel passionately about their religious views; let the debates continue.

  33. I wonder how many of us spend significant time watching the news. Does the rancorous, cantankerous, pitted and shallow political discourse rub off on us? How many people can talk at once? Who can shout the loudest and who can interrupt the fastest? I would imagine that some of this has infected our conversation. It’s not the heart of the matter but it encourages similar bad behaviour.

  34. Patricia says

    What an interesting read tonight. I agree with the comments of Sean, Phil, Joseph, David and even Randy (though he used a lot of big words 🙂 And there lies the rub… these are the guys I agreed with the most and so I end up making my ‘church of like mindeds,’ which makes me ‘feel’ more secure in my beliefs. While I appreciate the intent of the original open mike question, (wait while I scroll up to see what it was again) … I suggest that, no, there is absolutely nothing unique about PRIDE in the human spirit, American, European or otherwise. Until He returns again to take charge of His squabbling children, we will continue to do just that. Blessings to all of you.

  35. I’m mostly a lurker here, so maybe what I’m about to say is out of line, but I find the coinage “fundagelical” (which seems to be favored by several of the IM regulars) to be a rather offensive piece of name-calling, quite on the order of the sort of thing that fundamentalists and evangelicals are regularly decried for doing. It oversimplifies and disrespects any to whom it might be thought to apply– and though, as a liberal, I imagine I’m not included by it, I still feel vaguely insulted by the term.

    There; I’ve said it, and I will understand completely if the moderator reprimands or deletes my comment as tangential. (I’ve been waiting for a more appropriate moment to bring it up, but it never seems to come.)

    • cermak_rd says

      I’m really not sure what’s wrong with the term. There are fundamentalists who are quite proud of their five fundamentals. There are evangelicals who tilt toward the fundamentalist view point even though Evangelicalism was founded as a response to the anti-intellectualism of Fundamentalism.

      Eagle, who is an agnostic, is the only regular commenter I’ve seen use the term. As Eagle has been profoundly wounded by the Evangelical Fundamentalists that have been a part of his life, I see nothing wrong with him using the term to distinguish between them and say the Disciples of Christ or the church run by Joel Osteen (his theology may be shallow, but it doesn’t seem particularly wounding).

    • To take what cermak_rd said a bit further, I think Eagle is the one that coined the term. And given his history with “fundagelicalism” I certainly can’t hold it against him. In fact, I think it’s rather descriptive of an all-too-common mindset found within evangelicalism.

    • I agree with you, camillofan. The term is intended to be perjorative, and it is usually used that way.

      Basically, the test of whether any term is perjorative and offensive is this: do those being described by the term use it themselves about themselves.

      In this case it is clear that the term is intended to insult, rather than clarify.

      • cermak_rd says

        I don’t think it is meant to be pejorative. The term seems to be consistently used to describe the sort of people that not only believe their religion but desire to use their religion to control other people or simply with which to beat other people over the head. Most DC groups don’t do this. Most IMB groups don’t do that. Both the IMB and the DC would be firmly in the camp of being Evangelical, but typically their pastors are not trying to micromanage their congregants lives like a “fundagelical” pastor might.

    • Maybe I’ve imagined or mentally exaggerated the wide-spreadness of the term here in proportion to my peculiar, probably unjustified level of uncomfortableness with it. Of course people are entitled to say what seems true to them, and to bring out the epithets for the things they regard as toxic. (And as epithets go, this one’s pretty tame.)

      I guess it’s in that same spirit of free speech (understanding that I’m not owed a forum by iMonk) that I wanted to register my own curiously visceral reaction. Because “fundegelical” (which I spelled wrong in my first comment) is a word that no one would use of himself, it’s hard to tell what it denotes other than the user’s disapproval. But it has the appearance of lumping together and tarring with one broad brush a variety of people, fundamentalist and evangelical, who would not necessarily see themselves as all standing for the same things / guilty of the same tactics. And, yes, some people whose beliefs and practices *are* rather small, but whose hearts are big.

      As a former Bible college employee whose current liberalism is undoubtedly traceable to certain toxic aspects of that environment, I nevertheless feel defensive for those of my old colleagues (not to mention co-parishioners and family members) whose sincere concern for others is not captured by such a reductionist term, even though some of their theology and ecclesiology might be.

      Okay, I’ll stop now, I promise.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I also use the term “Fundagelical”. Because there’s a lot of overlap between Evangelical and Fundamentalist, to the point where any dividing line becomes blurred.

    • @ Camillofan.

      Hope you are not offended as that is not my intention. HUG used the phrase and I liked it. I use it regularly. The reason why is becuase I was told early on that evengelicalism was different from fundementalism. I learned however that many evangelcilas borrow from fundementalism and carry parts of it over. I recall reading a column by Chuck Colson in which he boasted about being a fundementalist and saw nothing wrong with the word. It was about going back to “fundementals” as he said.

