Modern Evangelicalism: An MAO Inhibitor?


A pharmacological cornucopia!I rarely watch more than two hours of TV a month, so I’m no expert on ads or what’s happening in the TV scene. No matter how little TV you may consume, it’s darned near impossible not to encounter a plethora of Big Pharma ads hawking this prescription drug or that. See enough of those ads and its clear that every single drug on the market comes contraindicated whenever the prospective user’s downing MAO inhibitors, a type of antidepressant that comes with some serious side effects and warnings.

MAO is monoamine oxidase, an enzyme in the body critical for proper neurological functioning, hence the use of MAO inhibiting drugs for treating nervous system diseases. Are you yawning yet? Ready for the tangential slide?

Okay, here it comes…

The Godblogosphere’s been bloated with enough posts on “returning to Rome” to gag the Pope and all his Cardinals. A few noted Evangelical leaders jumped the Reformation Ship and the handwringing, fingerpointing, and accusations flew. In other words, typical Evangelical Sturm und Drang.

Amid the voluminous posting on this leap from Evangelicalism into the Roman Catholic Church (heck, one post I read even had Elisabeth Elliot pining for the papacy), plenty of volcanic theological discourse erupted, but I heard very little about MAO—the other MAO, that is.

The MAO I speak of is Mystery, Awe, and Otherness. You know, the stuff modern Evangelicals jettisoned on their way to a bookshelf full of systematic theologies, dusty pages of do’s and dont’s, and three-points-and-a-conclusion sermons. In their rush to be real and down to earth, Evangelicals found a way to make God dull. In short, modern Evangelicalism has become a theological MAO inhibitor.

I can’t help but think that most of these “un-converts” who fled to Rome did so in part because of the radical vivisection Evangelicalism got away with concerning the Body of Christ. I happen to believe that God placed in each one of us a yearning for mystery, awe, and otherness. That desire drives us to God as the source for all meaning, even if that meaning can never be fully grasped. This isn’t postmodernism’s vacuous “There can be no absolute truth” stupidity, but a genuine recognition that God is wholly other and therefore contains an element of mystery that generates awe in those who encounter Him.

How so? Remember when you basked in the throes of the first ache of passionate love? The object of your affection seemed like some strange creature from another planet that you’d walk across burning coals to know, even if that knowledge was little more than a favorite book he or she loved. Remember that first kiss? The electricity! That mystery, awe, and otherness found in the kiss of your beloved! (Song of Solomon explodes with mystery, awe, and otherness, doesn’t it?)

Now imagine kissing your sister. (Or your brother, as the case may be.) Where’d all that passion go? Now imagine Evangelicalism turning every day supposedly devoted to passion into just another day of kissing your sister. Now who can blame anyone for bolting that dry familiarity for a place that still kindles mystery, awe, and otherness?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m solidly in the Reformation camp. I see the RCC as a dead-end and always have. I feel sorry for anyone so seduced by a need for mystery, awe, and otherness that they’ll abandon truth for it.

Yet I still understand why they do it.

So plenty of Evangelicals go slack-jawed at these bolters who make for the Seven Hills. They’ll go on and on with analyses—psychological, theological, and otherwise—in their attempts to understand why they couldn’t keep ’em down on the Reformation farm. But sadly, they’ll never ask “What did we do wrong?” See, that question begs an answer and the answer gets a bit too close to the heart of the problem. Evangelicals today are loathe to put the words we and wrong in the same sentence, so they affix blame anywhere they can so long as that anywhere doesn’t involve looking in a mirror.

In the end, it does little more than make me tired. The false either/or propositions about what we should do and believe. The tired arguments against emotion. The constant sniping about mystery. If Evangelicals want to drive it all out, then they shouldn’t be surprised that people go elsewhere looking to fill that God-given need for mystery, awe, and otherness. Folks will go to the RCC, to the Orthodox, to whatever source fills that vital need. They’ll look for a way to stop taking the MAO inhibitors the self-appointed “doctors” of the Evangelical Church prescribed.

And someday Evangelicals will scratch their heads and wonder where all their adherents went.

The Always Answer


…in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
—1 Peter 3:15-16 ESV

Peter writes that the answer we must always have ready is our reason for our hope in Christ.

I emphasize that point because too often I see that our defense comes down to answering more than we should. We open our mouths and wax poetic over any and all subjects as if the world’s wisdom rested solely between our ears.Stumped by the Question? For some, it is a life’s calling squeezing an infinite God into a diminutive box that can be attached to a keychain and whipped out when the need to go somewhere important calls.

In November, I will be 43. I’ve been a Christian for 29 years. On most doctrinal issues I’ve crafted a bullet-proof answer for anyone who asks. But I have less of them than I once did. What I desire to have instead of an answer for everything is the reason for my hope in Christ. I need to ensure that answer is always buffed and ready for the asking.

I think too many Christians suffer from a need to have not just their reason ready for their hope in Christ, but their reason for all that is, both seen and unseen. Ensuring that no one ever finds a chink in the spiritual edifice they’ve constructed drives them. They must possess an answer to everything.

But even the Bible leaves some questions unanswered. We don’t know exactly what heaven looks like, for instance. We know that Enoch and Elijah were taken up into heaven without dying, but how exactly does that work? And are they really the two witnesses returned to earth as described in Revelation? What are all the things that Jesus did that aren’t written down in the Bible, as the last verse in the Gospel of John says at its end? And those are only a few mysteries; I’m sure you could come up with plenty more.

When did “I don’t know” become the hardest thing for Christians to say? Why do some Christians feel compelled to answer life’s every question? Some of the men through whom God spoke, men who wrote the very words of the Bible, weren’t so bold as to provide a running discourse on every subject imaginable. Some had the nerve to say

Three things are too wonderful for me; four I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a virgin.
—Proverbs 30:18-19 ESV

The writer of Proverbs here didn’t try to erect an entire epistemology to explain these wonderful things. Why do so many Christians today think they can do better? Has God left us no enigmas at all?

I think it comes down to pride and fear. Pride in our ability to answer. Fear that if we cannot, the chink in our doctrinal armor will have been exposed. If only more Christians left enigmas alone rather than answer the way they do.

The one answer we should always be ready to give is based off the question, “Why do you hope in Jesus?” Our answer ultimately matters more than all others. Go back to the Bible and reason from it, but don’t forget that the answer always contains an element of the personal. Something of you has to be in there, something that no one else on the planet shares in common. Your story of faith in Christ matters. It is my hope that you know it well enough for it to be your “always answer.”