Friday, July 2, 2010

Evangelicals sending out wrong messages

Today I came across this post on Cranmers Curate, a fascinating critique of the rhetoric of Mark Driscoll. Mr Driscoll has become something of a totemic figure, attracting loads of criticism from those who you would expect to dislike him, but increasingly popular within the world of reformed Christianity and, over here, conservative evangelicalism. This is the first critical opinion I have seen from within, as it were, and is all the more potent for that.

I don't think I've seen enough of Driscoll to confirm Julian's view, but it rings true with what little I have seen, and more strongly for me, with my experience in evangelicalism generally.

[Now please understand, reader, that when I write of evangelicals I do so from within. I was born and raised (in the spiritual sense) within that fold, and remain there to this day. I am not post-, or ex-, or any other sick note excusing me from doing evangelicalism any more. But that doesn't mean I can't have a grumble.]

More and more often nowadays people seem to think that to be a proper evangelical means to buy into a sort of aggressive non-political correctness. Too often we hear from the pulpit and in Christian publications certain soft-right views on Europe, climate change, gender inclusive language, and a whole host of other issues. I say "too often" (meaning once or more) not because those views are wrong (some of them might even be my views) but because they are not to be equated with the message of Christ's saving grace. Evangelical leaders whose job is to preach the gospel should not be simultaneously promoting their political and social opinions, or, if they must, they should do so in a different space.

I cannot count how many newsletters I've received which are leavened with "amusing" anecdotes or raised eyebrow stories that wouldn't be out of place in the Daily Mail (a fine paper but not noted as a Christian one). Or sermons I've heard in which the preacher unburdens himself of his frustration with the world, like Arthur Smith in Grumpy Old Men. If you do this, you are guaranteed to exclude the majority of your audience from what you are trying to say. Unless, of course, you assume that they all agree with you.

This is a huge problem. It's a problem because we say we want to reach the nation for Christ, but most of the time we are only talking to a small sub-section of it. It's already enough of a challenge to call people to repentance and faith and discipleship. Do we want to make that challenge harder by giving the impression that you can't be a Christian unless you buy into this raft of opinions as well? Didn't C. S. Lewis say something about the perils of "Christianity and..."? And, come to think of it, didn't Paul say something about adding things to the gospel?

It's a huge problem for evangelicalism too. Many evangelicals think they are saying something radical and distinctive about sexuality and gender. But from the outside, all most people hear is a kind of reactionary anti-progress rhetoric, a sort of ecclesiastical version of those Conservative party speeches from the 1980s. If evangelical leaders want to convince people that their perspective is a theological rather than a social one, they need to be much more selective in the messages they are giving out.

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