The Two Christianities


Sometime around 12:30 a.m. on Saturday morning, as I shut down the lights in our downstairs in anticipation of going to bed, it hit me. I finally understood something about the Church that I’d never realized before. Some may not see what follows as any great revelation, but it jumped out at me so strongly that I nearly couldn’t go to sleep for thinking about the ramifications.

I haven’t processed it all, but I’d like to share what I discovered. Like I said, it may be a big ho-hum to you, Two roads diverged...but I now see why the Church in this country fails to grow and meet the basic objectives of discipleship.

Consider two different Christianities at work, the Externally Motivated and the Internally Motivated…

Externally Motivated (EM) Christianity sees the Kingdom of God existing in systems and institutions “erected by God” or by Christians faithful to God. The essence of what it means to be a Christian dwells in hallowed monolithic icons, largely existing outside the believer. We see the expression of EM Christianity whenever we encounter Christian groups and individuals seeking to preserve or defend some aspect of the truth they see encapsulated in a system, institution, or organization.

By nature, EM Christianity is conservative in that it works to retain and preserve those creations because it equates an assault on them with an assault on the Kingdom of God. EM Christianity bases much of its credo on the Old Testament and Old Covenant because Israel invested its faith in God through the accoutrements of God in the Temple, in the Ark, in the Law, and in the evidences of God it erected in the faithful community.

But negatives within EM Christianity abound. By equating systems and institutions with the Kingdom, EM Christianity becomes a fear-based expression of the Faith. Not a day goes by without some perceived threat erupting that may be “the final blow” to the hallowed structures maintained by “good Christians.” Therefore, EM Christianity assumes a defensive position at the least provocation because EM Christians live their lives from the outside in.

Furthermore, EM Christianity’s defensive stance exists to defend the community within EM Christianity, rather than looking beyond the group. In other words, it loves its own and that’s as far as it goes. Blindness to causes that ask for a Christian response, but don’t enhance EM Christian strongholds, runs rampant. In the end, EM Christianity creates an insular community that resists the call of the Lord to go into the highways and byways to find those not initially invited to the party.

We see a practical expression of these negatives in the culture wars waged by American Evangelicalism. Leaders that follow the EM practice of the Faith resort to fear to marshal their followers against perceived threats against the systems and institutions that, in their eyes, represent the Kingdom. You can hear their mantra in the following battlecry:

The {opposition group} is going to destroy {pillar of External Christianity} by {sinful tactic}, which will lead to {fearful outcome}, and the end of {secondary pillar of External Christianity} as we know it!

Creating fear-based “Mad Libs” by filling in those brackets becomes an exercise in identifying EM Christianity:

The homosexual lobby is going to destroy our children by infiltrating our schools with pro-homosexual children’s books, which will lead to sexual identity confusion in our children, and the end of the family as we know it!


The Democrats are going to destroy our legal system by failing to approve conservative judges, which will lead to godless special interest groups running the country, and the end of the United States of America as we know it!

You can go on an on with this formula.

What’s sobering for Christianity is the resemblance of that thinking to the following:

So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”

—John 11:47-48

And we know exactly how that ended. The chief priests’ and the Pharisees’ cry sounds very much like the fearful lament of EM Christianity, based as it is in spending all its time and effort in propping up systems and institutions that are secondary (or possibly in opposition) to the expansion of the Kingdom.

Another troublesome issue within EM Christianity concerns its reliance on charismatic leaders to push its agenda forward. When such a leader stumbles, the flock who followed him scatter and the movement loses momentum or falls into public disgrace. We see this all the time and it hurts the cause of Christ in this country immeasurably.

Lastly, those who follow an EM Christianity find themselves subject to the whims of forces having nothing to do with the expansion of the Kingdom of God. Their emotional state shifts with whatever perceived “win” or “loss” follows their cause. Because their faith is so rooted in externalities that can suffer at the hands of the godless, they set themselves up as martyrs even though they may very well lack the proper grounding to be true martyrs for the Faith. Theirs becomes an angry expression of Christianity because of this dilemma.

Yet despite these lacks, EM Christianity is still Christianity. It’s the response of people who have had their eyes opened to the pernicious realities of sin, but have not yet developed an understanding of the Faith that goes beyond labeling others as sinners or saints. EM Christianity is not a seasoned expression of our faith in Christ, but a waypoint on the path to true maturity.

Internally Motivated Christianity, in sharp contrast, invests little time and energy in externalities. Its hope is not in systems and institutions because it understands that those succumb to entropic forces. To the IM Christian, the Kingdom of God cannot rest on externalities prone to decay:

And when [Jesus] was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.

—Luke 17:20-21

The distinguishing mark of IM Christianity is the Holy Spirit, who dwells inside each believer. The Kingdom exists because the Spirit comes to live in each believer, that indwelling marking the end of the Old Covenant and the beginning of the New. The externalities, the mere representations of the Kingdom of God, surrender at Pentecost. Therefore, the Kingdom of God cannot be destroyed from without because the Kingdom of God is within us. When attacked, IM Christianity responds with grace and love. It continues to offer Christ to all, even to those who oppose it.

For this reason, IM Christianity signals the mature Faith because nothing can diminish it. Its liberality comes from its freedom to give without fear of loss. IM Christians have considered ALL things lost, receiving in return what cannot be taken away. Though all the systems and institutions collapse and the heathens run amok, IM Christianity remains at peace because its adherents carry within them the fruit of the Kingdom. The Enemy cannot prevail against IM Christianity and cannot sway its adherents because they realize the Kingdom of God lives inside them. The power of God doesn’t come to them from the systems they create, but through the Holy Spirit working miracles in the absence of those systems. They live their faith from the inside out.

IM Christians…

…have humbly died to the externalities.

…don’t concentrate on defending external systems and institutions prone to decay.

…concentrate on the real mission of evangelism and disciple-making.

… comprehend that they are expendable for the Lord because their lives are hidden in Christ.

…work best under persecution.

…have nothing to fear because what they have cannot be taken away from them.

…are truly free.

When we examine the state of the Church in 2007, we find that EM Christianity predominates in the American Church, while IM Christianity marks most regions of the world undergoing revival. IM Christianity thrives in places like China, India, and South America. Those lands have no institutions or systems that support Christianity, anathema to an EM Christian. In fact, institutions and systems in those countries oppose Christianity. This forces the Church there to internalize the Faith. And so it flourishes.

If a warning exists for IM Christianity, it comes in the form of the giant step backward. As noted earlier, EM Christianity exists as a waypoint on the journey to mature faith. However, IM Christianity’s misguided tendency is to retreat by creating systems and institutions that must be defended at all cost. Persecution helps keep this in check, and may explain why the Chinese Church actively prays that the American Church will suffer like it does. When all the systems and institutions fall away, IM Christianity will be forced to take root or people will fall away.

Two Christianities: Externally Motivated and Internally Motivated.

Lord Jesus, make us Internally Motivated Christians.

97 thoughts on “The Two Christianities

  1. Couldn’t it be said, then, that EM Christians attempt to minimize persecution through political lobbying, “seeker-sensitive” evangelism, etc., while IM Christians, though perhaps not actively seeking persecution, know it will come and endure it?

    • Michael,

      Yes. EM Christians have a tendency to see the Faith as a means of creating a specific lifestyle that meshes with the culture, but opposes it at the same time. Once that lifestyle is in place, they fight to keep it. Unfortunately the lifestyle choices they make tend to place a Christian veneer over the culture, rather than expressing a true counterculture like IM Christianity tends to foster.

  2. Seriously incredible Dan. I’ve become an IM in an EM world. Seriously. And I’ve been told “what you are doing could cause a church split” and “it looks like your trying to undermine leadership!” when both is the farthest from the truth. I love my leadership and I defend them tooth and nail at times. The thing is, IM Christians find themselves inside EM churches, and heck, I know a number of IM leaders who one day wake up realizing they are working and serving in an EM church. Hard to deal with, and a hard transition to make.

    Nobody wants to see their church in ruins. Of course God is in the business of rebuilding those ruins the way HE wants. Kinda the whole point.

    I’m finding ever since God moved me into an IM state of being, I’m so much happier, freer and peaceful. I have people around me screaming and hollering that I’m evil, I’m mental, I’ve done this or that, and well… God is my foundation. My respite, and nothing can take that from me.

    Sometimes I think my peace in these situations just makes more and more people angry, but then again, I see why. 😉

    Great piece Dan. Truly a great revelation.

  3. Caleb Woodbridge

    Good post Dan. I can see a lot in that. But do you think that while true Christianity begins on the inside, in changed hearts and lives, those people changed from the inside out to work out that change externally into all areas of their life? The Kingdom of God begins internally, but shouldn’t stay there, but work outwards from people’s hearts into all creation.

