October 24, 2020

What Am I Missing?

evangelicals-worshiping-20081011I should have known I was in for a rough morning when the first song of the service was U2’s “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” By the third song that was completely unsuitable for congregational singing, I was heading out the door for some coffee. But the music leader stopped me in my tracks when he said he wanted to take us through three chapters of Romans in three minutes. He took us through the law in Romans 1 and 2, and then introduced the Gospel from Romans 3. It was wonderful, a breath of fresh air sorely needed.

Then it was back to songs that were really bad poetry, songs about how I was supposed to feel about God, not about who God knows himself to be. I went and found that coffee.

Back in my seat, the pastor took off down the road of the Beatitudes. Not new material by any means, but covered with great enthusiasm. There was foot-stomping and hand-clapping and calls for audience participation (“Help me here! Are you with me? Are you smelling what I’m cooking?”) that mostly fell flat, for this was the early service, and not everyone got coffee like I did. I wasn’t quite sure about the preacher’s exegesis of the text, but he didn’t go too far afield. And he had it all packaged neatly in a PowerPoint presentation.

At the conclusion of his message, the pastor called up a visiting missionary and, with a call of us to stretch out our hands toward her, led us in a prayer for the woman who ministers in Ireland. Then we were dismissed as those arriving for the next service began making their way into the sanctuary.

A pretty typical evangelical Sunday service, at least typical of the services I have been a part of for four decades now. Yet this last Sunday I really felt like I was missing something. There was plenty there about what God would do for me and what I could do for God. But where were the songs about God’s majesty? Where was the focus on Jesus and his redemptive act on the cross? Aside from the three minute sprint through Romans, the Gospel was nowhere to be found.

There was a lot about us, what God would do for us, and what we need to do in order to be Jesus’ disciples in the sermon. There was a lot about us pursuing God’s passion, whatever that means, in the songs. And of course, there was the tribute to U2.

I thought about the Catholic mass and how different it is from the typical evangelical service. The Anglican and Lutheran services I have been to also have the something that is missing from evangelical services. What is this element that Catholics and Anglicans and Lutherans have, but evangelicals don’t?

Surprisingly, it’s the one thing that supposedly defines evangelicalism.

The Gospel.

In too many evangelical services the Gospel has gone missing. It is not found in the songs or the message. It is not part of the evangelical form of passing the peace. (“Take a moment to greet someone around you! Get to know someone new!”) It is not found in Scripture reading, for most evangelical services eschew formal Scripture reading because (and I’m being very serious here) it doesn’t “test well.” So the Gospel—the one thing that makes evangelicals evangelicals—is no where to be found in many evangelical services.

Why is this? Why have the people of the good news become ashamed of the good news?

I’m sure there are many explanations, but I want to offer one that frankly frightens me. I believe we no longer include the Gospel in our services because we no longer believe it. We no longer are a people who say, “We have all sinned and come short of the glory of God, but thanks be to God in Jesus Christ, salvation, free and open to all, is available to all.” We are now a people who proclaim, “I am becoming all that I have been designed to be. I have a purpose and a destiny.”

The focus of the service Lutherans and Anglicans and Catholics is the cross of Jesus. The focus of the service for evangelicals is me and you. It has become the church of the Golden Calf, and we are fashioning God into the image we want. Need a more cuddly God? No problem. We’ll sing songs that tell of God making everything right. Want a more spiritual experience? Let’s sing of pursuing his presence. Then we can all grab a microfiber cloth and give that calf and good shine. We wouldn’t want it looking bad for any “seekers” who are visiting. The horrible, vengeful, angry God who demands the law be kept or punishment will be meted out, the God who says the wages of sin is death, the God who is an all-consuming fire is not welcome in our evangelical services. We want the nice, clean-shaven God who minds his manners in front of company and always comes with a new toy like a father returning from a business trip. The one who says “come and die with me” is just not good for business.

Yes, I am an evangelical, and most likely will remain in this camp. While I find much that compels me in the Catholic expression of faith, there are too many fundamental things I cannot agree with to ever consider joining. And as much as I have enjoyed the few Anglican services I’ve attended, I don’t think that is a fit for me either. Lutheran … now, that is a place I think I could be comfortable while not becoming too comfortable. But for now, my home is with evangelicals who no longer believe the Gospel, or at least don’t believe it to be all that important. It will be my challenge to focus on the cross in spite of the songs and emotional rah-rah cheerleading sermons. To find Jesus hiding in prayers where we are encouraged to do silly things like stretch out our hands toward someone (an act that is found no where in Scripture). And to hear the Gospel, even if it is in a U2 song.

Homework assignment: If you were to really, truly believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ to be the greatest Good News of all, how would your life be different than it is now?

Bonus question: How would evangelical services look if the church really believed the Gospel?


  1. Kyle In Japan says

    Question 1: I don’t know. Perhaps I’d be constantly cheery and live up to the insanely high standards many McEvangelical churches espouse. But when you get right down to it, all sin has its roots in disbelieving God – disbelieving that he has our best interests in mind, and that he is working out something bigger through his Kingdom work than we often realize. All of us disbelieve the Gospel, at least sometimes, if disbelieving God’s promises is the root of sin. It’s not something you escape by becoming a Christian.

    What I failed so long to understand is that God’s love for us is not dependent on us doing X – it’s dependent on JESUS’ love for us and obedience to God. Think about the apostle Peter – who was so eager to say that he would never abandon Jesus, that he was the one who loved Christ the most. He failed. And he failed again, when he was rebuked by Paul. But God gave him a second chance, both times. So, though I want to know God more, I don’t focus on how much I believe, which is to distract my thoughts with how good a job I’m doing, rather than looking at what Jesus did on my behalf. That’s what really matters, and ironically that provides much better motivation for pursuing a holy lifestyle.

    Question 2: We would see a two-fold emphasis on God’s grace, and God’s kingdom. First, that grace isn’t something we stop needing after we become Christians, but something we need more and more of; that sanctification isn’t about gaining experience points and leveling up into super-Christians but being transformed from the heart by the realization that Jesus played the unwinnable game for us.

    And secondly, the church would teach that Jesus wasn’t God’s rescue line to save individual people from sin and give them eternal disembodied life in heaven, but that Jesus is the first fruits of the new creation, of God’s coming Kingdom, and the message that we can be part of the Kingdom’s progressive coming gives us a reason for living right now, a reason for fighting evil and injustice in this world, and hope for a glorious, resurrected, renewed world and bodily existence with God. The church would stop focusing worship services around improving your finances and instead teach the whole story of the Bible, and how Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s plan to redeem Israel, the Gentiles, and all of creation, and how his singular mission of grace and resurrection is indeed the story of the whole Bible.

    Evangelical churches are often so narrowly focused on particulars, on personal goodness, and on earthly happiness, that they fail to realize that returning to the true, overarching message of scripture is the only real way to be transformed from the inside out into a righteous people who know true joy and hope.

    You know who the evangelical church needs? N.T. Tchivijian.

    • ” But when you get right down to it, all sin has its roots in disbelieving God”

      Yep. Luther’s small catechism emphasizes this. The meaning of each commandment starts with “we should fear and love God so that we may …” In other words, if we perfectly loved God, we’d live without sin.

      But we don’t, so we need a savior.

      The problem with Evangelicalism is that it makes believing in God to be a Law. No!! Faith is not a law, it’s a gift. We can’t make our own faith, we simply trust Christ’s promises. The answer to question 1 is, it’s impossible to trust Jesus perfectly; so trust Jesus to forgive you.

      • In other words, one does not determine whether one has faith by works in life (but there will be good works), by happiness and joy (though faith brings happiness and joy), or by anything else about oneself. One simply asks, have I heard the Gospel? been baptized? received the sacrament? Yes, those things happened, therefore, I have faith and I have received forgiveness. That brings freedom to do good works without fear or anxiety about the status of one’s faith or merit before God.

        If one is still troubled by sin or lack of faith, go tell a pastor and hear again that you are forgiven in Christ. If a pastor doesn’t forgive you and piles more law on you about your lack of faith, then find a new pastor. Faith does not come through works of the Law, but only by hearing the Gospel.

        • Thanks Boaz, for this simple and clear statement of the objective nature of the believer’s relationship with God.

        • I learn so much just reading the comments here…things are making sense that I’ve struggled with my entire life. Some of you have a way of saying what I know to be true, but don’t yet have the language for (as a brand-new Lutheran myself). Thanks, Boaz (and others).

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      And secondly, the church would teach that Jesus wasn’t God’s rescue line to save individual people from sin and give them eternal disembodied life in heaven, but that Jesus is the first fruits of the new creation, of God’s coming Kingdom, and the message that we can be part of the Kingdom’s progressive coming gives us a reason for living right now, a reason for fighting evil and injustice in this world, and hope for a glorious, resurrected, renewed world and bodily existence with God.

      Again, the Scandal of the Incarnation.

      Where the Christian afterlife is physical Resurrection into a repaired Cosmos, not Fluffy Cloud Heaven.

      And there’s a reason for the Here-and-Now instead of just the Hereafter.

      Where the Here-and-Now is NOT “all gonna burn”.

  2. Marcus Johnson says

    I’ve asked this already in previous posts, but I have experienced the same thing Jeff Dunn has in other posts, so I have to ask it again: is the institution of evangelicalism really worth saving? If this is an institution that prides itself on championing the gospel, why should it survive if it has become little more than a social event combined with a mini-concert combined with a superficial reading and interpretation of Scripture?

