August 12, 2020

The Small god of Modern Evangelicalism

Today’s post is by guest blogger Daniel Jepsen.

Yes, the non-capitilzation of the third word in the title is deliberate. I don’t think the god I am talked about deserves to be capitalized. For I am not talking about the God of the scriptures, but the god that is worshipped in much of modern American evangelicalism.

This god is good, but small and not very powerful. This god is not able to use the foolish, weak and lowly things of this world to shame and nullify the wise, strong, and powerful ((see I Corinthians 1:26-31). That is why those who lead this god’s churches must attempt to change the foolish things into things wise in the ways of this world, and must change the lowly and despised things into things this world likes and respects.

This god and his message must be made appealing to the world, much like Mary Poppins made the medicine more palatable by a spoon full of sugar. The sweeteners of coolness, relevance and freshness coat the message of this god, while those doing the coating tell us it doesn’t change the fundamental recipe. Perhaps not, but the very fact that the sweeteners are added betray a lack of faith in the inherent power of the message, and the power of the god who gives it.

It is not that the followers of this small god don’t believe the message; they just don’t believe it has much power without their help. It’s not that they want to distort this message. It’s just that the don’t reflect on how its distortion flows naturally from the help they give it.

This is why we see increasingly that not only do many of the leaders have a small god, but so do the people in their churches. These are people who view god as some sort of personal life-enhancement, not the author and judge of their life. They obey his commands selectively, and feel free to ignore or re-interpret those that might cause too much change, or that conflict too fiercely with the spirit of the age. They view his church not as something they are deeply privileged to be a part of, but something they consume like any other form of entertainment, and that had better keep the goods coming.

This leads to the following scenario, in which I will ask the reader to see past the exaggerations and ask if it does not reflect reality somewhat.

The pastor of [insert trendy name here] Church heads into his office Monday morning. His first action is to check the numbers: attendance, giving, google rank. He soon begins to think of this week’s sermon and worship (or, if well organized, those of the weeks ahead). He has 7 hours for that this week (it used to be 15, but that was before he took on more ceo type responsibilities). How does he spend those 7 hours? The options are basically these: exegesis, prayer, presentation, and practice. Since his main concern (though he would never admit it) is to impress or at least interest the hearers, so that they feel good enough about the message that they continue to come (and hopefully invite friends), he ends up spending most of the seven hours on the last two. After all, not many will notice and fewer will care if he doesn’t get the meaning of the passage exactly right. But everyone will notice and care if he is not interesting or relevant to the felt needs of the audience.

In similar way, the worship leader, taking his cue from the pastor, chooses songs based on the criteria of what the people will find enjoyable or “meaningful”. Of course, he would never choose songs that are not scriptural. But that leaves a lot of leeway. He may try to coordinate the songs with the sermon and the other parts of the service. But he will not spend a significant percentage of his time in prayer, nor will the focus of that prayer be seeking wisdom for how God would be pleased in the worship.

The parishioners do their job on Sunday: they attend. They are happy that their kids enjoy the music, and that the sermon is not too long. The church is full, and seems to have energy, which further boosts their self-esteem for having chosen to be a part of such an excellent church. The message focuses on how God can improve their marriage, and they leave glad that God wants to help them. As one wife would say later in the week, “I just love God! He does so much for me.”

Is it even possible that the children of this church will ever view god as something more than a cosmic vending machine?

This is the morass into which we have sunk.

Comments

  1. Chris Moellering says

    Precisely.

    Thus, I am wandering from the Evangelical Church and sauntering toward Anglicanism. Not that the other is perfect, but the worship feels much more worshipful of God than of those on the platform. It is less a cult of personality and showmanship.

  2. I’m afraid that this piece is true for way too many evangelical churches. My pastor has fallen for feeling the need to present topical sermons that are thought to be interesting and relevant to the felt needs of the “audience”. The “worship leader” and his “worship team” provide quite a show so that we in the “audience” can just sit back and sip our gourmet coffee, that is if you can withstand the volume of the music. I hate to sound so sour but this is what things have come to in our church.

    • Chuck, I have to remind you not to use profanities here in the comments. And the one you used is the most vile one I can think of: Felt Needs.

      I can’t tell you how often I have heard that mentioned in church staff meetings (“What is the congregation’s felt need this week?”) and publishing board meetings (“We need to meet the reader’s felt needs.”) That profane phrase to me is nothing short of manipulation.

      If you sound sour, it is only because that is the taste given off by so many churches today.

      • And interestingly, when the term “felt needs” is used correctly, it is in contrast with “actual needs.” In the mission field, for example, it’s understood that while people are seeking satisfaction from their felt needs, true love answers their actual need, which is the Gospel. Churches who care about the Gospel should be more concerned with actual than with felt needs; identifying felt needs mostly helps in marketing, not spiritual growth.

