Russell D. Moore’s “Farewell, Cultural Christianity,” the Dones / De-Churched, and the Gospel

Standard

A long-time reader, Robert, pointed out an excellent article in Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal, “Farewell, Cultural Christianity” by Russell D. Moore, one of the Southern Baptist Convention’s leaders and rising stars. As they say, read the whole thing.

The gist: Recent changes in American culture will shake the American Church but in a positive way, forcing out nominal Christians who drain the Church’s vitality, and leaving us with an energized remnant. While this is not a new idea, the article has some good insights. Moore notes churches have focused too much on delivering a Gospel of self-help that appealed 20 years ago to lost people but not today, which is true. He also notes that our past political engagement and “values voting” are obsoleted by an America that learned to value other ideas more. Again, worth the read.

I like Moore. He’s not afraid to say it like it is and to question sacred cows. But as much as the article makes good cases, it reveals blinders representative of many leaders in the American Church.

This passage is telling:

Those who were nominally Christian are suddenly vanished from the pews. Those who wanted an almost-gospel will find that they don’t need it to thrive in American culture. As a matter of fact, cultural Christianity is herded out by natural selection. That sort of nominal religion, when bearing the burden of the embarrassment of a controversial Bible, is no more equipped to survive in a secularizing America than a declawed cat released in the wild. Who then is left behind? It will be those defined not by a Christian America but by a Christian gospel.

He’s absolutely right about nominal Christians. They’re dropping out. What he misses entirely though is that those who are leaving our churches are not all nominal Christians.Leaving, walking out of churchurch In fact, it can be argued that the exodus contains a frighteningly large percentage of those who are our most devout believers, the so-called Dones or De-Churched. You can read about them all over the Web.

These are not nominal, cultural Christians. These are the folks who worked in the nursery for years, veteran Sunday School teachers, elders, the 20%, seasoned missionaries, and even pastors. It’s not that they’ve lost their faith. It’s that the present way we do church in America became too taxing, stifling, lonely, frustrating, and debilitating, and it left them with no other choice than to walk away–for their own spiritual, mental, and physical health.

We must ask this: Is the empty pew a result of cultural Christians fleeing genuinely Gospel-centric churches, or is it the result of Gospel-centric Christians fleeing culture-centric churches? My bet is the latter is just as big, if not a bigger, reason. And doesn’t every church leader think his/her church is Gospel-centric? Who then will own up to the present exodus of Gospel-centric Christians?

It’s frustrating to read the Moore piece and think he’s ignoring the Dones / De-Churched or that he’s lumping them with the nominals and saying, “Good riddance.” But the lack of mention is telling. Again, this is someone who leads America’s largest denomination. The blame instead shifts to those who left, with little reflection on those who once led them. Convenient.

Moore ends his article with this statement:

The shaking of American culture will get us back to the question Jesus asked his disciples at Caesarea Philippi: “Who do you say that I am?”

I think Moore is misunderstanding again.

While Who do you say that I am? was definitely a question for those who once had never heard of Jesus Christ, it’s one most Christians have resolved over the past 2,000+ years. (Whether they do anything with the answer is a whole ‘nother issue.)

But the real question, the one at the heart of the church exodus, whose mis-answering has plagued the American Church for the last 100 years or so, is this: What is the Gospel?

The term moralistic, therapeutic deism defines a good chunk of the central teaching of many churches in America. It’s Old Testament Law wrapped in an American flag and the Protestant Work Ethic, then blessed by Oprah Winfrey and Sigmund Freud. But it’s not the Gospel. Some may call it the Gospel, but it’s actually anti-Gospel.

Personally, I think the exodus of devoted Christians from the American Church is as much due to a failure to have the Gospel preached to them as it is with anything else. People have had it with performance-based Christianity. Grace, the very heart of the Gospel, may be the single most lacking element in American Christianity. That dearth ultimately drives away those who need grace the most.

Sadly, even churches and leaders who claim to be Gospel-centered fall back on preaching a moralistic melange when it directly benefits them. The resulting confusion further alienates the most discerning, those who can’t reconcile mixed messages, especially those messages proclaimed in the name of God.

If Moore wants to say farewell to the flee-ers in a way that honors God, as a denominational leader, he needs to own up to the American Church’s hand in creating not only the nominal, cultural Christian, but also the Dones / De-Churched. Until then, church leaders around this country will have no answers to stemming the exodus, continuing to preach a pseudo-Gospel to the self-justified for which they will one day answer.

Therefore, We Will Not Fear

Standard

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah
–Psalm 46:1-3

Broken mirror, fear“Therefore, we will not fear…”

I don’t know why so many Christians today live in fear. But then again, I do know.

It is American to want to be in control. Our national psyche reflects maintaining what we have accumulated for ourselves. Protecting. Guaranteeing.

