September 28, 2020

Tuesday with Michael Spencer: We’re Still Waiting

Michael and the Boar’s Head Tavern folks once upon a time had an Advent site. Here is a sample from it — one of Michael’s observant reflections about evangelical churchianity in the Christmas season.

• • •

We’re still waiting

Watched a children’s Christmas program in Northern Ky today. It was familiar to me because a local church in our area brought it to our school last year.

The King is coming to our town. Who is this king? Reporters want to know. The mayor wants to know. It’s not the King of Rock and Roll. (Enter Elvis impersonator.) It’s not King Tut. It’s not King Kong.

No, it’s Jesus. He’s a better King than all these others, and if you accept him, you can go to heaven.

Great choreography, costumes, sets, production.

No Biblical story of Jesus at all. None. Nothing coming near to it.

Jesus totally displaced from the Biblical story, and only known in comparison to….to….I don’t really know what.

Everyone had a good time, and as I said, the kids were great. The church worked hard to make the show happen and on the one song that somehow managed to relate to Jesus Christ, they were very sincere.

We’re still waiting for Jesus in church saturated America. Not to be born, as much as to come back to us after we’ve tossed him out in favor of something more interesting and entertaining.

May the lights of advent light our way to rediscover Jesus Christ this advent season.

Comments

  1. “Put Christ back in Christmas” indeed.

  2. Does God, can God, might God experience loneliness? I am going to say unequivocally, “Yes”. One hint is, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how I longed…”. If we are not inviting him in he is being left out.

  3. And nothing has changed since he wrote this…

  4. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    No, it’s Jesus. He’s a better King than all these others, and if you accept him, you can go to heaven.

    Note the Altar Call emphasis on a Personal Salvation business transaction and nothing else.

    • thatotherjean says

      Sigh. How can a whole church so miss the point? And despite the years between this post and now, they’re still missing it.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Probably because the Altar Call Business Transaction IS the core Dogma of the Evangelicals’ Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation. (“Are You SAVED?”)

  5. Headless Unicorn, So what is the alternative to accepting Jesus as your personal salvation? I am confused? Is not the very foundation of Christianity what you call a personal salvation business transaction as you describe, I would agree with your description except for the business part of the description. How do you become Christian in your world? Thanks

    • –> “So what is the alternative to accepting Jesus as your personal salvation?”

      I won’t speak for HUG, but I will give my take on it. At one time I would’ve said, “Yes, that’s what it’s about.” But as my walk with Jesus has grown and matured, through reading of the Word and experience with Him, I’d say it’s less about accepting Jesus as personal savior and more about Jesus’ role as “the way” to the Father in terms of relationship and grace (of which my “acceptance” is an element, but not THE MAIN THING).

      • Rick Ro. So you agree with the old hymn “I have decided to follow Jesus” I assume. So you really think that the foundational core of Christianity is not accepting Jesus Christ as the savior sent by God, the Son of God but by following him. It is more important to follow Jesus than to accept him as Savior. I think some on this site are so anti evangelical that somehow they conflate accepting Christ as Savior is somehow enabling the evangelicals. Is there another way to enter the Kingdom of God unless you accept Jesus Christ, the Son of God as Savior? Or am I making too big a deal of the semantics of some here.

        • Dan, some of it is semantics. Some people come to Christ and are loyal to him forever. Some come to him because, as HUG wrote below, they want Fire Insurance and/or to otherwise escape bad things happening to them, and sometimes that’s the promise held out by Evangelical preaching.

          But what did Jesus himself say? He said to enter the Kingdom one has to be like a child – trusting that he is truly good and will always love you. He did say to follow him. He tells us to take up our cross. He tells us to come to him and we will find rest for our souls. I haven’t read anything in the Gospels where he says “accept me as your personal Lord and Savior”. Forgive me; that concept is connected to the history of the philosophical bent of western Europe and America in the wake of the Enlightenment, and how that affected the Protestant interpretation of Scripture.

          In the Enlightenment, people sought to come up with formulas and organization of beliefs (this is when the idea of making an Encyclopedia of all knowledge came to be). So the idea of correct beliefs them gained ground. Then followed the Romantic period, when everything became about what a person felt in their heart. At the time of the Wesleys and other Great Awakening preachers, all of that came together into what we now understand as “making a decision to accept Christ into your heart as your Personal Lord and Savior.” There was even more emphasis on a decision because of the influence of Existentialism, when one had to act decisively in order to prove one’s actual being. Frankly, Christ being Lord and Savior is always Personal, because human beings are Persons, and so is God. But this phrase expressed how people should respond to preaching according to the interpretation of Scripture that arose in that time, with roots in the Reformation, which was basically pushing back against the Catholic interpretation of how someone enters the Kingdom.

          Jesus said to repent (turn back to God – “drop your agenda”, in the words of N.T. Wright) and believe in him – trust him loyally, and trust that he was/is manifesting the Kingdom of God as its King. Paul and the others we see preaching in Acts never said “Accept Jesus Christ as your Personal Lord and Savior” – they said, “Repent and be baptized” – right at the point when they were explaining about the Resurrection. So they must have thought Baptism actually did something, and they must have thought that the Resurrection carried particular weight for the people listening to them.