  3. Chris mentions Anglicanism as a valid alternative. I understand in a way, but wonder what the trappings are. I suppose at least you don’t have people sipping gourmet coffee during worship.

    Good grief. What have we become?

    • FollowerOfHim says

      I too, appear to be moving towards Anglicanism, and I noted no coffee, gourmet or otherwise, present during the worship service I attended at the Anglican church I visited last week.

      I also recall, with a cringe, being asked by an usher before a worship service to not bring my coffee into the sancutuary of the AG church I was attending at the time. This was way back in 1994, however, shortly after the Azusa Street Revivals….

    • Apparently, we’ve become people that reject a set of 100-year old human traditions that are often at odds with Scripture … only to embrace a set of 400-year old (or older) human traditions that are often at odds with Scripture.

      Yeah, Ancient-Future Week didn’t fly for me. Sorry.

  4. Kenny Johnson says

    I think that relevancy as a style of doing church is often caricatured here and elsewhere. Certainly some churches’ approach to this — which were deemed “seeker-sensitive” resulted in a watered-down Gospel and entertainment instead of Worship or Service. But is this really a fair representation of most Evangelicalism? Or even most Evangelicalism that attempts to be relevant to the culture? I’ve been to “Boomer” churches that were definitely a product of the seeker-sensitive movement, where there were plenty of sermons series that coincided with the latest TV show or Movie and were often more about 10 ways to be a better husband than a clear message of the Gospel. But even those churches didn’t do that every week and had small groups were people could go deeper.

    I’m often a critic of modern Evangelicalism myself, but sometimes I think we’re (I’m including myself) a straw man to make our points.

    The fact is there are plenty of people whose approach to relevancy wasn’t about watering down the message, but presenting the message in a way that made sense to the culture at hand. For example, I’ve heard Drew Marshall say this, and I think he’s absolutely correct. Street-preaching is generally not a cultural relevant way to present the Gospel in the West. It’s looked down upon (often by Christians too), but this approach worked, at least to some degree, for Paul when he met the philosophers in Ephesus on the street to preach and debate publicly.

    Likewise, why can’t we use the visual arts for example to appeal to a culture that has grown up learning and engaging visually. Watch the Gospel of John movie. For the modern Westerner, it can often speak more profoundly than the text of John.

    What’s wrong with using cultural music? I understand it can make worship music a slave to trends and some modern CCM worship is theologically inferior to the hymns of the past. But I know that while I like hymns — I tend to get more out of them when they’re played on a guitar than sung by a choir.

    • What’s wrong with using cultural music?

      Because generally when it comes to current American cultural music it’s crap.

      • Kenny Johnson says

        That’s subjective though and not really helpful to the discussion.

        • I’d suggest that it is more relevant than many want to admit. When is the emperor wearing no clothes?

          I only say this because I have heard *music* that is terrible only to have someone tell me how cool or moving the music was to them. Poppycock!. Music can be objectively terrible, and no matter how a person tries to nuance the argument, I’ll keep saying it’s not wrong to state that a song or music is just plain bad. I’m not making blanket statements about style (although some styles are indicative of our juvenile culture), but more to the point that modern music generally stinks because it’s poorly written.

          • Kenny Johnson says

            To me though it seems to come down to:

            “I don’t like it” = bad
            “I like it” = good

            So if someone else thinks it’s good, but you think it’s bad — then it’s “objectively” bad.

          • Come on people, it’s only music. Whether it’s the haunting beauty of a well-trained E.O. choir or a few people around a campfire with guitars and hand percussion, music is just a tool we sometimes use (and have probably over-used) in worship. I would contend that it is hearts and minds focused on Him that God is most concerned with. And if it has come to the point that the music is distractng from that, then maybe we should try worshipping without it for a while.

        • Yes, but do they have to be the cultural trends of ten to fifteen years before?

          That’s mainly the difficulty of using modern ‘worship’ music. Trying to sound like Coldplay while the kids are all listening to Lady Gaga 🙂

          • I was at a major worship conference a few years ago where we were advised by a well known worship pastor: “In 50 years from now, ALL church music is going to sound like Coldplay, so get used to it.”

            Talk about tunnel vision. That would be like us trying to do Beatles or Beach Boys worship right about now…

          • @ Miguel: i wish they would just play Coldplay…. those guys can rock…

          • Martha, I didn’t know you were this au courant!

