Evangelicalism is a fear based faith. Fear of death and the afterlife are Christians trump cards.
14”After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”(Mark 1:14-15)
The above text is the original gospel preached by Jesus. With it he announced the arrival of the kingdom of God and warned his fellow Israelites to be prepared lest they fall under God’s judgment along with the Gentile nations. He scared people into believing in a day that never came.
This article will attempt to dissect the heart of evangelical ideology. It will examine why it is so difficult for many to leave the faith, why evangelicalism runs antithetical to society, how they have distorted reality, how evangelicals have adapted by compromising and compartmentalizing their faith and an indictment on the current state of American evangelicalism.
One does not become a Christian because out of a desire to live a life of sacrifice, self denial and suffering. One becomes a Christian to avoid eternal damnation. Salvation, by definition, is “being saved” from something bad. For evangelicals, it is from sin which brings separation from God (or spiritual death) in hell. If you believe such a place exists, and you can escape it and go to heaven, you will do whatever is necessary to get there. For most evangelicals salvation requires simple childlike faith in Jesus as your personal Savior to obtain it and a minimal amount of effort to keep it. The result is a lukewarm religion comprising those too afraid to give it up but unwilling to live up to its standards.
[Note: This and other articles will contain copious biblical texts and passages. Readers must be willing to interact with the material and not blindly cite a few proof texts out of context. Faith is often used as an excuse not to seek the truth because one feels they already have it.]
19“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”(Matthew 6:19-21)
“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”(Colossians 3:1)
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”(Ephesians 6:12, see also 2 Corinthians 10:4, 1 Thessalonians 5:8)
These and other passages highlight this false dichotomy which colors evangelicals’ worldview. Logically, if there is a much better world that awaits, your love and appreciation of this one will suffer especially if God commands it.
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)
Evangelicals are trapped in an ideology of fear which retards rationality and blurs reality. The gross irony is this fake perception obscures the real world and causes fact and fiction to change places. This is based on the New Testament which teaches an ultra dualistic version of reality. Christians are admonished to shun this world and its materialistic trappings and focus on the heavenly realms with its riches and rewards (see above texts). This is great if such a reality exists, but it does not which makes it a pointless and dangerous endeavor. Evangelicals often defer to this imaginary world to justify their treatment of this world and those who inhabit it.
If you had asked me last week, month, year, decade, “Should we be more understanding of evangelical Christians?” I would have vehemently said, “No!” So why the change of heart?
I used to be a born-again evangelical, a conservative Christian, an apostolic believer and one who followed New Testament teachings explicitly. If I were still one today, I’d support Trump while reveling in the world’s disdain of me and my fellow evangelicals. In other words, I get it, totally.
Now despite my sympathizing with evangelicals, I am in no way endorsing their behavior. I know full well what it means to think you are the freest (as slaves of Jesus), most enlightened (by the Holy Spirit) and sole ambassadors and defenders of truth (the Bible) on earth when actually you are imprisoned by an ideology that robs you of personal freedom, cripples your intellect and provides you with false hope. I’ve been there!
Like most of my articles, my immersion in the evangelical culture as a preacher, teacher and evangelist coupled with extensive theological training from Moody Bible Institute (Chicago, Il.) and Dallas Theological Seminary (Dallas, Tx.), as well as, at several other evangelical institutions uniquely qualifies me to write on these topics. My perspective is one of an insider who left the faith in a bizarre and unique way.
- To provide a window into the evangelical mind based on my years of immersion in the evangelical culture as a believer, and my constant monitoring of it for several decades after leaving the faith.
- To view the Bible in the light of honest objective criticism and not through the cloudy lens of faith bias.
- To offer a reasonable understanding of who Jesus was, and was not.
- To vigorously examine the theological underpinnings of Christianity.
- To raise awareness of the rapidly growing threat of evangelical ideology to personal rights & freedoms, global political stability and the health and future of the planet.
- To suggest a different and better philosophy of governance which believes in the intrinsic value and worth of every individual regardless of age, race, gender, social class or belief.
Evangelicalism is primarily an emotion based faith of fear and hope. Fear of judgment and the promise of eternal life leads to conversion. This is how most evangelicals enter the faith. It was the original model of Jesus and the first Christians and it remains so today. The one major difference being many children are frightened into believing as small children through coercion by parents or other adult figures, e.g., pastors, Sunday school teachers, camp counsellors, Bible study leaders etc… Very few happy, healthy (mentally and physically), educated, successful, healthy adults convert to evangelicalism after a sincere desire and rational inquiry to discover the truth. Why?
