I must yet again reiterate my adherence to the Christian faith in the manner described commonly by many as "evangelical". Not only do I believe such antiquated documents like the Westminster Confession and not only I believe that Christianity is the only one and true religion (all others being wrong) but I also believe in such things as the Bible being inerrant, sufficient, etc etc etc.
But being an evangelical seems to be getting harder by the day. Not because I somehow think that there's evil ungodly atheists or Darwinists out there who are going to destroy the world - they're hardly going to do much anyway. No. What makes it hard being an evangelical these days is the actions of other evangelicals.
My goodness I sound judgemental... but hey, evangelicals are for truth so let me just say that there seems to be this really worrying group of STUPID, RUDE and DESTRUCTIVE people who have the same faith in Christ that I have and with whom I will share eternity.
The car above illustrates this. It was photographed only in the last few days by someone who had just seen Religioulous at a movie theatre in Florida, so it was oddly appropriate for him to photograph it.
The vehicle is a four-wheeled stereotype. Everything people can identify with modern evangelicalism can be found on the stickers: Pro-Republican, pro-life, anti-homosexual, anti-evolution and willing and ready to propagate political rumours.
For most of my Christian life I have railed against the "Christian Subculture" - the inward looking, controlling, commodification of the Christian faith. At the age of 19 I was going to Christian bookshops and shaking my head at the trinkets, paraphernalia and bad music. I would pick up books outlining various government conspiracies and the spread of witchcraft, as well as books that promised healing and happiness and new breakthroughs in Christian living. 20 years later and things haven't changed - I walked into a Christian bookshop 12 months ago and felt ill at what I saw.
As a movement, Evangelicalism, especially in the US, has morphed into an aggressive, threatening and controlling movement. "The world" is no longer seen as souls that can be won over by good people preaching the gospel, but as enemies that need to be disciplined, controlled or vanquished.
This has come at the expense, I believe, of biblical literacy and careful analysis. The fact that a bunch of Christians could pray at the Wall Street Bull and not realise the irony of their actions is one indication of a lack of biblical understanding. The fact that Christians can and will easily fall for rumours and false stories of people they feel are "enemies" indicates a lack of spiritual maturity. The fact that Christians can argue that free market capitalism and the US Constitution are virtually mandated by God shows a social and economic syncretism.
The car above is an example of what I am speaking of. If you wish, you can download the big version here (1.5mb) and you will be able to see some of the detail.
For me, perhaps the most problematic stickers are located on the far right of the bumper bar. The first sticker shows a Christian "fish" eating a Darwinist "fish" with the title "survival of the forgiven". Ignoring for the moment the issue of evolution, the sticker itself is almost a declaration of war. The Christians are "eating" the fearful Darwinists. It has an aggressive tone to it that is quite different to that found in the New Testament. New Testament Christians are called upon to love their enemies, to turn the other cheek, to walk two miles those who force you to walk one mile.
The second problematic sticker is the one which shows the sad face with the words "My life before Jesus", then the smiley face "My life after Jesus" and the words "any questions?". This communicates a terribly false idea of what the Christian faith is like - as though the entire purpose of Christianity is to make a person happy. This is a most pernicious teaching that many Christians have imbibed - one which is more aligned with the world of consumerism than the teachings of the New Testament. As a Christian - as an evangelical - I would definitely agree with the idea that Christ gives my life meaning and fulfilment. At the same time, though, I would also point out that suffering is a natural part of the Christian faith. Like many Christians, my life has had its share of sufferings - much of it undeserved and undergone without any real meaning. Yes, Jesus gives me joy, but he also gives me strength in my sufferings.
Lest this article turns into a sermon, let me just point out that I believe evangelicals should be people who are liked and respected by society. I'm not talking here about churches or church leaders gaining community "respect", but rather individual Christians being both likeable and open in their faith. Rather than homosexual people being insulted and protested against by Christians, homosexuals should feel comfortable talking with and being friends with these people who nevertheless disagree with their sexuality. Muslim Americans should feel safe with Christians who befriend them and protect them if need be. Atheists should feel joy at the thought of robust intellectual argument from their smiling, intelligent, respectful Christian opponents.
You see, that to me is the best sort of thing Christians should do. Christianity isn't about political power struggles for the soul of the nation - it is about the transforming power of the Gospel which enables people to live holy lives for God.
These days, while surfing the net, I often come across people criticising Christians and religious belief. Despite my own faith, I often find myself in agreement with their complaints.
Evangelicalism in the US is about to experience major changes. The loss of their political clout along with a deep recession (which will make Christians suffer and feel bad) will cause the movement to reassess itself. Many of the "old guard" will remain, but in a steadily eroding power base. Church attendance will decline - most noticeably in the South as many irregular attenders undergo a crisis of faith and have a greater willingness to reject the church.
I don't really know how to end this except to point out that if anyone can be blamed for the state of the evangelical church in the US, it is evangelicalism itself. America will become a more secular nation this century, not least because of public reaction against over-the-top political evangelicalism.
The Gospel of Christ, though, will endure, as will The Church.