Some of you may have seen this article in Charisma Magazine entitled “How the New Christian Left is Twisting the Gospel.” The writer, Chelsen Vicari, is a 26-year-old evangelical and self-proclaimed reformed leftist who recently penned her own book about how the gospel is being distorted by secular values and young Christians who don’t want to upset anyone by being vocal against sin. David Schell, a pretty fantastic post-evangelical blogger, wrote a great response to Vicari’s article, which you can read here. However, I felt that David’s critique left out a few things, so…here we are.
In reality, Vicari doesn’t say anything in her article that I haven’t already heard 200 times. I could probably turn on The 700 Club or flip open any James Dobson book and get the same spiel, almost verbatim. Vicari’s article is a classic example of the Christian Right’s general pontificating. And I say “general,” because, as is common with these kinds of spiels, the language is really vague and the content contains all the wondrous depth of a damp napkin. For an article that purportedly addresses how the gospel is being twisted, it only contains two – count ’em, two – scripture references. In fact, as I read, I often wondered if Vicari even had a sense of what the gospel is, because not once in 1,900 words does she ever actually articulate it. Case in point:
But now popular culture is being aided by Christ-professing bedfellows whose message to “coexist,” “tolerate” and “keep out of it” is more marketable to the rising generation of evangelicals.
The seasoned Christian soldiers are noticing these distortions of the gospel.
So…the gospel is the opposite of “tolerate”? I thought it was about Jesus redeeming mankind. But…whatever.
Here are some other examples of the pervasive vagueness:
“You’ll find faith leaders encouraging young evangelicals to trade in their Christian convictions for a gospel filled with compromise.”
Ok, who are these faith leaders? Where are they teaching? What are the titles of their books? What are the compromising elements of their message? False teachers are serious business! But, apparently, not so serious that Vicari can be bothered to name them. The closest we get are “public school teachers, TV celebrities and rock stars,” and none of those qualify as faith leaders.
One day my co-teacher and I decided to play “True or False.” We casually went down a list of worldview questions with our class, sure that our little evangelicals would nail every question correctly.
No. 1: Jesus is God. “True.” Great job.
No. 2: Jesus sinned. “False.” Bingo!
No. 3: Jesus is one of many ways to heaven. “True.” What?!
Shocked is the only way to describe how I felt. Hadn’t they been listening to us? When I asked who taught them that, one girl said, “Coexist.”
Ok, “Coexist” is not a who. It is a word, and its meaning has nothing to do with various ways to heaven. It means we all have to live on this planet together no matter what our beliefs are, and it’s a whole lot more pleasant to do that when we’re not stuffing each other into ovens, beheading our detractors on the beach, or even just screaming at each other from behind our various podiums. This is the typical ultra-conservative fear-mongering that seeks to paint anything that even hints at liberalism into some ubiquitous, invisible swamp monster who gobbles innocent children when backs are turned.
Our churches have rarely—if ever—faced the exodus we are seeing today. This will have a direct effect on the spiritual and moral values that will shape the nation in the coming years. That is why it is urgent that concerned Christians start acting now before the situation gets worse.
And the plan of action is…about 1,000 words down at the close of the article, and it is to “uphold the authoritative Word of God,” “have transparent and honest discussions about the culture wars,” and “offer sorely needed leadership.” According to the article, it is not enough that you take your kids to church or lead them in Bible studies, because even the Millennials who were raised that way are leaving the church. So, how to uphold the Bible as authoritative in an effective way? Vicari doesn’t say, so it’s anybody’s guess…I guess.
We dismiss old hymns that focus on God’s transforming salvation, love and mercy and opt for “Jesus is your boyfriend” songs. Or we contribute to nonprofits that exploit and misuse terms such as justice, oppressed and inequality because tweaking the language makes us feel more neutral, less confrontational.
I promise, I have read this last sentence six times and still can’t comprehend it. What nonprofit out there is misusing these terms? How? And who is contributing to them just because these words make them feel less confrontational? That doesn’t even make logical sense.
Speaking of misusing terms…
Research tells us that evangelicals are drifting further away from the orthodox truths their parents and grandparents held dear.
Orthodox? I’m sorry to say, the word dost not meanest what thou thinkest it means. Orthodox Christian belief goes all the way back to the days of the Early Church. There is now very little in “traditional” evangelicalism that actually fits the term. Demonism, Dominionism, Penal Substitution Theory, Premillennial Dispensationalism, American Exceptionalism, Name-it-and-Claim-it, eternal fire-and-brimstone hell: none of these doctrines are considered orthodox. In fact, pretty much all of these doctrines have only surfaced within the past 200 years.
But that’s beside the point.
The point is, Millennials have not been silent about why they are leaving the Evangelical Church:
– Lack of concern for the poor
– Politicizing of faith
– Dismissal and cover up of spiritual and sexual abuse
– Judgmental attitudes and condemning doctrines
– Extra-biblical rules that serve only to control believers and elevate the leadership
– Dishonesty and anti-intellectualism
– Lack of community
– No room for doubt, questions or suffering
– No voice
It’s that last one that is most illuminated by Vicari’s article. Vicari may be a Millennial herself, but she parrots the old guard’s diatribe: Young people are falling away because we’re compromising with “the world.” We’re getting too many “feel-good” ideas from textbooks and TV, and it’s outweighing our evangelical indoctrination. Really, we just need to be indoctrinated more. Our pastors and parents just need to preach louder, shelter us further, make more convincing arguments. Meanwhile, our real concerns about the church are swept aside. Ignored. They’d rather tell us why we’re leaving than actually ask us.
Vicari claims that evangelical youth want to have “honest discussions” about today’s hot-button topics. But from my experience, “honesty” in evangelicalism translates into a one-way conversation. Evangelical leaders are convinced they know the absolute truth, and “honesty” entails informing both the curious and the critics about how they are wrong.
Millennials do want an honest conversation, but one in which there is an actual dialogue – where we get to address our concerns about the church becoming politically over-involved in civil matters…where we can make a plan for administering justice and accountability in cases of abuse…where our doubts are accepted as a necessary step in our spiritual growth, not the end to all faith…where church becomes a vibrant, supportive community, not a gilded enterprise that expects us to check our brains and our compassion at the door.
Some of us are crying out – even begging – to be heard. We’re fervently praying that one day, evangelical leaders will finally let us have a voice within the church. Because we care about the church and its future.
Sadly, it will require compromise. It will require choosing to value hearts and souls over ideology and dogma.