    • Caleb,

      At issue here is not whether EM-ers and IM-ers maintain some level of outward service, but where their motivation comes from. Both can look like they’re serving, but the motivations for doing so are wildly different. That’s why this is a subtle argument.

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  6. Jonathan Hurshman

    I would have to agree with Caleb.

    I think a prime danger to IM Christianity (beyond retreating to institutions in an EM mode) lies in walling off the Kingdom of God into an internal, private space, disconnected from the “real world” of people, institutions, social forces, and entropy. Our hope lies in God, not in any institution. But transformed people will transform things outside of them, too.

    About Luke 17.21, note that many (most?) Biblical scholars do not see “within you” as the best translation. The NET Bible translates “in your midst” and adds this translation note:

    This is a far better translation than “in you. Jesus would never tell the hostile Pharisees that the kingdom was inside them. The reference is to Jesus present in their midst. He brings the kingdom. Another possible translation would be “in your grasp.

    Some other translations:
    NIV: “within you” (footnote: “among you”)
    TNIV: “in your midst” (footnote: “within you”)
    NASB: “in your midst”
    NLT: “among you” (footnotes: “within you”, “in your grasp”)
    ESV: “in the midst of you” (footnotes: “within you”, “within your grasp”)
    CEV: “with you” (footnote: “in your hearts”)
    HCSB: “among you”

    All this to say that it’s probably best not to use this passage to demonstrate that the Kingdom of God is “inside” people as opposed to “outside”.

    • The greek word used is entos, which is a fairly straight-forward word meaning within. The only other use is in Matthew 23:26, where Christ tells the Pharisees that outward cleanliness is empty, but they should instead be clean within.

      Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.

      Which fits in rather nicely with the whole IM-EM thing.

      • Jonathan Hurshman

        Well, I don’t know. I don’t have access to the Liddell-Scott right now, but the Thayer has:

        1. within, inside
        a. within you i.e. in the midst of you
        b. within you i.e. your soul

    • Guys,

      I firmly acknowledge that the passage I chose has some lexical variations. I wanted to find one in-your-face verse and that one came immediately to mind. Others exist, yes. The whole point, though, is that the NT reinforces this idea over and over that true Christianity comes not from external trappings and motivations but springs forth out of a heart transformed. Because it doesn’t put its confidence in external structures, it’s truly free and unvanquishable.

  7. The problem with the dichotomy you’ve raised is that Christ didn’t just send the Holy Spirit, he also instituted certain things that are visible and external: in particular the church, the proclamation of the gospel, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Indeed, the final paragraph of the Creed, concerned with the Holy Spirit, is the paragraph that deals most with these externalities: “the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins [i.e. baptism – cf. the Nicene Creed], the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”

    So I think you have created a false dichotomy here. There are in fact two problematic directions that Christianity can take. The first is to what could indeed be described as “EM” Christianity, in which Christianity becomes an empty formalism, of people going through the motions of church and ministry without any real belief in Christ.

    The second problem comes where people then react to “EM” Christianity by saying, “Let’s ditch the externals”. The work of the Holy Spirit is turned into a direct and unmediated experience to which the church’s ministry of word and sacraments is at best incidental. The problems with this form of “IM” Christianity (i.e. Pietism) include individualism (it’s all about me’n’Jesus and “my spiritual experience”) and, frankly, spiritual pride (“I thank thee, O Lord, that I am not like those EM Christians over there, who need the crutch of externalities rather than experiencing the direct work of the Spirit”).

    So in terms of the road-sign image with which you illustrate your post, I’d say that both forks in the road are wrong. The place we need to be is at the root, where the “externals” of word, sacrament and church and the “internals” of faith and the indwelling Holy Spirit intertwine and nourish one another.

    PS: as for Luke 17:21, most contemporary translations render this as “the kingdom of God is among you”, not “within” you (see, e.g. NRSV, ESV). Jesus is not talking about an “internal” vs an “external” kingdom, but about the Pharisees’ failure to see that kingdom actually happening in front of them, in the person of Jesus and the community of believers gathered around him.

    • John

      Consider the institutions Christ set up. None of them are in structures that can be readily attacked from without. They’re almost all internally-based, highly unlike the institutions EM Christians support.

      I’m also not saying that IM Christianity has no externalities it supports. Obviously, the Church has an external presence. But even then, the source of that external expression of Church is internal. The only way to destroy the Church utterly would be to kill every Christian on the planet, and the chances of that happening are slim to none. The fact that Church doesn’t exist as a building but as believers illumined from the inside by the Holy Spirit makes the Church itself a poor example of the kind of external structure that EM Christians support.

      EM Christians are more likely to have a devotion to the Church as a building. But the Church is actually you, me, and the rest of those who believe. IM Christians force the distinction there and it’s a big distinction.

      • benm

        Well, I would have to agree with John H. The way I see your listing of the differences between the EM and IM is that it is quite judgmental. In other words, there are two types of Christians, those who group Christians in two groups (us=better and them=worse) and those that don’t. Neither group is right (in this case), but at least one is self-justified and prideful.

  8. Jonathan Hurshman

    I should say, that “John H” and “Jonathan Hurshman” are two separate people, despite the fact that they have never been seen in the same room together.

  9. Wonderful, Dan.

    I think, John, Dan’s used of the term Motivated, assumes where our actions are coming from. From fear? (External sources) Or from love? (Internal sources). So how we then “act” is going to look far different if we are acting out of fear or acting out of love. (Am I getting it right, Dan?)

    I don’t think Dan’s suggesting we don’t act at all, the gospel compels us to act. But what occurs and how is completely dependent upon the why (or the motivation).

    Again, Dan. This is great stuff. Thank you.

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  11. Heavy stuff, Dan, and I can see why it kept you awake. My little church is dealing with “heritage” which is, perhaps, another way to look at your EM focused Christianity. “This is the way we do it” is the Christian version of death by a thousand cuts, and is primarily focused on the external “look” of a body of believers. The moment Christianity becomes liturgical rote, rather than heart-felt belief, the dry-rot sets in. If you’ve ever sat in Church and pondered how much you dislike the look and feel of the service, start asking yourself why.

    Looking at the response of Caleb and John Hurshman and John H, I think you’ve missed the primary point of Dan’s missive: Motivation. Yes, our inward belief is manifested in outward actions, but the actions are not our motivation. We are not saved by good works, rather, good works are evidence of our inward motivation of faith. Our motivation is not to baptize, disciple, or give, it is the evidence of our inward motivation to be be faithful to God. If we are motivated by work, then we will soon be lost. Christ did not approach calvary with His primary motivation being the salvation of the world, but rather obedience to God.

    But as a bow to John H, not all EM churches are confrontational in fearing threats to their heritage: Most turn inward, darting down the Christian rabbit hole and “hiding” from the world. Not so much a false dichotomy as merely another direction we need to look when questioning our own walk, and that of the body we worship with.

    • David,

      Yes. Nice summation.

      Like I noted, I’m not saying EM Christians are not Christians, only that they’ve either not understood where godly motivation comes from, or they were once that way and let their faith focus on externalities to find motivation for continuing in the Faith.

      • I think you hit a nerve on this one…I think the concept of a “world view” is something that needs to be reviewed every once in a while, if only to show us that our words and actions are motivated by something even if we haven’t really thought through what it is.

  12. Lisa: thank you for your response.

    Had Dan expressed himself in terms of “fear-motivated” Christianity and “love-motivated” Christianity then I would have been in far more agreement with him.

    However, I don’t see how “love-motivated” can be equated to “Internally Motivated”. On the contrary, the gospel teaches us that love comes to us from outside ourselves, as a gift given to us by Christ, by means of the word and sacraments, within the context of the church. It is not something we “work up” in ourselves as a motivation for action.

    If anything, the message of the gospel is: love comes from without, fear comes from within.

    • John H,

      But the EM and IM perspectives aren’t simply the difference between fear-based and loved-based Christianity. They also reflect where value is placed. That’s why I used the terms I did. EMs place value in structures they erect that may or may not have any value at all, then they tend to live out their faith via those structures. If the structures get attacked, they counterattack, often viciously. And they use fear to motivate their adherents.

      To the IM Christian, the structures may be nice to have (or not), but they aren’t the source that functions as the repository of faith in Christ. IM Christians can suffer loss after loss of those structures and still function because their faith doesn’t depend on “godly” structures to prop it up. An EM Christian undergoing those same losses may either lose their faith, become bitter, descend into rage, or develop a martyr complex.

  13. David: your comment crossed with my latest. My reply to Lisa may clarify where I was coming from.

    I suspect we would differ over whether baptism and the life of the church are merely our response to an internal change, or whether they are the means by which God effects that internal change.

    • Well, then that would explain the direction you are coming from. I would tend to be in the camp that looks at baptism and our actions are a response to our salvation in Christ, and not our method of attaining it.

