Theoretical evangelicals: Exploring the disconnect between theory and practice
“concerned with or involving the theory of a subject or area of study rather than its practical application”
If a fraction of evangelical or conservative Christians actually believed the Bible was divinely authoritative, inerrant, inspired or infallible, the world would be a much different and better place! What is missing from evangelicalism is not knowledge of the Bible but application of this knowledge.
“Do as I say, not as I do.”
I think most of us would admit to the truth behind this terse saying. Underlying it is a subtle hypocrisy which we are all guilty of at some point. It is much easier to give advice than to take advice and still harder to implement it in our lives. Evangelical Christians are masters of this disparity between what they demand of others versus what they demand from themselves.
In theory, evangelicals will tell you they are strict inerrantist who believe every word of the Bible is inspired by God and therefore constraining on our lives. But they don’t act as if that’s true. The furious thing about evangelicals is their insistence on their own self righteousness while being blind to their hypocrisy.
Evangelicals have no excuse for failing to live up to biblical ideals. America is the freest Christian nation on the planet. Evangelical and conservative Christians can avail themselves of unlimited resources to nourish their faith. The internet has made Christianity available to all every minute of every day with myriads of choices for edification, instruction, motivation and inspiration. Imagine a prairie farmer two hundred years ago. He might be lucky to hear a sermon once a week and read a few chapters of his Bible. Today’s believer can read, listen or watch biblically based content for hours a day if they choose. An evangelical who professes to venerate the Bible as God’s sacred Word should be among the most biblically literate and spiritually mature believer in the two thousand years history of the Christian Church!
1″Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)
Paul spoke of baby or immature Christians who can only take spiritual milk when they should be eating spiritual meat. Today’s American evangelical are spiritually obese babies. They gorge themselves on whatever soothes and comforts them while avoiding those teachings which demand sacrifice and suffering. They spend much of their time crying about be mistreated and not getting their way.
Studying theology, Christian history or the writings of the Church Fathers has been replaced with devotional readings and sermons which seem more like spiritual pop psychology. Today’s churches have become giant daycares to placate believers and provide for their every need.
The reason there is this huge disparity between belief and practice is due to the noxious doctrines of ‘cheap grace’ and ‘eternal security.’ These two fabricated dogmas go hand in glove with one another.
Men like the late Billy Graham popularized “instant” conversion. This allowed evangelicals to offer salvation no strings attached. Words like “repentance” or “sacrifice” were removed from the gospel. Potential converts were told salvation is a gift and like a gift only required acceptance. In theory this sounds right but it is biblically unwarranted.
Evangelicals mistakenly associate repentance with a “works” style salvation. This is an over reaction to pre Reformation thinking. Advocating repentance is not the same as selling salvation like indulgences. Instead it is a pre-requisite intended to prepare those considering salvation for what is required of them. Those seeking conversion must be willing to make a mental change to “turn from their wicked way” to serve God. Both John the Baptist and Jesus insisted on it throughout their ministries.
More importantly, the stress is on a life dedicated to righteousness after conversion. Acts fifteen provides the model.
“Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” (Acts 15:10-11)
“It is my [James] judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. 21For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.” (Acts 15:19-21)
These verses are found in the chapter detailing the findings of the Council of Jerusalem concerning the requirements for Gentile conversion. The key resolution being Gentiles would not be forced to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses (Acts 15:5). They would however be required to “abstain from sexual immorality.” The verse which follows is perhaps the most important and most ignored by Christian commentators.
In the context of early first century Christianity (c. 50AD), the synagogue was the church for these believers. James was stating these new Gentile converts were being exposed to the “law of Moses… every Sabbath.” In other words, they would be bound to it through its exposition in synagogues. Gentiles were exempt from circumcision but not the law.
Eternal security is the other side of the evangelical salvation coin. It promises “once saved, forever saved.” There is some truth in this doctrine but it is open to abuse. New Testament teaching focuses on Christians who despite living dedicated lives of service thought it was still not enough. Paul was encouraging them by assuring them if they had made a profession of faith and were sincerely seeking to live righteous lives, they could be certain of salvation. Today evangelicals use it as a divine safety net which allows them to live complacent lives of mediocrity and still be guaranteed a place in heaven when they die.