    • I had the same general response regarding the strawman aspect of this post. The perception se t forward in this post comes from the “trendy” churches that make all the noise and hype and the resulting press they get in both Christian and secular media…

      How many Evangelical pastors and churches are quitly going about the business Christ called them to; not seeking the noise and the hype, but seeking by the grace of God to focus on the work of God as outlined by the Word of God?

      I’m aware of a number of small churches, urban and rural, that are not going to make the cover of Christianity Today, but whose work and impact for the glory of God may very well be shown in eternity to have been much greater then the glitzy “mega-church” with the media gurus fawning and slobbering all over it…

      After all, it IS the weak and lowly things of this cosmos that God uses to confound the wisdom of the “wise”…

      “Some of my friends believe we should abandon the word evangelical. I do not. I simply yearn for us to live up to the meaning of our name.” ~ Philip Yancey

      The media may define pop culture evangelicalism, but it is the Word of God that defines the best of what it means to be evangelical…. God used that evangelical church, warts, problems, and all the rest to reach me with the Gospel, and as such the Evangelical church is and will remain my spiritual mother; wart, wrinkles, scandles and all those other weak and lowly things of this cosmos…..

      Peace….

  5. not many will notice and fewer will care if he doesn’t get the meaning of the passage exactly right. But everyone will notice and care if he is not interesting or relevant to the felt needs of the audience.

    oh my…..so you’ve snuck into my church a few times, then ?? If I’d known you were there, I’d popped for a flavored latte, my treat..

    joining you in prayer for the “morass into which we’ve sunk..”
    Greg R

  6. “they just don’t believe it has much power without their help”
    I think this is a reaction to hearing law preached every week.
    It goes something like this:
    1) YOU make a decision for Christ
    2) Now that YOU have made a decision it is time for YOU to get your house in order. In order to do this get into a small group that talks about YOUR feelings and read your bible to find Gods purpose for YOUR life (i.e. it certainly must be something other than trusting in Christ on the cross).
    3) To help you out the pastor will preach what YOU must do now that you have become a Christian.
    Where is Gods power in this?
    Instead:
    Preach about the grace of Christ on the Cross and trust in the word and sacraments for you. That is where the power is.

    • I don’t think many of the churches complained about here are preaching law (at least, not the ones I’ve been too and heard first hand accounts of).

      Lots of story telling, inspirational speeches.

      • From a more classical perspective anything that points to you and what you are or are not doing is law (law/gospel distinctive). Not just the 10 commandments. This is very subtle but nonetheless just as condemning. For example: “Men, be courageous, live the life. Look at how Daniel lived, unafraid. Take control of your family. Follow these 10 steps for marriage”.

        From this any man true to himself will say no I am not living up to the pastors/Gods standards. But why? Am I not a Christian? I am failing to be a good Christian. All the effort, preaching is on what the person must do or is not doing in their faith rather than preaching about the object of the faith, Christ. Preaching about Christ on the Cross provides comfort not just to “convert” but to sustain the Christian. Is this not why Paul said he cared to know nothing else than Christ and him crucified?

        Church members are scared that if they don’t provide instructions for living every week that the Christian will use Christian liberty to sin. Just the opposite, hearing the gospel of Christ crucified for me sustain and is the “power unto God for salvation”. People need to trust that the Gospel rescues and sustains through ordinary means of grace (the word and sacrament).

        Story telling and inspirational stories can be saved for Saturday morning cartoons. I need to hear about what Christ has done on the cross for me a sinner. From this love, I’ll go love my neighbor in liberty.

        • That’s a good point. Thank you for that.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Church members are scared that if they don’t provide instructions for living every week that the Christian will use Christian liberty to sin.

          What happens when those “instructions for living every week” become so micromanaging and control freakish that ditching them (and everything connected with them) becomes Liberation?

  7. This leads to the following scenario, in which I will ask the reader to see past the exaggerations and ask if it does not reflect reality somewhat.

    You had until this. What good does it do to purposely include the sorts of exaggerations you include when you’re trying to prove a point? All it does is make it all the easier for you to be accused of creating a strawman. I’ve seen some jaded pastors in my time, but I have a very hard time imagining any of them actually including checking their church’s Google ranking as part of a weekly routine.

    The way I see it, unchecked cynicism can be just as harmful, if not more, than completely selling out to a seeker sensitive, boomer, or emergent model. As least it seems to me that there are some genuinely happy people in those churches who seem to receive something. If we become too cynical, we shut ourselves off from ever receiving anything from anyone. It’s a very fine line. And as PK who find himself drawn to cynicism pretty easily I find I have to watch myself carefully in this area. I have to remind myself that regardless of the silly things people do, God still does actually love them.

    • That first sentence should say, “you had me until this”…

    • “…I have a very hard time imagining any of them actually including checking their church’s Google ranking as part of a weekly routine.”

