The Two Christianities: Reader Feedback…

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The Two Christianities” post from yesterday seems to have touched a nerve out there in the Godblogosphere as it generated more traffic to this site than anything ever posted here.

I believe that others out there have insights into this issue. For that reason, I’d like to open up the comments for readers to contribute on a few select questions regarding the post. (If you haven’t read it, you can find it here.)

The questions:

  1. What evidences of EM Christianity do you see in the West? In your own church?
  2. Beyond the traits listed in “The Two Christianities,” what other characteristics define EM Christians, and how do those characteristics manifest themselves in practice? (Also answer for IM Christians.)
  3. How does one transition from being an EM Christian to an IM Christian? What resources might help the transition?

As a fourth input, any other insights you might be willing to share on this topic would be appreciated. I’m hoping to put together a summary post later this week.

Thanks in advance for your comments!

27 thoughts on “The Two Christianities: Reader Feedback…

  1. jwise

    Dan,

    I think your article was dead on. Some of the things I’ve seen in the past couple years as a teacher…

    The EM crowd in our church are scared to death that Christianity will be eroded. Music style is huge — if we leave the classic hymns, Christ will be forgotten forever. And if God’s name is taken off our money, Satan will forever have America. Help the homeless? Absolutely not – they might take advantage of us or diminish the value of our homes.

    I also think of ministers like D. James Kennedy who tend to fuel this EM fire by teaching that America was founded on Christian values and we can’t lose that heritage. But like you’ve pointed out, Christianity depends on God and his Spirit, not on our money containing the words “In God We Trust”.

    I’ve also noticed that conviction to these political debates is far, far more important than knowledge or support of Scripture. No amount of reasoning or Scriptural backing will sway these people into assurance that the Kingdom really is secure. It seems the attitude is, “I’m terribly afraid, I like being afraid, and you can’t do anything about it.”

    I’m still learning how to respond to this mindset. I spent two years teaching a number of older people who clearly fit in your EM category. We’ve gone through the book of Acts and their reaction was, “It would be wonderful if the church got along that way, but it’s never going to happen until we get to heaven.” The only responsibility they have is to come to church every Sunday and Wednesday and wait for the King to return so they can finally enjoy their eternal bliss without those silly homeless or homosexuals or CSC convicts.

    Perhaps there’s a very blurry line between a deceived unbeliever who’s been in church his whole life and an immature believer who exhibits the signs of EM. 1 John seems to make it clear, though, that if a man doesn’t love his brother, he is merely deceived.

    Loved the post. It seems the Spirit talks to his people a lot at night 🙂 I have my best thinking after midnight, too.

    • Jeremy,

      Good points all.

      I think what happens in older Christians is the tendency to get prideful about what they have gained. Then it can’t be surrendered. They build a pleasantly homogeneous church, then it can’t be opened to people who don’t look like them. They build a lifestyle of consumption, then it can’t be forsaken for simplicity. They build earthly security, then they can’t rely on God the Fortress and Rock.

      We had a visiting pastor from Ghana at our church on Sunday and he thoroughly rebuked us Americans (in a very loving way) for putting a reliance on making things happen through our money rather than God. This has always been an issue with me because I feel our wealth negates our ability to depend solely on God to be our champion. You see that in the EM. Everything revolves around money. And why they ask for prayer, money trumps it. If forced to choose between the two, ministries that operate on an EM basis will take the money every time.

      How sad.