      • Just to clarify: I didn’t say baptism, the Lord’s Supper and the preaching of the gospel were “our method of attaining [salvation]”, as if they were our works by which we achieved our salvation.

        Rather, they are God’s means by which he works faith in us through the pastor. There is no “work” by us involved in these means: we simply receive and believe.

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  15. Marie

    I don’t know about you folks, but I’ve tried it both ways and I’m here to tell you, it is impossible to live out the “Sermon on the Mount” unless you die to self and put Jesus on the throne of your heart. He is the only One who can “turn the other cheek”, “walk the extra mile”, “love those who revile and hate you”, etc, etc. (IM)

    This is the Kingdom of God, Christ in you, the Hope of Glory. He is the Radiance of the Father’s glory and upholds all things by the word of His power. Unless He lives His life in you, what you do in your flesh is in vain. The Father is glorified when Christ is at work in us.

    We must be dead so He can live. He erased our sin in order to prepare us for His undwelling. When you come to this point (death), and I’m not all there yet, the “outward” show of this is manifested in your mortal body. You will love others with His love, you will speak Truth into others’ lives with His Word. He performs these things through you. You CANNOT turn inward and hide His Light!

    This makes the sacrements all the more meaningful! Baptism is your outward declaration that you no longer rule your life, but Christ is now on the throne. The LORD’s supper becomes the partaking of the LORD’s body as He told us to. Drink My blood and eat My flesh in remembrance of Me.

    I am only a simpleton, and pray that I have not presumed anything from the above comments that is incorrect. I simply wanted to state what the LORD has written on my heart concerning the Kingdom (IM).
    Thank you Dan, for a new prespective on this. This blog reveals to me that, even tho Christ lives in me, I am still way too EM focused.

    • Marie,

      Thanks for adding to the conversation.

      You say you’re still too EM, but I wouldn’t say it’s just you. I think most Americans are this way for no other reason than we been given an opportunity in this country to place our faith in the systems and institutions we’ve erected in the name of God. But if all that were to vanish tomorrow, we’d be forced to change. I suspect a huge number of people would simply abandon the Faith, but others, even though they may have EM-leanings, would be able to make the switch.

      Like I said, the EM position is a waypoint on the path of Christ. Our problem comes when we think it’s the arrival point. It’s not. It’s perhaps one of the early checkpoints. We simply can’t stay there. If tough times force us out of that point, then the better for us and the Church as a whole. But if we stay there, we’re in deep trouble because we simply won’t last should excruciatingly difficult times come.

  16. Good post and a lot of good discussion. When I read this, I had the same concerns that some above posted as far as the Platonic separation of material (and acting in a way that brings good to the material) and spiritual, but you have clarified that for me.
    What I’m still a bit worried about is the strawman approach that sets up two easily definable stations, one “bad” through and through and one “good” through and through. I think we would all say that we strive to be an IM the way you have defined it. I know some that you would say fit in the EM, and while I agree in general with you, the more I openly discuss (or should I say openly listen), I find that they desire to serve God as much as I do (or more). For example, in the first illustration you listed with the anti-homosexual movement. Personally, I did not vote in last years big to-do against homosexual marriages. I don’t want to make that my platform. However, I know many who voted against it because of an honest loving heart for children, both Christian and non-Christian who have suffered from the instability of family life (not just because of homosexual marriages, but also divorce and a number of other things). Personally, I struggle with the issue of abortion because of its disrespect for life. This does not mean I hate people who have had an abortion or what-not but because I love God’s creation.
    I’m rambling on here, and I believe that the heart of your post is right-on with its focus on motivations. I hurt for the people who will read this and see your definitions as tearing down.

    • Heather,

      I think one way to explain the difference between EM and IM is to unpack that issue of homosexual marriage and its impact on kids.

      The EM Christian immediately thinks of this as a government issue. By controlling the government (an external institution), we Christians can maintain traditional home and family.

      The IM Christian looks at this issue and understands that the government is an unreliable means by which to effect change. Change only comes through Jesus Christ and the new birth. All other means of change are subject to entropic forces and the whims of the age. But Christ trumps all that. For the IM Christian, the means to bring about change is to be personally involved in the lives of others (even opponents on this issue) so that the IM Christian can bring the light of Christ into the lives of others. That’s the only assured means by which the homosexual marriage issue can be rendered moot.

      The big problem for us as Christian in America is that we run to politics (or lawsuits) to get our way. That’s totally EM. If our government were different, we could not function as a Church in this country using EM principles. We’d have to be IM. The crazy thing is that IM is where we need to be anyway. Our politics actually stymies real growth. That’s why the Church in countries that persecute Christians (or permits them no earthly power) thrives. It has no power to change others using politics. It instead changes people through the true life-altering experience of coming to know Christ!

      • Okay, I see what you’re saying, and I absolutely agree.
        I’m still concerned about the wording (and I’m speaking from personal experience) because I’m learning that God’s truth is spoken through the unity of His people, and though I am frustrated with what I see of EM (and frustrated with my own failings as well), to love each other in a way that shows the world who Christ is, I need to be the one to extend love.

  17. Jonathan Hurshman

    For myself, I doubt that the mild debate occurring in the comments here represents an actual difference of opinion. As far as I am concerned, I reacted to my (mis)perception of a pietistic thrust.

    Following Jesus involves a transformation of the inner person into someone who increasingly resembles the Master. That transformation does not (cannot) remain internal and private, but expresses itself outwardly in action which manifests God’s future within the present age, and this both in the behavior of individuals and in wider societal effects.

    Renewing of the inner person -> renewing of external behavior -> renewing of all of creation

    All this occurs by the power of the Holy Spirit, and not by our own strength.

    I think that expanding “…concentrate on the real mission of evangelism and disciple-making” to something broader, like this list from “The Only Difference”: “evangelizing the lost, training the young, feeding the hungry, fighting injustice, stewarding the Earth, and befriending the friendless” would be a more complete picture of what the mission of God’s people is.

    (I continue to object to the use of Luke 17.21 in this context, but “good sermon, wrong text” is a pet peeve of mine.)

    • John H,

      I’m not sure you’re making the distinction here because I think you’re thinking that IM Christians have no outward focus. They do. It’s simply that their outward focus isn’t concerned with propping up systems and institutions that others have imbued with a hallowed purpose. It’s not about outward behavior in itself, but the reason why the outward behavior takes on the flavor it does.

  18. “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:19-25 NIV

    And things like this keep us spurring one another on toward love and good deeds. It is the agape (unconditional) love that drives us to want to “act out our faith” not a desire to make things nice, good, neat, proper, politically correct; EM things. However, if we loose focus on a “meeting place” like a church building (EM), and focus completely on the internal or individual appearance (IM), the world may never know we even exist. But then, I suppose, that even this website could be called a meeting place – let us not give up meeting together!

    Nice insight Dan! Thought provoking as usual.

    • Aaron,

      Yes, that agape love by its very nature moves us beyond institutions and systems because it simply can’t be found within them. IM Christians lead with love first and let everything else follow. EM Christians lead with systems and then try to imbue them with a hallowed purpose. That almost always fails because you simply can’t make a system or institution love unconditionally.

  19. Yes, yes, yes! What blows me away right now is that God is speaking this message to a variety of people throughout our world. I have been longing for the IM life for a while now, even as I fill a role in an EM system.

    I don’t believe that we can sidestep the need for revolution which requires revolutionaries. I want to be one of them. With a clear focus on pleasing our Father through his Son Jesus it is what we should do. I’m praying how I can be involved in seeing his kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. And I see how clearly I need his Spirit to empower us all for the task.

    Thank you Dan. May the peace of the Lord be with you. Pardon me if I send a trackback too. 🙂

  20. Dan: I’m responding to your various responses in one here. 🙂

    I agree with Heather that part of the problem is setting up one wholly “bad” position in contrast to one wholly “good” position. My POV remains that both EM and IM as you have defined them are distortions of what the true position should be: namely, that the divinely-ordained “externals” of church, word and sacrament are the means by God creates the “internals” of faith and the indwelling Spirit.

    This balance is set out well in the Augsburg Confession, especially the highlighted words:

    So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the gospel and administering the sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and the sacraments as through instruments the Holy Spirit is given, who effects faith where and when it pleases God in those who hear the gospel…

    So both external and internal sources of life/motivation are needed. All you have shown in your post is that some Christians choose the wrong externals, not that externals are inherently bad.

    Historically, creating an external/internal dichotomy (to the detriment of the former) almost invariably results in an extreme Pietism in which the ministry of word and sacrament are not merely neglected but actively denigrated. This is as deadly to the life of the church as an empty and formal “EM Christianity” is to the life of the individual.

    • John,

      I think this is part of the misunderstanding.

      The Word of God is not an external. If it were, removing all the Bibles in a country that persecutes Christians would signal the death knell for the Church.