      See http://churchmarketingonline.com/top-church-search-rankings/

      • Well, yes, sites like those exist, and I suppose people could debate the rightness or wrongness of them, but, still it’s a leap to portray pastors endlessly wringing their hands over their Google ranking because of these site’s existence.

        Perhaps because I am a pastor’s kid and have served in ministry myself, I have a great deal of empathy for pastors. I have met very few pastors who actually envision themselves as a CEO (I’m not saying they don’t exist). I have met an awful lot, though, who are desperate, and who are willing to try anything to keep the church alive. It’s easy to sit back and spout off truisms like, “Christ will build His Church” (which I happen to believe) when your paycheck isn’t dependent on said church, but it’s quite another when you and your family are depending on that church to get by week by week.

        • Hyperbole is an established, ancient rhetorical method and can be used effectively. Jesus uses it from time to time, as when he talks about having a log in your eye. It isn’t the same thing as cynicism at all, although some cynics also use it. I’d say that Daniel uses hyperbole appropriately.

          • I do believe hyperbole can be used in a way that’s not cynical, but it’s somewhat of a fine line. Jesus could discern perfectly the hearts of those He was talking to. That’s something we will never have the luxury of.

            Well, I’m not trying to judge his motivation, but, to me, the piece came off a lot more as cynicism than anything else. Line such as, “But he will not spend a significant percentage of his time in prayer, nor will the focus of that prayer be seeking wisdom for how God would be pleased in the worship.” seem to be commenting on something one could never know. I have no idea how much time a particular pastor spends in prayer. I know that when I pastored, it probably wasn’t enough. The question I always have to ask myself is would I be comfortable having the standard I’m using to judge someone else used to judge me.

      • It is not an exaggeration. I know of a local church that does this. Every time I am in Google, they target me.

  8. Christiane says

    As a Catholic, I see much good in evangelicalism.
    And I think that good needs to be recognized and celebrated by Christians of good will.
    And, yes, I think those of us who worship ‘a different way’ should share with evangelicals who want to explore different ways of praying that are MEANINGFUL to them.

    And we have so very much that is meaningul in liturgical worship to share,
    that would resonate with evangelicals.
    We just need to care enough to share in ways that are neither threatening to their faith, or condescending, but shared instead in ways done with great love and respect for them, as our own dear Christian brothers and sisters.

  9. Bruce G. White says

    Provocative post…and sadly true, because it is not an exaggeration: I know pastors who fit this description to a “T”.

    However, even though this is true of many individual churches, and (in my view) of the broader trend within evangelicalism, we should remember to acknowledge that there are exceptions. Thankfully, not every evangelical church is a shallow caricature of popular culture.

    We also must look beyond outward behaviors to understand the substance of what is taking place in the heart & mind of the pastor. For example, regarding Google rankings: I know two pastors who check their rankings regularly. One does it out of pride. The evidence of his pride can clearly be seen in the way he does life and ministry, and in the shallowness of his church. The other is specifically trying to reach (among others) an urban, wired audience. He knows if his church does not show up on the first two search pages then his outreach will not be as effective. So he not only checks the rankings, he engages in strategies to increase his ranking. This pastor is a humble servant. The evidence of his pastor’s heart can clearly be seen in the way he does life and ministry, and in the breadth and depth of his church.

    And his attention to Google is paying off with slow, steady, inroads among the unchurched group he desires to reach.

  10. To me though it seems to come down to:

    “I don’t like it” = bad
    “I like it” = good

    So if someone else thinks it’s good, but you think it’s bad — then it’s “objectively” bad.

    My point is we’ve broadened the road of taste to a place of superiority over ratiional critique. Maybe bad isn’t the term, but rather, we’ve come to receive poor music as an acceptable alternative. I assume you do believe there is such a thing as poor music.

    • Kenny Johnson says

      Of course, but I also think music and taste is music is highly subjective. And considering most of the music is usually — at least — technically proficient, it usually has more to do with taste in style than in musical ability.

      But I don’t want to go way off topic here. My original point was that I think there is a place for music in a church that is culturally relevant. In fact, I think hymns themselves were culturally relevant.

      • And considering most of the music is usually — at least — technically proficient

        And that is where the road hits a fork. Technically proficient does not good music make.

        • Kenny Johnson says

          I’m done arguing. This is pointless.

          • Actually, you’ve proved a point to a few friends of mine – at this time in our culture divergent worldviews concerning music and art leave virtually no room for resolution on the topic we debated. We disagree on the subject. Thankfully, the gospel is not bound by our opinions. No hard feelings I hope.