Evangelicalism is mostly re-populated from within or by those lured with false promises. In America, upwards of eighty percent of those who call themselves evangelical or conservative Christians or some variation of it were born and/or baptized into the faith as children. The number of independent adult conversions is low. If one subtracts from the remaining number those who convert through desperation (substance abuse, depression, poverty etc…) or crisis experience (job loss, financial hardship, divorce, loss of loved one etc…) when most vulnerable or who are exploited through fear (approaching death or diagnosed with a terminal disease etc…) the remaining number is minuscule.
Evangelicalism comprises those trapped since childhood, the needy, the vulnerable, the desperate, the weak but mostly the misinformed (Note: this last topic will be touched on at the end of this article but explored in much greater detail in subsequent articles due to its magnitude and importance). Again, I was one for more than a dozen years.
Evangelicalism prides itself on being an expression of Protestant thinking, a faith based solely on grace and not works unlike Catholicism. Nor does one have to work to keep this faith. Good deeds are the result of faith not the means to it. Once secured it cannot be lost. So how does fear keep believers in a faith which is deemed irrevocable?
The only way to lose something that can’t be lost is to never have had it in the first place.
Evangelicals are willing to compromise their faith in every way (this will be discussed later in the article) except one. They are deathly afraid of making a conscious decision and declaring, “I don’t believe in God or Jesus as my Savior.” A deliberate denial is unfathomable because what if they are wrong? This is a version of Pascal’s Wager: It’s better to keep believing even if you are wrong than risk the consequences of rejecting the faith which few are willing to take. Such paranoid thinking is not without consequences.
They result of this “fire insurance” as we used to call it, is the pervasive moribundity we see in American evangelicalism. If it were an ocean, it would be one thousand miles wide and one inch deep. Evangelicals are effectively caught between two worlds. One rich in temptation, indulgence, comfort and pleasure and one marked by sacrifice, servanthood, suffering and self denial. Most choose the former.
Evangelicals reliance on “eternal security” has bred the carnality or worldliness which permeates most of American evangelicalism. Some might call it “cheap grace” or “easy-believism.” Essentially, evangelicals believe once salvation is procured through the simplest act of faith—no strings attached—a believer is spiritually seated with Jesus in heaven, a position which is irreversible.
Note to reader: Texts and passages will be unapologetically cited in full rather than merely referenced in order to facilitate interaction with relevant data. Underlined text has been add for emphasis. NIV translation is quoted unless specified otherwise.
13”And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:13,14, see also 2 Corinthians 1:21,22)
And later in the same epistle,
“And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus…” (Ephesians 2:6)
The indwelling holy spirit guarantees one day the believer will join Jesus in heaven forever. Nothing can severe this relationship; hence, once you are saved, you are saved forever.
35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35,37-39)
With heaven guaranteed, evangelicals are free to live the lives they want without fear of going to hell just so long as they make a meager effort to be Christianish.
Paul’s purpose in writing these verses is completely missed by evangelicals. His goal was to assure those who were undergoing severe trials their salvation was secure. They had begun to wonder if these tribulations were evidence of God chastising them. They could not reconcile the love of God with their affliction? This concept is well attested throughout the Hebrew writings. Personal hardship was associated with divine displeasure.
Evangelicals appeal to these verses for the opposite reason. They want assurance no matter how complacent their spiritual lives are, God will still grant them eternal life. Nothing could be further from the truth. Paul knows his readers are undergoing severe suffering in promoting the gospel in a hostile world. He is not giving them license to live as the please and still be assured of a heavenly reward.
Evangelical preachers and teachers have stressed the preeminence of grace alone in the salvation experience to such a degree as to almost completely ignore the importance of works or “fruit” as indisputable evidence salvation has occurred.
14”What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” (James 2:14-19)
The above passage singlehandedly indicts most American evangelicals or it should anyway. Clinging tenaciously to the eternal security doctrine it is explained away as depicting someone never saved to begin with and not someone losing their faith. Furthermore, by performing the most basic of “good deeds” most evangelicals consider themselves as having satisfied at least the basic requirements for saving faith.