You see it on days that celebrate our soldiers, both those living and those dead. We console ourslves by saying they made the sacrifice to ensure freedom. The oddity in this is that ensuring freedom is also ensuring control.

It is also true that one man’s freedom is another man’s control, and nothing drives fear into our hearts more than to see our control give way to what another man considers his freedom.

And then the mountains begin to move, and both men realize that control is an illusion. And now both fear.

I don’t know when Christians in America began to fear so much, but I think the postmillennialistic triumphalism that was the hallmark of the American Church of the 19th century was disabused by the events of World War I. That the world could descend into such madness despite all our positive work to better ourselves! We lost control and failed most inhumanly. I think that nothing has been the same for us as a Church ever since.

Here’s the thing: Christians, more than anyone, should be sober people. We understand the nature of fallen men. We understand evil. We have a Gospel that tells us that we were incapable of controlling ourselves in a way that could save us. Only God in Christ had that level of control. Our salvation, even though He looked like us, came from outside of us. We could not save ourselves. We are not in control.

There is something about the American Church of the last 50-60 years that has been loathe to admit that we are not in control, even though we should understand this better than others. The Culture Wars we waged were always more about maintaining control than they were about actual sin.

Even today, as we see God’s symbol of the rainbow co-opted by those who rail against Him, their victories portrayed as our supposed losses, we are as fearful about what this loss of control means as we are about the sin that fuels it.

Into this, God speaks to the Christian soul and reminds us that even moving mountains should not be a cause for fear. His perfect love casts out all fear. He reminds us that fear is, indeed, the opposite of love.

Christian, never fear.

I can tell you that with words, but what is true is that drawing closer to God is they only way to live without fear. Draw close and trust. God is never surprised, and He is in control. Only He remains unmoveable, and when we abide in Him, we are as well.

Empty Faith: When Manliness, Quiverfull, and Christian Principles Add Up to Nothing

Standard

Many people are lamenting the loss of church membership in the U.S., though I’m not convinced those loss numbers are anything but statistical anomalies.

Still, I think something is happening to the quality of Christian practice in this country. In addition, there’s a loss of understanding about what it means to be a Christian, what the Gospel is, how the Church should act, and what the whole point of being a Christian is.

The disintegration of a Christian family is at the core of this article:

“How Playing Good Christian Housewife Almost Killed Me

The author talks about being in the Quiverfull Movement, made famous by the Duggar family. Quiverfull practitioners believe that large families are a blessing from God, so they adhere to a set of Christian principles based around Psalm 127.

While the term fundamentalist comes out in the article, it’s clear to me that Quiverfull is not relegated to old school Baptist churches in line with Jack Hyles and Bob Jones. It’s far more evangelical than some evangelicals care to admit.

And frankly, I see nothing wrong with having a large family. If God blesses you with a large family, fantastic!

But what does trouble me is that despite the author’s protests that she indeed had a great relationship with Jesus, what comes out in the article shows she had a deeper relationship with someone’s idea of core Quiverfull Christian principles.

Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman, laments Tammy Wynette, but being a dad is just as hard. Over at the Familyman podcast with Todd Wilson, we find out that the “Buck Stops with Dad,” and if you’re a man without a job (that section starts at 15:00 into the podcast), well…

The answer? Pick yourself up by your own bootstraps, knuckle down, put your nose to the grindstone, work harder, take three menial jobs, and do it by yourself. Man up. Abide by Christian principles of manliness and fatherhood, read a couple John Eldredge books, and good luck. Because you’re on your own, buddy. Every godly man for himself.

It makes me wonder what the point of being a Christian is.

Nothing in that podcast said anything about what a man should expect from his church when he’s out of a job. It’s likely that this overt omission is because we have churches built on Christian principles, but not a whole of evidence of being those churches being built on Christ.

Amid all that loneliness and despair, someone gets it right…

Over at the Brant & Sherri Podcast, Brant Hansen talks about what happens when churches play church and fail to be the Church (starts at 10:11)…

It seems to me that people aren’t going to the American Church for answers anymore because the Church gave them Christian principles rather than what they showed up to receive. People came looking for a family and for Jesus, and they got a list of disconnected, out-of-context Bible verses instead.

Desperate people walked into church on Sunday, and they got a lesson on how to be a perfect wife/husband/student/employee/taxpayer/American, when every part of their life was falling apart, and they just needed someone to care, to listen, to be Jesus in the flesh for them.

Hurting, needy, broken people do not need Christian principles; they need a community of believers who will do anything necessary to help. But most of all, they need Jesus. Hell is filled with people who lived by Christian principles and yet had no relationship with Jesus.

It staggers me that we can’t get this right.

I’m sure people will listen to Hansen’s podcast and tear up at some point, because what he talks about is what people are dying for. They want to know that someone–anyone–cares enough to make them a part of a “forever family.” They keep looking for that kind of love, acceptance, and support, with Jesus at the center of that caring community, yet they can’t find it anywhere.

image_print