      Your expereince with evangelicals may have been lots of hugs and warm experiences. For me it started out well and ended up as a nightmere. I grew up Catholic, got involved in Mormonism when I was in college, and then had a “born again expereince” which caused me to walk away from Mormonism. I flirted and thought about going back to Catholicism but I was captured by evangelicalism. Due to time constraints and it being late I’ll try and keep this short, but these are some of the highlights of what went wrong with faith and God.

      1. Told and followed “God’s will” across the country and into my current job. It backfired. I wrestled with this after returning from a combat zone. Many Christians talk about God’s will with so much certainity that in my life it never made sense. Worse it conflicted with my skill sets and interests and I got myself into a job that is a mismatch. I’m grateful for having a job during these hard economic times, but I’ll tell you it’s hard to wake up in the morning and go to a job that you feel sick about. That’s what God’s will did for me.
      2. Confessed sin and was hammered. Talked about common guy stuff and a fundy who I used as a reference played it up later telling me that it would be a good lesson if I lost my job to teach me the consequences of sin. I’ve had to live with the consequences of his actions.
      3. After dealing with that I learned that my CCC accountability partner for almost 8 years ended up living a double life. While I am pissed…I can’t say that I blame him. I’ve learned that evangelical culture aims for perfection and holds people to standards that they can not meet. Thus many have to lie to blend into the culture and live in denial or lie through their ass. I couldn’t live so deceptively that’s part of the reason why I left.
      4. I began to notice similarities between the Mormon culture I left and modern evangelicalism. Absolute certianity, sqashing doubt, being deceptive, manipulating the Bible, etc.. Given what happened in evangelicalism I should have stayed involved in Mormonism, got baptized and become more a part of the LDS Church. Some of the cultural similarities are too striking.
      5. When my faith was in knots I started to become overcome with doubts. And in the ciricles I moved in no one wanted to talk, discuss, or explore them. To be fair a couple have…and I’m grateful for them. But it’s hard to find people really willing to tackle difficult questions. What kind of questions you ask? Here’s a couple…
      A. Given the Bible’s teaching about having to know Jesus for salvation what about people who never heard of the Gospel due to historical or cultural limitations? Does the person who lived in Wuhan, China in 100 BC go to hell becuase he never expressed faith in Christ? Yet how can he be held accountable if there was no Bible, nor any missionaries?
      B. Why does a loving omnscient God allow evil? So when you hear about that Baptist Sunday school teacher who molests those 6 year olds. According to Christian theology God knew it was going to happen and did nothing to stop it. Why? How is a God who allows such an evil act to occur defined as good? Why is he worshipped? If you knew someone who would engage in such an act and ignored it the local state you live in would bring charges against you and rightfully so!! Yet Christians define this God as being loving and good, and I can’t comprehend why this same God deserves to be worshipped or respected.
      C. The problem of a genocidal God. When you look at all the poeple God ordered to be killed whether it be the Canaanites, of Egyptians, or people in the flood…how is that any differnet than the murderous rampages of Pol Pot, Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin? If you added up all the people who were killed you would probably come close to the attrocities of Hitler. I mean i could understand why you would want to kill Pharoah (which I don’t believe he was killed….) but what did a 5 month Egyptian New Born do that he deserved to be killed. And then on the other side of the coin this same God who carries out such attorcities is now the “Friend of sinners” in the New Testement?

      I have a really hard time with those questions. And that’s just a couple. Life as I leanred is not so black and white, but can be very gray. I don’t think it’s healthy to view things exclusively in black and white.

      6. I began to notice that there was a lot of manipulation of the Bible in many churches and ministries. Certain sins are pounded to death, while many others are ignored. I remember being in downtown DC and working with the homeless when I realized in my almost 10 years as an evangelical I never heard a sermon about materialism, greed, pride, gossip and slander, etc.. I came to this understanding that in the US…evangelical Christianity is a white, upper middle class religion born out of the suburbs and thriving in the suburbs. Let’s have it nice and neat, with kids programs galore. Oh and let’s ignore the drug addict, the gay man with HIV, etc.. Many evangelical Christians as I leanred live in a bubble. Faith works well when thigns go the way you want them fo go in lfie.
      7. Burying my Irish Catholic grandmother and living with all the comments, teachings that evangelicals make about Catholics not being Christian. When I sat through mass and stood by the grave side, one of the things that kept going through my head and haunting me is what John MacArthur said about Catholics not being Christians, and how Catholicism was from Satan. (If I remember that correctly…) But I also had other evangelicals tell me that Catholics are not Christian, and it hit home hard and haunted me after the death of a close relative.