  2. Self-centered behavior, I think, is the epitomy of external motivation: How does it serve me?

    Probably the issue that stands out to me, (because our church is suffering because of it) is that of church-hopping, especially when it’s driven by the feeling of not having one’s needs met. There are several reasons why people have left our church:
    They don’t like the music (it’s too loud, it’s too fast, there’s not enought hymns, there’s not enough worship songs, it’s too mixed, it’s led by the pastor’s wife and they don’t like her, there’s too many young people involved in music, it looks like a band, it’s not a choir…it goes on and on) They don’t like the teaching. (it’s too long, the pastor directs parts of his sermon to the youth*gasp!*, the pastor is too pointed, it’s not interesting, it’s too complicated, it’s too simple…) there aren’t enough ministries to those in need or more often there are too many projects taking up too much of my personal time

    Do you see a pattern here? All too often, the likes or dislikes we have about our church body are me centered. The first divisiveness in the Church was two selfish people who wanted their money as well as praise for being generous. The next one mentioned is people quarreling over how even the distribution of welfare to the poor and needy was. Selfish motivation, focused on my physical or emotional well-being, is childish behavior. Paul wrote

    When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.

    To move from EM to IM requires growing up and maturing in faith, moving from being focused on self and focusing first on God, and seeking to know Him, and then from that knowledge allowing the root of obedience to God to grow.

    Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

    Isaiah, in chapter 58, beautifully contrasts EM and IM. On the one hand, doing those things that appear righteous, but their confrontational outcome belies the root of selfishness. On the other hand, doing those things that have as their foundation a desire to please the Lord, with the outcome being blessing, healing and growth.

    Sorry for being long winded. I think it is marvelous that this issue is being discussed and I fervently pray for God to grow rich fruit from it. God Bless!

    • Suzanne

      Someone recommended this book in an earlier post: Generation Me by Jean Twenge. It’s not anyone’s imagination. In today’s culture, it really is “all about me”.

        • Caleb Woodbridge

          There’s an excellent series of talks by Andrew Fellows of L’Abri Fellowship (http://www.englishlabri.org) on “Narcissism: The Worldview of Self”, which analyses the narcissism of the current self in detail. I think it’s available from Soundword in the US, but people in the UK can download the talks free from http://www.bethinking.org/

          One of the things I’m wondering about is whether there’s a connection between our modern narcissism and Externally Motivated Christianity. EM faith has obviously existed right back to Bible times, but does our self-centred culture have a particular tendency to produce it?

    • Jonathan Hurshman

      The consumeristic attitude you’re describing goes very deep. Our culture inculcates it at every level: “If your [fill in the blank] isn’t meeting your needs, get rid of it and get a different one.” The blank can be almost anything: “breakfast cereal”, “car”, “spouse”, or “church”.

      As concerns consumeristic attitudes toward church, I believe this is especially a problem for American Protestants. I live in a town of about 100,000. I would estimate that the number of churches I could attend and feel pretty comfortable with the theology, praxis, and culture is around 30. So if I start experiencing issues in my church, what will drive me to work through those issues as opposed to simply ditching that church and going to another mostly interchangeable one?

      Christians who have unique emphases or doctrines (e.g. Seventh Day Adventists) have less of an issue with this, as do Christians in countries where there are fewer interchangeable churches.

      Another effect of the “church-dense” environment is that there is a strong temptation for churches try to differentiate themselves from other believers, often in ways that imply that they have the best ministries or music or programs or theology. This leads also to a “majoring on the minors” approach, where peripheral theological and practical issues are given a completely disproportionate weight (because that’s what differentiates us from that other not-quite-up-to-snuff church one block over).

      • Jonathan,

        David Wayne over at Jollyblogger had an interview with a Ukrainian pastor who thought it unimaginable that anyone would leave the church they were born into. Over there no one leaves. They learn to adapt. They learn that community works best when it’s stable. That kind of church endures persecution because it has an unbreakable bond between its members, a bond forged by commitment to the Lord and to each other. The church composed of church-hoppers? They scatter once the heat gets turned up.

        • I read that, and pondered at the level of communication that would be required between pastors to enable that kind of church discipline. Can you imagine a pastor telling someone “no” when they said they wanted to join their church?

    • David,

      Nicely put.

      Since reading Nancy Pearcey’s book Total Truth, I’ve been struck by how much of American Christianity operates out of a pragmatic worldview. When I think about it, EM Christianity’s worldview is highly pragmatic. Almost by definition, pragmatism is self-centered. It’s pragmatic for the very reason that it benefits only the ones making the pragmatic decision.

