There has been a lot of talk this week about the term “evangelical” and whether or not it can be “saved.” I really couldn’t give a rip about that, to be honest. It’s just a label, a word, and one that has less than ever to do with the actual gospel of Jesus. So, whatever. What’s far more important and meaningful to me is the question that underlies that debate about nomenclature: the sorry state of American Christianity. When people ask if “evangelical” has lost its meaning, they are really asking if there’s anything left in American Christianity that can still be called “Christian.”
Many unflattering things can be said of American Christianity. It is combative. It is arrogant. It tends toward nationalism. It is obtusely focused on a hypothetical future and reckless in the present. It is more eager to be certain than it is to be kind. It is quick to demand respect and obedience but slow to listen or learn.
Put simply, American Christianity is obsessed with winning. It has inherited this ethos from the national culture, so that the “American” aspect far outweighs the “Christian” one.
Win. Be right. Dominate. Influence. Favor in this life, reward in the next.
How did these become values of people who claim to follow Jesus? Consider the ways American Christianity has compromised and contradicted the vision of God and humanity set forth by Jesus:
- We have been paralyzed by dogma and tradition while our neighbors are dying.
- We have defended our own rights to security and self defense while justifying the exploitation and suffering of others.
- We have treated beloved children of God like subhuman enemies because of abstract ideological and doctrinal differences.
- We have hoarded possessions and wealth while children starve to death.
- We have become mired in nationalism and right wing politics instead of loving our enemies and advocating for the marginalized.
- We have exploited the Holy Spirit as a source of personal power instead of the abiding and peaceful presence of Jesus.
- We have obsessed over a cosmic and vengeful Jesus instead of honoring the humble Jesus who taught peace and self-sacrifice.
When did winning become more important than grace and truth? When did we commit ourselves to victory at any cost? When did we forget that we follow one who died for others, who forfeited glory and retaliation and then announced divine forgiveness to his own murderers?
There is no point in defending your identity as a follower of Jesus if everything you believe and do explicitly mocks him. How did this happen? How did we lose Jesus? How do we get him back?