    • I think it’s a great question. I’ve pondered it recently as well. The thought that I keep coming back to is the idea that nothing can be beyond the redemption of God. My wife and I have been asked more than once if we would ever return to a church we left and serve there in some official capacity. Every bone in our body says no. But what does that say about our belief in God’s redemptive power if we think God can’t turn a church around? That’s not to say that he particularly will, or that my wife and I should go back to that church. But if we belief that God truly takes broken lives and turns them into His children, then we at least have to believe it’s possible. I’m starting to think we need to view evangelicalism the same way. It doesn’t mean God necessarily wants to turn it around, or that He will. But we at least need to believe it is possible. Individually, that doesn’t mean we have to be a part of that process. But just that we shouldn’t completely discount hope.

    • I want evangelicalism to turn around. And it does have some good qualities. There are a lot of great people in the movement.

      Personally, as an adult (college until now) I have stayed an arms length away from the kind of services Jeff describes above. And after a long sojourn (10 years!) I’ve “officially” decided I’m not coming back and have joined a Lutheran church. I don’t think these kinds of services have much to offer me, and I don’t want to raise my little boy in them. As everyone knows, I don’t think much of evangelical subculture is healthy, either, and I’m not keen on the messages he’d get about gender roles. So… I guess I have given up, in a way. I’m willing to “engage” the movement (to use its own parlance), but I don’t hink I can live there anymore. Not all the time.

  3. Jeff, I don’t think our Lutheran services would “test well” for too many revivalistic evangelicals.

    Thanks for this. And keep calling out for the Gospel. Maybe somewhere in all that enthusiasm someone will hear your cry.

    • Chaplain Mike ~ I agree with your observation. However, I was an evangelical for almost 25 years and am now a Lutheran. Because of exactly what Jeff posted here. Jeff, that is my answer to your Homework Assignment. I knew I was “missing something” as my Evangelical church changed more and more to accommodate the many new folks who were attending. I began to hunger for what – I wasn’t sure. But I found it, much to my surprise, in the Lutheran church. The “what” was the Cross – yes the Gospel. I knew I had returned to the roots and I am at peace. But the Gospel of I am a sinner and need a Savior has just about totally disappeared from our society. The thought of being a sinner is simply not politically correct. Everyone is right – I’m okay you’re okay. Nothing new under the sun as way back in Judges it says, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” And with Andy Stanley calling Obama Pastor in Chief that tops it all off!

      I have a friend from my former church who just asked if she could attend church with me this Sunday. I am truthfully a bit nervous as I cannot imagine her liking the liturgical service at all. She LOVES the contemporary “Christian” music so this will be interesting. But she asked which is even more interesting.

      • I have been thinking along the exact same lines, but I am hoping and trying to see if we can recover a spark of the Gospel within my church. The three minute “outburst” from our music leader on Sunday was a positive sign. If it cannot be recovered, then I will have to admit defeat and move on. You may see me at your church some Sunday!

        And let us know what your friend thinks of your service.

    • Richard Hershberger says

      I am quite sure that a Lutheran liturgy wouldn’t “test well”. I have gradually come to regard this as a strength. People go to a particular church for all sorts of reasons, good and bad and indifferent. A large, popular church has the inherent liability of attracting people for the bad or indifferent reasons. No one picks a small church because they hope to make business contacts (or find a large flock to fleece). Nor because it is the path of least resistance to meet a social expectation. The people in that small congregation have some reason to want to be there rather than some other place. Not all will necessarily have *good* reasons, but the odds are better, and overall it is a source of strength. Picking a congregation because they do stuff that tests well seems to me to pretty solidly fall into the “indifferent at best” category.

  4. Coincidentally, the gist of your question came up today in a conversation I had with some friends about “God’s relentless grace.” I said that if I truly thought about the Good News of God’s relentless grace, I would probably live more like my 6-month old puppy plays, running up and down the halls chasing after balls, the joy and pleasure of the play evident in his face and bounce.

    As I reflected on that further, though, I decided that I can’t ignore the hours when this same 6-month old puppy is zonked out on a blanket, totally worn out from the hours of play and living. So my initial answer of “my life would look more like a puppy’s joyful play” has morphed to become: I’m not sure it means I need to live some sort of weird all-out joyful, bouncy life, because that’s not sustainable.

    That said, I can’t ignore it should probably reflect more joy and light, whatever that means. Maybe the answer is: Ask the Holy Spirit to use my life to show others His joy and light and to help others see God’s relentless grace. Then stop thinking about what it “should” look like, and let God and the Spirit do the work.

    In terms of the bonus question…every element of church service would communicate God’s relentless grace.

  5. I can’t speak for every evangelical church. My guess is you are spot on for many of them. But let’s be honest. We come from a long line of people who are playing “hide the gospel”… Starting with Jesus.

    Jesus spoke in parables. He told stories that could speak to non-believers, believers, and everyone in between. Did he not? And didn’t he do this for a reason?

    Is what you’re referring to so different than that?

    • In my experience the Gospel is simply missing from most evangelical services, not hidden. In its place are self-help talks on how to be better parents, how to have great sex, how to “overcome” adversity–like losing a job–etc.

      • Spot on Jeff. And, thanks for this great post. Kind of ironic since he’s an Evangelical, but a few years back I heard Alistair Begg (megachurch pastor from the Cleveland area) make this very same point. He said something to the effect of…..”after decades of sermons on how to fix your kids, how to fix your spouse, how to fix your career, how to fix your finances, how fixed are we?!?! Not very!”

      • I have a slightly different take on this Jeff. Most of my experiences of evangelical services have not matched your experiences. But…. I do see with in the congregations a great neglect of being the body of Christ outside the walls of the church.

  6. Question #1…..This I do believe. My prayer is that strangers might see Jesus in me, but I am afraid that my basic and human sinful nature stands in the way of this, making my words less compelling.

    Question #2…..[NOT meant flippantly]……worshop would be sacramental and focused on the Death and Resurection of Christ.

    Until I lived in a neighborhood OVERFLOWING with families who worked for Campus Crusage, Wythcliffe Bible Translators, and mega-church assorted associate-pastors-for-some-special-group, I had no CLUE that the fundamental Bible only had the old testament and letters from Paul.

    • Pattie, I was a pastor in an evangelical setting, sent overseas to evangelize to Muslims and, believe it or not, Orthodox Christians. It only took a couple of days’ exposure to the Orthodox Church to understand the extreme error of my ways. I strongly agree with you that worship should be sacramental in nature. Ordinances are for limiting loud parties and farm animals in residential areas. Sacraments aren’t for placing limits, but provide us with nourishment and grace.

      • Lee – What did you do when you returned? Did you sending organization know of your new understanding? Have you made any changes because of it? Would love to hear the rest of this story.

      • Ordinances are for limiting loud parties and farm animals in residential areas. Sacraments aren’t for placing limits, but provide us with nourishment and grace.

        WOW that is hilarious. I’m totally gonna use that line on my Baptist friends 😛
        I second Adrienne. I want the rest of the story.

        • Miguel, I was going to second Adrienne, but I’ll third her motion. Lee? Get back to us.

          Miguel, I’m a baptist and you can use that line in my church anytime. 😀

        • +1 on everything Miguel said… Lee, the floor is yours, friend! Tell us the rest of the story while I go find some of my Calvary chapel friends to use that line on…

    • +1 !

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I had no CLUE that the fundamental Bible only had the old testament and letters from Paul.

      You forget Late Great Planet Earth, Left Behind, and the latest best-sellers by CELEBRITY Megachurch Pastor du jour, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Ayn Rand.

      And in the Seventies it was worse. Back then the fundamental Bible (except for the Dake’s) had only 3 1/2 books: Daniel, Revelation, the “nuclear war chapter” of Ezekiel (the 1/2), and Late Great Planet Earth.

      • And back then, those 3 1/2 books were in the King James Version.

        Around 1980 or so I had a “driveway moment” (you know, when you get home and can’t turn the engine off because you want to finish hearing what the guy on the radio is saying). It was a preacher on a Christian station talking about the King James: “It is the only AUTHORIZED version! All of the other so-called “versions” are not versions, they are PERVERSIONS!”

        Well, I got saved while reading a KJV, but still…

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          It was a preacher on a Christian station talking about the King James: “It is the only AUTHORIZED version! All of the other so-called “versions” are not versions, they are PERVERSIONS!”

          A lot of radio preachers used those “See How Clever I Am?” alliterations.

          And in King Jimmy Only-dom, have you ever heard about the Doctrine of Double Inspiration? Where God personally Inspired King Jimmy’s translators & the KJV as He did the original writers & documents? talk about Speshul Ego-boos…

          • No, haven’t heard that, but I’m not surprised.

            Believe it or not, I googled that quote this morning and it wasn’t hard to find mention of it, the words “authorized” and “perversions” included. I saw a few sites harshly critical of the KJV-only movement, which is probably dying anyway.

            I still think the KJV is one of the best, even though I only pull it out for the Christmas story in Luke and for Psalm 23. But worship it? Hardly.

  7. When there’s no real presence of Christ in the sacraments, it’s (worship) is going to take on these self-focused characteristics.

    It’s inevitably going to turn you inward (with what you do, say, feel, and think). It has to. It has to land somewhere.

    • Steve, I’m waiting for IMonk to install a “like” button, so I can more easily express my agreement with you and Pattie….

    • …and the reason for this is because non-sacramental churches worship Jesus as if he’s not actually there. Maybe he’s there spiritually or in our hearts, but he’s not a member of the assembly like we are. The cat’s away, so the one who truly deserves all honor and reverence gets none.

      It’s theoretically possible for an evangelical service to have honor and reverence for Christ. I’ve been a part of some that did. But there’s nothing in the evangelical playbook or doctrine that supports this: it is strictly optional and methodologically discouraged.

      • I recently had a conversation with a friend where he related to me a time when he was sat down and sternly warned of heresy because he had said that he took great comfort in the fact that Jesus had Ascended in the flesh, and was a physical person.