          In any case, Dan, most of us who comment have been Evangelicals – some still are. It’s unfortunate that sometimes the comments sound “anti-” Evangelical. Some people here have been hurt spiritually by bad teaching and poor interactions with some Evangelicals. When we talk about this, we know what the other people are saying, and we understand it, even when it’s a bit caustic. When we push back against salvation as a transaction with God, it’s because some of us have found what we think is a better interpretation of Scripture, something more in keeping with what is actually written there, and with the character of God.

          Hope that helps.
          Dana

          • Dana A. Of course it helps as you always make reasonable and thoughtful comments. I would label myself as a none as I go to about any church that is available that believes John 14.6, Acts 4.12 and of course John 3.16. I just think that the majority here stereotype and seem determined not to show any agreement with evangelicals.. Repent of course means to change, change your mind , your heart if you will, and change it to accept Jesus as the Son of God, the Savior. No requirement to be baptized except for symbolism but if someone thinks that needed and believes John 3.16, fine with me. My Mother in law is Catholic, go to church with her when we visit, she believes salvation is though Jesus though the Catholic Church, fine with me, it still works but I do not think the RCC saves but Jesus does but my Mother in law and I agree on John 3.16 and accepting Jesus as Savior. Many here know the Bible and their religious beliefs far more than I , however at times that does seem to be a determined mindset not to give the evangelicals any legitimacy in their foundational beliefs. My simple, pretty obvious point is the whole base of Christianity if belief that Jesus Son of God is the Christ and you must accept that to be a Christian, no other way. You can worship different , you can have different rituals but if the foundation in not John 3.16 nothing else matters. Most evangelicals believe that , not that the altar call, baptism or whatever saves them however when I go to an SBC church with my sister I do know the public profession does seem like the main event but that is preaching to the choir for them and I do not like it as it just spoils the message, that I get and why many here object to it.

            • Dan, I understood what you’re saying, and I do agree that in some sense (how that practically works out depends on how one interprets Scripture and understands what the church is) we do indeed need to “accept” Jesus as the Savior, the Son of God.

              The reason that phrase “accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior” elicits reactions from people here is that it has become a caricature that speaks to us of the transactional, non-life-giving message we have heard in some Evangelical churches. That message was presented to us as “the gospel” when in fact it is not the Good News Jesus (or Paul or anyone else in the NT) announced. It was just another set of rules you had to follow in order to be accepted by God and the people of whatever church we were in that proclaimed it.

              I’d push back a little on the “no requirement to be baptized” thing. I think that idea came about because of just a general rejection of all things Catholic by some of the more radical Reformation folks, and it’s actually throwing the baby out with the bath water. If the New Testament preachers said people had to be baptized upon conversion, then it must somehow be more than “symbolism”. I hope you think about it.

              Dana

              • Headless Unicorn Guy says

                That message was presented to us as “the gospel” when in fact it is not the Good News Jesus (or Paul or anyone else in the NT) announced. It was just another set of rules you had to follow in order to be accepted by God and the people of whatever church we were in that proclaimed it.

                Under the constant threat of Inevitable Global Thermonuclear War, The Antichrist, and Eternal Hell. “DON’T BE LEFT BEHIND(TM)!”

                I’d push back a little on the “no requirement to be baptized” thing. I think that idea came about because of just a general rejection of all things Catholic by some of the more radical Reformation folks…

                “If we have to stand only because Enemy Christians kneel, that is Protestantism taken to its most sterile extreme.”
                — Thomas Howard, Evangelical Is Not Enough

          • What Dana wrote somewhere (at this site I think) some time ago;

            ‘We believe God the Holy Spirit is everywhere present, and that God is always working to bring people to himself. We believe redemption will eventually extend to everything on this earth (Rom 8 – all creation groaning, waiting for redemption to be completed in humans). We believe that God has forgiven us all along, and that the Cross is the fullest display of that forgiveness. We don’t see the Cross as the Father punishing Jesus in any way. We believe that the most important thing from which we are saved is the nothingness of death, because it is the fear of death which enslaves us to sin (Heb 2). God in Christ has done all the reconciling and has opened the door; all that remains for us is to put one foot in front of the other as we walk through it and beyond it, into his kingdom, constantly turning to Jesus. So, much of the same vocabulary, but with some very different definitions of terms. We recognize dramatic conversions happen, but we don’t restrict God’s work regarding conversion in general, and we don’t have anything like a “sinner’s prayer” that we encourage people to pray. We want to bring them to Baptism, which we believe actually does something.

            That is an entirely different way of describing the Gospel.

            • Surprised and touched you held on to that, Tom.

              By “we” I was writing of Eastern Orthodoxy, just to make that clear – esp to anyone new here. And yes, it’s a very different way of announcing the Good News – one that I believe keeps closest to Scripture and the Jewish understandings of Jesus’ day.

              D.

        • –> “Is there another way to enter the Kingdom of God unless you accept Jesus Christ, the Son of God as Savior?”

