That Legacy Thing


I wish I could give us Americans some credit for possessing more than a rudimentary memory that extends beyond six months, but, in case we all forget, I want to mention a word. Eight years ago, that word was legacy. Bill Clinton seemed to be highly concerned about his legacy and so were all his sycophants. “The legacy thing” was front page news, and darnit, hosts of people worried along with the chief executive.

**flash forward to today**

I can’t get “An Evangelical Manifesto” out of my head. In some ways, that document highlights the problems with “the legacy thing” for modern American Christians of the born-again variety. It not only swims in angst and contrition, but also seethes with that worry our previous president expressed. Much the same way Bill Clinton couldn’t leave office without ensuring that people considered him the bee’s knees, so Evangelicals go all out in “An Evangelical Manifesto” to win the love of the average Joe and Jane Doe, despite the fact that the Lord said they’d be hated on His account.

And why this plea to be liked? Don’t Evangelicals rule the world? Three years ago, they proclaimed as much in the pages of Time magazine, including a cover declaring Evangelicals the next hip thing. Heck, Evangelicals put their anointed man into the White House. Evangelicals crowed about nailing Saddam. They showed off their new-found affluence and built McMansions all over the place. They got Veggie Tales on Saturday network cartoons. They roamed the halls of power from boardrooms to think tanks. They fought this cultural battle and that. They built massive churches and anchored them with a Starbucks—or some Christianized clone of Starbucks. They ruled the radio airwaves with at least a half-dozen, family-friendly, kid-safe Christian radio stations in every major market. Suddenly, it was cool to be Christian. And Evangelicals, caught up in the moment, flaunted their Time cover story image anywhere they could.

And just look at the payoff! Well, are you looking? On second thought, perhaps it’s better not to look.

Let’s do a quick check…

  • Violent crime is on the rise.
  • Abortion is on the rise.
  • Illegal drug use is on the rise.
  • Life expectancy in our country has actually dropped.
  • The economies of several of the largest states in the country (California, Ohio, Michigan, and Florida) are imploding.
  • This president, the one who was anointed “Our Man,” the one who supplanted the guy worried about his legacy, may go down in history as one of the least effective we’ve ever had—if his approval rating is any indication. Same for Congress.
  • We’ve seen any respect the rest of the world had for our country go down the tubes.
  • Bankers would rather hold Euros.
  • People point fingers at the Chinese response in the wake of their big earthquake, yet can’t remember what happened in New Orleans less than three years ago.
  • More Americans take doctor-prescribed psychoactive drugs than ever before.
  • Just seven years after 9/11, they can’t build skyscrapers fast enough in majority-Muslim countries and emirates like Malaysia and Dubai, while thousands of Americans here can no longer afford to live in the homes they purchased just a few years ago.
  • Our government claims consumer prices have barely nudged upward, though no one would think less of a man today if he burst out crying after seeing his bill at the grocery store. (Yeah, it may well be true that a container of ice cream is still $3.50 today as it was three years ago. Only then you got a half gallon instead of 1.4 quarts. Thank you, government, for telling me the price of ice cream remained steady!)
  • The kids coming out of our public schools are, for the most part, about as sharp as a sack of wet mice.
  • Our cultural cachet is either loud and stupid (name a Will Farrell movie) or obscene (satellite and cable TV providers can’t seem to add porn channels fast enough). Meanwhile, book readership continues to drop precipitously.
  • More households in this country are now dual income than ever before and not simply as a way to garner “mad money,” but largely because they can’t otherwise survive financially.
  • The vast majority of people in America believe that we, as a country, are on the wrong track.
  • And we may very well elect as our next president a guy whose political experience couldn’t get him elected dog catcher in most small towns, a guy as antithetical to Christian views as could be possible and still sport the label “Christian.”

Does it bother anyone but me that all the above happened while Evangelicals were crowing about their power? So you think you can run with the big dogs, eh?It’s like a chihuahua acting like a wolf by baying at the moon. It’s like the neighborhood kid on the football team who throws a tantrum because no one will hand him the ball, until that fated day when someone does, and he fumbles it…right into an inconveniently placed vat of nitric acid.

Worse, if the social impact shows no sign of Evangelical influence, what’s the state of life in that Evangelical stronghold of the spiritual?

  • As a percentage of the population, fewer people attend church today than just ten years ago.
  • Men are dropping out of church life right and left.
  • No one talks about evangelism anymore.
  • Evangelicals don’t want internal reform groups to rain on their parade, choosing rather to point out the glaring problems within the reform groups than deal with the valid issues the reform groups raise.
  • Pollster George Barna continues to show that basic tenets of Christianity are poorly understoood, not by unbelievers, but by Evangelicals themselves—and getting worse.
  • The large majority of Christian youth who attend college abandon their faith by the time they graduate.
  • The average Christian man will read not read a single book—outside of the Bible—after graduating from college.
  • Our prayer meetings are filled…with the same handful of grandmothers (because no one under 65 darkens their doorways).
  • And the underground Chinese Church is praying fervently that genuine persecution (not “Hey, those liberal punks at Harvard  discriminated against my Christian son and wouldn’t admit him!”) will come to the fat American Church.