        I believe you hit on a critical disease here, Miguel. We DON’T actually believe he’s present, or we’ve de-humanized his presence into a wisp of feeling or cloud. This is the typical approach of most evangelical services- if only implicitly. No presence of Christ, because we have wait til the second coming for that.

        • “he was sat down and sternly warned of heresy because he had said that he took great comfort in the fact that Jesus had Ascended in the flesh”

          Is there a creed of any kind that Evangelicals adhere to that would address these types of issues?

          As a Catholic, I align with the Nicene and Apostles Creeds, but I don’t know what is out there in the Evangelical world. Thanks.

          • As far as I know, most evangelicals do adhere to the great creeds, but are just terrified to actually use them because it would be “too ritualistic.” Which of course, in effect, means that many of them don’t adhere to the creeds. I’d be just as satisfied if we took the time to explain, frequently and in detail, that the Gospel is Christ himself, and that “here’s EXACTLY what he did, from Scripture….”

      • Miguel, can you or someone else recommend a good resource to someone who has no idea what sacraments are, or why they’re important?

        Maybe Chaplain Mike could do a post on them…

      • YES!! This was brought home to me quite vividly when I went to church with my Mom on a visit home, after I’d been attending Catholic Mass for a couple of years. Not only was the sermon “about” a God who was somewhere “over there” rather than Here Now, but seemingly so were the hymns and the prayers. They were all about a remote God from whom only occasional bulletins were received (most of them received in some past time). The prayers were similar bulletins that would be delivered through some sort of Celestial mail service. No sense of a God who is closer than breath.

  8. U2’s “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” in a worship service? Ick.

    Going to Marcus’ question, the evangelicalism has some good elements and is worth saving, if it can be. But I do think this requires evangelicals to try to walk back their terrible overemphasis on God-and-me-and-me-and-me, along with the whole self-improvement gospel. The individualism is really out of control, and it’s a species of individualism that is very problematic. We need better ecclesiology and we need the cross.

    Here’s an example for last night. While driving home, I flipped to the local Christian radio station, and one of the onair personalities was gushing about an interview with Rick Warren that he’d heard. He reported that Warren said something about being in the middle of baptizing some folks, and he struck with the observation, “evangelicals are fat!” And he decided that the church had to do more to address its obesity problem. The station shared a quote from a lady who was obese saying she was an on-fire child of God but realized she’d neglected this part of her life. Soon thereafter, there was a commercial for a weight loss seminar.

    It amazes me that people don’t see what’s wrong with this picture. I mean, first, there’s the awkward detail that during something as sacred as baptism, the pastor’s thinking, “oh my, everyone here is FAT!” Then there’s the awkward detail that he shares the thought with everyone after the fact. But beyond this…those are awkward details… one of the most important issues for the church is addressing the obesity epidemic among Christians? Are we running a self-improvement clubs, or churches?

    • I guess I don’t see as big of a problem singing “I still haven’t found What I’m Looking For” as a worship song. It can describe the search for something more that leads many people to an experience with the Divine.

      I would say that yes, obesity is a problem among not just Christians but everyone (spoken as someone currently trying to shed lbs). It points to the fact that the person likely has an unhealthy relationship with food (real obesity as in 20% over normal BMI). Is it the most important thing for Christians to face? No, probably not, but it is important. You wouldn’t deride a church for trying to address an alcoholism epidemic in the congregation, would you?

      • It’s not *wrong*. And it can be sung by someone to express just that. Sure. People should do whatever works for them as they barrel down the road in their car. But no, I don’t think it’s a particularly good example of sacred music if you are planning a worship service. The text is all about the seeker, the lyrics really don’t articulate anything close to a discernable theological message. Why use this song?

        There’s a CCM song whose main refrain is “I love the way you love me, oh oh ohh ohhhh!” (speaking to God) and I would say pretty much the same thing about that sort of ditty. While there’s a long Christian tradition of comparing one’s relationship to God with romantic affection between people, the pop culture expression of this is more than a little sloppy.

        Yeah, I realize I’m a bit of a stick-in-the-mud.

        As to the weight loss bit, of course I’m not against self-improvement and of course personal faith can help someone deal with a personal issue like weight loss. But I also think churches have to be very careful about giving the impression that the gospel is somehow about addressing a long line of personal issues and using the power of faith (t m) to become an overcomer, and that the Bible is a manual of principles leading to successful living.

      • I guess the obvious question is, if you are calling the U2 song a worship song, what clue do the lyrics give us as to who is the one being worshipped, the object of the praise and adoration?
        The song is basically summarized as: whatever I’ve experienced so far, it isn’t filling my need.
        That may be a true statement of someone’s life experience, but I still wouldn’t call it “worship”.

        • I wouldn’t necessarily call that “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” a worship song, but it’s pretty clear Bono was singing about Christ.

          I believe in the kingdom come
          Then all the colors will bleed into one
          Bleed into one
          Well yes I’m still running

          You broke the bonds and you
          Loosed the chains
          Carried the cross
          Of my shame
          Of my shame
          You know I believed it

          That being said, I don’t think it’s a song that should be sung in a church service.

          • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

            Yeah, from what I understand, Bono was talking about the disillusionment that we all go through as part of our Christian walk. Bono’s a solid Christ-follower, from what I understand.

        • I’m not questioning Bono’s spiritual walk, or the obvious reference to Christ in the song. I’m just saying that the focus of the song towards self-realization doesn’t make it a good choice for a church *worship* service.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Going to Marcus’ question, the evangelicalism has some good elements and is worth saving, if it can be. But I do think this requires evangelicals to try to walk back their terrible overemphasis on God-and-me-and-me-and-me, along with the whole self-improvement gospel. The individualism is really out of control, and it’s a species of individualism that is very problematic.

      It’s what you get when Entropy sets in with an altar-call Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation.

      He reported that Warren said something about being in the middle of baptizing some folks, and he struck with the observation, “evangelicals are fat!”

      Well, people think stupid things at the most inappropriate moments, so that isn’t such a big deal in and of itself. However…

      And he decided that the church had to do more to address its obesity problem.

      And now the Agenda du Jour…

      The station shared a quote from a lady who was obese saying she was an on-fire child of God but realized she’d neglected this part of her life. Soon thereafter, there was a commercial for a weight loss seminar.

      A CHRISTIAN(TM) Weight-Loss Seminar, by any chance? Godly(TM), Biblical(TM), and Gospel-y(TM)?

      And now the true purpose is revealed: Commercial PLUG!

      • Oh, yes. A free seminar! If you call today.

        As an aside, I don’t fault Warren for having rogue thoughts; it’s just interesting to me that Warren and the radio announcer (or maybe just the radio announcer–I haven’t heard Warrens comments directly) were actually willing to leap verbally from the mental image of a baptism and all the meaning that carries with it to topic of “fat Christians should loose weight.” It’s a really curious mental jump that sounds oddly symbolic of the gospel/self-help slippage that one so often sees in contemporary churches.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Not just jump to “Fat Christians Should Lose Weight”, but to a lead-in to a CHRISTIAN(TM) weight-loss program. Can you say OBVIOUS PLUG?

  9. I think this ties in well to the ‘nones’ conversation. There were probably good intentions in the evangelical movement to reach more people who felt estranged by tradition. But now it has has morphed into its own own estranging entity. If we’re honest, we’ve given documentary makers plenty of material. Not all evangelical churches are the same but for the most part its become very narcissistic, irrelevant and, at worst, offensive. I’ve been in the church, so to speak, for decades and the idea of become a ‘none’ is enticing because I don’t have to say ‘i’m a christian but not one of those chiristians.” But at the same time i don’t want to jump ship.

    At the end of the day though people just want to be loved. when they are hurting they want help. They don’t need coffee, donuts, stretching, greeting, awkward singing, and self absorbed pep talks. If I really lived the gospel, I would love and help people regardless, void of any motive, and without the pressure to churchify.

    • Gold star to Eric for his answer to the homework assignment…

    • I have been, too many times to count, inundated with this “churchify” thing you so poignantly stated. The most recent was in 2011, during a job interview, of all places! It was for our local mission and I had just read the Mission’s “mission”, which included church membership or attendance as pre-qual for employment, and job description/requirements when the woman asked if I had any questions. “No, but I have a statement.” “What’s that?” “I don’t go to church.” “Well who is Jesus Christ to you?” “Um. My Lord and Savior.” What does that have to with anything. And the interview was instantly transformed into an interrogation. She proceeded to tell me she’d had bad experiences as well, but found healing in church, blah, blah, blah. I left in tears. Angry, fed up, what if I’ve gotten it wrong, again, tears. This God I dare to believe existing in Christ, I can’t seem to find Him anywhere on this planet……!!! The very next day she called me, I let it go to voice mail. She just wanted to encourage me, again, to find a church to attend.

      What? You’re freakin’ kidding me right? The number of negative experiences have left me with resentment residual that will no doubt hang around the remainder of my life. But it’s also done two other things: 1.) It gave me no choice but to seek God Himself. 2.) It has nourished my desire to “love and help people regardless, void of any motive,” because it’s what I’ve desperately needed all my life and never found except in Him.

      • sarahmorgan says

        When, after 5 years, I gave up going to church here in my small town (spiritual abuse, dishonesty & lies, a lot of leaders talking the talk but not walking the walk), I had a similar reaction from other churchgoers…I would run into people from the churches I had attended, and their first question — before any queries on my well-being, etc — would always be to demand, “What church are you attending now?” Because I’d been a worship leader, it didn’t occur to them that I wouldn’t be singing/playing elsewhere, and when I’d say “None”, the reaction was always utter shock (they were normally too speechless to collect enough thoughts to encourage me to return to church). On other occasions that drew together lots of church goers (usually choir events; most of the local singers are active in their churches), I would somehow find myself in contests of “I was hurt *this much* in church, but I still attend!” where no one would listen to the fact that I didn’t think that one day of the pastor making you cry could compare to 2 years of being treated for PTSD-like symptoms after leaving one of the churches. I’ve wrestled with God and my faith in Him, and find myself still believing and clinging to John 6:67-69, but I doubt I’ll find myself in a local church again. It still makes me cringe inside when I recall discovering that in the local college music department (where I immersed myself after shedding church), the people I encountered were immensely less self-centered & nasty, and far more honest and friendly, than the people I’d dealt with in church over the previous years…a very harsh thing for a lifelong churchgoer to come to grips with.

        As for Jeff’s questions:
        (1) I would probably be much more joyful, substantially humbler, less protective of my own interests, and less concerned about my own spritual pain compared to the pain of others.
        (2) There is a modern (meets in a theater, worship team is a talented rock band) service in San Diego called Flood, and every time I’ve had the rare opportunity to attend, I’ve felt that everyone and everything there has converged for the sole purpose of magnifying and worshiping the Almighty God of the Universe, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Everpresent Holy Spirit of God. It’s refreshing in a world of self-exalting evangelicalism.

  10. Marcus Johnson says

    Okay, looks like a few people believe that evangelicalism is worth saving. However, can someone discuss why it should be saved? I don’t think we’ve really answered that question yet.

    • Honestly, I don’t know why it should be saved… other than the possibility that its here to stay (which admittedly isn’t a very good reason). What do you think? Is it too big to die on its own or should we try and change it? or kill it?

    • I think the simple answer for why Evangelicalism is worth saving is simply that institutions are made up of real people, not simply abstractions. For most people, dealing with change gradually is easier than a totally disruptive, world altering ordeal. It’s very easy to become impatient and want things to happen quickly, but that’s generally not how God works.

    • From a Christian perspective, I would say it should be saved because it could be a user-friendly entry into Christianity. Think about what it must be like if you have never had much to do with Christianity to wonder into a Catholic mass or an Orthodox Divine Liturgy. These are not easy to follow along with and to get all the symbolism etc. Episcopalian Eucharist service you have the same problem plus the fact that the symbolism will vary depending on whether the individual congregation is closer to the Reform or to the Anglo-Catholic end of the spectrum. I have never been to a Lutheran service, so can’t speak to it. Or to take another example, imagine wondering into a Friends Meeting. All that silence. It can be nerve wracking if one is not used to it.

      The benefit of the Evangelical service is that it is easy to understand and follow along with. Evangelical gatherings also tend to be friendly to newcomers. Also, it is not difficult to join an Evangelical church compared with the 6-12 month prep for the Catholic or EO catechumens. And interestingly, with the Catholics, at least, that longer time commitment doesn’t seem to result in a much higher retention rate for their converts.

      • Here’s my analogous answer to that. When we have waffles in my house, my wife and I use real maple syrup. Much to my chagrin, my kids use the fake, sticky stuff made in a lab. I always ask them why they do this? don’t they know they are settling for the imitation, all the while the real thing is just sitting there for them to use? The answer is that the first syrup we ever gave them to eat was the fake stuff, and now they think it’s the real thing.

        • Crikies, Alan!! +1

        • But in the case of Christianity, I don’t think any one particular church can claim to have the “real thing”. There are plenty of bad churches to go around, and the cross denominational and traditional lines.

          • Phil, I hear what you’re saying, but as the post points out, a “church service” that is virtually devoid of the gospel can’t be the real thing.

            ***Disclaimer**** don’t read any further into that statement. I’m not saying there aren’t any true Christians in that service, just saying that the service as a whole can’t be the real thing if the gospel is absent.

        • And if you took away the fake stuff, they might decide not to eat waffles at all. Remember, I suggested Evangelicalism it as a user-friendly entry into Christianity. Look at it from the “none” perspective, they’re there to see what Christian worship is all about, but they aren’t buying in yet. Make it too hard, they’ll just walk away at the “Go in peace” and look for something more inviting.

          • If the goal is to eat real, genuine food, is there any difference in eating fake food and in not eating any food at all?

            You say, “Make it too hard and they’ll just walk away.” To that I say, yes, and that was the message of Jesus. How many people walked away from Him and He didn’t go chasing after them toning down His message? Jesus often turned people off with His message. Jesus told us that the message was hard and that few would find the way.

          • But I’m not talking about the message of your Savior, I’m talking about a church service. Liturgical services are harder to understand and follow along with for a newcomer than the usual Evangelical gathering. If you make that service hard, people will never hear the message of your Savior.

          • Marcus Johnson says

            I think there is a big difference between making a church service accessible to people from different cultural traditions, and making it “cool.” Good jazz or classical numbers are tough to listen to, but to reduce its complexity would effectively reduce the integrity of the piece.

            That being said, I don’t believe that the Lutheran style of worship is dictated to us by God as the only way to worship. I find that their liturgical services (and, for that matter, practically all Christian services) privilege a White, European, male-dominant perspective. There is a social and cultural identity that is integrated to how we perceive worship, and once we acknowledge that, we can really begin to explore how we can design worship services.

        • Marcus Johnson says

          Alan F, why are you making me think about waffles at 11:45 p.m. at night?

  11. The horrible, vengeful, angry God who demands the law be kept or punishment will be meted out, the God who says the wages of sin is death, the God who is an all-consuming fire is not welcome in our evangelical services.

    Woah, hold on there…That first sentence is not an accurate description of God, at all. I certainly have heard God described in those terms by Evangelicals, though. I too refuse to believe that God is a cosmic Santa Claus, but I also refuse to believe that He’s the equivalent of a tyrannical father with OCD. Consuming Fire is something I can work with…

    Although, I have to say, that growing up I sure heard a lot of people who described God in those terms, and they were all, for the most part, Evangelicals.

    • Phil, if God does not demand punishment for sin, there is no need of the cross. And without the cross, all we have is an eccentric, somewhat rebellious Jewish teacher. No, we must see God as he truly is, not as the cuddly grandfather we want him to be. Law must proceed Gospel if Gospel is to be Good News.

      • That’s a very Lutheran understanding of the Gospel.

        I’m not saying that it’s totally wrong, but I think that the idea that God the Father is up in heaven keeping score, writing down every sin you commit is downright harmful to people growing up in churches. Why would I ever want to trust and draw near to a God like that? Even in the OT, God is described as having mercy and compassion towards His people. He did not abandon them even when they rejected Him. The issue of wrath is not a straightforward one.

        It’s just interesting to me, because as I see it, the one thing Evangelicalism doesn’t need to do is to harp more on a penal substitution version of the atonement. The Lutheran understanding isn’t necessarily PSA, but it does have many similarities. I’m not sure that Luther is Evangelicalism’s great hope.

        • I have to agree, Phil.
          I think the Lutheran/Catholic focus on God as this punitive being who would send us all into eternal fire if not for Jesus’ death doesn’t resonate with a lot of people either. I’ve had discussions with a number of people who say they avoid Lutheran and Catholic churches because life is hard enough without spending Sunday morning hearing how worthless you really are in the eyes of God without Jesus and how apart from him, you really can’t do anything. Not what you want to hear if you’re already down, with little chance of going up.

          So, Jesus saves you from a horrible eternity that you aren’t even sure exists, but how does that help you now, especially if you look around and realize that you have landed at the bottom of life’s ladder of success? I just don’t think a lot of people buy that any more than they buy tickets to the evangelical circus.

          • Aidan Clevinger says

            Suzanne: If I’m already down, with little chance of going up, what should I hear besides the fact that God is gracious to me in Christ, has adopted me as His precious child in Baptism, sees me as perfect and complete for Jesus’ sake, and Has given me the Holy Spirit, fellowship with the Trinity, the real presence of Christ in the Supper, and the promise of eternal life in the resurrection – and all this despite the fact that I don’t deserve it?

            Remember, too, that the Lutheran understanding of the Gospel is NOT that Jesus persuaded the Father to forgive us, even though the Father really wanted to send us to Hell. Rather, the Father Himself sent Jesus out of love for His fallen creation, because He *wanted* to reconcile Himself with mankind.

            Do you think we can do anything apart from Jesus?

          • The Lutheran Law/Gospel dialectic doesn’t really exist in Catholicism. The understandings of law, grace, and sin are extremely different. So I’m not sure what you’re referring to when you say the Lutheran/Catholic thing. Unless you just mean that people feel guilty when they go to Catholic or Lutheran churches?

        • Aidan Clevinger says

          ^No, God didn’t abandon His people even when they rejected Him. But He did bring Assyria and Babylon to burn their cities, kill their young men, loot their temple, and carry them off kicking and screaming into exile. I agree with you that the Father will not abandon His people, that He will reach out to them in mercy and compassion. But He also calls for us to repent of our sins. Wrath and love exist at the same time in God. True, God desires above all else to show mercy – but oftentimes, in order to do that, He must first show wrath. He must kill before He makes alive again.

          The problem with evangelicalism is that it DOESN’T preach the atonement. If it did, it wouldn’t continually burden people with their sins. The whole crux (pun intended) of Luther’s understanding of the Gospel was that it was a free message of forgiveness to all who repent of their sins, at any point in time, and that Christ’s sacrifice covers over *every* sin. The bottom line is that God has indeed been reconciled to mankind by the cross of Christ and has put away His wrath, and that we can receive the benefits of His mercy if only we will repent of sin and turn to Christ. What could be more gracious than this (thoroughly penal and judicial) “version” of the atonement? What could be more merciful than the knowledge that God really has forgiven every sin of mine, in spite of all their evil, simply for Christ’s sake?

          Finally, there is no such thing (at least, there shouldn’t be any such thing) as the Lutheran “version” of the atonement – just as there’s no such thing as a Baptist or Roman Catholic or Orthodox “version” of the atonement. Emphases notwithstanding, a church can either preach the Gospel – i.e. that Christ through His sufferings and death has reconciled us to God – or they can preach something else.