  3. I’ll have to agree with the previous two comments – there are a myriad of problems that affect/effect the Western Church today. The bulk of which is the “me” mentality. I’ve been witness to this first hand within the last year where a small group (30 or so) rallied their own to force a pastor out of his church (this same church has suffered the same thing 5 times in the last seven years). Reasons: change. The majority of that church (over 200) wanted change, embraced changed, welcomed change; of music, sermon style, youth and children’s ministries, outreach as well as local/global mission aid. Sadly, he walked away.

    My current church seems to be the exact opposite of that. While for a time it was very much an EM church, slowly they are seeing the lack of fruits they had produced in the past and want to make a difference. They understand that the church is not a building, the elders know they won’t be around forever and want to help with youth and children. They give unconditionally (time, money, gifts & talents) and they know that the only way the US church will survive is if people like themselves make a change, one person at a time, from the inside out.

    Isaiah 58 is a great example, and Jesus made references as well to fasting – Matthew 6:16. Fasting is a part of worship seldomly talked about in churches today, something I do on a regular basis without the knowledge of those around me. Like the overall issue here, I take everything about my faith seriously and try to share that with those I come in contact with (both within and without the church). Likewise, I am currently working with a teen that struggles with the acceptance of God’s love (or anyone’s for that matter) and I have a feeeling that if we can’t break through, she could become much like those in her family that are more EM minded folks, focused on the things about church instead of the relationship with Christ that makes the church and binds it together.

    “Ye are the salt of the earth; but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.” Matthew 5:13

    Let’s not become a tasteless spice, useless and dying.

    • Aaron,

      While I was reading your excerpt from Matthew, I thought that salt must be used up in order to accomplish its purpose. Then you ended by talking about being useless. Well, useless never means being used for the purpose for which you were created.

      The conservative nature of the EM Christian means he or she will never be used. And that’s not in keeping with the Gospel. We have to learn to give ourselves away without fear. That’s a foreign concept to EM Christians.

  4. Oh, I agree with everything in that previous post: I thought it was great. But is it possible for a Christian I-M to have that so corrupted that the internal motivation becomes an external? Also is it possible that this is something all Christians struggle with throughout their lives? I mean, I find now, looking back at earlier years in my Faith evidence that what I thought was Internally Motivated back then was merely manifestations of the spiritualized external.

    • Paul in Romans 7 spoke to exactly this issue: The inner war between the IM and the EM; the desire to please God vs the desire to please ourselves.

      So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being(IM) I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body(EM), waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.(emphasis and such, mine)

      The argument going on in Paul is so evocative of the internal struggles we all have with this sinful exterior we inhabit. It almost sounds like the baseball number that Abbott and Costello did…”Who’s on first?”

      I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.

        • I guess it’s our desire to justify ourselves? Fer instance…The Archbishop of Canterbury is quoted in an article that Christians misquote Romans in order to condemn homosexuality.

          In the passage of Romans that Dr Williams referred to in Monday’s speech, Paul said people who forgot God’s words fell into sin. “Men committed indecent acts with other men and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion,” Paul wrote.

          Dr Williams said these lines were “for the majority of modern readers the most important single text in Scripture on the subject of homosexuality.” But right after that passage, Paul warns readers not to condemn those who ignore God’s word.

          Which is an interesting view of that particular scripture. Remember that he says this in defence of Christians who practice homosexuality. But Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13

          I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people– not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you.” (emphasis mine)

          I think this could be shown to be one of the evidences of EM thinking over IM: A desire to sustain an institution (the Church) as relevant in a world of shifting morals by adapting, rather than being a solid rock of unchanging truth.

          • As an addition, another example of an EM response to sin outside the church is swing far to the other side and to condemn those outside the church who sin. Which is, as Paul states in Romans and Corinthians, an error.