That’s one major legacy issue.

Seriously, if Evangelicals were to start walking the talk, start offering up Holy-Spirit-infused solutions to intractable world problems, and start seriously devoting time and energy to  evangelism and discipleship, perhaps their legacy will be a changed world. Perhaps there would be several million more Christians—and deeper ones at that. At least that’s the intent of the Lord.

Someone please pass along that message to the Evangelicals; I still don’t think they get it.

A Show About Nothing


Modern Evangelicals?“It’s a show about nothing.”

In what was probably the most famous self-referential line in the history of television, Seinfeld ‘s Jerry and George attempted to pitch their comedy pilot to NBC. The incredulous execs just stared at each other dumbfounded. How can a TV show be about nothing? Doesn’t something happen? After all, life isn’t about nothing. People actually go out and do things—don’t they?

Last week, some of the most important Christian figures in the 21st century unleashed “An Evangelical Manifesto: A Declaration of Evangelical Indentity and Public Commitment,” a document that attempts to reiterate the values of Evangelicalism for a modern age (though a few of us would claim this was adequately covered by the Lausanne Covenant). The list of signatories on the manifesto includes Os Guinness, Max Lucado, Alvin Plantinga, Leighton Ford, Rebecca Manley Pippert, H. Wayne Huizenga Jr., Stephen Strang, Jack Hayford, Erwin Lutzer, and a former pastor of mine, Stuart Briscoe. That’s a powerful and intriguing mix of backers just in those few names. Many more signed the document.

I would encourage everyone to read the manifesto. I would encourage just as many to consider what might have been.

Beyond the “okay, so we’re apologizing for a lot of stupid stuff we did” tone of “An Evangelical Manifesto,” the one thing a manfesto truly must address is the old question that Francis Schaeffer once used for book title: “How should we then live?”

To be a proper manifesto, a document must not only clarify core foundational truths that the audience of “manifestees” should hold corporately, but it must also reveal its plan. It must give its adherents something to strive for, an inarguable destination outlined by a clear roadmap that will lead true believers forward.

When a real manifesto makes claims, it states them like this:

We believe Truth Statement, therefore we will Intended Consequence by Practical Response.

A case in point:

We believe that Jesus meets the needs of the least of these, therefore we will love the widow and orphan by bringing them into our homes to live with us.

That’s a manifesto statement.

But this is what we get in “An Evangelical Manifesto”:

We call humbly for a restoration of the Evangelical reforming principle, and therefore for deep reformation and renewal in all our Christian ways of life and thought.

Okay, so the Truth Statement there is not immediately obvious, but one can deduce that it might be that Jesus values reformation in all our ways of life and thought.

The Intended Consequence? We call for a restoration of the Evangelical reforming principle. A little high concept, but there it is.

Now does anyone see what’s missing?

Reading “An Evangelical Manifesto” soon reveals to us the problem facing modern day Evangelicalism. Ultimately, for want of any kind of practical response to what is supposedly so dearly believed, Evangelicalism becomes like Seinfeld, ” a show about nothing.”

A real manifesto, especially one devised by some of the most brilliant minds in Christendom today, will not be satisfied with high concepts alone. Yet that is all we read here.

Here’s the $64,000 question: “How does this manifesto alter my daily living?” Answer? It doesn’t. Not at all.

And that’s an enormous loss to us because here Evangelicals have the chance to prove they are more than talk. They have a chance to show that what they believe makes a profound difference in American life. And man, do they drop the ball.

Take the previous statement about reforming principles. In what way does that statement have any impact on the guy who gets up at 5:00 AM, spends almost an hour commuting to work, grinds out ten hours of work while worrying about whether he’ll have that job tomorrow due to a lousy economy, repeats the commute, grabs a fast food dinner, spends about ten minutes of quality time with his kids, five minutes talking with his wife, watches a repeat of Seinfeld or two, checks his e-mail, and goes to bed at 11:00 PM?

It’s not enough to say we believe something and would like to see that something come to fruition. We have to find ways of answering that elusive question of How. How do we practically put this manifesto into play in the way we live from day to day?

As it stands, we can’t. No one tells us how. No one gives us the Practical Response we need to know what to do with what we believe and claim to desire to see in the world around us. And therefore “An Evangelical Manifesto” and the branch of Christianity it claims to represent proves itself, sadly, to be utterly irrelevant in your life and mine.