          • The biggest issue I have with presenting the Gospel in the terms you use is that it seems to be thoroughly individualistic, and it still seems to be based on the idea that our personal salvation (i.e., going to heaven) is the only thing that matters.

            It’s not that I disagree with the notion that the Gospel message includes the announcement that Christ has reconciled us to God, but I also think it includes that much bigger announcement that God has not abandoned his creation to decay, and the He is making all things new. In other words, we have to make the Gospel about what Jesus said the Gospel was about. Jesus went around preaching that the Kingdom was at hand. I don’t see why we shouldn’t be doing that as well.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            ^No, God didn’t abandon His people even when they rejected Him. But He did bring Assyria and Babylon to burn their cities, kill their young men, loot their temple, and carry them off kicking and screaming into exile.

            — Radio preaching I heard far too often during the Cold War

          • You’re right, they don’t preach atonement…in its fullness. I would totally agree that Jesus reconciled us to God through his death…it’s just that in Scripture that is followed by more Gospel: the Resurrection which defeats death’s reign, and the Ascension which places Jesus’ risen person with us, per the Great Commission. Most preaching of Christ and the Gospel in evangelical churches just stops at “Christ died for your sins.” 1 Cor 15 defines the Gospel as cross, resurrection, appearances, and ascension, and then goes into an extensive explanation of the Resurrection. There are Gospel sermons in Acts that don’t include the Cross. There are none that don’t include the Resurrection. All but one place Christ in the context of Jewish history and Scripture. These things usually don’t play into people’s thinking when they are referring to “Gospel,” and “atonement.”

      • “If God does not demand punishment for sin, there is no need of the cross.” That statement is only true if you in the first place believe the cross was about God punishing sin. Many Christians don’t accept that the purpose of the cross was punitive, but that does not mean that they believe there is no need of the cross.

        • Quite true.

          “Who for us men and our salvation came down from heaven…..”

          By showing us how much He loves us, not to “buy off” the Father (and Spirit) that, with Him, ARE the Trinity….God in Three Persons.

          Sorry…had to back Micheal up on the differing theologies between Catholic and Luthern, even if they may look and feel similar. There is also the “tiny” matter of the True Presence and Apostolic Succession. Not trying to nit-pick, just be accurate.

          • Exactly, it’s not about buying off a wrathful Father. There’s something quite pagan and bestial about penal substitutionary atonement when it’s taken to an extreme. (It can also can render God incapable of forgiveness–as though God has to take it out on somebody, He just doesn’t care who.) In Catholic theology, what happens on the cross isn’t so much the Father’s wrath going down on the Son, as much as the Son’s utterly self-emptying love going up to the Father.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            “Something pagan and bestial” as in Aztec or Moche?

          • HUG, that’s exactly what I mean.

        • Maybe I didn’t explain myself well, which is normal for me!

          It’s the atonement thing, in whatever form you see it, that I think doesn’t resonate well with a lot of people. Atone for what? For not being perfect which I’m told I can’t help anyway because of the screw up of somebody thousands of years ago that I had absolutely no control over? That sounds like a punitive God to an awful lot of people. And what happens to the poor slob who has no idea of any of this because the information about this atonement was not available? Is he or she to spend eternity in a horrible place because he just happened to miss the boat to glory, a boat he didn’t know existed?

          I just think a lot people won’t and don’t buy this.

          • But surely you believe there is sin and the world, and that a merciful and loving God must do something about sin and it’s natural consequence, death. That’s the atonement – God’s response to sin. Nothing in the Scriptures require us to believe that the atonement is about God satisfying His justice and realeasing His wrath. The atonement is about God in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. It’s about Christ in His incarnation replacing Adam as the head of the human race. And it is about Christ in His death and resurrection breaking the chains of death for all of humanity. This is the good news.

          • But Clay, if you don’t believe in an afterlife, what difference does any of that really make? Sure, losing a loved one will be sad, but it’s sad even for the Christian. If you do not hold to an afterlife and think that, in the end, you’ll cease to exist, which is neither heavenly or hellish, you understand that no matter how bad life gets, eventually, that pain will end. Most atheists that I’ve met don’t seem the least bit bothered by death being the end.

            To a non-believer it sounds like Christ breaks the bondage of death which was caused by a man from thousands of years ago screwing up and causing God to require Jesus’ death and resurrection to make things right again. But that’s going to sound punitive to a lot of people.

          • Well obviously if there is no God or nothing beyond this material world, then nothing matters. But the God that most atheists I know reject is not the God of classical, historical Christianity. I too would reject the god that most modern western Christians believe in.

      • Jeff,
        I agree with Phil.

        One of the main reasons I sought entry into Eastern Orthodoxy was that in the Eastern Church the cross carries no sense of punishment. In the East, the cross is about: 1) Christ as fully human entering into death, just like any other human, and identifying with all of us in that; 2) the compassion and condescending love of the Father. Christ on the cross is displaying the forgiveness of the Father, not suffering the wrath of the Father; there is no pitting the one against the other. The picture of God by which we are to understand who God is is precisely the Crucified One. (Sin was condemned in the flesh of Christ, but that’s not the same thing. Read N.T. Wright on this.) 3) by entering into death, Christ was able to blast it apart from the inside out, freeing us from the slavery of sin that is driven by fear of death (Heb 2.14-15), inaugurating the New Creation and ensuring our Resurrection as well; and 4) God wins this victory precisely in humility, not in a show of bare power. It is on the Cross that the Messiah God is glorified and comes into his Kingdom. (I am reminded of Gandalf’s speech at the end of Hobbit movie 1, where he explains that battles are most surely and lastingly won by humble and homey means…)

        In the Eastern Church, God is not a cuddly grandfather, but neither is he sitting on a cloud throwing thunderbolts nor is he an accountant toting up everyone’s sins. He is good and loves mankind: The LORD, the LORD, slow to anger and abounding in mercy…


        • Dana,
          You said it much better than I did! But what you said was essentially what I was trying to get at. I think when people start thinking about God being wrathful enough to kill Jesus, and then on top of that they are told that He really wanted to punish them, well, it’s hard to square with the image of the Father that Jesus talked about in the Gospels. How does one square a PSA view with the parable of the Prodigal Son, for instance?

          I saw this video awhile ago, and it explains the difference between an Orthodox view of salvation and a more Protestant (really, Reformed) view. I think it’s pretty good.


          • Josh in FW says

            If you like the video you should check out his podcast, Steve the Builder, at Ancient Faith dot com.

  12. By the way – have we heard from Eagle lately? Does anyone know how he is doing?

  13. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Aside from the three minute sprint through Romans, the Gospel was nowhere to be found.

    And Romans isn’t even one of the Gospels. It’s one of the Epistles.

    (But then Evangelicals and their theology tend to bypass Christ for Paul’s commentaries on Christ. Kind of like skipping Torah for Talmud.)

    • Not “Gospel” as in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. “Gospel” as in Good News.

      • Yeah, in that sense Genesis counts too, because the promise of a redeemer is all throughout it. But the four Gospels are 100% Savior stories, 200 proof with no dilution of asides or commentary. In them Jesus lives and walks around teaching and healing. In them we see Him most directly, and not refracted through the “this is what it means” lens of the epistles (as vitally important as those passages are). When we look intently at Christ himself, the preacher has less wiggle room to sell you his own personal Jesus.

        Plus, Jesus makes a whole lot less sense than Paul, and Paul is darned confusing. It is good for us to be confronted with that on a regular basis, lest we begin to think we have God figured out.

        • “Plus, Jesus makes a whole lot less sense than Paul, and Paul is darned confusing. It is good for us to be confronted with that on a regular basis, lest we begin to think we have God figured out.”


          I count is as significant that as a young fundamentalist, I loved Paul (but found him a bit confusing during my darker moments), because he was all instruction and something closer to straight theology. And I wanted to figure things out.

          But the gospels, now those just weren’t so tidy … they were unsettling.

          Now, I still find them unsettling, and I appreciate that fact a lot more!

    • flatrocker says

      (But then Evangelicals and their theology tend to bypass Christ for Paul’s commentaries on Christ. Kind of like skipping Torah for Talmud)

      Kinda like trading the joy of riding a new bicycle so I can have the opportunity to memorize the assembly instructions.

  14. How would evangelical services look if the church really believed the Gospel?

    – It would be fascinated with the life, death, resurrection, and return of Jesus. The centrality of the message of Jesus would usurp everything else. The self-help and self-glory gospel would shrivel. 13-week messages on manly men, leadership, marriage, prosperity, revival, women’s roles, liberation, and other things would look strange in this context.

    – It would be excited about missions: from missionaries proclaiming the Gospel in other parts of the world to the homeless shelter next door, to defending those in HUD Housing needing a representative. It would be excited to form partnerships that cross boundaries and be both involved in its community and its world. It would be excited to hear about the gospel of Jesus being spread worldwide and nearby.

    – It would really irritate die-hard liberals and conservatives. Conservatives who live in the world of Ayn Rand would be angry at its attempts to save budgets and suggest spending increase for some social programs. It wouldn’t be happy that people aren’t always first asked to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. Liberals who expect churches to downplay its salvation message or teachings on sexual issues will be not happy with the idea that the message can’t be distilled to a more palatable one. Neither would be happy with the loss of focus on individualism.

    – It wouldn’t worry about the rest of the world not caring about its actions. Critics would still howl for days. Cynics would still navel-gaze. Impressing the world wouldn’t be the point.

    To be clear many, many Evangelical churches are doing this, and that is awesome. Others are doing parts of this, and that’s a great start. But if we were on this, I think we’d have a different mindset amongst evangelicals, and it would manifest itself in other places as well.