Evangelicals believe there is literally nothing they can do to lose their salvation. “Once saved, always saved” is their refrain. So living a generally good life, like everybody else, is sufficient to guarantee their salvation. Simply not breaking any of the Ten Commandments is considered the gold standard. Those who do violate one or two of them appeal to God’s forgiveness to cleanse them from sin (1 John 1:9). American jails are full of Christians who have committed their crimes after being saved.
It must be remembered we are talking in the purely hypothetical. In reality, no one is going to heaven or hell so this discussion is moot. We only address it to explain how Christians have become so languid in living up to New Testament standards. Basically, evangelicals want to be able to enjoy all the pleasures the world has to offer and still go to heaven when they die.
“Come out from them and be separate.” (2 Corinthians 6:17)
The first Christians were separatists. Their Christian lifestyle was diametrically opposed to Roman paganism in many respects, although they still supported Caesar (Romans 13:1, 1 Peter 2:13). Besides the obvious refusing to offer sacrifices in pagan temples, eating food sacrificed to idols or venerating Caesar as divine, these first Christians aspired to the highest levels of morality. But even more, they lived lives that were conspicuously different from non Christians by practicing modesty, sexual purity, humility, generosity, kindness, discipline, temperance, unconditional love, inexhaustible patience and boundless joy. Nobody mistook a Christian for a pagan, or in the context of our day, for an agnostic or atheist.
9”But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 11Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 12Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:9-12)
13”But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.
14So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.” (2 Peter 2:13,14).
Passages explicitly describing the qualities every Christian believer is to exemplify in his or her life are too numerous to list. The teachings in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5-8) specify the marks of true followers of Jesus. Passages emphasizing Christian conduct can be found in all New Testament writings. Paul’s classic passage on the “fruit of the spirit” is an apt summation and bears mentioning.
19”The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”(Galatians 5:19-25)
In this passage, Paul contrasts “fleshy” acts with “spiritual” acts. One conclusion is inescapable: Those who “belong to Christ Jesus” exhibit spiritual fruit, while those whose lives are characterized by acts of the flesh “will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
In another epistle, Paul similarly writes:
1”Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. 3But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. 4Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. 5For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. a 6Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7Therefore do not be partners with them.
8For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9(for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10and find out what pleases the Lord. 11Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. 14This is why it is said:
“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
15Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”(Ephesians 5:1-20)
There are so many verses scattered throughout the New Testament about imitating Jesus or God (Philippians 2:5) or modeling your behavior after his (1 John 2:6) one need only start reading. Yet despite an avalanche of explicit teaching about living supremely moral lives, few do.
Most evangelicals today are virtually indistinguishable from the “depraved sinners” they mix with each day. The dress the same, talk the same, wear the same stylish clothes, buy the same fancy cars, live in the same nice homes, accumulate wealth, take expensive vacations, get the latest electronics, eat the same fine food, listen to the same music, watch the same television shows and movies, get divorces, abortions, secretly watch porn and on and on without ever doubting a guaranteed ticket to heaven awaits them when they die.
“Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.”(Romans 6:13)
They live just like anybody else despite an entire Bible that screams at them to be different and distinct, to be “light” and “salt” (Matthew 5:13-16). Instead, they focus on effecting social change, which is not taught in the Bible, to abdicate responsibility for personal piety and sanctification. Nowhere are believers exhorted to force sinners to conform to their beliefs unless they convert. Their sole mission is to be evangelistic. This is “The Great Commission” (Matthew 28:18,19). Convert enough people and society will change on its own. Instead they channel their efforts against others thinking that makes them more righteous.
It makes sense. They don’t want to sacrifice their own happiness and they can’t give up the faith entirely, so they attack others. This transference of responsibility gives them a sense of moral superiority and obedience to God’s dictates, thereby preserving their faith.
A debate is currently raging among evangelicals on the topic of social justice. Should Christians be on the front lines of effecting positive social change? Biblically speaking, it depends if you ask Jesus or Paul. Jesus was a social justice warrior, Paul was not. Jesus anticipated a literal physical kingdom on earth populated solely by Israelites (Jews anachronistically). He advocated social justice because that was a key qualification for participation in the kingdom, i.e., feed the hungry, clothe the poor. Paul, on the other hand, preached a gospel which minimized the physical world and emphasized the spiritual world. In effect, he thought God had given up on this world for an invisible heavenly one. His message was salvation is the best remedy for the human condition. Help and support was channelled to the needs of fellow Christians not pagans.
