Evangelicals the world over are becoming increasingly resistant to facts and knowledge which is the only cure for ignorance. Science and reason are viewed with skepticism as enemies of God and the supernatural. Mankind’s rational capacity is tainted by their sin nature and at “enmity with God.” Paranoia and mistrust are quickly becoming the hallmarks of evangelicalism.
Evangelicals are fiercely dualistic. They see two worlds in opposition to one another: the material and spiritual. Satan and his evil henchmen roam this world seeking to thwart the righteous purposes of God beginning with his people — evangelicals. The unregenerate sinners of this world, you and me, are unwitting pawns in Satan’s evil hands. When we attack irrationalism, such as belief in the resurrection from the dead, it is Satan attempting to undermine the gospel.
I know all too well what it is like living in the ivory tower of evangelical ideology. It is comfortable, safe and meaningful. It gives one an immense sense of significance in this world as an ambassador of Christ. It offers protection from all future harm with a promise of deliverance (The Rapture) when things go from bad to worse. It exempts one from global responsibility for facilitating political peace or promoting environmental viability because this world has an expiration date. God has promised a new and better “heavens and earth” so why take care of this one?
America currently has the most evangelicals of any country but this is rapidly changing. China may already have more but statistics are unavailable. Brazil will soon overtake America. Evangelicalism is growing rapidly in places like Africa and South Korea. Trends have shown over the last few decades while most Protestant denominations are experience a drop in membership, evangelicalism is surging.
Many American evangelicals have been quick to condemn the many polls declaring the death or dying of evangelicalism maintaining it is simply purging itself of “dross.” I disagree. I believe many evangelicals are going to ground and customizing their faith via social media and the internet.
Historically, evangelicalism got its start by being effective at adaptation. The American Revolution was fueled by the pioneering spirit of men and women who longed for independence and freedom from British tyranny. It fostered an ethos of self determination and rugged individualism. Throughout its two hundred years evangelicals have prided themselves at being able to change with the times as expediency dictates.
A century ago it would have been incomprehensible for evangelical churches to embrace the gay lifestyle or allow divorce under most circumstances. Premarital sex among evangelicals is hardly condemned to the same degree as abortion. The celebration of materialism or the prosperity gospel would have been staunchly resisted. Evangelicals engaging in “worldly” pleasures like wearing seductive clothing, ostentatious jewelry and hairstyles, erotic dancing, sports betting, drinking or going to sporting events on Sunday would be considered carnal and unspiritual. Today they are the norm.
After the Revolutionary War, British political rule was not the only casualty. So too was ecclesiastical rule. The Christian denominations especially Anglicanism were regarded as further extensions of British control needing eradication or at least alteration. Evangelicals crafted their own brand of Christianity. This style for the most part threw off the shackles of clericalism, sacramentalism and liturgy in favor of religious self determination. Without central authority or rigid creedalism to keep it in check, evangelicalism was free to flourish and adapt to its new environment.
Many attempts have been made to define evangelicalism. The Bebbington Quadrilateral seems outdated and fails to accommodate the vast spectrum of evangelical beliefs particularly experientialism and subjectivism. One thing most evangelicals have in common is not having anything in common. Socially, morally, ethically, politically and doctrinally, evangelicals are more variegated than any other subset of Christianity. Yet all believe their interpretation of the scriptures is God sanctioned.
I think individualism rooted in subjectivism defines most evangelicals more than any singular trait. Their view of the Bible’s degree of authority and interpretation. The person and nature of Jesus and the Trinity. How one procures salvation. What constitutes Christian commitment. One’s social, political or environmental responsibility. These and many corollaries to them differ widely among evangelicals to varying degrees with many being oppositional.
Evangelicals reliance on their own personal spirit guided interpretation of the Bible is a breeding ground for indulging and justifying personal biases, prejudices and desires in the name of divine endorsement. From the leadership down to the rank and file believer, God told me or led is a common refrain. How can one argue with a God experience?
To put this into perspective. An evangelical with no education will oftentimes take their opinion over science, rationalism, the media, common sense or any other reliable source of authority, if they believe the Bible teaches thus. A disparaging of formal education even if theological is nothing new. Many believe they possess a spiritual intelligence which only God’s spirit can give.
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?” [Isaiah 40:13] But we have the mind of Christ.”(1 Corinthians 2:14-16)
“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”(John 16:13a)
On the flip side of the educational coin, many highly educated and successful evangelicals (many who currently occupy cabinet seats in the Trump government) openly admit to being influenced by the Bible to make decisions and policy. It should concern us, if not horrify us, to think a book of ancient superstitions carries more clout than rationality.
Is this alarmist propaganda from a disgruntled ex-evangelical with a philosophical ax to grind? Only if that ax is reasonable truth.
Facts, knowledge and critical thinking are becoming precious commodities in today’s marketplace of ideas where lies masquerade as truth and truth is considered “opinion.” Unless people rediscover the art of critical thinking and stop absorbing knowledge unconditionally because it reinforces their beliefs, we are all in danger of being infected with ignorance, whether we want to or not.
Ask members of the LGBTQ community or women’s advocacy groups whether evangelical ideology has affected them? Ask immigrants and minorities if they have suffered under the perniciousness of evangelical thinking. What about political stability in the Middle East or environmental safeguards? Does freedom of religion transcend freedom of no religion when it comes to the children of evangelicals who are socialized and indoctrinated into a faith without choice? Should we allow a single faith group to promote itself as “the only way” to heaven? What is the basis for this unwavering, uncompromising conviction in the divine authority of the Bible and exclusivity of evangelicalism?
Irrational faith rooted in fear of death and hope in a blissful afterlife validated by experientialism.
Evangelicals who argue otherwise are blinded by their own investment in the faith. Those who seek to defend evangelicalism as reasonable, logical and consistent with various branches of science have no choice but to do so. To scrutinize their faith objectively and critically is to run the risk of “blowing up” their lives.
Educated evangelicals who offer a biblical defense have devoted years of theological study which they are unlikely to surrender. Add to this years of networking within the evangelical culture, friends and family who are evangelicals and perhaps a career within evangelicalism and the prospect of throwing it away for the sake of intellectual honesty is remote. On the other side, the average evangelical relies on the opinions of their leaders to inform them. Lacking the necessary knowledge and expertise to interact critically with mountains of data makes them victims of the evangelical propaganda machine.
The problem is most evangelicals are willing to ignore any rational urges to critique their faith because they don’t want to give up the promise of eternal life. As long as they have a “reason” to view science with skepticism, most will to allay their existential fears.
I have said this before. I never believed more than when I knew the least. Conversely, the more knowledge I acquired (within evangelical institutions!) the more doubts I had. By the time I completed eight years of theological training I was at a crossroads. Do I continue sweeping my doubts under a carpet of faith or bring them into the glaring light of rational inquiry? I chose the latter.
My motive was sincere and untarnished by bitterness or anger toward God or Jesus. I simply wanted the purest form of biblical faith an honest evaluation of the Bible could provide. In doing so my faith unravelled. Once I took off my “Christian glasses” and examined the biblical text without preconceived biases, I saw everything clearly and sensibly, nothing more so than Jesus.
The road to truth is paved with knowledge and brightly lit with reason, while the dark path of faith is one of irrationalness and ignorance.