      It was a very distrubing expereince to go through all of the above (and additional experiences as well). I lost a number of freinds, even those that said, “Hey we’ll pray and get throguh this…God’s in control!!” Some just didn’t have the patience for it. When God was silent, and he wasn’t asnwering the prayers as I was taught, combined with people pulling back, I reached my breaking point with evangelicalism. In the fall of 2010 I took a chunk of my Christian material and threw it away in a dumpster in the Washington, D.C. area. I’ve wrestled with some of this still, but I can’t stomach the thought of going to church. I’ve felt sick, and uneasy about it. One of the most ackward things that happened was some of the conversations I’ve had with people. This happened a couple of times, but once I had a guy I knew who reached out to me and explained why he no longer believes in God. Yet he acts that act, goes ot church, and tells his freinds and parents what they want to hear. He’s afraid that it he were honest he would lose freinds, people would desert him, and his parents would be upset. I know where he’s coming from but I can’t lie like that.

      How did Christianity get to be so jacked up?

  36. Donalbain says

    Some observations without explanations:

    There is something in the American psyche that likes to divide things into two neat piles. Namely us and them. And obviously, the “us” pile is right and so, by deduction, the “them” pile must be wrong. And that which is wrong must be fought against. The religious things you talk about are just one aspect of this and it can be seen in other areas of life, particularly your political life. From George W Bush’s claim that everyone in the world can be divided into those who were “with” you and those who were “against” you to the idea that there is a “real” America, where people do certain things and naturally vote a certain way. Such ideas would be unthinkable coming from a British politician. Almost as unthinkable as the phrase “God bless the United Kingdom” at the end of a speech! But even within political parties, there is a need for the groups to be divided again, leading to such things as RINOs, a concept that again would have no equivalent in the UK political parties.

    I have no idea WHY this might be such a part of the US psyche, I just offer some observations.

    • I think the us-and-them thing is a more universally human tendency / failing, though I’d agree that U.S. Americans are at least as prone to it as any other group.

    • It is from Sesame Street…”one of these things is NOT like the others..” 🙂

  37. Several things come to mind over the sweep of this conversation.

    First of all, it is the squeaky wheels that get the attention. Gracious, accommodating, temperate writers get very little attention compared to the firebrands and lightning rods. How many Dallas Willards are there for every Al Mohler and John MacArthur? Even if the quiet Evangelicals outnumbered the loudmouths 10 to 1 or 100 to 1, we would still notice the fly in the ointment.

    Second, not only is this common across the world, it is common across denominations and world religions. We see Sunni and Shi’a conflict in the Middle East. We see the various Jewish sects. We have the Great Schism in Christianity that has splintered into lesser and lesser schisms down to instrumental vs. non-instrumental Churches of Christ. Basically, it’s endemic to human endeavor.

  38. After reading many of these posts, it reminded me of a quote on an entirely different topic, but which seems to fit: “Our ignorance about the climate system is enormous, and policy makers need to know that. This is an extremely complex system, and thinking we can control it is hubris.”–Prof. John Christy.

    When our finite minds seek to understand the Infinite, building our own systems ot theology, each sect seems to imagine that its system is complete down to the last detail, including those that go beyond Scripture.

    In the end, too many folks major on the minors.

    Asside from that point, some unique points in our history come to mind:

    -It has been alluded to, but one key part of our Amrerican history is that the Puritans goal was to purify the Church. And as pointed out they hung four Quakers on the Boston Common.

    -19th Century America was a boiling pot out of which came all kinds of heresies: Mormomonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science, …along with other unique groups like Seventh Day Adventists, etc.

    –Today, in J.I. Packer’s words, American Christianity is ‘three thousand miles wide and an inch deep.’ We have more Bibles and less Biblcial knowledge. [Thus the endless arguments based on some ‘proof text’ verse, taken wholly out of context.] We have come a long way from the Puritan farmer reading his Greek New Testament by the fireside.

  39. I meant to conclude with the point where I started: hubris, ‘one of the seven deadly sins’ is certainly universal, but it seems to thrive in our American garden.

  40. Randy Thompson says

    You know, it should be noted here that to be a level-headed, non-fundamentalist evangelical in the United Church of Christ or Episcopal Church (for example), is to experience the same kind of marginalization the same person would experience at fundamentalist institutions like Liberty Baptist University. I speak from experience. The grass is not necessarily greener on the “mainline” (i.e., oldline) side, especially if you’re in one of the more liberal of those denominations (like the UCC or the Episcopal Church).

    If you value intelligence and critical thinking, you’ll be very uncomfortable in much (not all) of the evangelical world; if you value the Gospel and Scripture, you’ll be very uncomfortable in much (not all) of the mainline world. To value intelligence, critical thinking, the Gospel and Scripture, all together, is to be hunkered down in an ecclesiastical no-man’s land, with people shooting at you from all sides.

