Sunday, November 05, 2006

Newsweek article on "An Evangelical Identity Crisis"

The latest Newsweek article on "An Evangelical Identity Crisis" is well researched and makes some good points, but also makes a few vast simplifications like the statement quoted below:

"Some Christians, exhausted by divisive wedge politics, are going back to the Bible and embracing a wider-ranging agenda, one that emphasizes reaching out to the poor and disenfranchised. Almost unanimously, these evangelicals cite as a model Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif."

Really? Any Christian who focuses on reaching out to the poor and disenfranchised is doing so because of Pastor Rick Warren? I beg to differ? While I admire Pastor Warren's committment to shaking up the evangelical agenda, my own exhaustion with a political hijacking of evangelical faith has nothing to do with him or with the large Saddleback Church. Indeed, while I respect his position and applaud his efforts to create a social conscious among his parishioners, I am wary of mega-churches and making idols of specific leaders, as so many evangelicals of previous generations have done with Dr. James Dobson or with Bruce Wilkinson, who wrote The Prayer of Jabez and set out to use Swaziland as an example of the power of transformation inherent in organizational "naming and claiming blessings." The project was a miserable failure, and he ran back to America with his tail between his legs. Humans are invariably fallible, even those most "loved by God", as we see in the biblical example of King David. We do not base our faith on human leaders but on the performative life of God incarnate in man, our Christ.

Rick Warren's bestselling book The Purpose Driven life seems to have blessed many people, so good for him and good for them. But I'm not a formula Christian, who follows the fads, and neither are many of my friends. I admit that I do have a copy of TPDL in the basement somewhere, because my church was reading through it (my church is not entirely free of the "trends"), but I actually never quite got through the first chapter.

The crisis of conscious among evangelicals is not so simple as follow-the-leader, as Newsweek implies. I think it's more a case that thinking Christians who look at the life of Jesus and the teachings he emphasized are together realizing that there is something very wrong with how evangelicals are being used to further a certain political agenda. Jesus led a life of simplicity among the "wretched of the earth." Time after time, he resisted attempts by his disciples to claim political power (and he firmly rejected the temptation of Satan to gain political power over the whole world if only he would bow down and worship Satan), instead emphasizing a change of heart, a change of lifestyle, a grassroots committment to enacting what we believe. The closest Jesus came to making a political statement was when he threw the money changers out of the temple. And notice how he said "you have made my Father's house into a den of theives." He did not go charging into Herod's palace or Pilate's mansion throwing tables around; presumably, he was quite aware of the political corruption of the Roman empire. The hope for change he offers is found in the individual lives of his disciples, who through living exemplary lives make more disciples, even drawing in some of those Roman leaders, as we see in the Roman centurian who had faith that his son would be healed, in the Phillipean jailor who was so impressed by the hope of Paul and Barnabas that he took them home and together with his whole family decided to follow the new way. Jesus refused to be drawn into partisan debates about taxes, saying "give unto Caeasar what is Caeasar's and until God what is God's." Instead, he was angry at the bringing of the marketplace into the house of God. Current evangelical leaders and pastors of mega-churches would do well to focus more on Jesus's words about tackling our own spiritual corruption, the hypocrisy, materialism, and legalism of our own churches. As more and more examples of hypocrisy and abuses of humanity in the name of Christianity come out in the news, it is clear that the Christian leaders of our age are more like the Pharisees who thought it would be better to let one man suffer than to risk damaging their relationship with the Roman empire. Probably one of the most damaging things to happen to the Christian faith in the early years of its existance was when Constantine took the humble faith of the servants and the streets made it the official religion of the Roman Empire. Of course, the heart of the faith has survived the abuses comitted in it's name, because the Crusades, the inquisitions--these were political in nature, Christian in name alone. The truth at the centre of Christianity deconstructs the authoritative discourse that claims authority in its name, and no true Christian should be afraid to declaim those abuses.

As Christians, we are called to be like Christ, not those whom he called "whitewashed tombs." A renewed movement to distance ourselves from the powerful and corrupt and to revive out committment to the poor and disenfranchised is at the heart of Christianity. We do this because this is who we have been called to be, (not because Rick Warren told us to do it).

No comments: