That Legacy Thing


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

**flash forward to today**

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

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

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

Let’s do a quick check…

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

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

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

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

That’s one major legacy issue.

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

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

17 thoughts on “That Legacy Thing

  1. This points to the problem of thinking that we are serving the true King and His Kingdom by becoming “powerful and influential”. The Church has seemed to be much more effective when it operates on the margins rather than at the center.

    • Ron,

      I think they tried to touch on the political issues some. The manifesto took a “neither Republican, nor Democrat” position, which can either be read as a step backward or forward, depending on how you view the issues.

      But the problem, even on that issue, is the How. How is a huge question, and manifestos attempt to answer that question. I don’t see that “An Evangelical Manifesto” attempted to answer How at all. It’s too nebulous to mean anything. If you want to fix a problem, then you provide answers. There are no answers here, though.

    • Jared,

      I just recently read that the teen pregnancy rate has been rising since the last quarter of last year. As to violence, the murder rate nationally increased at the end of 2007 for the first time in a few years according to an extensive article I read in the city newspaper just a few weeks ago. Petty crime continues to drop, but all violent crime has been trending higher. Rape especially has reversed its downward slide.

      Yes, these trends had been down for several years, but they have reversed in just the last six to eight months or so.

  2. So are you saying Christians have had a negative effect on these rates in the last 6-8 months?

    Does that mean we were doing well for several recent years but recently are not?

    Fwiw, I agree with you on the negligible impact of the American Church on “the world.” That’s sort of what my blog is a manifesto against.
    Just had a quibble with a few of the stats, and I’m not sure they’re directly indicative of church woes.

    • Jared,

      I’m only saying that Evangelicals have been overly cocky about their supposed power and influence. If they can’t even manage the one area of life they’re supposed to possess mastery over, the spiritual, why trumpet sociopolitical gains that may, in fact, be illusory?

  3. Wow, Dan, this is close to be your direst best. I am so stunned I don’t know what to say, other than I consider the E.M. a waste of time to talk about. It was just another dopey media event.

    In the meantime, yesterday after coming out of church—whose pastors have been thoroughly Willow-Creeked—my wife and I had the weirdest feelings. We were starting to wonder about the sermon we had heard from the senior pastor. What in the heck was he preaching? It was a bunch of schmaltzy stuff about how his church is meant to be a “safe place” for people in different places on their “spiritual journey”—”We don’t draw lines in the sand.” Blah, blah, and more blah.

    The thing is, the fellow is very nice and entirely well intentioned. But this crazy Willow Creek methodology is turning everything into insipid mush.

    I don’t think we’re going back. If this is what the Willow Creek Association does to a church, then I’d advise people to avoid it.

    • …In other words, Dan, it all sounded oh so Oprah Winfrey.

      What a strange feeling to have: Sitting there listening to this stuff, I felt like standing up and screaming at the pastor “Hey, what’s this
      ‘safe stuff’ you’re dumping on us? Go back and read the Gospels, for pete’s sake. Jesus was anything but safe. In fact, He could be downright scary sometimes.”

      • Normandie

        This is the first I’ve heard of Willow Creek. Just did a search and read their statement of beliefs which sounded very much like the ancient creeds. How do they veer off from this? They talk the right talk. Is it possible that your preacher was just on a gushy/feel-good rant or has he lost touch with the basis of biblical faith?

        I know exactly what you mean when you say you and your wife felt odd and uncomfortable. I’ve visited a couple of churches in my travels that looked good, sounded biblical through the scripture readings and even into the homily, and then…well, then I read the announcement sheet where Steve gave thanks to God for his relationship with Bruce, while Pete was so thankful God had given him Paul. And they didn’t mean in a mentoring relationship either.

        An inclusive church? Well, of course we’re to love everyone and offer them Jesus–but through the Cross. Too many Christians try to be relevant to the culture, but in the middle of Sodom or Rome wouldn’t we do better to point the way out rather than try to look and sound like one of them?

        We celebrated our pastor’s 25th year of service at the church on Sunday. People tried to give him credit for the huge growth in this multi-racial body, for the huge outreach in missions, both local and worldwide. Thank God for a man who tells the truth and points to Jesus, for a humble man who lives humbly and creates a hunger for faithfulness to the Word and to our Lord among church members. The church is inclusive. All are welcome. But they won’t hear a purely feel-good message, unless you consider that loving and honoring Jesus feels really good. You can’t become a member without completing a lengthy Bible study, without committing yourself to faithfulness to Jesus Christ and His teachings. I’ve been a Christian for over 30 years and have been a member of several churches. None has asked me to account for my faith in detail, to dig into the what and why I believe — using scripture — until this one. And you know what? Every single membership class is packed with folk from all walks of life, folk who want to know this Jesus about whom we speak. Holding people to a biblical standard won’t keep them away. In a strife torn area like Richmond, CA, where shootings abound, at least one church has shown itself relevant by pointing the way up and out instead of by condoning sin.

        • Normandie,

          The Willow-Creek-ization of the American Church has been a huge problem. If you read my blog posts on Willow Creek and the Church Growth Movement, you’ll get all you need to know. The Willow Creek Association signed up thousands of churches to follow their plan for boosting numbers, yet last year Willow Creek came out and said their discipleship model, the one all these associated churches were aping, didn’t work. I saw that model in action sixteen years ago and knew it didn’t work. And that was before the Willow Creek Association existed!

          What a travesty.

      • That could be. But, Dan, the crying shame is that I believe that the pastors at this church are potentially capable of preaching the Gospel. But somehow—and I would really like to understand why—they thoroughly have bought into Willow Creek and have been derailed completely; and as far as I know several of them have been back east to go to the WCA leadership training and whatnot. What are they learning back there?

        The thing I feel the most about all this is sort of low simmering grief; and a sense of frustration, because I have no idea what to do about any of it.

        And I feel sorry for the people.

        In fact, I feel sorry for the whole country, as I watch it come apart at the seams right before my eyes.

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