The Jesus Disconnect
Michael Spencer loved baseball. There was a notable sense of joy in his writing at the Boar’s Head Tavern as soon as news of the new season became available. It resurrected his winter mood in ways only a true baseball fan can understand. Yet with that love came pain. Michael was a Reds fan, and he chose to remain one in spite of their many woes. It stood as a testament to loving the unlovable. (Apologies to Reds fans far and wide.)
Loving something that was a mess, he said, is the same situation Evangelicals are in, yet with a profound state of denial.
Christians are convinced that the generally low opinion people have of them – such as not wanting Christians as neighbors and trying to avoid having a conversation with Christians – is because people can’t deal with the uncomfortable truth about Jesus. Evangelicals believe the growing numbers of young adults who grew up in church-attending families and then abandoned the ship of faith is the fault of Hollywood, liberals, rock music, and sex. Riiight.
Mere Churchianity, p.23
Michael first expressed his thoughts about this in a three part series of Internet Monk posts called The Coming Evangelical Collapse. (part 1, part 2, part 3) The posts were distilled into a single article published in The Christian Science Monitor, and ended up on The Drudge Report for a day, launching Michael into his uncomfortable 15 minutes of fame and ultimately landing him radio interviews, speaking engagements at the Cornerstone Festival, and the book deal that brings us to our review. As he said it:
I waded through a massive media reaction to my prediction that within two decades, American evangelicalism would become a house emptied of half its occupants.
Mere Churchianity, p.23
Evangelical critics and church leavers got it immediately, but the ones in greatest need of hearing the critique remained puzzled that anything was wrong.
Christians in America seem to be living in a movie where they have written every scene to make themselves look like heroes. They’ve rigged the plot so their critics are always wring and they will always win in the end.
Mere Churchianity, p.24
Instead, they have traded a deep connection to Jesus for programs and shallowness. This shallowness appeals to many, yet lacks and real connection to life with meaning found in Jesus.
Michael likens this to a pecan pie without pecans. While it’s possible to take the pecan pie recipe and modify it in any number of ways, if the central ingredient – pecans – is removed, then whatever it may be, a pecan pie it isn’t. So it is with American Evangelicals. A truly Jesus-shaped spirituality has been stripped from the church and replaced with teaching promoting the quests for money, sex, or political power.
What is Jesus-shaped spirituality? One of Michael’s many descriptions is:
In the days to come, it was clear that Jesus did not want a continuing fan club or a franchise of temples and religious malls with his statue out front. No, he wanted a movement that would go into the whole world and point every person in every nation to himself. And so Jesus returned to heaven, sent the Holy Spirit to his followers, and empowered his movement to do what he had done, teach what he had taught, live as he had lived, and carry out what he had begun. From start to finish, it was a Jesus-shaped movement powered by the energy of the resurrected Lord himself.
Mere Churchianity, p.28-29
I need to point out that among Evangelicals, there are a good number of churches and people who do not fit this critique. Communities exist as or within churches who pursue Christ and Christlikeness with all their being. But what Michael offers as a critique remains valid for the many examples of churches and teachers who concentrate on prosperity teaching, popularity, bigger buildings, more money to run the machine, and any number of gimmicks to keep people coming in and supporting any number of programs that have little or nothing to do with what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. If you find yourself among people truly seeking to live a Jesus-shaped reality in your communities, consider yourself blessed. If you are one who wonders why kids leave the faith after high school even though you brought them up in the best environment worship-tainment can provide and don’t understand what the problem is, please consider carefully what Michael is saying, and ask yourself why so much of American church life looks nothing like the kind of life Jesus called people to live out.
- Consider the coming evangelical collapse. Do you believe this is true? Discuss.
- Is there truth to the suggestion that what characterizes Evangelicalism in America is not Jesus as much as Republicans who hate gays? What do you think of this?
- What would it look like for Christian community to include the least, the lost, and the unloved?
Related Internet Monk posts: