I was, and perhaps still am, a victim of evangelicalism, or was until very recently.
It is easy to malign and make fun of evangelicals, but perhaps we should start treating them as victims not villains.
Evangelicalism is a pernicious ideology that ensnares its prey by exploiting their worst fears. Whether you become an evangelical Christian as a child, senior or someone going through a personal crisis, the element of fear of death, fear of hell or fear of separation from loved ones is used to illicit a conversion. Once in the faith, a believer is bombarded with evangelical teachings which can cripple the intellect and stunt the emotions. Those who have tried to “reason” with an evangelical know the feeling of futility it brings.
My own personal entrance into the faith as a insecure and vulnerable seventeen year old attests to how devious evangelistic tactics can be.
NOTE: Evangelicals sincerely believe they are offering life’s greatest remedy for the ills that plague society. Whether its getting their children “saved,” a relative, a friend at work, a neighbor, schoolmate or stranger, their motives are pure.
JESUS IS THE CURE FOR SPIRITUAL CANCER
I can state unequivocally my time as an evangelical was without a doubt the most empowering and rewarding time of my life. I was at peace with myself and the world. My days were filled with meaning and purpose. My capacity for love, patience and joy seemed endless. I was truly content at least in the beginning but as time went on I began to experience intellectual anxiety.
From almost the moment I began to read and study the Bible, questions started to surface which I could not answer. I blamed my ignorance. Convinced my faith was sound but my knowledge was deficient, I determined to devote my life to an exhaustive study of the Bible until I found the answers to quell my doubts. Unbeknownst to me, this would be the undoing not the strengthening of my evangelical faith.
One might describe this as a disconnect between one’s heart and head. I “felt” my faith was one hundred percent real but my head had other ideas. I would try to evangelize others who would offer rational arguments against which I could not answer creating frustration. I knew the truth experientially but how could I persuade others? Knowledge had to be the key. The more I knew the more effective I would be as a minister of the gospel.
The degree to which one invests themselves in evangelicalism is directly proportional to how much evangelicalism affects their lives. Those who “dabble” in the faith do not really appreciate how evangelical ideology can control and rule every aspect of their lives.
Here is a simple test to determine your level of commitment to Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior.
How much do you sacrifice for your faith?
The answer to this question is the only gauge to measure how invested you are in evangelicalism.
24“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For whoever wants to save their life f will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26)
24“For 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?” (Luke 9:24,25)
25Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.” (John 12:25,26)
When I was an evangelical, I took my faith very seriously. Verses such as these served as the basis for my daily walk with God. Nothing in this life mattered as much as my commitment to Jesus, not personal ambition, family, friends, material goods, pleasure, comfort or happiness. My satisfaction was in serving God and knowing him better.
I often wondered why more evangelicals did not go to Bible College or seminary. Was there any greater calling in life than being in full time ministry? For me this was an easy choice because I could devote my time and energy to studying the Bible and training to be an effective steward of the gospel. I now realize most evangelicals hedge their bets when it comes to their evangelical faith. They don’t want to give up too much in case they’re wrong. It goes back to the depth or lack thereof of commitment to Jesus.
Most evangelicals who take the path I took end up in some form of Christian ministry. Anyone who dedicates this much time, effort and money to theological training does not look back, and perhaps can’t. It is much easier psychologically to remain in the faith half heartedly than to give it up entirely. Compartmentalizing one’s faith allows you to enjoy the best of both worlds without having to sacrifice much.
The one salient feature plaguing American evangelicalism is tepidness. This lukewarm complacency is evident anywhere you go. Evangelicals despite a divinely authoritative book that screams at them to be different and better than those around them, are content to be exactly the same. When you compare evangelicals and non evangelicals they are almost indistinguishable in terms of lifestyle. If it were a Venn diagram, the two circles would overlap except for a small fraction of truly devout believers whose lives are marked by qualities such as sacrifice, selflessness and servanthood.
When I graduated from seminary, I had given my entire young adult life to theological training and service. During this time I had encountered thousands of other believers from around the world. I had listened to the best evangelical speakers and teachers the faith had to offer. I had engaged in teaching, preaching and evangelism. I had immersed myself in the evangelical culture and poured my life out to help others. The net result of a dozen years of being intimately involved in evangelicalism: It was not an authentic representation of biblical Christianity.
Despite having two theological degrees and investing over a decade of my life in evangelicalism, I knew I had to give it up. It was a synthetic version of Christianity. Fortunately I had acquired the necessary skills and knowledge to dismantle my faith and rebuild it from the ground up. The only thing I would not surrender that would serve as my foundation, was Jesus. I could embark on this journey with the assurance Jesus would never let me wander off course.