      If the Word of God is an external, how do explain that most Christians in the world and throughout history never owned a Bible?

      I don’t believe the Word of God is an external. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit automatically makes it an internal because now Christ (the living and eternal Word) dwells inside the believer. No matter how hard you beat a Christian indwelt by God, you cannot beat the Word of God out of him or her. No one can take that away. That automatically makes it internal.

      The sacraments have an external practice, but that does not automatically make them an edifice like the structures EM Christians erect. You can no sooner wipe out the sacraments than you could wipe out the Church. The kinds of EM systems and institutions I’m talking about can be easily wiped out by altering a few things here or there in the way they’re accessed and administrated. With a stroke of a pen they eliminated school-sponsored prayer, for instance. But no stroke of any pen can destroy the sacraments. As long as Christians exist, those things will be practiced.

      • Dan: I wonder if we are using “external” in the same way. I would say that the Word of God is very much an external in that it always comes to us from outside and beyond ourselves.

        Even though most Christians have never owned a Bible, all Christians have received the Word from outside themselves: through preaching and the sacraments, through the public reading of Scripture, or just through being told it by parents or others around them.

        The fact that this external Word may then dwell in our hearts doesn’t mean it didn’t originate from outside and come to us by external means: not just books, but primarily through speech, water, bread and wine.

        If anything, this apparent difficulty with agreeing on what an “external” is shows why the word is such a problem. To maintain the “external = bad, internal = good” approach we end up having to redefine what is external and internal.

        And I’d tend to invert your final sentence: as long as the word and sacraments endure, the church (and hence Christians) will continue to exist. The existence and activities of Christians do not make the sacraments what they are; rather, it is the promise of God bound up in the sacraments that makes us what we are.

  21. Peter Smythe

    Dan, nice post. I just wanted to add a smidgen of a comment. In the past ten years or so, your “EM Christianity” has reared its head in politics. Christians who didn’t tow the conservative line have been punted from the field and many times their very salvation has been questioned.

    My wife and I are lawyers (she’s much better than me) and many times we’ve been cornered by the “EMs” who wanted us to prove some political point through scripture. And since we are lawyers, we are probably more acutely aware how politics (liberal or conservative) does not equate to faith.

    Again, nice post.

    • Peter,

      You’re in a tough spot as Christians in the legal field. I can bet that neither side understands you at all. I think it may be even worse that you come from a Pentecostal background. That must really throw some people into a tizzy. “Wow, Pentecostals who can actually think!”


  22. Excellent post. I’ve been struggling with this very thing but not able to put it into words. I think I grew up in an EM environment but long to be (and perhaps I am) IM. I think an properly placed internal motivation will result in the right externals – the right actions, etc. It’s comforting to know this seems to be an ancient struggle. Thank you for your excellent and thought-provoking thoughts.

    • Dianne,

      Thank you for commenting and telling your story.

      This issue is a tough one since it resembles the “red pill/blue pill” idea from the movie The Matrix. I think that much of EM Christianity suffers from not seeing there’s a greater reality at work. When you’re drowning, the entire world seems to be made of water.

  23. Jeff Meredith

    I’m not a regular reader, but a friend forwarded me a link to this post, and I wanted to thank Dan for bringing up this important issue.

    I actually approach it from a different angle, and I’ll get right to the point:

    Being a Christian shouldn’t relegate you to the sidelines of important cultural issues. The logical conclusion to Dan’s line of thinking is that we create—by default—a ruling class of anti-God atheists.

    I also find this argument:

    “… those who follow an EM Christianity find themselves subject to the whims of forces having nothing to do with the expansion of the Kingdom of God. …

    … very incorrect. Especially for someone who is so eager to introduce grapes to his crops, as he explains on the “about section on his blog. Dan, what do grapes have to do with the expansion of the Kingdom of God? To avoid any distracting “whims, shouldn’t you sell your land and give it to the poor—ala the early church?

    Here’s my point: Before Christians organized to defend their values in the political and legal arenas, the secular left had no real opposition to its agenda. The consequences? Prayers and invocations banned from schools and public locations . . . a legalized holocaust of abortion . . . illegalization of any lesson that suggests to children they are anything but advanced pond scum . . . a radical reduction in monuments to our nation’s Christian heritage, including war memorials. On and on it goes. Christians sat silently and watched.

    Dan, does any of this matter? Because these are the consequences of the idea that Christians should avoid “damaging their witness by abandoning public issues.

    Let me offer two God-given victories—out of many others possible—that were won because Christians were finally internally inspired to take external actions:

    Today, public schools have been reopened to the Gospel by way of Christian attorneys winning at the Supreme Court (google Good News Club v Milford). Had this case been lost, schools could kick groups off of campus like Young Life and other student ministries actively working to advance God’s Kingdom.

    Next, what about parental notification laws: Dan, are these worth fighting for? Or should Christians—for the sake of the Gospel—have continued fostering statutory rape and allowing strangers to take our under-age daughters over state lines for abortions?

    In these and many other cases, the idea that taking a public stand destroys a witness is irrelevant. Consider: I’ve been trying to witness to these Nazi guards, so I guess I’ll turn in the Jewish family I’m sheltering. After all, if they found out I was hiding these people, my witness to the SS would suffer.

    Moving on, the idea of EM Christianity’s reliance on charismatic leaders is equally pointless—Dan, can you name one movement on earth that relies on boring, dull, uncharismatic leaders? Or that doesn’t suffer to a degree when one of its leaders is shamed?

    And the idea that it’s good that the Chinese church prays for our persecution is not just irrelevant, but wrong—something Christ tells us not to even do to our enemies. On a side note, shouldn’t we praise God that “EM church affluence is funding, by His grace, so much of the church expansion in China?

    Other statements are misleading too: It’s true that the Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church (USA) and Episcopal Church are not just not growing, but shrinking rapidly. But ironically, these aren’t the churches that Dan alludes to as so-called conservative “EM churches—they’re the ones that have whole-heartedly embraced his ideas of self-silencing their public, moral voice—actually going a step further and embracing many of the causes Dan implicitly criticizes so-called EM Christians of fighting.

    On the other hand, evangelical churches—the ones whose members have undertaken the task to save God’s plan for marriage, build a culture of life, protect Ten Commandments monuments, etc—have been blessed with solid, God-given church growth.

    So ultimately Dan, to be blunt, you can go on living on your farm, harvesting crops that don’t advance the Kingdom of God, and thinking you’re better than EM Christians—a distinction of motivation only God can really judge—and you can take your freedom to home school your child, worship as you choose, and blog for granted too.

    But the fact is that the people you clearly look down on—those you believe do not share your internal motivation to build God’s Kingdom—are fighting every day for your religious freedom. In my opinion, this is wrong and myopic; believers are inspired by God to many different purposes—some of which fall under the culture war—and all of which remain under the umbrella of God’s Kingdom and the Body of Christ.


    • Marie

      A good friend of mine has been to China several times and the persevering Christians, living under constant watch, risking their very lives everyday for the sake of the Gospel of the Kingdom (IM) are asking that the American church no longer come or send their pamphlets, etc.

      The reason? The American Gospel is too watered down. Those who are “converted” by the American Gospel soon revert back to their old lives. This Gospel cannot sustain life.

      I hope they continue praying for us. They live the true meaning of internal motivation and the Holy Spirit spreads like wildfire when He is able to work without all our human institutions muddying His message.

    • Jeff,

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Nearly everything you mentioned as defendable in your comments is secondary. None has much to do with the primary goal of the Church: to evangelize the lost and disciple them to faith.

      If anything, those things prove my point because they are EM issues that have distracted the Church from its primary mission. EM Christians have flopped priorities and forgotten the primary purpose of the Church. This fully explains why the Church is not growing, not evangelizing, and not making effective, reproducing disciples in the United States. It has instead compartmentalized the Faith into these secondary issues and therefore must spend all its time propping them up.

      This is what you may not wish to hear: none of those issues you mention are all that important to the IM Christian. The Kingdom of God comes before ensuring the United States Constitution is properly interpreted, for instance. This is not to say that IM Christians do not get involved in these secondary issues, only that they do so because they have addressed the primary issues first. The problem with American Christianity is that it’s spending all its time on secondary issues.

      The other distinction you’re not seeing comes from the fact that all those secondary issues are largely self-serving to the EM Christians. This goes back to the fear issue. EM Christians are afraid that they will lose these things and that they themselves will suffer for the loss.On the other hand, IM Christians understand that they cannot base the the way they live on the hope that those structures will always exist. They place their faith on the internal dwelling of the Spirit of God who will never leave them nor forsake them. They have counted all things as rubbish and are therefore content no matter the circumstances.

      This is why the persecuted Church in other lands thrives. They’ve counted all things lost, the very things the EM Christian is dying to preserve. Those persecuted Christians never had those things, but it makes no difference to them fulfilling the Gospel. To us, who are largely EM, we see those things as critical. But they are all secondary.