  15. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    The focus of the service Lutherans and Anglicans and Catholics is the cross of Jesus. The focus of the service for evangelicals is me and you. It has become the church of the Golden Calf, and we are fashioning God into the image we want. Need a more cuddly God? No problem. We’ll sing songs that tell of God making everything right. Want a more spiritual experience? Let’s sing of pursuing his presence.

    Bronying out here, but as a god-figure even Princess Celestia has more depth than that.

  16. I’m at a place where the Gospel has me pretty busted up. I believe it, and desperately need it, but that whole dying to self thing can really suck. Lion claws and dragon scales don’t mesh well, especially when the lion claws are so #$#@!* strong. I suppose that if I really truly believed the Gospel with all my being, I would feel God’s love a bit more.

    • God doesn’t always present as a “feeling”. Give Him and yourself time to listen…

      • Seconded. TexasGael, please don’t worry about feelings. I’ve often thought the same as you, but sometimes the feeling just isn’t there and the way is rocky and hard. Faith can be an act of will and not feeling, and that’s just as valid. Maybe it’s even more substantial and long lasting – who knows?

  17. If Evangelicals believed the gospel, they would read from them. Every Sunday. In our church, we stand and sing alleluia before and after hearing from one of those four books, even if we’re using a praise band. They’re not like the rest of the Bible: they are of primary importance. It is one of the high points of the service.

    If Evangelicals really believed the gospel, they would recite the creed, because the creed reviews all the important points of the truths they hold most dear. They would confess their sins. They would pray for the church and the world. They would sing the Psalms and other texts of Scripture.

    If Evangelicals believed the Gospel, they would celebrate the Lord’s Supper, because it pictures the most important event in their lives. They would pray the Lord’s prayer because his instruction while on earth would be taken seriously (instead of reasoned away).

    You can do all these things in an Evangelical worship service without being high-church. But they are dogmatically opposed to using most of the above because their true interests lie elsewhere. Try it: ask your pastor if you can recite the Apostles Creed in worship. Or the Lord’s prayer. See how it goes over. Watch him prove my point.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      An OT chapter, a Psalm, an NT chapter (usually Paul), and a Gospel chapter. Every Mass. Covering everything on a three-year rotation.

      • I found it odd how the Temple readings did the same thing (through the Torah every year, other readings on a yearly cycle). I suppose there’s a common basis for that similarity.

        • Truth be told, we stole the idea from somewhere. The early Christian Service of the Word was borrowed from the Synagogue worship, where I believe they had a reading from the law, and then the prophets, with the singing of Psalms between.

          • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

            Pre-Vatican II, it was more common to have a 1-year cycle for the Eucharist that was the Gospel reading appropriate to the Liturgical season and a complimentary Epistle reading, which is even more similar to the Jewish Torah cycle (Torah + Haftarah or Prophets, 1 year). The change to a 3-year cycle that inclues an OT reading and a Psalm occurred as a way to get more Scripture to the people.

            Prior to that, the Psalms were the foundation for the Daily Office or Divine Office services, which are very similar to the Jewish daily services (corresponding to the Temple sacrifices).

            But, yeah, we totally ripped that off from the Jews.

          • Isaac/Obed, we didn’t rip anything off from the Jews…

            What we have as that prayer/Psalm readings/Torah cycle is what would be expected if Christianity actually arose out of 2nd Temple Judaism.

            Miguel, I haven’t forgotten you – holidays, out of town company, work changes… I will write to you soon.


          • No worries, Dana, it’s been more of the same here too.

          • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

            Totally ripped it off 😀 Ripped it off, I say!!!

            Of course synagogue liturgical structures were still in flux for a while, as were our practices. The Pre-Vatican II lectionary didn’t really reach its complete forms until the 11th century, I think, though parts of the Gospel cycle were in place as early as the 5th. I think, if I remember right, that there was at one time a 3-year Torah cycle that included a lot more prophets as the secondary reading than the modern 1-year one does…. kind of like the modern 3-year Christian lectionary.

            Actually, what we have is less one group cribbing off of another than both having the same roots: 1st-century Judaism.

      • The Lutheran Divine Service is identical in that respect. I don’t think it covers the entire OT, but with the new alternates in the RCL, I believe you could over 6 years.

    • Wow. Common ground! I also agree with Justin’s comments above too.

    • Stuart Boyd says

      Actually, you can attend a church where ALL those things are done, but they are done on autopilot.

      Going through the motions and walking through the part doesn’t mean anything will penetrate the heart.

      • Two things: No type of worship, liturgical, free-church, or quaker, is immune to the human tendency to revert into auto pilot. The cure for attention deficit isn’t a constantly changing liturgy, because that will actually decrease participation and increase confusion. Even “non-liturgical” churches settle with a familiar pattern that rarely varies, because humans are naturally habitual.
        Second, it matters not if our emotions are sincere enough. They NEVER will be. We are called to love God with our whole hearts, but as long as we are still sinners, it is proof that we do not. The solution is not to manipulate an emotional rise out of an audience. Pastoral wisdom, I suggest, would lead us to base any emotional response in a worship service on the message of God’s goodness to us in Christ. It is not enough to be emotional for emotion’s sake.

      • I don’t know if I believe this anymore- I do think that people do this, but over the long haul, I think it will penetrate the hearts of believers. Because the autopilot happens in spite of, not because of, the discipline of exposing yourself to the Gospel. In other words, there’s no magic “ritual-free” way of doing church that actually DOES penetrate the heart any more effectively. So it becomes a moot criticism very quickly.

        Also, contrary to popular belief, it’s impossible to simply metaphysically “adjust” one’s heart, so that one is no longer being mechanical. I don’t know if that’s where you were taking it, but I just wanted to point that out. After all, it’s not as if all the people doing things on autopilot haven’t realized that their hearts aren’t in it, and just refuse to make the change because they believe they’re saved by works or something.

        It’s good to recognize when we’re being mechanical, but there’s nothing else to be done, really. There’s nothing (as far as church services go) that’s going to penetrate the heart where the Gospel doesn’t. The key is to keep going anyway, and assume that the MOST heart-penetrating thing that has ever happened, WILL penetrate the hearts of people eventually. Disciplines that relate the Gospel to the Church have that power, because the Gospel has that power.

        • This is a realistic and hopeful way to think about the issue. It also resonates with my own experience.

          There are many times I can’t or don’t quite break out of my mold. I’m tired, its a long week, my mind wanders, whatever. But the discipline or habit of doing something keeps me coming back and prepares me to hear. Being half asleep on a bad day isn’t the opposite of being awake. Its being halfway there, preparing for those moments when one is wide awake (as it were). Eventually one gets ears to hear.

      • Stuart Boyd says

        Live deep inside the Bible Belt and attend a liturgical church where LOTS of people started coming because they were trying to flee from the typical U2 type services,or the self-help services, or the swaying to the music services, meaning often they have simply shifted their emotional release from the light show to the liturgy. What they love is the structure, the order, the more “adult” feel of the service, etc.

        Being liturgical is good, but it is not a cure because people who have been conditioned to interact with God emotionally will continue to interact that way no matter what kind of worship service they attend. At least until someone points out the problem to them. They may know they are not engaged in the liturgy, but they still get some emotional omph type feeling from it because it more aligns with their personality bend of liking structure and order and control, etc.

        The solution to autopilot is examination, and that seems to be a huge thing lacking ain ALL forms of American Christianity.

        • If someone’s normal way of interacting with Deity is emotional, I’m not sure a solution is needed, it is just the way that person responds to deity. Same with someone who responds intellectually or in other ways. As long as it isn’t blatantly inappropriate for the venue (e.g. tongues at the Anglo-Catholic Episcopalian church), I’m not sure there is a wrong way to approach the Deity (well, other than using the wrong incense).

      • Isn’t it usually the case that humans rarely give anything their undivided attention? Sure maybe the reader is reading from Luke, you favorite Gospel, but then unbidden the thought that maybe you left the oven on jumps into your mind and before long you’re wondering when the last time you cleaned your oven was (or maybe this is just me).

        The point of reading them over and over and over again on a cycling basis is that eventually, you will hopefully not be distracted at the same point and actually hear the whole thing from end to end. Also, it gives the person preaching some guidance so they can actually address the readings and not go off on their usual ramble.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          It’s not just you, Cermak.

          I have never understood people with a “one-track mind” like my father. My brain is always thrashing down side-channels. Uncontrollably. If I’m a borderline Aspie, I missed out entirely on the Hyperfocus ability.

          • Same here. I frequently find myself saying things like ,no I don’t have Asperger’s, I just occasionally behave like it (but without the hyper-focus ability either).

    • Appending to Miguel’s note: Evangelicals would also pray for the unity of the church at every gathering.

  18. I love this article. I came to Christ at a pretty progressive Evangelical church just over a year ago, and when I moved from the city that church was in, I was forced to find a new one. And I found that the other Evangelical churches I went to weren’t “hitting” something for me. Then I went to a Lutheran church for the first time, and it was awesome how much emphasis was put on the Gospel. In fact, I loved that, while I could sit through the sermon, I stood for the Gospel. I think there is something about participating in liturgy that takes the emphasis off the individual – which makes it easier to focus more on God, since we’re focusing less on ourselves.

  19. Jeff, I know you are comfortable where you are at with your current congregation and the doctrine you believe. But what if you were to just visit Grace Lutheran for one Sunday? I would love to hear your reaction to that experience. Just see if it doesn’t overwhelm you with the directness of Gospel presentation and complete service saturation with the words of and about Christ. And to see if maybe the incense is just a bit too spooky.

    • Where is Grace? I’m pretty high church, but even we don’t use incense. (Old ladies think it stinks.)

      • Is that this Grace? https://internetmonk.com/archive/grace-lutheran-church-tulsa-ok

        Unfortunately, that pastor converted to Rome. (Which just shows that overemphasis on ceremonies is another ditch that can lead one away from the Gospel.) It’s not the format, it’s reverence and the presence of the Word & Sacrament that ultimately matters.