      • linebackeru says

        almost none of the music in the average evangelical church is “technically proficient”. Not so much the chords per say but the general sound mix and room treatment is terrible. It makes a huge difference. remember our subconcious mind is way more powerful than we know. Subtle chnages that are well done make a bi difference. Its so much more than pushing the sound board knobs up and turning on mics. If you did traditional music but mixed it right it would sound great. Before you hire another (connections or equipping pastor) hire a “tat” infested concert rat who has great ears and a sound expertise. Oh, and let him bring a couple of his buddies. These guys can change the way you hear things and if youre lucky, can also play guitar and keys and maybe build a worship team.

  11. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    There is another, opposite on the surface but at its core similar tack followers of such a small god can take.

    Best exemplified by Holiness churches and Christian Enclaving in general, it’s all about “hiding under the bed” from the Big Bad World that’s So Big and So Bad it WILL overwhelm and defeat and destroy their small god. A god so small and weak that he could be killed by a couple kids wielding handfuls of Dust.

    So they must protect him behind the Thomas Kincade-decorated walls of a ghetto fortress compound, safely sealed in a box in the basement with them, lest their small god in their small hearts be devoured by the roaring lion Outside.

    • Great point, HUG.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        That’s because, O JMJ, you’ve Been There. On steroids. And your personal Post-Evangelical Wilderness that followed is the continuing theme of your blog.

    • Although I have opinions on music, I think this is by far the more powerful problem.

      It stifles dialog with outsides, promotes paranoia about The World, and leads to rhetoric that is so circular and subcultural it doesn’t make sense unles you’ve had the koolaid. Then there’s the problem of being so careful not to make one’s self impure in thought or association that your focus is no longer on service. But most importantly, it gives you the idea that if you Think Certain Thoughts or See Cetrain Things, or otherwise do something Unsafe, God is going to go PROOF. There’s a lt of unreasonable fear mixed in with the good intensions of totally inward and builing a subculture that marks the boudaries of Christianity.

  12. I grew up in an environment where gospels songs in the cultural time-warp trend of 1890 were the mainstay. It was usually a top-ten, and at evening service you could call out for your favorite. They all sounded like barbershop but insulated us from the world. The sermon unfailingly came from Paul’s letters, focusing on our unfulfilled need for personal salvation, or a morality lesson masquerading as church discipline. The children were seen misbehaving so we were not good enough parents. One woman had an alcoholic husband who never came, so we were warned about being unequally yoked. If we were to take communion unworthily, we would surely die. More often than not, an altar call because someone dared to show up for evening service, and was suspect because he only attended morning service, not all the other times. And we all were repeatedly convicted of not daring to be Daniels because the pews were not full. (Mostly the same rehash with different text and the minister didn’t need Googled cookies back then). Swings and roundabout. I guess my point is, it seems much of what you’ve described is just a shift from one extreme of religionism to the other.

  13. A different perspective of the small god vs God is the following and this has nothing to do with music or church form:

    It is ironic that my evangelical friends often say to me, “Mike your god is too small.” What they are referring to is my raising my eyebrows during their “god did it” sessions. This is where we are sitting around in a social group and one by one starts to share “miracles” done by god. But these are card-trick-grade miracles. For example, running into so and so at the mall, or finding the lost wedding band in the garden, or back pain improving or (as one often says) found water by using a dowsing stick, or speaking gibberish while praying.

    They are implying that God stepped into this wonderful universe, which He has made, and did things in opposition to His wonderful laws of nature. If so, those are very weak examples.

    The kind of miracles that the God of scripture does, are raising people from the dead, completely healing a totally blind person or totally lame;or a sudden fluency in a language you’ve never studied. Not something that can so easily be subject to psychological factors, chance, or wishful thinking.

    Does God still do Biblical-grade miracles? I honestly don’t know. He certainly could, but I’ve never seen one yet.

    So, I see it as my God is so big that He doesn’t have to resort to cheap card tricks (like George Burns in “Oh God”). When he does a real miracle there is no question about it.

    I really think the only reason that Evangelicals feel like they have to tell stories about their god doing “miracles” is because of the dualistic influence on Christian thought, that this world is a bit cheesey so God must work outside his laws of nature in order for it to be a “god thing.”

    But in my view, everything this side of nothing is a miracle and of God. The universe, the natural laws, quarks, dark matter, tulips, mountains, gravity and etc. Tainted by the fall but of God. It is the same view that: Albert Einstein was trying to make when he said, “There are two ways to live your life – one is as though nothing is a miracle, the other is as though everything is a miracle.”