If I knew my investigation would lead to my total abandonment of Christianity and Jesus as anything but a misguided and disillusioned man from Nazareth, I may have been too fearful to even begin. What would I do with two theological degrees and no faith to go with them?
For two years I rigorously studied my evangelical faith hoping to rebuild it. I figured it would lead to me adopting a reformed outlook consistent with the traditional Christianity. Still I was not sure to what use I would put my training but I would cross that bridge when I came to it. For now I just needed closure.
Fast forward twenty years. It has taken me the better part of my adult life to finally have the perspective and answers needed to be able to share with others how and why I got to where I am. Lest my reader think this has been a part time endeavor while I built a separate and successful life apart from my evangelical studies, it has not. This has consumed every aspect of my life. It has been immensely difficult and emotionally painful. It has sapped much of my energy. But most of all, I have had to take this journey alone.
I have earned the right to say what I have to say and nobody can accuse me of not paying the price. Very few evangelicals are willing to sacrifice what I have given up: a career, a marriage, relationships, financial security, peace of mind, happiness and most of all — time. All in an effort to find what is true and what is not.
I began this article stating I was a victim of evangelicalism. I was and in some regards still am, or at least was until very recently. My lifelong pursuit of exposing the falsehoods of Christianity, particularly who Jesus was and was not, has reached its terminus. I still have much more to study and write about but I have all the clarity I need. I have completed this phase of my journey.
My next goal is to spread the word. I used to think that meant something else and I pursued it with vigor. Today, I am still an evangelist only a different kind than I once was. My purpose remains to tell others the truth and warn them of the dangers of following what is not true. Being an evangelical is not a victimless crime because while it may be a personal belief, it is most certainly not private. Herein lies its perniciousness.
There is a militant branch of evangelicalism which seeks to implement its version of morality on the rest of the public. Whether its attacks on the LGBTQ community, other religions, minorities, races, liberals, secularists, women’s advocacy groups or crusaders for the environment, inflicting your ideology on others while demanding yours be protected is flagrant hypocrisy. To think your religion is right and all others wrong is one thing, but to try to enforce it on others is a violation of their rights.
It is pointless and fruitless to attack evangelicals. We need to understand they are victims of an ideological system that traps them with fear and imprisons them with hope. The source is the Bible which is viewed as divinely inspired. Unless and until we unseat its influence, evangelicals will refuse to surrender their faith in its authority over their lives.
My work is a rational attack on the credibility and reliability of the Bible. It is my presumption most if not all evangelicals are either misinformed or ignorant about the Bible they claim to hold is such high esteem. Faith is blinding especially when it comes to seeing the Bible is the glaring light of unflinching rationality. Objective scrutiny is not swayed by feelings of devotion to God or betrayal for questioning His Word.
The biggest hurdle to clear is getting evangelicals to open the door of faith a crack to allow even a glimmer of criticism to shine in. Doubt is the only thing which can open it. Until evangelicals are willing to entertain the remotest possibility the Bible might be flawed as well as their view of Jesus, they will continue to hide behind this impenetrable barricade to protect their cherished beliefs.
I have coined the term spiritual suicide to describe the challenge facing many evangelicals when it comes to dispassionately examining their faith. They have little to gain and much to lose. Faith provides comfort, strength, guidance, peace, joy, meaning and hope. The risk of losing all these for intellectual honesty seems like a poor trade off. This is a selfish perspective that fails to factor in the impact evangelicalism is having in the lives of others.
Robbing others of their right to live their lives as they see fit regardless of whether or not it conforms to your ideals is unfair if not unjust. Using the Bible as an authority though untested and unchallenged is cowardly and irresponsible. Denigrating science and reason when they impinge on the Bible’s reliability as an absolute document yet embracing them when they don’t is rational schizophrenia. Science is God given when it saves a dying child but godless when it undermines creationism.
But when all is said and done, the true test of one’s commitment to the inerrancy of the Bible, ergo God and Jesus, is how binding it is on one’s life.
Early in my Christian experience I read something which profoundly impacted me. The writer asked, “If everyone in the world was deaf, would they know who the Christians were?” Evangelicals talk a big game. Those we see and hear on television or the internet can “speak with the tongues of angels” but really how invested are they in their faith commitment?
In seminary we used to joke about those who said, “I love Jesus and the Bible, I just don’t let them affect my lifestyle.” This type of believer wants to participate in the faith so they can feel certain of going to heaven when they die. They just don’t want to get too “serious” or fanatical about it. But Christianity is supposed to intrude into the lives of believers and radically transform them. Mediocrity is never the standard.
A famous sermon illustration helps highlight this difference.
When it comes to a breakfast of eggs and sausage, the chicken is involved but the pig is committed. Much of American evangelicalism is composed of chickens and few pigs.