        • Yes, that is the church I was referring to. It happens to be in Jeff’s backyard. I know, incense is controversial on the level of personal preference. I did not know about that pastor, but it does seem that the congregation has continued steadfast in his absence.

          • Richard Hershberger says

            The use of incense in the Lutheran church doesn’t rise to the level of being controversial. It isn’t nearly widespread enough to rate controversy. I have only attended one Lutheran church in my life that used it, and then only a few times a year. My current church has an annual ecumenical service celebrating Michaelmas. One of the regular visiting clergy is a Byzantine Rite Catholic priest. He always brings his thurible, and all the Lutherans stand and watch with admiration, but feeling no urge to go take a thurifer training class.

        • “Unfortunately, that pastor converted to Rome. (Which just shows that overemphasis on ceremonies is another ditch that can lead one away from the Gospel.)”

          Ouch! Going to Rome=being led away from the Gospel. When you and I, in our Lutheran and Catholic churches, stand up on Sunday mornings and hear what is read aloud, I wonder what it is that I hear? When I check the respective lectionaries, it looks like the same thing that you hear — but maybe the Gospel you are hearing turns into something else once I cross myself before the reading? Maybe the humble statue of Mary in the corner of the church emits scrambling rays to distort the message from Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John?

          Sarcasm aside, Boaz, that seems like an extreme remark.

          • “Maybe the humble statue of Mary in the corner of the church emits scrambling rays to distort the message from Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John?”

            Damaris, you really shouldn’t give away all trade secrets. 🙂

          • *all your trade secrets

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            The Treaty of Westphalia ended the Reformation Wars in 1648.

            It is now 2013, and we have another who never got the news.

            “NO POPERY!”

          • 🙂

  20. I’ve never have understood the whole stretching out the arms toward someone thing either, like we’re casting a spell on them or something. Or how about the forced “greeting”? I didn’t care enough to talk to you before the service but now that the pastor forced me I will talk to you. 😉 Awkward!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I don’t mind the stretching out of arms business. It’s a distance-related variant of the Laying on of Hands gesture. What I DO mind is doing it with one arm instead of both; that’s the difference in appearance between Laying on of Hands and a Nuremberg Rally Salute.

      • I guess if it has to do with Laying on of Hands. It just seems a little strange. But ok. Yes, the one arm salute might be confusing to newcomers.

  21. “If you were to really, truly believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ to be the greatest Good News of all, how would your life be different than it is now?”

    One key characteristic that I keep coming back to is that our fear of suffering and death continues to shrink and disappear. The death and resurrection of Christ liberate the church from the fear of death.

    I believe much of evangelicalism is not that interested in the Gospel because they don’t actually believe the Gospel requires embodiment to actually BE Gospel. Paul defines the Gospel as Christ’s death, Resurrection, Resurrection appearances, and Ascension. That means the story of the Incarnate Jesus on earth. What they AREN’T is salvation theology, or even the nature of “grace” as a principle or doctrine. Yet that’s still what most evangelicals still believe is the good news- a purely “spiritual” salvation, or God’s love, or some such disembodied thing.

    The result is, you need to find something incarnational to worship (because that’s what en-fleshed beings do!) The quick answer is the churchy things around you- spectacular services, or the motivation pastor’s Awesome Skillz in leadership. Jesus, quietly, becomes a footnote that people drag in to get someone saved, or to try and make it look like what they’re doing still has something to do with Christianity.

    Yes, I believe we, as a Body, would lose our fear of death and live unashamedly as if God’s Kingdom has defeated evil. In wild, dangerous ways.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Yet that’s still what most evangelicals still believe is the good news- a purely “spiritual” salvation, or God’s love, or some such disembodied thing.

      Last week, I picked up an underground comix adaptation of the Malleus Maleficarium. (I am in contact with the cartoonist who made the adaptation, and am formulating a critique.) One thing I noticed in it was a long theological explanation of why “Jesus Did Not Poop”.

      That’s the Docetist Heresy, that Christ was so God he only “appeared” to be human. The Doctrine of the Incarnation means “Jesus DID Poop” — God Almighty had to poop, like any other human.

      The result is, you need to find something incarnational to worship (because that’s what en-fleshed beings do!)

      Which is the reason behind Sacraments, Sacramentals, and Liturgy — to express the Spiritual in the Physical, using the senses to show the truths. The sight of the liturgy, the sound of the prayers and hymns, the smell of the incense, the touch of the Greeting of Peace, the taste of the Host at Communion.

      (A Wiccan once told me High Mass has all four of the “Elemental Correspondences” — Bread for Earth, Incense for Air, Wine for Water, and Candle Flames for Fire. Earth, Air, Fire, and Water or Solid, Liquid, Gas, and Plasma?)

      The quick answer is the churchy things around you- spectacular services, or the motivation pastor’s Awesome Skillz in leadership.

      But when you’ve turned your back on centuries of Liturgy and the institutional memory of what works, you flop around trying to reinvent the wheel and come up with a cheap-o substitute. And there is too much “knockoffs, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!” going around already.

      Yes, I believe we, as a Body, would lose our fear of death and live unashamedly as if God’s Kingdom has defeated evil. In wild, dangerous ways.

      Yet my time influenced by Evangelicals only led to a greater fear of death, almost to the point of a phobia. I’m a possible low-end Aspie whose mind is only too ready & eager to freewheel into worst-case scenarios (see the MLP:FIM episode “Lesson Zero” for a pop-culture example of this), and a lot of Evangelical Wretched Urgency preaching just added Fear of Eternal Hell to fear of death. The result was such a distrust of such a God that I can only approach God under cover of Liturgy.

      • And the bells. I missed the bells when they took them out of the Mass. And was so happy to rediscover them when I went to the Episcopalian Eucharist.

        One of the hardest things I had to do when leaving Christianity was leave those bells after having just rediscovered them. Well that, and explaining to Fr. Shawn that I was leaving and why (I felt I owed her that much).

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Actually, they didn’t take the bells out of “Bells & Smells” Mass. It varies from parish to parish and on the formality of the Mass, but my parish uses sacring bells on formal occasions.

      • When I realized that a large portion of the problems I saw around me in churches could be laid at the doorstep of Docetism, an (at least) implied denial of the flesh of Jesus, and all that entails, it was like a whole new dimension opened up in my faith. Or rather, maybe I should reverse that: when I saw that the implication of Jesus’ historic and continued physical incarnation, it revolutionized my faith. And from there, I realized just how Docetic the teachings in evangelicalism really are.

        • Richard Hershberger says

          Back when the movie The Last Temptation of Christ came out, it was very controversial. I watched some television program that had a sort of “point counterpoint” session with two clergy, for and against the film. The guy against it made the criticism that the film portrayed Jesus as a real human, with human temptations. He then proclaimed that this is entirely contrary to thousands of years of Christian tradition. I was only in high school at the time, but I nearly choked when I heard this. I find it less surprising (though not less appalling) in retrospect, because I have a better understanding today of where this guy was coming from.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          I realized just how Docetic the teachings in evangelicalism really are.

          JMJ/Christian Monist (a regular commenter here until his job swamped him) has a blog (http://evangelicalinthewilderness.blogspot.com/) whose major continuing theme is what he calls “Platonic dualism” or “gnostic dualism” in Christianity — especially the Fundagelical wing he had the most experience with.

          This “gnostic dualism” is essentially a total separation between the physical and the Spiritual(TM), with the Spiritual(TM) being superior to and always trumping the filthy physical reality. (“Spiritual Good! Physical BAAAAAAD! Spiritual Good! Physical BAAAAAAAD!”)

          And this removes any Reality Check on your belief, doctrine, or actions following through on those beliefs and doctrines.

  22. “God Almighty had to poop”

    If I take one thing away from this thread it will be this.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Otherwise, He wouldn’t have been fully Man.

      That’s the Scandal of the Incarnation — God Almighty having to squat behind a bush by the side of the road.

      • Yes it is amazing to realize that Jesus had to deal with all of the awesome details of being human. It is amazing to really think about this. Creator God looking for something to wipe His….. nevermind.

      • Hug,
        he probably did that, and there were other means as well. Years ago, when friends were showing their Holy Land slides at church, we were treated to photos of the Roman public facilities at Sepphoris, as the husband of the couple was a civil engineer… There were 2 long parallel rows of evenly space low rectangular stones on which to rest either thigh while sitting; back rested against a wall also running the length, perpendicular to the stones. Between the stones, the earth was sloped toward a sort of center aisle between the 2 rows, along which running water was diverted. A person did his business and wiped with a wet sponge on a stick, provided. Slaves would use water jars and rinse the offal toward the center, where the running water would take it away to a sewer. The slaves would change out the sponges when needed. The floor of the whole enterprise was concrete, as the Romans had and used waterproof concrete in transporting water and for building. There were very few epidemics of typhus or cholera where the Romans built sanitary systems.

        Hope that’s not too much information – it was interesting to me.


        • I’ve heard suggested that it was one of these sanity sponges on a stick that was offered to Christ on the cross. Not a “maybe he’s thirsty and could use some refreshment” sort of gesture, but a “let’s see how much more humiliating we can make this” type of thing.

      • Interesting how when Jesus walked the earth some people couldn’t believe this Man was God. Now from our perspective, some find it hard to believe this God was Man. I realize that the most important parts of Jesus’ life on earth are captured in the Gospel. But how cool would it be to hear more about the “mundane” details of the rest of His life? What was it like to have Him as a brother and a son? Did other people in His “neighborhood” notice something different about Him? His family HAD to, right? Wow what a thing to ponder. The God Man.