    • ‘But in my view, everything this side of nothing is a miracle and of God. The universe, the natural laws, quarks, dark matter, tulips, mountains, gravity and etc. Tainted by the fall but of God. It is the same view that: Albert Einstein was trying to make when he said, “There are two ways to live your life – one is as though nothing is a miracle, the other is as though everything is a miracle.” ‘

      This is a wonderful statement! Thank you.

  14. This is the church that wants people to “come back” to it on September 12, instead of really looking hard and long at why they are leaving in the first place.

  15. I wonder if there is more of an obligation to step up when we are confronted with this small god, rather than moving elsewhere. I am not suggesting schism and such, but maybe we are where we are at for reasons other than solely our choosing that place. If there is anything good about evangelicals, and there must be otherwise why are so many in that place, maybe there needs to be an effort to recapture the strengths in the places where we are at. My church is slowly, and at times creakingly slow, moving out of its historical strict views. While we ache for the emerging Kingdom, we are not determiners of when but we can be part of the process and sometimes that means living in a place where the god is not capitalized for the season we have been called. Just a thought.

  16. Church critics tend to be most critical of the church institutions and culture of their time — while either longing for the good old days of an idealized past or imagining an idealized future. But is current evangelicalism denying the power of God any more than the imperial or medieval church, which relied on the strong arm of the state to keep everyone on the narrow path? Is the watered-down gospel of seeker-sensitive and relevance-obsessed churches really any worse than the old stagnant pools of strict denominationalism? And can we be sure that the next page in the unfolding story of Western Christianity will offer better, more substancial content than the page we’re on right now?
    We live in the age of the church buffet — where there are more styles and forms of church than there are ways to prepare chicken in China. I wonder what woud happen if we stopped obsessing so much over church styles and forms — and stopped placing so much emphasis on what we do and how we do it during these designated blocks of time to which we sadly confine our worship and by which we’ve come to define ourselves as Christians of one stripe or another. And I wonder how the landscape of Western Christian culture would change if we aimed our focus exclusively on Jesus — knowing Him, understanding His teachings, submitting our everday lives to those teachings, training our inner ears to hear the voice of the Spirit, communicating the gospel without self-righteousness or arrogance, encouraging and serving each other in the context of real relational bonds of love, and extending that love in the form of kindness, friendship, and charity to those outside our isolated religious circles.
    Then again, maybe I’m just being overly critical.

  17. linebackeru says

    This piece paints with such a broad brush. There are churches that are both large and very sound theologically. They are deeper and require more commitment than the churches that criticize and generalize like this author. These churches are very rare but they do exist. They have great music, a large number of young people who are bringing their friends to church and talking to them about Christ. They require you to take a stand on core issues. They do not shy away from heaven and hell. They also have a great amount of talent(but this blog holds it against you if you are really talented). I guess since they are large that must mean something is wrong with them. after all, a large crowd equals shallow and soft right? This blog almost never tries to find any of the really good churches whom are both large and on track. They only go after the low hanging fruit. large churches(willow creek) that have obvious weaknesses. Granted, it;s easier to spot the shallow ones because their members are many and it’s not that hard to hop on board (right Joel oesteen?) . The single biggest offense in evangelical america is the smaller churches that try to emulate others apparent success. They seek only to increase numbers and if it worked across town at church XXX , who is similar to us, then we can copy it in our church. This has gone on for so long that all middle or small sized churches in the evangelical salad look the same.
    Once I would like to see a story on a large church that is both large and theolgically sound. They do exist if you choose to seek them out.

    • I think you touched on a key issue here:

      “These churches are very rare but they do exist.

      When one is attempting to look at the general condition of Evangelicalism today the occasional bright spot does not define the landscape; one must look at the overall picture,

      As for the broad brush approach? Under both Michael Spencer and Chaplain Mike I have seen some those bright spots, at the individual and congregational level, pointed out as examples and as sparks of hope. So my question for you is, who’s painting with a broad brush now?

      • linebackeru says

        I still think that when you make generalized statements about a group without pointing out the good examples, its to easy or to broad. Of course we can point out the low hanging fruit. its like writing a blog on the state of marriage and only focusing on the broken 60% and leaving out the good ones because it would take away t the flow of the rant. This critique of evangelicalism has been going on for so long that it all reads the same. Time to start doing something about it. It would be like writing a blog about the american diet problems…REALLY? americans are mostly overweight…really…they don’t eat right…really? I know the author didn’t mean to not be specific or stir up things it just starts to sound tired after a while

  18. I don’t really care to defend all of evangelicalism, but there seems to be an inherent problem in writing a piece like this. If some of the modern churches using modern means are connecting people to Jesus, then isn’t it just arrogance to claim one way is better than another. Wasn’t is Paul who said he would become all things to all men so that some could know Christ. Wasn’t it Martin Luther who put Christian lyrics to the bar songs of his day so his parishioners would know the melodies, and thus be able to learn something about God by singing the alternative lyrics. I go to an Anglican church where they make a point of not singing many of the modern worship songs, which in itself smacks of pride, only to write their own modern worship songs, but with better meanings? Pride. I believe in biblical preaching, but were Paul’s letters not often topical, or at least moving from one topic to another and giving wisdom given to him by the Holy Spirit on said topics.