(The differences between Jesus and Paul’s gospels will be the main topic of a future article.)
If I truly believed, as I once did, if I rejected God/Jesus he would reject me (send me to hell), I would remain in the faith even if in word (not thought or deed) only. I would hedge my eternal bets and believe just enough to get to heaven. As long as I confessed with my mouth the Jesus is Lord and believed in my heart God raised him from the dead, I would be saved (Romans 10:9). The writer of Hebrews offered this stern warning:
4”It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age 6and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.” (Hebrews 6:4-6)
And later in the same epistle,
26”If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” d and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” e 31It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:26-31, see also 2 Peter 2:20-22)
This is a terrifying prospect to those who take the Bible literally. For those of us who have never believed, such thinking seems ridiculous. As a baby Christian, I remember repeatedly asking Jesus to save me just in case. I was petrified I may not have done it right despite sincerely trying to obey God. My sensitivity to the holiness of God made me hyperconscious of my own sinfulness. This, however, is not the problem most evangelicals encounter.
Evangelicals often refer to experiencing a temporary slide into sin and worldliness. One can imagine how tempting it is for a young evangelical who was born and raised in an evangelical environment to grow up with non Christians. The temptation to partake of the same things others are enjoying is powerful. Many succumb then later out of personal or parental guilt are brought “back into the fold.” Evangelicals call this rededication and coming back to Jesus like the proverbial Prodigal Son.
This period of backsliding and repentance serves almost as a dramatic conversion. Many evangelicals experience a profound recommitment after having tasted worldliness. This is common among evangelicals often repeated multiple times. Whenever they feel they have wandered too far from God, they return. It becomes an endless cycle of rebellion, remorse, return and restoration of which some never break free. For others their faith becomes real and meaningful for the first time. Overall, few are brave enough to jettison the faith completely no matter how far from God they stray.
There is no benefit to telling friends and family you are no longer a Christian. To make an actual break and stop pretending to be a Christian is extremely rare. It is much easier to masquerade as a believer and secretly indulge your base desires. Because deep down there is a nagging fear if they do make a deliberate decision to stop believing, they might be wrong.
They are afraid of leaving the faith because if there is one way to lose your salvation it is to have never had it to begin with. As long as they mentally ascent to believing the gospel, that is enough. This is at the heart of modern day American evangelicalism. They remain in the faith to ensure salvation. It does not matter how complacent they are because, “We are all still sinners after all, and God isn’t finished with me yet” is the lie they tell themselves.
Modernizing is not Compromising
I have observed an interesting phenomenon within evangelicalism for decades. Because it is by and large a faith without a central authority (God and the Bible do not count) or creedal confession, evangelicals interpret the Bible based on their own whims and desires. The profusion of independent churches throughout the Christian landscape attest to this reality.
If you are a gay evangelical who finds him or herself in a church which considers your lifestyle sinful, you simply find a church which accepts homosexuals. If you are a woman who believes women should be allowed to be pastors and ministers and your current church does not, you find one that does. If your church decides to include electric guitars and drums in the morning service and you don’t like that, you find a more traditionally inclined church which only allows organs and pianos. This same response can be applied to multiple moral and social issues. And if you are unable to find a church in your city due to its size which does not accommodate your beliefs you can opt for an internet or efaith. You can pick and choose what suits you from a selection of theological and social offerings like a smorgasbord.
An internet faith experience is growing because it allows believers to customize their faith as they desire. It affords all the benefits of a church without any of the disadvantages. Sermons, instruction and fellowship are all available from the comfort of your home. Donations or tithes can be directed specifically to the charity or mission of choice. Chat rooms allow interaction with other believers, websites offer opportunities to meet in person for fellowship or dating. The rise of the “Nones” (no religious affiliation) may be an indicator of this growing trend away from brick and mortal churches toward an electronically guided spirituality.
It is remarkable how incredibly diverse evangelicalism has become but hardly surprising. Mega churches are also evidence of evangelicalism shift to a feel good religion and away from a religion of suffering and sacrifice. Evangelicals are assured of upbeat music and self affirming sermons designed to attract every possible iteration of believer. Pastors become celebrities, programs are heavily geared toward providing for every congregants need, social, spiritual and physical. They have also contributed to a stylized version of Christianity where obvious New Testament injunctions are ignored.
