A friend at work asked me what an “Evangelical” is. He asked because the group “Evangelicals” keeps getting referenced during the election. I told him that to the best of my knowledge it is more about what it is not, than what it is. Evangelicals are not Catholics or Orthodox or Quakers or Amish. I still have to ask someone from school what distinguishes Evangelicals from Protestants. I think the main difference is that a person uses “Evangelicals” when they intend to be pejorative, but would say “Protestants” if they didn’t. However, since I am an adult man, calling me names really falls on deaf ears so I can’t be sure. The reason this friend asked me is because I am currently a student at an Evangelical Christian seminary. Why am I an a student at an Evangelical Seminary? Because I was raised a Protestant. I don’t believe in papal supremacy, so I can’t see myself converting to Catholicism, and I don’t have much ability to interact with Orthodoxy, so I don’t see that in my future either. However, I can’t deny that the tradition and history of those two cultures of Christianity have appeal. Given that my personality always trends toward extremes I don’t mind admitting that I wish my Evangelical school was more rigorous and disciplined than it is. Here are a couple of constructive criticisms that I need to vent about.
Does everyone know what the Jewish Mishnah is? At the risk of being over-simplistic, it is essentially the written interpretation of the Torah. Unfortunately, when Evangelicals discuss the Mishnah, it is often presented as a silly, if not altogether unnecessary document and concept. “The Scripture is clear,” the Evangelicals say. Well, that’s not really what you (Evangelicals) believe. Have you seen the library on campus? What do you call that if not a Mishnah?
That leads me to Christian books. Want to publish a Christian book that will appeal to Evangelicals? Open with, “One area of Christianity that is often neglected is…” Seriously? I beg to differ. Everything has been covered endlessly. 2000 years worth of coverage. What you meant to say is, “Because I lacked wisdom and discernment (but not confidence), in other words, because I was a teenager when I converted, for a long time I believed Christianity was simply what one man told me it was. Then I switched churches after I (choose one of the following or insert your own) got divorced, committed a crime, got fired, had a kid, or experienced life in some way that wasn’t according to this man’s conception and realized the error of my ways. Perhaps my story can help you and make me a buck in the process.” My criticism is that while autobiographical accounts might have worked up until the advent of the internet, they don’t anymore. Now it’s time to interact with people. Evangelicals: Please don’t succumb to the temptation that your story can save people. Only Christ’s atoning death and resurrection possesses that sort of power. No Christian doctrine calls for believers to compete with the world on the world’s terms.
Here’s another chance for me to discuss coercion. Coercion has no place in Christianity. It doesn’t. If you believe it does then you believe in what early church fathers called a heresy. Evangelical pastors that preach war are consequently heretics. But that’s okay. Comparatively, this is an easy problem to fix. Just stop. There is no rule that says you have to preach war or believe in war and violence and there most certainly is a rule which says you can transform your teaching.
For all the Christians that served, fought, and maybe even killed people: no big thing. Sound biblically based theology says you’re forgiven. Easy enough.
For currently serving Christians, get out when you can. Maybe see if you can switch to a non-combatant when you feel convicted to do so.
Military Chaplains: you have a big job.
Parents, church-goers, youth pastors: stop. Stop encouraging teenagers to serve in combatant roles.
This brings me to Star Wars. Evangelicals love the force. In a tremendous act of projection, they consistently see the force as a redeeming metaphor of the Holy Spirit. What they miss is that Star Wars is ultimately still about violence solving problems. Christianity and the Holy Spirit are not.
Let’s zoom out to movies in general. Evangelicals love movies. But nearly all popular (blockbuster) movies believe that violence solves problems. Given that Christians don’t seem to have the upper hand in the film industry, that the industry endlessly promotes violence as a problem solver should come as no surprise. What would a Christian movie look like? That’s difficult to say. It wouldn’t look like Star Wars or even Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ. The fact is Christians are called to glorify God. Entertainment is hardly suited for that task. Building schools, however, and hospitals, and homeless shelters–that’s on the mark.
Lastly, this brings me to my minor area of expertise: strip clubs. Keep in mind that while I believe Christians must be pacifists, I served and on at least two missions humans were killed directly because of my service. And while I believe Christians should avoid patronizing strip clubs if at all possible (if you’re hopeless and feel compelled, please patronize away; just don’t stop going to church), I managed one. This is because I couldn’t ever see myself offering counsel on these things based on second-hand knowledge. In any case, Evangelicals need to get over sex and eroticism. We must. The biblical (Almighty God’s) standard has never been in doubt. One man, one woman, forever. Yet Evangelical leaders persist in communicating a tremendous insecurity about the matter. For example (the following is meant to be convincing in its overwhelming-ness), one professor last semester mentioned he was a virgin until marriage in his 30s at least every other class session. Another also regularly mentioned he was single very late into life. Another mentioned that a former student was involved in ministry to adult film stars and that he (the prof) wasn’t sure if that was possible. Then this semester during the opening session of a course a professor randomly mentioned strip clubs and how as he drove by them he would pray that the people would be “saved”, but the building/business be destroyed.
Seriously folks. Christianity is about more than sex. You’re afraid of strip clubs? Strip clubs are the very, very end result of a long series of events in which only fully grown adults partake. Would it be nice if all adults could be happily married in heterosexual, monogamous relationships? Sure. But if we’re going to talk about active contributors to purposelessness and godlessness, parents and the home is number one. Since we’re never going to pray for the destruction of the home, the next institution in terms of negative influence on humanity that Evangelicals should be praying for God’s intervention and destruction of is public schools. Or maybe we shouldn’t be praying for destruction.
Instead, I recommend praying for wisdom and insight regarding the tremendous amount of wealth and power Evangelicals have at their disposal. Something like, O Lord, we give thee thanks for blessing us with more power to carry out thy will than all other previous cultures. Lead us not into the resultant temptations, but guide us so that we may best glorify your most holy name. Amen.