    I have led worship in a wide array of denominations in my day, from the charasmaniac to the Southern Baptist and most points in between. I have come to realize I really fall into the reformed view. But I don’t like Rock and Roll less because I like expository preaching. I still enjoy much of the modern worship today, which is still full of scripture. Seems to me it takes a lot of pride to say all evangelicals, all lumped together, are somehow heretical. Call the specific heretics to repentance, but don’t arrogantly label all evangelicals as heretics. I know way too many who love Jesus, and the people Jesus sends their way.

    • Some would argue that worship should reveal your theology. As I’ve stated earlier this is most evident in preaching. Most of us accept grace alone. Most churches preach grace alone for justification but use this as a “stepping stone” to preach about the Christian with supporting scriptures about what they must now do.

      Instead the preaching and worship should reflect the theology.
      For me a LCMS lutheran this is reflected in:
      1) Worship songs about Christ and what he has done, not about me and my feelings.
      2) Absolution in the sermon and an actual pronouncement by the pastor.
      3) Reciting the basic creeds.
      4) Preaching the law/gospel distinctive that focus on what Christ has done for me rather than focusing on me.
      5) Receiving communion as Christ’s gift for me.

      In essence focusing on Christ and the cross with his ordinary means of grace as gifts for me a sinner, as the revealed God.

      My experience in a “free evangelical” and CRC church these things were not done but instead the providence of God was preached with subtle law imperatives. They preached the bible only but not Christ. This left me without absolute assurance and then I filled in all the gaps with my feelings and works and a diluted understanding of sin as actions not a position of the heart/will. Preaching the bible does not equate with preaching the gospel of Christ crucified for me.

      • While I agree you cannot let your feelings dictate your doctrine, I cannot see divorcing my feelings from my faith. David worshipped with great feeling and emotion. Sometimes dancing, sometimes with tears. God has feelings as well. I don’t want an experienced based faith, like too many charismatic churches seek. But on the other hand, I want to worship God with the same passion He has when He died for me. I certainly do not feel holding reformed doctrine to be more Godly than Evangelical doctrine is helpful or useful. It elevates the method over the message. Love Jesus, Worship Jesus, Live for Jesus. Do these things and the methods do not matter. If we continue fighting over methods, the methods may be idols.

        • I did not say feeling where not important but rather that they are not the focus.

          “It elevates the method over the message.” “Love Jesus, Worship Jesus, Live for Jesus” If you look at what I have written the method is the message. All the steps I have listed, focus on Christs gifts to us, i.e. his life giving grace on the cross, a new life in baptism, forgiveness of sins in communion, and absolution of sins (“go and preach forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ”). The method is a reflection and weekly affirmation of the central Christian truths of Christ on the cross for me. As long as you see worship as what you are doing for Christ then the method is a work. However, Lutherans believe these are gifts to us to be received. From Christ to us, not the other way around.

          • Many Lutherans also believe a homosexual can be ordained. No person or denomination is right all the time. Only Christ is a perfect man. Reformed, Lutheran, Anglican, Charismatic, Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, you name it, we all miss it somewhere. We all have idols, we all have pride, and none of our feeble attempts to explain a truly unexplainable God do anything but fall way short. My point is that criticizing all evangelicals, to almost the point of calling them heretics is at worst prideful, and at best pointless. There are sinners in every church. No one is guiltless of at times making God a small god. To condemn a whole group to heresy makes no sense. The christian life is threading the needle. If I eat too much I am a glutton and a sinner. One of the fruits of the spirit is self control. But too much self control is pride and a sin.

            We are cutting down the tree here for a few bad apples. Maybe even a lot of bad apples. But to tell me all evangelicals worship a small god, or are works based, is arrogant and condescending. If you want to call someone to repentance, call the individual. My love for a big God, and his Son, started in an evangelical church. We as Christian brothers should do more uniting in our love of Jesus rather than dividing over methods.

          • LCMS lutherans do not allow active, homosexuals to be pastors. Many of the churchs in the ELCA denominations are leaving because of these decisions also.

            “There are sinners in every church” ***In my church all are sinners.

          • If my comments have been prideful, forgive me.