Church discipline is clearly taught in the Bible (Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13) but rarely practiced. Likewise, divorce is condemned by Jesus (Mark 10:9, Matthew 5:31-32; 19:8-9, Luke 16:8) and Paul (Romans 7:2,3, 1 Corinthians 7:12-15, 39, also Hebrews 13:4), yet is ignored in many churches. There could not be a more blatant example of hypocrisy than the pervasiveness of divorce among evangelicals. It is an affront to New Testament standards. Furthermore, it is reprehensible those who viciously attack homosexuals and abortion rights advocates shrink from being equally vehement on their fellow divorced brethren.
For those interested, here is the unequivocal New Testament position on divorce. Christians are prohibited from divorce under any circumstances except martial infidelity. In this instance, they can choose to divorce BUT NOT REMARRY. Only death frees one from the marital union (“And the two will become one flesh.”). Physical or emotional abuse though not addressed specifically would be discouraged by New Testament principles. The abused (likely a woman) would be encouraged to pray for her husband to repent and thus save the marriage. However, if she decided to leave she could not remarry but should pray for reconciliation. This is the biblical model, anything else is an attempt to keep church attendance (Read: Tithes) up and transform modern Christianity into a religion of comfort and convenience.
23”Then Jesus said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? 26Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” Luke 9:23-26, see also Matthew 16:24-27)
Nobody said being a follower of Jesus was supposed to be easy or fun, least of all Jesus.
Ex-Evangelicals: The few, the brave
At this point I must address the issue of those departing the faith and the evangelical response. Currently, there is a spate of defections from evangelicalism which are celebrated by some and criticized by others.
I have experienced this personally. Predictably, when someone who was once a devout believer leaves the faith, it creates insecurity and confusion among the faithful for obvious reasons. They begin to doubt their own faith and ask the question, “Why did he or she decide to quit? Am I’m missing something?” In an act of self preservation, the typical reaction is to condemn these defectors as impostors who were never true believers in the first place. The assumption is a “true” believer would never abandon Jesus. Friends and family attempt to scare the apostate back with threats of divine chastisement. They are considered pariahs and guilted with shame until demonstrating repentance and being restored to faith.
This is pathetic, unfair and petty but essential for maintaining equanimity within the flock. Otherwise, it could cause a ripple effect of doubt and lead to possibly more departures. Instead, those who resist are considered to be more spiritual with a deeper commitment to God.
It takes a supreme act of bravery for someone who was once an evangelical to not just step away from the faith but to deny the faith. Millions of evangelicals pay lip service to the faith while living an otherwise sinful life (as defined in the New Testament). They seek after worldly pleasures and riches. They indulge in premarital sex, pornography and materialism. The lust after power and position. They are impatient, prideful, arrogant, deceitful. They lie, cheat and steal. They drink, gamble, swear and work on Sundays. They over eat and are lazy. But they will never deny they believe in Jesus as their Savior because they want to go to heaven.
The bulk of evangelicals live in a prison of fear. The thought of an afterlife without certainty is incomprehensible so they wallow in their hypocrisy refusing to risk eternal damnation.
Evangelicalism has so watered down the gospel in an attempt to attract as many potential converts as possible. Billy Graham is an example of one who for the sake of racking up conversions basically gave a heavenly pass to anyone who asked. He never used words like “repentance” which was an essential prerequisite to salvation. Nor did he require water baptism to accompany one’s public declaration of faith which was has always been an indispensable component of salvation. This pattern is repeated throughout evangelical churches world wide by preachers offering an easy path to heaven.
Before converting, I was told to become a Christian I did not have to give up anything. Salvation was absolutely free with no strings attached. Simple faith was all I needed. However, I was told while I may not want to give up my sinful lifestyle before being saved, I would once I was saved. This was true because the transformation in life was so profound, the last thing I wanted to do was return to a way of life that brought nothing but pain. Few evangelicals have taken this road.
Most evangelicals did not grow up completely unaware of before converting. Many become closet Christians after salvation enjoying the best of both worlds by compartmentalizing their double lives. In this respect, having not experienced a dramatic life changing conversion which drives them, their faith is characterized by mediocrity. Since this is the experience of most evangelicals, this is considered the normative Christian lifestyle.
Prisons of the mind
When I first began researching my evangelical faith, the working title of my book was, “Prisons of the Mind.” This phrase seemed to perfectly capture my perception of the faith that once entrapped me.