  5. Dan,

    I wasn’t getting at not being used in the Matthew verse – I’d hope you know me better than that. We are to be the salt of the earth, but when many in the church today become so obsessed with how things look, how things sound, and who’s pocket it came out of we run the risk of using the salt in the wrong manner, rendering it tasteless. From the outside looking in, many today have no desire to even step foot into a church; “Why go there, it looks just the same as out here, and out here I don’t have someone judging me, condemning me or telling me how quickly my pass to hell is!”

    The media (misued salt) focus has turned almost all churches into EM churches, rendering those more IM churches unable to evangelize appropriately, we then find ourselves battling against ourselves to try to right the ship. It is a constant struggle, and something that has bothered me much of recent.

    “Starting a quarrrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.” Proverbs 17:14 NIV

    “He who loves a quarrel loves sin; he who builds a high gate invites destruction.” Proverbs 17:19 NIV

    Those who should know better need to take time to work together with those who don’t know, stopping a quarrel before it starts or erupts into something much larger. I do think that open discussion such as this helps us all.

    “But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, know that they do gender strifes. And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.” II Timothy 2:23-26 KJV

  6. Marie

    The IM Christian is not living for himself. The IM Christian is dead. His life has been turned over to the Great Eternal King who reigns now and forevermore. And here is what our Great King says in His Word…

    For Thy name’s sake, O LORD, pardon my iniquity, for it is great.” Ps 25:11
    For Thou art my Rock and my Fortress; for Thy name’s sake Thou wilt lead me and guide me. Ps 31:3
    But for Thy sake we are killed all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. Ps 44:22
    Because for Thy sake I have borne reproach; dishonor has covered my face. Ps 69:7
    I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake… Is 43:25
    For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; for how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another. Is 48:11
    Blessed are you when men revile you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. Matt 5:11
    Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and heap insults upon you, and spurn your name as evil for the sake of the Son of Man. Luke 6:22
    And you will be hated by all on account of My name. Luke 21:17
    …for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake. Acts 9:16

    I could go on and on…there are over 64 verses in the Bible that PROCLAIM that we are here ONLY for His Name’s Sake!

    Let us watch and be alert to what the Spirit is saying to the church lest we be spewed out of His mouth for our vain atttempts to build His church with our “good institutions” when He has clearly declared to us that He will build His church!

    Pray China , pray, that the vain-glory of God’s people in America will be burned up so that our utter dependance and desperation for God will be exposed. Then, maybe, then, we will fall on our knees and repent of self-rule and look to our King to make us into His perfect Bride.

  7. Cathy

    I meant to post the following insights here but put my comments on the previous days post by mistake. Here it is again:

    I haven’t read all the comments but I have read your posts on EM and IM Christians.

    For years I was an EM Christian. Why?

    When I was saved (by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, per the Bible) I was discipled by the group that brought me the gospel. They had been lead by a pastor who was externally motivated and they in turn taught me the same. Initially I did not question what I was taught…when I began to “learn the Bible, I began to question, but was rebuked, as being rebellious….I became the problem. I learned to keep my mouth shut and go along. I felt so guilty for questioning, and thought the pastor and church leaders and my husband knew more than myself. I was taught to “submit.

    But what God starts He finishes. He began a good work in me, and over time I realized I’d been deceived in many ways. I knew the wolves were in the house, I just never figured it would be in the “house I belonged to. Over time, God shed light and I began to understand that I had been the victim of cult like tactics.

    As I grew I realized I’d been “snookered so to speak. I’d been lied to. I discovered that my first pastor, and many of my succeeding pastors had a personal agenda…they had the “power (touch not God’s annointed they said) and they intended to keep it. They were building a ministry, making a name for themselves (and securing their income) teaching believers to be faithful to the church (after all, they reasoned, Christ died for the church…hence we must be loyal to the church and therefore the pastor ). But never did they teach about being faithful to Christ.

    When I rejected the “cult like teaching, it caused a huge rift between me and my husband…our home was almost destroyed. Eventually my husband, who was a Bible College graduate with a BA in Bible, began to understand many of the issues.