  19. i have watched our churchs sink lower and lower in the past 50 years….i am saddened that i cannot find a bible teaching church with a bible knowledgeable pastor in the pulpit. at least someone who can rightly divide the word. we live in a small town, most of my feeding comes from my own pursuit and study online. i feel so sorry for the culture. they dont even know what they missed. what they have now, is the only thing theyve known. my sisters live on a diet of joel osteen, god gets his nod on sunday if they dont have a flea market to go to. they dont see deception when it comes upon them., i guess because they think god wouldnt allow that to happen, hes such a nice guy.

  20. As the author of the post in question, allow me to apologize for not responding to any comments yesterday. I took the day off to be with my daughter, and did not get on my computer at all.

    After reading the comments, I am thankful, as usual, that imonk allows constructive criticism that rarely degenerates into personal attacks. However, I do think a fair number of commentators missed my point (which I will assume some culpability for).

    Yes, I did paint with a broad brush, but my goal was not to give a sociological critique, but to provocatively make a point that I think is too little discussed: that we who pastor America’s evangelical churches are losing faith in God’s power. We spend more time planning than praying, and increasingly seek to please men, not God. Of course, I know this is not true of every church and pastor. But as a pastor, I am describing what I see as a trend, and a very dangerous trend at that.

    So please read this post not as an attack on large churches or modern worship (I don’t think I said anything directly about those things) but as a cry from the heart. Or, if it helps, read it as one pastor simply confessing where he has been tempted, and to which he is publicly stating, “I’m NOT going to walk down that road”.

    Peace

    Daniel

  21. I once heard a sermon from a reformed preacher who I think was well-known at the time that the trouble with America was that we were refusing to let God be sovereign. Have been puzzled ever since- God can’t be sovereign without our help?

    • JohnnyontheSpot says

      ATChaffee,

      Sounds like this is the “small god”, Mike was talking about.

      …that or typical human hubris (thinking God needs our help).

    • Chaffee

      The way I see it is that God is most certainly a Sovereign God – and in that very same Sovereignty He chose to give human beings a free will. If His sovereignty in any way “controls” that free will then it is not free will. God chose to have each person decide if they will submit/surrender/accept His Sovereignty or not. It is within this framework I understand how America is not allowing God to be Sovereign – just look at how many decisions made by government leaders and the support they get from many americans that is so contrary to the Will of God – abortion being one example – and a very grave one.

      • When I think Sovereignty, I think of the God who can set up kings and topple kingdoms and makes prophecy come to pass. While (arguably) my neighbor’s bumper sticker might reflect disobedience to that sovereign will it’s not going to stop it.

  22. “The message focuses on how God can improve their marriage, and they leave glad that God wants to help them. As one wife would say later in the week, “I just love God! He does so much for me.””

    This is supposed to be a bad example? A pastor whose parishoners leave church (gasp) loving god?

    I’m glad I belong to a church that I can leave loving god. And yes, sometimes my pastor does make mistakes about scripture; I notice, and I don’t care. I’ve been to plenty of churches where the pastor was perfectly accurate, and I woke up every sunday wishing I didn’t have to be a christian. If more pastors gave up this idol of biblical accuracy and concentrated on making their people love god, the church would be far better off.

    • sarahmorgan says

      I think you might have missed the point here…there’s nothing wrong with people loving God, but if someone is taught by their church to only love God because of what God does for that person, what will they do when they get the Job treatment — inexplicable personal tragedy/hardship/loss strikes, all of what they consider valuable is taken away, and/or they end up in a place where they feel abandoned by God? Will they turn and say, “I hate God! He doesn’t do anything for me anymore!” or “Why doesn’t God love me any more? I guess there’s no point in loving Him back, then”?
      A mature church teaches people not only to be grateful for all of God’s blessings in our lives, but how we are to love God when, by our uncorrected spiritually immature perceptions, He doesn’t come across as particularly lovable. Too few evangelical churches succeed in this area.

  23. The late and much missed Michael Spencer wrote of this a year or so ago in an article entitled The Coming Evangelical Collapse. Mr. Jepson gets it exactly right, in my view.

    Blessings,

    Michael

  24. There has always been a great deal of political correctness in the church, going all the way back to the 1st Century AD with Paul asking the slaves to continue serving their masters while James tells the masters they’re going to Hell (James 5.) As for “author and judge,” if that’s scriptural it’s probably a translation issue, and if it’s not I really don’t know what to say to who thought of it, because it’s extremely hypocritical to author something and then judge it. Nor does this seem to make any degree of sense with regards to a scripture that speaks of faith moving mountains, “what you bind on earth you bind in heaven…” (Matthew 18), moving out of your own nature (Luke 14), and the way that harming your neighbor harms God (Matthew 25).