          I must admit that lately I’ve been drifting toward a wee bit of universalism, which means Jesus might find it in himself to somehow save some folks who have gone their entire lives without “accepting” him.

          Jesus saves, this I know. But how he does it and when he does it, I haven’t a clue. My guess it goes way beyond simple acceptance. Or rather, it is simple as acceptance, and even more so.

        • Evangelicalism is founded on some suppositions that most of us ex-Evangelicals find repugnant.

          1. That God is violent against humanity.

          2. Penal Substitutionary Atonement, that Jesus had to suffer the wrath of God in order for us to be accepted.

          3. That thus “salvation” is reduced to a transaction.

          Those presuppositions are at the core of Reformed Theology/Evangelicalism and the “Gospel” has been reduced to those ideas. When the phrase “repent and accept Jesus as your personal savior” is used those are the ideas that are being espoused.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            The Evangelicals’ Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation — MY Salvation, MY Personal Relationship with Jesus, MY sales record of Decisions for Christ, MY Crown of Glory in Heaven — pushes Evangelicals towards a Christianity that is Very Selfish. Until the distance between Salvation and Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged becomes very short.

            Never mind reducing The Gospel to a couple one-line sound bites means you lose a LOT in translaction…

            Point 1 (as sung by Foamy the Squirrel):
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6p-INnf-3kY

            Point 2:
            “Accept Him and Be Saved!”
            “Saved from what?”
            “From what He’s going to do to you if you don’t!”

    • I can’t answer for HUG, but I would say that the foundation of Christianity is believing that Jesus is God; trusting that He will guide, forgive, and protect us; dedicating our lives to obeying His teachings – economic, moral, and social; and joining ourselves to others who are in His service. It’s the “obeying” and “joining” part that seems to be most lacking in the American evangelical model HUG is railing against.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        the foundation of Christianity is believing that Jesus is God; trusting that He will guide, forgive, and protect us; dedicating our lives to obeying His teachings – economic, moral, and social; and joining ourselves to others who are in His service.

        Which the American Evangelical model has narrowed down to Walking the Aisle, Saying the Words (with all proper sorrow), and getting your Fire Insurance policy and free complementary Rapture Boarding Pass. Narrowed down to Nothing. You lose a LOT in that process.

      • The deepest sacramental reality is the meeting of persons. I understand the perpetual, eternal meeting of the divine persons to be the basic character and nature of the Trinity. In my own life, it is in encounter with my neighbor and enemy (and those two words refer to all my human interactions and encounters) that I enter into the most vital sacramental presence of God. And for all humanity, Jesus himself in his person and being is the sacrament of God.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Which you lose when it’s all about Walk the Aisle, Say the Words, and get your Fire Insurance policy (individual, not group). Art of the Deal tit-for-tat business transaction, nothing more.

    • My Catholic friends don’t see faith in such individualistic and transactional terms. They seem to view it more as entering into a sacramental space, kingdom and tradition. Not sure exactly the words they would use for it, but I don’t hear a lot of “personal acceptance” language, probably because they don’t envision themselves at the center of the story in any way, just as participants in it.

      There are different ways to apprehend faith, God, and that which is holy.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        If faith and salvation are nothing more than Individual Business Transactions, Art of the Deal by D.Trump may as well be SCRIPTURE(TM).

        Wait a minute…

    • Burro (Mule) says

      Born-againery is Christianity 2.0, something that came about as the unresolved tensions of the English Civil War exploded in America and abolished the concept of a “State Church”. In order to survive, Christianity need to reinvent itself and that right desperately. I believe the immediate post-Revolutionary period was one of steep decline for official Christianity, and the salvation came from the frontier in the form of the Second Great Awakening, the frontier revivals, and the ministries of such figures as Charles Finney and Francis Asbury. By the Civil War, the transformation of Christianity from “I Baptize Thee” to “Oh Hallelujah Praise Jesus” was almost complete.

      Classical Christianity was one of having been born and baptized into a communion and staying there throughout the ebbs and flows of life (something which I most emphatically have not done). “Personal Relationship With Jesus” Christianity in retrospect was inevitable in a country where you had already died to a portion of your identity by crossing the Atlantic. Self-invention has always been an integral part of American life, as well as in the lives of those who emulate America, so it was in a sense inevitable that this self-invention would take root in religion as well.

      • “Personal Relationship With Jesus” Christianity in retrospect was inevitable in a country where you had already died to a portion of your identity by crossing the Atlantic. Self-invention has always been an integral part of American life, as well as in the lives of those who emulate America, so it was in a sense inevitable that this self-invention would take root in religion as well.

        This is the model that has taken the globe by storm in the last century, so, like it or not, get used to it, it’s going to be with us for a long while. It’s the Christianity of choice just about everywhere in the world where Christianity is growing rather than diminishing in terms of numbers.

    • Michael Bell says

      I appreciated both the question and the answers above.

  6. https://youtu.be/tlE02QAm6Mc

    ‘God is created in the midst of the Earth. O God, O Our God. Alleluia ‘

    “BUT GOD IS OUR KING BEFORE AGES:
    HE HATH WROUGHT SALVATION IN THE MIDST OF THE EARTH”
    (Psalm 74:12)