Two predominant characteristics of a cult are mind control and isolation from society. One involves a physical barrier while the other a mental barrier. Evangelicals would bristle at the suggestion their faith in anyway approximates a cult. I wouldn’t be too sure.
Anybody who has tried to have a rational honest discourse with an evangelical knows the futility of such an exercise (See my article entitled, “The Magic King”). For them it is a matter of defending “the truth” and sharing the gospel. It is almost never about changing their minds. Now the non believer is not interested in conversion either but trying to move the evangelical off of their position. It amounts to philosophical stalemate. The difference is the non believer is relying on reason and science while the evangelical is defaulting to a baseless (rationalistically speaking) ideology.
14”The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. 15The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, 16for,
“Who has known the mind of the Lord
so as to instruct him?” [Quote from Isaiah 40:13]
But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:14-16)
And in the next chapter,
18”Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. 19For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.” (1 Cor. 3:18-19a)
Evangelicals erect a mental faith barrier (see above texts, also Romans 12:2) preventing worldly influences from penetrating. Years of indoctrination through sermons, podcasts, radio, television, Bible study groups, interaction with like minded believers or confirmation bias, evangelical books and articles reinforce this tribalism. External forces such as the media, Hollywood and liberal education are believed to be based in secular humanism breed a rabid distrust which can be witnessed today with the appeal to fake news and scientific skepticism concerning global warming. Most powerful of all is a claim to a special knowledge which comes through prayer, mediation, Bible reading or inner witness of the holy spirit. All of these forces create a psychological barrier between the secular and the sacred, the righteous and the wicked, the powers of light and darkness, Christians and non Christians which cannot be penetrated or scaled. It may, however, be dismantled.
In summation, I sympathize with those evangelicals who are sincerely trying to live out their faith while not condoning their behavior. I was one of you. Devotion to God and the sacred scriptures compels them. These are the moral minority who are typically silent preferring to effect change on their knees and with their deeds. But they also vote which makes them dangerous.
At the other end of the evangelical spectrum are the hypocrites we see and hear on television every day. I have little respect for those who practice an anemic feel good version of Christianity devoid of substance and sacrifice. A pseudo faith which gives them license to be for all intents and purposes no different from anybody else and in many ways worse. By claiming a moral high ground they themselves are unwilling to occupy is hypocritical, cowardly and pathetic. They close their minds to science and reason to preserve hope in a blissful afterlife. Refusing to live the life of a New Testament follower of Jesus, instead they adopt a few social issues like same sex marriage and abortion to give the illusion of being morally responsible. Pet sins like divorce, materialism, gluttony, premarital sex, greed, gossip, pride and lust, to name but a few, go largely ignored. Personal comfort has replaced personal sacrifice.
To the degree you are invested in the faith is directly proportional to the degree you are imprisoned by it. Evangelicals whose allegiance to the faith is in word only, do so for the end result — heaven. Others do live selfless lives seeking heavenly rewards not earthly riches.
1”Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your a life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
5Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. b 7You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
12Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
15Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”(Colossians 3:1-17, compare with Matthew 6:19-21, Romans 6:1f., Ephesians 4:1f., Philippians 3:20,)
One hears the terms “true” and “fake” Christian bandied about as it is a matter of opinion who is and isn’t an authentic Christian. For those willing to spend more than a few minutes a day reading the Bible, all doubt as to what qualifies one as a true follower of Jesus will be quickly dispelled. I have included a significant number of passages which offer unavoidable and obvious characteristics of Christians and non Christians for those willing to practice what they preach.
The life of a true disciple of Jesus is one of sacrifice and suffering. It involves discipline and denial. It is one of servanthood and humbleness. It is marked by unconditional love, inexhaustible patience and boundless joy. It celebrates acts of kindness and generosity. Seriously, how many evangelicals have you ever met who satisfy most of these criteria?
Evangelicalism has become a sham religion used to justify bigotry, satisfy personal prejudices and rationalize intolerance. It promotes a self serving agenda to preserve the rights and freedoms of its members to the exclusion or at the expense of others. It is no wonder it has attached itself to the Trump Presidency which has legitimized and energized this insidiousness. As they continue feeding off the other, there is no telling the potential havoc they will reek on society and at what cost.
Here’s the standard
1″But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.” (2 Tim. 3:1-4)