      And no, you will find no charismatic, big-name Christians in those persecuted countries. These are nameless and faceless people who go about the primary role of the Kingdom because they understand the IM concept of living the Christian life.

      We in America don’t understand this. It is so antithetical to the way we practice the faith here that should persecution come, I suspect that 90% of those we see in churches today will fall away. Once EM Christians start losing battles to preserve the Faith they’ve created in external structures, they’ll be beside themselves and unable to function.

      Abandoning the EM mindset will be the only way to survive should those days come upon us. The Postmillennial triumphalism practiced by many EM Christians will look pretty silly when the days get rougher (as they most certainly are) and EM Christians will not be able to keep all their secondary institutions and systems in place.

    • We’ve been losing the “culture wars” because we are dogmatic and abusive, demanding holy behavior in an immoral world. The whole issue of prayer in schools came to the courts because a child was teased by “believers” for not praying in school. Abortion is the problem it is because Christians have not loved others, not because the world has suddenly become more immoral. How does demanding certain behavior advance the gospel? Christ taught that we are to love those who hate us, not drag them into court for abusing our beliefs. Paul claimed his rights as a Roman citizen in order to have a chance to witness to the courts in Rome, not to make things easier on himself or those around him.

      Your arguments point to the heart of the divide: Protecting Christianity, or living it. I wrote on something similar a couple months ago:

      You say there are people fighting for my religious freedom. Well, I’ve got news for you: I’m already free.

      • “You say there are people fighting for my religious freedom. Well, I’ve got news for you: I’m already free.”

        Preach it, brother David!

        Jeff — Isaiah 58 and Micah 6:8 and Matthew 25.

        Maybe we should ask ourselves if we’d give up our freedom for the gospel to flourish. I mean, Jesus allowed Roman soldiers to torture Him and nail Him to a cross. From what I’ve seen, fighting for our rights as Christians has compromised our testimony. We don’t want to take up our cross, we want the government to plant it in the public square for us. We don’t want to follow the ten commandments, we want it on the walls of the courthouse. The world can see through that kind of hypocrisy and well they should.

        Prayer will always be in school as long as somebody there is talking to God. We don’t need the government to sanction it for us. In fact, if we feel we do, I wonder who it is we’re really trusting in the first place?

        • Gary M

          I wonder if our assumptions about how to live out our faith is the source of our differences about IM vs EM Christians. Here are some real-life examples that I hope would bring out the EM Christian in all of us:
          -Local governments are now seizing not only private homes but also churches for commercial redevelopment under the Supreme Court’s “Kelo” decision (they can now legally do the same with Dan’s farm);
          -Your tax dollars pay an “artist” to submerge a Crucifix in his urine
          -Public schools are indoctrinating very young children in homosexual behavior, and instructing them not to tell their parents
          -Public librarians are demanding the right for children of any age to use their facilities to view pornography
          -The National Man-Boy Love Association wants pedophilia legalized (“Sex by eight or it’s too late”)

          These are some of the battles (along with the “lesser” ones you listed) that EM Christians feel compelled to fight, whether to glorify God, or because it puts feet to their faith, or that’s how they choose to be “salt and light” in this world, or whatever reason beyond my knowledge. The world is a better place when they fight, and a worse place where they have defaulted to the will of the world/flesh/devil.

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  25. “I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.” Romans 16:17-18

    For the few, very few of you that would try to start a fight here, please leave – for everyone’s sake.

    I am not easily offended, but some of the comments left here today have gone beyond “Christian” and are more than a bit uncalled for. Brother Dan has expressed his opinions, which happen to point out some faults with how today’s church works, sadly, truth hurts. However, to try to cut at him or anyone else here is much less than Christian – judge not friends. Divisions among the US church are killing the US church.

    Numbers in the pews mean little if those sitting do little more than sit.

  26. Pingback: links for 2007-04-18 » Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key
  27. Gary M

    Several things struck me about your revelation, and those who commented back approvingly: 1) Your division of Christians into IM & EM is exactly the kind of black & white thinking you say you condemn; 2) Your theology is actually closer to the heresy of gnosticsism; 3) Your brand of faith has little to do with what is going on among Chinese Christians, but rather is the same brand of laissez faire liberalism that virtually destroyed the Church across two continents, Europe & Asia, when pacifists and other Christian leftists refused to get involved in culture and politics, preserving their “Gospel witness” intact for the Nazis and Communists who murdered them by the millions and turned their churches into museums.

    And this is the kind of elitist Christian you want me to “grow into??? God bless you, brother, but may He also forbid that I ever “transition” into such an elitist IM Christian!

  28. Jeff Meredith


    Thanks for the responses: let me make it clear too that I don’t doubt anyone’s faith—only your judgment, which I hope is also your only doubt of me.

    That being said, some of what I’ve read is amazing to me. For all the friends I’ve had serve in China, I have never once heard report of the ingratitude and rejection expressed in Marie’s post. Believers in every country are subject to the principles of the sower though, regardless of who has done the evangelizing. To be honest, your friend’s statement (citing how many Chinese? in a nation of over a billion!) seems to leave, at the very least, a little wiggle room for plenty of other Chinese Christians who do appreciate support from America’s Christians—even if that support falls short of perfection .

    Your desire to see China’s Christians continue praying for our persecution is perplexing to me. I’m curious to know how you would like these prayers answered, and on what basis of Scripture you feel they are justified?

    It’s also difficult for me to understand how those of you who subscribe to Dan’s view can see the Young Life worker on a high school campus sharing the Gospel as a so-called “IM Christian, but not the attorney who fought for this worker’s right to harvest there. Could these roles possibly fall under the Body of Christ? And is it not surprising that those who oppose the Gospel would claim that any activity they don’t approve of damages Christianity—shall we accept judgment from those actively working against us? Didn’t Paul come under similar criticism? Do you understand that accepting that judgment and ceding that lone case, for example, would have prevented literally millions of children from hearing the Gospel at a critical stage of their life?

    Colossians 3:17 says all things—word and deed—must be done in the name of the Lord Jesus. For a sincere believer with an eternal perspective, can not matters of constitutional law fall under the “all things category?

    This is why I cannot accept a distinction of an IM/EM Christianity. To do so, you must believe that God never calls Christians to serve in the public arena—at least not with any conviction or commitment to winning. I’d also have to accept that the posters on this blog can somehow divine the internal intentions of millions of believers. Are you actually willing to claim you have achieved that level of discernment in your lives?

    And please forgive me for harboring a little skepticism when someone prays that others’ faith will grow to be like his. Yes, Paul took this burden on. Are you really at that level?

    But what most surprised me was when Dan said none of the things I mention are all that important to the IM Christian. I’ve never heard a Christian before brush off statutory rape, or the 46 million children aborted are unimportant. Do you think God feels such “secondary issues are unimportant?

    Would you tell the slave in 1860 his freedom didn’t matter …
    The black individual in 1960 that his equality didn’t matter…
    The political prisoners in the USSR their freedom didn’t matter…

    … because of the Gospel? Would you expect to win converts with such thinking?

    There are a number of facts we simply disagree on. You state: “This fully explains why the Church is not growing, not evangelizing, and not making effective, reproducing disciples in the United States. These are sweeping claims, and indefensible on such a grand scale–or can you support them? Everything I’ve seen and read suggests the so-called “EM church is growing. Many members, congregations and organizations continue, by God’s grace, to evangelize— for example, Campus Crusade for Christ, whose leader Dr. Bill Bright also helped found the Christian legal alliance ADF. And while I don’t claim to speak for millions of Christians, the churches I regularly attended in California, Washington, and now Virginia are all strong proponents of discipleship. Beyond those very limited locations, I really can’t say firsthand —but I will restate my easily provable claim—the churches that are shrinking and dying are the old main line denominations that have abandoned their moral voice—and the Gospel along with it. When you paint the entire nation’s church community with such a broad brush, you lose credibility.

    Ultimately, my interpretation of what people are saying here is that they would do nothing to stop this country from becoming a Stalinist regime since such action has nothing to do with “the Gospel. Is this accurate? Is there any difference between what you’re espousing and pacifism? Is that really the heart of what you’re getting at? It’s one thing for someone living in great luxury and safety to claim that he cares nothing for his own personal well-being, but quite another to essentially endorse the subjugation of everyone else to persecution or martyrdom.

    Finally, for brother David—Yes, you are free, made so by the Gospel. But that wasn’t my point: with the Gospel, you’re free whether in chains or out. But do you understand that chains exist, and that it’s better to not be shackled? (Acts 26:29)

    To Lisa: of course we need to ask ourselves if we’d give up our freedom for the Gospel to flourish. And of course the answer must be yes. I thank God though that that is not the decision we are currently faced with—but it will be if we do nothing to prevent that from happening, and that course of action will have eternal consequences. I believe we can both live in freedom and for the Gospel. As a former Young Life volunteer, I can tell you that those under the thumb of tyranny aren’t the only ones who joyfully receive God’s grace.

    Finally, to brother Aaron—I can only assume that comment is directed my way, and I’m not sure I’ve ever had those damning Bible verses thrown at me. Is not the purpose of the blog to inspire discussion in the pursuit of Truth? I view this conversation as iron sharpening iron, and hope I’m not alone on this. If this issue wasn’t vitally important, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. It will directly impact the kind of nation our children grow up in. So if I’ve offended anyone, I apologize but also claim my offense to be far smaller than judging an entire segment of the population or wishing persecution on those I look down on.

    To close, a quote from Ronald Reagan. Originally dealt with the arms race:

    “I urge you to beware the temptation of pride – the temptation of blithely declaring yourselves above it all … and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil.

    • I’m not, and I don’t believe Dan is, seeking to be passive in regards to the gospel. Only that we must fight the correct foe. We are so determined to do battle with structures, we often forget what props them up. We are at war, not with governments, laws, and cultures, but with the spiritual forces behind them. So I am all for 1st Amendment lawyers doing battle in the Supreme Court, as long as they are doing so in order to bring glory to God, and not merely to prove a point. Our weapons are for the foe, not the unbeliever. Towards the sinner, we are to show only love and concern, but we too often are regarded like a Marine in Fallujah.

      At issue is not the action, but the motivating force behind the action. Are we seeking to overturn laws regarding abortion in order to protect the unborn, or to show the love of God? If we seek only to save the unborn, then we have not changed the heart that desires an abortion, but only driven them to other means. Wilburforce worked for 46 years to overcome slavery in England because the hearts of the English were blind to God’s will. Is it any different here in regards to abortion? At issue is not the struggle, but the underlying motive that is betrayed by the strident tone with which it is undertaken. We are more likely to harden hearts with our attacks. The percentage of people who believe abortion should be legal has actually increased in the last 6 years. If a law was passed tomorrow banning abortion, not one person would be eternally saved as a result. But if a Christian full of the love of God offered their home to a pregnant teen, took care of her and nurtured her, then possibly two would be saved. And soon abortion would be a footnote, not because we overturned a law, but because we allowed the Holy Spirit to change hearts.

      Why do we seek religious freedom? For most, it’s so they can go to church without fear of arrest or worse. I have yet to see a school where someone cannot live a Christian witness. Carrying a bible openly does not make one a Christian, to misquote Keith Green, “any more than being in McDonalds makes you a hamburger.” The church in America is in trouble when 96% of Americans say they believe in God, but 50% of christian marriages end in divorce. The church is in trouble when the number of abortions is equal among christians and non-christians. The church is in trouble when the population of the country is rising, but the number of those regularly attending church is shrinking. The church is in trouble when only 10-20% of the congregation can be depended upon to do more than show up on Wednesday night and Sunday morning. And when the biggest sales of porn movies on the hotel pay-per-view channel is when the Southern Baptist Convention is in town, you know the church is in trouble. A recent poll stated that 83% of Americans would define themselves as “Christian”. We are a nation of Christians in name only, not behavior.

      I am thankful for my freedoms, having lived in countries where those freedoms are nonexistant. I believe we should pray constantly for our leaders “that it may go well for us.” I believe we need to speak out against social injustice, and that we are all called to be agents of change in a fallen world. But that isn’t the motivation that drives me. All those things are the result of obedience, not the method.

      Yes, it’s better to be unshackled than chained, but Paul chose to be chained in order to advance the gospel. Paul was motivated by his obedience to the gospel of Christ, and so chose some unusual paths. Paul had what I would hardly consider a pacifist attitude, and yet he allowed these things to happen to him. He was passive, as Christ was, in order to accomplish the task set before him, because he considered the attitude of Christ to be the best one: Obedience to God.

      • Gary M


        You seriously mean what you said?:

        “So I am all for 1st Amendment lawyers doing battle in the Supreme Court, as long as they are doing so in order to bring glory to God, and not merely to prove a point…. At issue is not the action, but the motivating force behind the action. Are we seeking to overturn laws regarding abortion in order to protect the unborn, or to show the love of God? If we seek only to save the unborn, then we have not changed the heart that desires an abortion, but only driven them to other means.”

        If this is truly the position of IM Christians, you are so far above the rest of us that I’m sure my words will seem like the musings of an insect. I’ve been a Christian (so I thought) for over 3 decades, but of the dozen-plus jobs I’ve held, I never once thought anything like the lofty standard you say must be our only guiding standard. For example, as a waiter I never thought “I don’t care about giving these folks the good food they’ve ordered and need to be fed; I only care that they see God’s glory in my service.” Or is the Christian lawyer arguing in the Supreme Court held to a different standard than a humble waiter? Of course I agree whether we eat or drink or whatever we do, do it all to God’s glory. But this IM business seems so elitist to one who just tries to do the best I know how in my work, marriage, etc., I can’t imagine it catching on to anyone who actually wants to ACCOMPLISH something in life.

        If I remember my Thoreau correctly, this was exactly the thinking of the self-righteous religious prigs he always tried to escape when they came to him helping in this very elitist, detached, holier-than-thou way. You really think this is the faith we are called to proclaim? Way above me, brother!

    • Actually, as I was thinking over the examples you gave-

      Would you tell the slave in 1860 his freedom didn’t matter …
      The black individual in 1960 that his equality didn’t matter…
      The political prisoners in the USSR their freedom didn’t matter…

      I thought about what an IM Christian would do. IM Christians helped run the underground railroad. EM Christians supported the war effort, especially in the North, where they equated the success of the Army of the Republic with the coming Millenial Kingdom of Christ. In the 1960’s, IM Christians walked arm in arm with civil rights protesters, they were beaten, murdered, and jailed. EM Christians were the motivating force of the southern resistance, including several ministers and church elders who carried out bombing and murders in the name of religious “purity”. The Soviet Union was named as “evil” by Ronald Reagan, and as an institution, it was. But the people of the USSR were painted with the same red brush, and so EM Christians prayed for the political safety of the US, while IM Christians stole across borders in the middle of the night with bibles, helped people escape through fences, and quietly led bible studies in cellars.

      Today IM Christians are working in the UN to uncover human rights abuses, they are in the US State Department, making sure governments are held accountable for abuses of christian groups. They are working in homeless shelters and pregnancy counciling centers, they go out to minister to the crews of ships in our harbors. They comfort the mourning, feed the hungry, and minister to the dying, all in the name of Christ.

      I don’t see an issue here, do you?

    • I’m sorry you took that as a personal jab – I was getting at everyone here, not just you, maybe that’s conviction. Regardless of what goes on here we all still have an equal obligation to go out and make disciples, build each other up in love, stand for the gospel “when” persecution comes and love our enemies.

      I’ll have to agree with a later post here that there should be no us/them IM/EM distinction with a however. And, that however is this: while we shouldn’t label others (thereby judging) the Spirit gives the gift of discernment so that we can distinguish between those that “act” their faith and those that truly “live out” their faith. It isn’t about you or I judging between us/them, it’s about you or I being able to see through a disguise, by the Power of the Holy Spirit. There are many in the world today (the U.S. especially) that would have you to believe their heart is first for God, but when you hear them speak nothing but slander against systems already established, yet back the church, I’d have to say they are acting faith, not living faith. The Spirit gives discernment for good reason.

      Hope this helps clarify.

  29. Dan,

    I think this post has officially migrated to the “must follow up on” category Too many commenters seem to think that someone whose identity is found in the Gospel rather than a human system would then have nothing whatsoever to do with such systems.

    There’s a huge difference between “fighting for my right to share my faith” and sharing my faith, whether men think I have a right to or not. One presumes man’s laws can trump God’s laws, and thus follows man’s laws until they can be changed… the other simply does as Christ commands, and to Hell with the opinions of those who would Him.

    It’s not about whether or not we follow a call to work within human systems… it’s about who we take our orders from: God or man. If man, then what we end up with is fear of man: lack of involvement in outreach unless the senior pastor leads the effort; acting as if the Most Important Thing regarding certain “key issues” is for the masses to petition their legislators; only using “H.R.-approved” methods of talking to co-workers about Jesus: they’re all ways we bow the knee to the idol of man.

    Should changes in society be sought? Yes, no, maybe. Sometimes God calls a man to change a law; sometimes He calls a man to ignore it.

    It’s all about what God’s calling us to do; not what we think we would have to do if there were no Sovereign in control of the courses of the planets and the growth of individual blades of grass in the front lawn.