    However, doesn’t that remind us of someone? Someone in a similar situation, who ran afoul of the Biblical people (Pharisees), the church people (Sadducees), and the political types (Zealots AND Romans!)? Someone who lived and died for an audience of One??

    • cermak_rd says

      If you are a conservative, yes you will be marginalized in these groups (TEC & UCC) because you don’t have the votes to really be able to have a voice. Spong, for example, is equally marginalized, as his hard-core followers are not a huge part of TEC.

      That’s a little different than the liberal theologians or bishops calling the conservatives non-believers and threatening them with eternal damnation. Something I’ve never heard, but if anyone has a clip, please tell me how to get there, I would love to hear it.

      • Randy Thompson says

        You’re right about Episcopal bishops not threatening you with eternal damnation. However, they will go for your building and your pension (if you’re clergy). That’s as close as the Episcopal Church gets to damnation, I think!

        • cermak_rd says

          I believe they’ve only done that for those who have abandoned the institution. That’s fairly common in all religious traditions.

  41. The enemy has everyone to busy fighting each other and insisting that “I am right and you are wrong”. Divide and conquer…and we fall into it every time. Why? Because we still have that flesh insisting on its own way instead of being gracious to someone else’s point of view and loving them anyway! Our focus is taken off Jesus when we get allow ourselves to be riled up in this way…which is just fine with OUR enemy. And it’s not each other!

  42. wcwirla says

    I’m a latecomer to this discussion, but no stranger to polemics. We Lutherans thrive on it. I don’t think the problem is cultural or peculiar to America, though our whole political way of life is built on an adversarial approach to the truth, whether in the legislature or in the courts. We tend to take the same approach with our religious convictions. We prefer the black and white argument. Often in theology, when people are arguing over black vs white, the problem is that the thing they are arguing over is really in color.

  43. I’m not certain that there is some “unique” fighting gene in the American gene pool. However, there’s usually two general reasons why people fight; 1. They like fightin’, 2. Some things are important enough to fight about.

    I’ve been around plenty of church folk that fit #1. People that like to fight also gravitate toward traditions and institutions that offer opportunities to fight.

    As to #2…Religion is still important to a significant % of the U.S. population, especially to the God-Mom-And-Apple-Pie Fundamentalist voting block. There is yet a lot of religion in the U.S., especially in the South and Mid-West. Inherent in the Americanized Religion is the idea that God only throws straight balls and if we don’t swing at every pitch then we (as a nation) loose our place in the batting line-up and then there’s no game for us and God will take His stuff and go elsewhere. If we don’t do the “work of the Lord”, including a truculent application of Jude 3-4.


  44. another element to the heresy hunting & rancor raised against those of perceived doctrinal deficiencies is the funny conclusion that they are only preachin’ to their particular choir…

    they get their high-5’s & back slaps & 15 minutes of exposure & ‘Amens!’ from the very rabble they identify with. it is how the process feeds upon itself. self-congratulating & fawning of those that are in prior agreement. no one is ever convinced of the argumentation. no perceived sinner turned back from their heretical path. no one i know of has thanked the website authors or blog apologists for actually removing the scales from their eyes so they can clearly see the version of truth as it is presented to them.


    i think it is the one of the most useless wastes of energy, time, focus, & truly a self-delusion that doing such things qualifies as actual ‘ministry’ in any way shape or form…

    Lord have mercy… 🙁

  45. Canadian here. One who has been living in the US for the past two years, and who was put here by my government (militarIy assignment). I also spent three years in the US in the early 90s. I’ll be returning to Canada soon, and am looking forward to it – despite our weird politics and climate. I know I’ll never feel at home in the US.

    I don’t have any particularly insightful answers, but I know that my thinking, on a wide range of topics, is very different from my American friends and colleagues – including my church friends (who are wonderful people and whom I love dearly). While I hold virtually identical theological views with many people at my church, my social and political views are often dramatically different. This is intriguing. I’ve increasingly come to the view that I have many presuppositions that are fundamentally different than those held by most Americans. A good example is my view of the Constitution – or the importance of any constitution for that matter. I’ve related to a few of the comments made on this thread – but not many.

    Like I said previously I don’t have a lot of answers, but I know that, despite the many superficial similarities between Canadians and Americans, I think very differently than Americans (and this view is shared by the several other Canadians with whom I work in a large US military HQ). I suspect the differences between Americans and people from most other nations is even greater. Please don’t take this as an insult, but it seems to me that those Americans who have minimized these differences on this thread are exhibiting “typical” American behaviour and, in so doing, are contributing to the gulf that often seems to exist between Americans and others. I haven’t lived in Europe, but I have a hunch that I would feel more comfortable there.