Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Tag: Rachel Held Evans

CHRISTIANITY IS SUPPOSED TO BE DIFFERENT

In our last blog post we commented on a CNN Belief Blog by Rachel Held Evans in which she took Evangelicalism to task on a number of issues. Among other things she criticized evangelical Christianity for being “hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.” She goes on to say that “the evangelical obsession with sex can make Christian living seem like little more that sticking to a set of rules.” In saying this she seems to be adopting the viewpoint of modern society at large, in which homosexuality is rapidly becoming accepted. (We realize that her own personal opinion may be more nuanced than that, but if so, it does not come out in her article.)

But Christianity is not supposed to conform to the standards of the world. It is supposed to be different from the society around it.

We get a clear picture of the position of the church in the world in Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians. Paul is writing to a group of Christian believers in the city of Ephesus, an important commercial, political and religious center in Asia Minor. The epistle may also have been intended for Christians in nearby cities as well. The region was sophisticated and wealthy – a center of Hellenistic civilization.

Paul makes it clear, however, that the Christians were not to conform to the standards of society around them. “This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind” (Eph. 4:17; NKJV). He then goes on to give a scathing critique of the surrounding culture. Their understanding is “darkened”; they are “alienated from the life of God”; their hearts are hard; they are “past feeling” (vv. 18,19). As a result, they “have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness” (v. 19). The word translated “lewdness” (aselgeia) means licentiousness or sensuality (cf. NASV,NIV,ESV). It speaks of a decadent society devoted to pleasure.

The Christians in Ephesus used to live like that. But Paul tells them to “put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to deceitful lusts” (v. 22). He goes on in verses 25-32 (and indeed the entire rest of the epistle) to list the behaviors that acceptable and unacceptable. They were to put away all lying, anger, stealing and foul language. “Let all put away bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (vv. 31,32). In other words, Christianity is everything about how we live, and how a Christian lives should stand in sharp contrast with how the rest of society lives. The Christian life is supposed to be a life of non-conformity.

Ms. Evans complains that “the evangelical obsession with sex can make Christian living seem like little more than sticking to a list of rules.” In some churches that may be the case, and she may have felt that way as a young adolescent chafing under parental control. But that is not the way it is supposed to be. True holiness begins in the heart and mind. “. . . and be renewed in the spirit of your mind,” Paul says (v. 23). Having denounced a whole list of sinful behaviors, Paul concludes by pointing to the inward attitude of the heart: “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted. . .” (v. 32). True righteousness flows from the heart, and sinful behavior is sinful precisely because it is contrary to the love of Christ that should fill the heart.

This, in turn, presupposes the actual experience of salvation and the real relationship with Christ that follows. Having described the moral corruption of Gentile society Paul says, “But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as the truth is in Jesus” (vv. 20,21; NASV). To “hear Him” means to sense Christ Himself calling you to salvation. To be “taught in Him” means to learn as one is “in Him,” i.e., to know Him personally and to have His Holy Spirit dwelling in your heart. The Christian thus taught has a new perspective on life, a new value system, and new motives. He is no longer content merely to go through life living for himself, seeking pleasure wherever he can find it, and exploiting others to his own advantage. He has a higher calling and purpose in life, and the world with all its tawdry tinsel and toys has no attraction for him. He is a changed person, a “new man,” with a renewed heart, and he could never go back to his former manner of life.

The proper aim of Christianity is not to become more like the world, either in style or in substance. The church is not called to base its doctrine or its practice on public opinion polls. Rather, it is supposed to follow Christ in the path of discipleship. And this requires a life of non-conformity.

MILLENNIALS AND THE CHURCH

In a recent CNN Belief Blog evangelical blogger and author Rachel Held Evans tells us that she is frequently asked to speak on the question of “Why millennials are leaving the church.” She recites a familiar litany of complaints. Surveys, she says, show that “young adults perceive evangelical Christianity to be too political too exclusive, old-fashioned unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.” She then makes the interesting observation that simply adapting a more contemporary worship style will not succeed in drawing young people back into the church. “What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance. . . You can’t hand us a latte and then go about business as usual and expect us to stick around. We’re no leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there.”

    It must be admitted that Ms. Evans makes many valid criticisms. For too long the institutional church has put style over substance, only to find itself outdated and irrelevant as soon as styles change. And yet it is strange that she would also criticize the church for being too “old-fashioned.” Which is it? Trying too hard to be “cool” or too old-fashioned?

    Ms. Evans also criticizes the church for being “too political.” But here criticism here rings a little hollow as well, for in practically the same breath she complains that we are “unconcerned with social justice.” Might she not be trying to replace a right-wing political agenda with a left-wing one?

    It can be argued that the Christian Right is too closely aligned with one particular political party. But in retrospect it is a little hard to see what evangelicals could have done differently. When the United States Supreme Court hands down an atrocious decision like Roe v. Wade, should Christians simply stand by quietly without a whimper of protest? Where, then, would our “concern with social justice” be? And when one of the major political parties aligns itself with radical feminism, where are social conservatives expected to go? The Democrats effectively drove us into the arms of the other party.

    But more to the point, Ms. Evans seems to suggest that the church should leave room for doubt, accommodate modern science, and change its sexual morality. “We want an end to the culture wars. We want a truce between science and faith . . . We want to ask questions that don’t have predetermined answers . . . We want our LGBT friends to feel truly welcome to our faith communities.”

    It is at this point that it becomes evident that Ms. Evans has grossly misunderstood the nature of Christianity. The aim of Christianity is to bring individuals into a real relationship with the true and living God. But God is eternal, transcendent, and unchanging. He is the Creator and sovereign Lord of heaven and earth. He has revealed His will to us through His chosen prophets and apostles. And what He expects of us is that we bow before Him in humble adoration and submission to His will.

    We suspect that the trouble with many young adults raised in Christian homes is that they have only a secondhand faith. They know what they have been taught to believe, and they know that the larger world does not share those beliefs. They are desperately trying to find a way to “fit in.” They find themselves caught with one foot in the church and one foot in the world. But Christianity requires repentance and faith. It requires a clean break with the world and a firm commitment to Christ.

    At one point in her discussion Ms. Evans stated that millennials long for “faith communities in which they are save asking tough questions and wrestling with doubt.” Apparently it never occurred to her that there is a contradiction between faith and doubt. It is understandable that people have doubts, and they deserve our understanding – but they do not belong in a “faith” community. It is fine for a seeker outside of the church to look for answers to honest questions, and we welcome an open discussion of the issues. But a seeker should never be admitted to the membership of the church until his doubts have been resolved and he is ready to commit himself wholeheartedly to Christ. Baptism is a confession of faith, not an admission of doubt.

    In a way many millennials are probably victims of the very methodology Ms. Evans criticizes. For too long the church has tried to attract converts by appealing to their sense of self-interest and their thirst for entertainment, instead of challenging them with sin and righteousness, heaven and hell. The result is a host of sociological conversions — people who want to think of themselves as members of the evangelical community, but lack a genuine encounter with the living God and thus are not convinced of the truth of orthodox, biblical Christianity.

    Ms. Held says, “Like every generation before ours and every generation after, deep down, we long for Jesus.” Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24; NKJV). Christianity is a life of faith and obedience, of love and self-sacrifice.

    As for the church, it needs to do what it should have been doing all along. It needs to challenge the world with the truth, call sinners to repentance, and point them to the cross. “. . . each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is” (I Cor. 3:13). Are we not looking at wood, hay, and straw?