    • Travis,

      Yeah, it’s eerie to me how Christians operate in this “either/or” dichotomy all the time. We’re quite pathological in this. It’s as if I can’t place “A” as a priority over “B” without saying I reject “B” altogether.

      The IM Christian sees fulfilling the Great Commission as a priority over all other things. It sees love and grace as part of that fulfillment. IF that work is being done and IF it’s reaping the harvest THEN we can get involved in secondary causes.

      But here in America, we simply aren’t fulfilling the Great Commission. To that end, a pastor from Ghana spoke at our church this last Sunday and he very gently let us know that we American Christians are asleep in the light. We don’t really care about the Great Commission anymore. And he’s absolutely right.

      • Jeff Meredith

        Dan said:
        “Yeah, it’s eerie to me how Christians operate in this “either/or dichotomy…”

        Interesting comment from the creator of the EM/IM dichotomy.

        Dan said:
        “The IM Christian sees fulfilling the Great Commission as a priority over all other things. It sees love and grace as part of that fulfillment.”

        Based on 1 Cor 13 and other passages (Gal. 5 for example), I think you have this reversed. Bestowing love and grace and giving them freely are higher priorities. From thence, by God’s grace, is the Great Commision accomplished and fulfilled.

        Dan said:
        “IF that work is being done and IF it’s reaping the harvest THEN we can get involved in secondary causes.”

        On whose and what authority do you issue this grand proclamation? Is it even our right to know that a harvest is indeed occurring? What about Paul and Apollos, who planted and watered seeds? By this logic, should Paul have foregone different subjects he tackled–say lawsuits–until he was sure the Great Commission was being fulfilled?

        Dan said:
        “To that end, a pastor from Ghana spoke at our church this last Sunday and he very gently let us know that we American Christians are asleep in the light. We don’t really care about the Great Commission anymore. And he’s absolutely right.”

        I remain awed by your ability to cast judgement on the church in a country of 300,000,000.

        For the record I’d like to state that I *care* about the Great Commission. It appears you also *care*. Are we not also Americans?

        • Jeff,

          Either/ OR: There is no either/or with EM and IM. I’ve already said elsewhere that they both exist in various degrees, and even that the same person might display both. Still, in the US, we’re largely, primarily EM.

          Love & Grace: You’ll get no argument from me. I’m not sure we’re talking about two different ideas.

          Great Commission: Jeff, this is a dead horse. The church in this country has largely put other causes in front of the Great Commission. We made the choice and we chose causes. This is not to say that some Christians don’t have a proper balance on this, but you ask any commentator on the Church in this country and they’ll say we’re out of balance, especially if that commentator comes from the Third World where revival flourishes.

          If we truly cared about the Great Commission we’d…
          1. See more converts in the US
          2. See deeper, more actively reproducing disciples in the US.

          But by every count and poll known to Man, we’re seeing quite the opposite. It’s hard not to conclude that we’ve gone off-track. We simply spend too much time pursuing EM goals and not enough IM. And I’m not the only one saying that. You’ve got the Chinese Church praying that persecution will come to the US in order to wake us up. You have African pastors saying the same thing. And you have a few American Christians saying the same thing. No, it’s not a popular message, but it’s hard to avoid the reality that we’re asleep in the light.

  30. Jeff Meredith

    To clarify re: Travis’ post and mine,

    He wrote: “There’s a huge difference between “fighting for my right to share my faith and sharing my faith, whether men think I have a right to or not.”

    Whole-heartedly agree. BTW, can not a man be divinely inspired to do both? Why the refusal to acknowledge intersecting of such God-given tasks?

    Travis added: “It’s all about what God’s calling us to do; not what we think we would have to do if there were no Sovereign in control… Again, agree.

    I also think it serves no purpose to smear entire nebulous congregations as borg-like drones held in thrall by some “neo-con pastor. Can we consider a different example? Maybe a man who serves in the realm of public policy by day, and also answers the Spirit’s prompting to witness to his coworkers and neighbors at night?

    • “Whole-heartedly agree. BTW, can not a man be divinely inspired to do both? Why the refusal to acknowledge intersecting of such God-given tasks?”

      Because “fighting for my right” implies the “right” can be lost. 🙂

      Maybe you don’t like my examples, but they’re all real-life examples I’ve personally witnessed. 😉 Feel free to make up your own, but the one you gave seems to miss the point: what do we do when human “authorities” set themselves up in opposition to God? Those “public policy” guys in Daniel (Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah) didn’t cower under the cover of darkness. They opposed the king (of Babylon, not Israel) publicly, to his face.

      “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter.'” (Daniel 3:16, ESV)

      “We have no need to answer you in this matter.” If that’s not a slap in the face of the king, I don’t know what is. Doesn’t sound like your typical public policymakers to me.

  31. Jeff Meredith

    Not sure how I missed your post earlier but I did. Totally agree. Thank you for expressing those thoughts so clearly.

  32. Marie

    Jeff, please read my response on the post for the 18th. I hope it will answer why I hope the Chinese believers keep praying for us.

  33. Jeff Meredith

    Now that two comments have appeared from David on my computer, I need to clarify—the one I whole heartedly agree with is the first one on our struggles being against the powers of the air. Again, well said.

    The most recent though …

    It’s amazing to me that you cast those trying to preserve marriage or the sanctity of life in the same light with the KKK. This isn’t worth taking seriously.

    It’s also amazing you’ll grant “IM status to UN and State Dept. bureaucrats—but not, apparently, to Christians that believe defending life and religious freedom are important. Of this I’m sure though: From wherever it is you sit, you simply do not have a feed on the innermost intentions of that many people to bestow these labels.

    It leaves me with one thought: In Christ, there is no Jew or Greek, and there are no EM or IM Christians. There are those who love Jesus and are saved by abundant grace, and there are those we are called to continue ministering to and praying for.

    My point in the “Would you tell the slave…” etc examples was not yet another pointless distinction for IM and EM Christians, but an example for each of us to consider as individuals—since I reject the idea that you can discern the intentions of millions and millions of people and pigeonhole them into categories only God can discern. By Dan’s reasoning, being a mature “IM Christian would practically force you to haughtily tell a person in the midst of their greatest life-shaping and life-defining trial that what they were enduring or battling was a waste of time—a second-tier issue, that “I pray you grow out of. Clearly, that wasn’t the response of those on the underground railroad. Or the civil rights era. Or anywhere else Christians, by God’s grace, have acted heroically. They treated the situations they were in with the utmost seriousness, even if it damaged their witness to the white supremacist next door.

    Using it as one more chance to attack so-called EM Christians and—here we go again—paint with such a massive,broad brush is off the mark and simply doesn’t stand scrutiny. It’s painfully simplistic too–unless of course your final argument is *caveman voice* “IM Good, EM Bad.

    FYI, Reagan was always very careful to distinguish between Soviet leaders and their people. A quick google search should make that clear. If you’re actually curious about this and don’t feel like that search, just email me at jeffmeredithatverizondotnet and I’ll provide as many examples as you’d like.

    Lastly, Marie, what post? Yesterdays? Or one from a previous month? My response was to what was said yesterday… Let me know if it’s different from yesterdays so I can check it out.

    • I wasn’t comparing anyone, merely pointing out motivating forces as Dan initially defined them: There are people who do things in defence of the institutions they hold dear, and there are those who “do justly” for the love of God. I admit I gave extreme examples, but that happens even today, as when a man kills in defence of the unborn.

      Again it comes down to a comparison of defending an institution, and seeking to live a Christ filled life. I don’t deny that both can be accomplished, I just think that often the love of Christ is sacrificed in defence of an institution.

      (BTW, the people in the UN and State Department are individual Christians who use their positions to advance the kingdom of God, not faceless bureaucrats…Talk about wide brushes!)

      I absolutely agree with you that in Christ there are no distinctions. We are all equally debased and have no place judging fellow sinners. So I will end my part in this discussion before I offend anyone any further.

    • Marie

      The post at Cerulean Sanctum dated April 18th, 2007 which is still related to this very post dated the 17th.

      I also admit that one of my heroes of the Faith is Jeanne Guyon who lived in the 1500’s and lived a life of complete and utter dependance on her LORD who was manifest in her inner spirit. Her biography is very much worth the read for anyone who would like a first-hand account of IM Christianity. Just enter her name in a search engine and you will find her.

  34. Cathy

    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.

    • Cathy,

      Yes. You see a lot of powerful leaders in EM churches, as opposed to the nameless, faceless servants you find in IM churches. EM groups MUST have those kind of leaders because those leaders are expected to interface with leaders of the power structures the EM churches use to advance their agenda. If you’re a nameless, faceless servant, the powers that be don’t think you have anything to say. But those are famous last thoughts, aren’t they?

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  37. Alex

    There is a weird Kantian vibe I get from reading of this distinction between IM and EM Christians. Kant famously argues that the only thing that gives an act moral worth is that it is done from the motive of duty. In parallel, Mr. Edelen claims that the only thing that gives an act “Christian” worth is that it is done for the love of God. (Or is it the goal of fulfilling the Great Commission? I’m not sure. Actually, I’m not sure what the “right” motivation is supposed to be.)

    A few problems:

    (1) Why think that I can simply peer inside myself and discover what motivates me to act as I do? Moreover, what warrant does Mr. Edelen provide for peering into others and discerning their motivations? Why think that he is totally right in chalking up the problems of the American Church to EM Christianity? He gives us nothing but armchair speculation.

    (2) Moreover, why think that the properly “internal” motives exclude the “external” ones? Why think that a person who fights against abortion (for example) is somehow beholden to merely “external” motivations? Why can’t she be motivated for both? And how about a little charity for people? Why can’t we think that people who fight against abortion (for example) are motivated by the love of God, by a desire to obey His commands concerning justice for the oppressed, and likewise.

    (3) Try applying this analysis to the great Fathers of the Church. Take Athanasius, for example. The poor dude was ejected from his bishop’s seat something like six times, because he refused to bow to Arianism. Athanasius wanted to see the Symbol of Nicea propagated, not Arian heresy. He wanted to defend the structure of orthodoxy. Is Athanasius an EM Christian? What about Tertullian, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Polycarp and many other Fathers? I submit that any classification of Christians that puts people like them into the “bad” camp is a classification that is suspect.

    (4) The distinction between EM and IM Christianity is not very clearly delineated. How can I tell what camp I belong in?

    I’m sorry if I seem so strident. I’m more confused if anything. I’d like to agree with what Mr. Edelen says (in fact, I think there is something in the neighborhood of what he says that is true), but I find myself disagreeing instead. I guess what would go a long way toward helping my understanding would be some clearer definitions of EM and IM Christianity. And by that, I mean definitions that aren’t vacuous, or don’t merely beg the question against one or the other.

    • Alex,


      1. Numerous verses in the Bible call us to personal examination by the illumination of the Spirit. The Bible commands Christians to examine each other, too. Why think that anyone is right about anything? (I don’t understand your highly abstract question there.) As for armchair speculation, anything speculation that challenges the traditional thinking winds up being labeled “armchair speculation” by supporters of traditional thinking.

      2. IM Christianity and EM Christianity, by the definition I provide, have two distinct sources from which they derive their motivation, so by definition they are in opposition in large part, but not exclusively so. As many have noted here, they find themselves a bit on both sides of the fence. Some lean more one way and some the other. However, we in America are so singleminded that it is darn near impossible for us to be able to do both of anything. Most people throw themselves into what they care most about. As someone who for a while was a very hardcore anti-abortion protester, I knew that something was going to have to slide for me to be dedicated to the cause. What slid was making disciples. Since making disciples is our core responsibility, I was out of whack at that point. Making disciples is primary. If I still have time to be involved in the anti-abortion work, then fine. But I know better. And more to the point, it’s the Gospel that’s supposed to be the offense, not these sideline things we get involved in. Ask a non-Christian why he’s not a Christian and you’re likely to get a response that has everything to do with shrill Christians voices against this or not, and nothing about Jesus.

      3. Your application completely misses the point. The Church fathers contended for the purity of the Gospel. That’s internal motivation. Athanasius wasn’t spending all his time trying to get abstinence education taught in his local school.

      4. I can’t tell you what you are. You have to examine yourself before the Lord. Are you making disciples or are you distracted from that goal because you’re trying to get some ballot measure enacted in your state? Does your personal Christian ministry depend on external power structures in order to be effective or does it rely on the Holy Spirit?

      It’s like in the movie The Matrix. If you’re asleep in a pod along with a billion others, dreaming of an alternate world placed there by an outside intelligence, how would you know? It’s not until you wake up that you can see both sides. Becoming IM is like taking the red pill. Only then can you understand.

      • Dan et al,

        Wow thanks for a very thought provoking post! I tend to be in the IM camp (my background is pietist Charismatic) but I also think that there are a lot of good arguments for being involved in political causes too that others are making. So here is a thought:

        Instead of thinking about this in terms of IM vs EM (all good analogies have their limits so I hope you will allow that multiple metaphores might open up new angles) what if we think of the political aspects that people have been discussing in terms of “power from above” vs “power from below”. I would say that the political stuff that we Evangelicals have been involved in as of late operates in a “power from above” way. It attempts through legislation to forbid things we find bad – gay marriage, abortion, etc. The problem here is that while this may at times be necessary (in the case of murder for example it is right to stop it) it does nothing to effect an inner change.

        Now the idea of “power from below” comes in. The IM approach tends to withdraw from politics and concentrate more on “the gospel” (more on that in a sec). But what if we rethink what politics is about in a Jesus-kinda-way? What if instead of using power and coercion and force (power from above) to rule and legislate, what if we think of politics as a servant (power from below) and are involved not in forbidding, but in serving, so that our policies have to do with caring fro the least, social work, hospitals, firefighters, orphanages… these are all “government” things that have the quality of “power from under”.

        Rather than retreating from the public sphere, I think we need to re-think how we engage in politics and practice servant-politics rather than power-politics. I would also say that Gospel cannot simply be about personal inner conversion but needs to be “good news to the poor” and about the things that Jesus focused on: those in prison, the sick, the oppressed… in short it needs to be about justice. I totally agree that this justice begins on our insides, and so will sigh up to the IM camp, but out of that IM motivation we need to be active in acting as servants working for justice on an individual and societal scale.

        Hope my ramblings are helpful, again really excellent topic that is creating some great conversation!


        • Derek,

          It’s highly unlikely that our modern government could be returned to the kind of servant politics that was the basis for our founding government. I’m not encouraged that the current system could be switched off the gravy train; too much of our government functions off draining money out of the pockets of taxpayers, lobbyists, and so on. Money corrupts and the system is driven by money now, not ideals, not representation, not even the founding principles. Even a “Mr. Smith”-style politician would get corrupted by the system. There’s just too much temptation to riches.

          • One the one hand I think what you say is an important caution to Christian hoping to be involved in power politics not to underestimate how seductive and corrupting power can be.

            At the same time there are a lot of good things that Christians have been able to bring into government when they focused on advocating “power from under”. Consider for instance that it was the church that invented orphanages, hospitals, and homeless shelters. There was a time when if a person was an orphan and had no family they would have had no one. If a person in the time of Jesus had a crippling disease, they would have simply died. Now we have government sponsored help that makes sure that they don’t, and that no child has to die because their parents can’t afford health care. That was not always the case (say in the year 1400 for example). So we need to remember what Karl Barth said “we are not permitted to take sin more seriously than we do grace.” Despite the seduction and corruption of power, we need to work towards building up the kingdom of God. There will always be abuse and corruption and people motivated by selfish ends, but we need to be light in the middle of that. Think what the world would be like if no one ever tried to feed the starving, or care for the least because the world was too corrupt. Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. Believing that in our world requires faith in the invisible and the impossible. It’s not realpolitics, it’s Jesuspolitics.

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  40. what a thought provoking post! I will have to digest that for a while before being bale to respond. I’m linking to this from my private blog.

  41. John Tapscott

    Don’t we love to create dichotomies! EM Christians/IM Christians. Born again Christians/not-born-again Christians. Actually the term “Born again Christian” is a tautology, don’t you think? To become a Christian requires that one is born again. John Chapter 1 and Chapter 3 seem plain to me that Christains, i.e. the new birth or regeneration, are a creation of God, the Holy Spirit. There is no room here for boasting “I am born again and you aren’t”. Regeneration is a gift of God’s grace and in no way an act of man.
    I think Dan’s original observation reflects the fact that the visible Church consists of both those who are born again, i.e. God made Christians, and a large measure of man made christians. A man made christian is so by the fact that he or she has made a decision based on purely human motivation (emotional preaching, human logic, whatever). I’m not saying that God does not use emotional preaching to draw people to Himself, He uses many means.
    One church I was a member of refused financial support to the use ministry, not because they didn’t have the money but because the money was earmarked for the purchase of cattle. Why did they want cattle? The cattle were fattened and sold for a profit to raise money for the church. The problem was that youth ministry didn’t fit the committee’s definition of “church”. Despite this the youth ministry flourished and reached out to youngsters and their families who would otherwise have had nothing to do with the church. Ultimately the church was unable to support a clergyman and finally closed its doors. But the Church continued to exist in that town.
    I understand what Dan is talking about as I have seen it in operation in many churches I have belonged to. Denominations and congregations contain members of the Church (i.e. the Body of Christ) but they are not the Church. The church is built on the foundation laid by Christ and grows by the work of the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father and the gates of hell will not prevail against her.

  42. John Tapscott

    My Error: “use minstry” above is a misprint. I meant “youth ministry” as would be clear from the following context.

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