        • “What was it like to have Him as a brother and a son?” I have wondered about that, too, Joel. Sometimes I wonder if he didn’t just act mostly like other kids, because his parents were surprised to find him in the temple with the learned men when they thought they had lost him. And when he “preached” in his hometown once he began his ministry, he was given a very rough time.

          • Yes in Luke it says His parents were “astonished”. I wonder what they were astonished about exactly? Did Jesus blend in with the other kids so much that they had forgotten who He was?

            “Isn’t that the carpenters son?” I guess he must have blended in. How about an 18 year old Jesus? Or 25? His brothers mush have noticed something though. Did He “preach” to them at all? Oh to be a fly on the wall in that house! 🙂

  23. Answer to Bonus Question:

    They’d probably look like Lutheran contemporary worship services. We tend to use evangelical music that does focus on the gospel: Cross, redemption, law and gospel while avoiding those that don’t. We are trained to preach law and gospel sermons as you suggest are missing in evangelicalism and we don’t spend to much time raising hands at people and such. The focus is on Christ, not the musicians or pastor and we usually keep a few elements of historic liturgies from withing the church catholic like the creeds, lord’s prayer, and confession and absolution.

    I will add though, as a Lutheran pastor I do study a number of evangelically minded leaders who are bucking this trend of evangelicalism that you speak of. They are recognizing the need for the gospel in their congregations and have their best musicians cranking out tunes that are all about Jesus and the cross. What you speak of is making a comeback!


  24. What I HATE about this post is that when I first saw it there were already 122 comments on the thread and I have to read them all so I don’t repeat what others have said.

    What I LOVE about this post is that “the Dunn” is firing on all cylinders! Good staff Jeff or GREAT I should say.

    I’m torn between the two myself. Got away from Pentecostal and Baptist churches and recently joined a Presbyterian, but discovered to my surprise that is has evangelical megachurchy aspirations and a little frantic on programs and “serving” which concerns me a great deal.

  25. Good “stuff” I meant not “staff”….

  26. I am holding my hands over my mouth and biting my lips hard. I suspect you all know what my answer would be to the last couple of questions. LOL.

  27. Yes indeed JFDU this is great-good stuff that Jeff has penned!
    I have been resting at the forbidden Catholic church for several years- I only say forbidden because of what I was taught… Haven’t converted, not in a hurry after 25 years of listening to Junk i.e. submit to my elders teaching, be quiet because I am a woman and a whole bunch of other stuff that almost turned me into a atheist. I can’t take the Eucharist which if and when I convert that will be the carrot. I love the beauty that surrounds me, Christ on the cross, the hymns & choir, the readings, the homily’s where I haven’t yet heard a priest trying to shame into submission, and I like that people leave me alone there, no one is taking my spiritual temperature or pressing me with questions about have I asked Jesus into my heart. It has been a place of rest & quiet and for that I am thankful.
    Now totally off the thread I went to see Parental Guidance today and thought of you Jeff because of your love for baseball, if you need laughter to the point of tears with a little baseball mixed in you I promise you will leave the theater with a merry heart- well, for moment anyway- hope you are fairing well…

    • “no one is taking my spiritual temperature or pressing me with questions about have I asked Jesus into my heart. It has been a place of rest & quiet and for that I am thankful.”

      I am glad to hear that, Gail, and I am glad that the Catholic Church is a place of rest for you at this time.

      • Thank-You Joanie!

        If I recall correctly Jeff said that you were the nicest person on the internet… Don’t mean to make you blush, just remember his comment, and I concur. You are always gracious in your comments.

        • Awww, thanks, Gail. It is easy to be nice on the internet, but so much harder in “real” life. My husband is always asking me, “Why are you so mean?” I don’t know that I am mean to him, but so often I lack compassion, patience, understanding. I am afraid that I go around looking like a sad sack much of the time which does no good to anyone seeing me. So, now you know the real me. Pray for me to be someone who can bring God’s love into the world.

          I do so miss going to Mass. I would often get teary praying the Creed or the Lord’s Prayer with my fellow parishioners. I would get teary shaking the hand of the sweet little one year old child in the pew behind me. I need those connections with people and I need that connection with God. It is difficult to be married to someone who thinks all of that is a….crock. Pray for my husband, too, that he will see the miracle that he says he needs to see. I tell him about the “doubting” Thomas of the Gospel stories and tell him about Thomas’ good work in India. My husband feels more connected to Buddhism than with Christianity and at this point, I even encourage him to actively practice Zen or something that could help him have a measure of peace or relaxation, but he feels he has lost all of what he may have had at one point in his life. I do have compassion for him when I hear that, because I don’t know what I would do if I was not able to pray and receive some measure of peace.

          • Joanie- Your comments bring a soft grace to me and I’m sure to many others here, so, I suspect that you are bringing God’s love into the world of IM. I have many me’s in me, my husband would concur, and Jesus see’s it all the good, the bad & ugly gal that I am. I feel for you on missing going to Mass, I wish there was a way you could attend, it sounds lovely how you experience Christ in praying the creed, and in shaking the little hand of one year old, I don’t know if i said that right, but I find Christ in those very places you mention. I will pray for your husband & remember you tomorrow at Mass.

          • Joanie,

            Feel free to ignore this question (if it is too personal), but why do you not go to Mass? Echoing Gail, your comments are one of the reasons that I read this blog for years as I have struggled with whether or not to stay in Evangelicalism or move *towards* Rome. I have much enjoyed attending Mass on several occasions, and the thought that there were godly Catholics like yourself (you are Catholic, right?) gave me a sense of permission to do so.

            If I am out of line, please forgive me. Like it or not, there are others (me) that see you as a leader.

            Under the Mercy-

  28. Homework assignment: If you were to really, truly believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ to be the greatest Good News of all, how would your life be different than it is now?

    Since this is the question I am dealing with personally, I can’t give an answer.

    Bonus question: How would evangelical services look if the church really believed the Gospel?

    Something I have been thinking about in our church. The pastoral staff is starting to make grumbling sounds about what we as a church have been doing, The senior pastor has openly commented on the fact that our congregation does not bear a resemblance to a community. Unfortunately his solutions point to visible rewards for those who ‘follow’ – example from this past week ‘if you have the holy spirit leading you your marriage will be better, your finances will be better’. He sort of trailed off, I think he realized what he was saying was a good christian is a wealthy christian; something I know he does not believe.
    I think most pastors are truly sincere. The problem seems to be a theology of affirmation. We affirm how good we are, the good we do, how retched we are, our family biases, our political biases, our social biases, how we are becoming better – everything is done in a way of affirmation. Bizzare congratulations of ourselves. Back to the cross and ressurection and I think the services would follow.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      And then you have the Hyper-Calvinists, who go the opposite way into “bizarre denigrations of ourselves” and worm theology not seen since the Massachusetts Puritans.

  29. What is missing? I propose it’s a sense of awe and reverence – which has largely been replaced with trying to “feel good” about one’s self. That seems to be the main point of most of evangelicalism’s emphasis on subjective religious experiences…which tend to be both compartmentalized (gnostic) and fleeting; to be ever chased till it resembles a hamster on his wheel.

    I know the worship sessions/shows get a lot of attention here as part of this problem… but it’s more just a symptom rather than a cause. Some will say that all that old boring liturgical-ritual-‘works’ stuff isn’t much better – but I say at least it’s trying to enact and make tangible the mystery, awe and expansiveness of almighty Jehovah. Modern evangelicalism has thrown most of that away for ‘relevant’ ephemeral feelings and brain flashes. For me the line “it’s all in the heart” kind of sums up the whole enchilada of evangelicalism… and that’s why it becomes so empty after awhile…because God is way bigger and more infinite than what’s “in my heart (or brain)…

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Somewhere in the Internet Monk archives, there is an essay about Evangelicalism’s “MAO Inhibitor”, where MAO stands for “Mystery, Awe, and Otherness”.

  30. Until age 44 I was Church of Christ—not Evangelical. From 45-50 I became “Evangelical”. The only thing positive I’d say about those 5 years is that at least my prior 40 some years had at least “learned me Bible”.

    At some point Evangelicals are going to have to grow up — again.


  31. Matthew James says

    I know this is a bit out there, but I am constantly amazed by how “gospel-less” most of our churches and church services are… With very little to make it seem like things are even slowly but surely moving in a better direction.

    I’m even more amazed by how many people will knowingly and willfully sit through this spiritual garbage without doing anything to change the situation. In all honesty, I believe this is a huge problem, and that we will never see much of a change as long as we implicitly support such “gospel-triviality.”

    You must do something. Don’t just sit there and make excuses for the pastors and volunteers who seem to be decent people but who have their head in the clouds when it comes to serving and leading a church. Just stop! You’re not being mean… You’re being faithful. You could do any number of things, depending on your situation… And I believe you SHOULD unless God clearly leads you otherwise…

    You should pray AND… You should explain your concerns to those in positions of authority within the church. And you should take it as far as it needs to go. Keep going up the chain. And be kind, but be persistent. Hold them accountable to making regular and meaningful progress.

    If they consistently resist, or reveal they have no interest, then stop supporting unBiblical ministry with your time, your finances, your labor, and your presence. Leave, and look for a place that shares your concern. Not a place that’s perfect, but a place where you can truly have hope that they care about this stuff and they are committed to becoming more faithful to the gospel.

    If you can’t find a place like that where you are, then save your gas money and travel. If you still can’t find one, then maybe you should move! Seriously. Or maybe you should stay right where you’re at and start one.

    Stop supporting ministries that disseminate gospel-triviality and maybe someday they will start to become more and more uncommon.

  32. U2. Still one of the best places to hear the gospel. More churches should perhaps open with that song, yet before the congregation is asked to join in.

  33. “A pretty typical evangelical Sunday service…” ?
    U2??? (love them, but) I am dumbfounded. Boy, am I out-of-date and happy for it.