    These “cults’ focus on the externals…on “standards as they call them. They want the beliver to “clean up from the outside in. When that happens, one sows to the wind and reaps a whirlwind in return.

    A book that explains how all this happens is: The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, by David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen. If you read it you will gain tremendous insight as to how this happens.

    The main reason I escaped the cluthes of this system of abuse is the Scripture. (These groups use lots of Scripture out of context.) That Scripture took root, and it shed light…I searched the Scripture for answers, and the Truth revealed the error.

    Today, I am free from the bondage of that spiritual abuse…and will never go back to that system. It was a miserable experience, always trying to measure up and falling short, (not for salvation, which was a gift from God paid for in full by Jesus Christ), of the “standard set by the church.

    I don’t serve the church, I serve Christ. (Serving the church is self-serving, because Christ is in us and we are the bride of Christ, the church! When the body of believers meets together, therein is the local church, and when they go home/leave, all that is left is the building…we call it the church, and the house of God, but it is not…He dwells in us…our body is His temple!).

    The church and each individual believer must get back to the Scripture…what does it say? what does it mean? How does it apply to me? Then as each understands (inward/inside), he will perform (outward/outside). Then, and only then, is our activity/exercise/work a manisfestation of our faith.

  8. I’m sorry, Dan, but as for myself I don’t see that what you’re saying (IM vs EM) as that big of a “revelation”, and I’ll venture to say it may be more a caffeine-originated thought than anything else, although your commentors seem to be running excitedly in all directions with this one. It fact, I suspect it’s going to have the opposite effect of what you intended.

    Nothing has changed in humankind. Try reading the book of Judges and you’ll find there much of what we still have today among God’s people: accommodationism and unbelief and idolatry. And I still think those three things remain the best categories of thought for analyzing the current situation in America.

    Those things were written for our instruction and warning.

    Everything comes down to this one question: whom are you going to love, to whom will you cling, whom do you believe, whom do you fear and reverence, and whom will you serve?

    Once someone answer that question (and we know the answer), his problems will be just beginning. Because the World will oppose you every inch of the way. And, whoa, I can say it is a day-in and day-out struggle.

    * You know, Dan, it’s funny but It’s been years since I’ve heard any pastor preach from Judges, and in fact, straight forward expository preaching doesn’t seem to be all that common anymore, excepting expository sermons on Malachi chapter 3:6-12, in which case I think I’ve heard dozens and dozens.

    • Oengus,

      You’re absolutely right. No single idea here is new.

      For me, though, it’s being able to pull the pieces together and look at the whole. The overhead view is what was the big “ah-ha” for me. I think God put all the pieces together. Better yet, being able to draw distinct camps between the two made for analysis options I hadn’t entertained in the past. I used to see the two as a jumble, but now that I understand the motivations, they separate more cleanly.

  9. You’re definitely on to something, Dan.

    The thing with EM Christianity is, it’s a lot easier. It’s simplistic. It relies on (supposedly) easily-recognized externals, on shape-recognition-type discernment. It then uses this discernment to inform its “ministry, which in actuality might be judgment masquerading as ministry.

    I’ll confess that I’ve succumbed to EM-type living a great deal in the past. Even now I’m tempted to do so while, deep-down, knowing better. And the temptation can be subtle. But it takes courage to live the IM way. Or, rather, blessed assurance. And perhaps time to find one’s way there. For someone who, like me, has greatly feared people, this can be a very hard thing to do. But to be an IM Christian you truly have to become unconcerned with the opinion of others insofar as your sense of worth depends on it. All that matters is God’s opinion, and His salvation as effected in Christ.

    Your simply live in His assurance and do your thing, as unto Him. This truly takes faith, because it depends on things not seen.

    • Bonnie,

      I think one of the defining differences here is that IM Christianity relies on the Spirit for guidance far more than EM Christianity does. In fact, EM Christianity doesn’t like not having a Scripture to fall back on for everything. Having to discern directions and truths by the Spirit alone makes the EM Christian uneasy.

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