A Call for a Moratorium on Evangelical Self-Analysis
Constant navel-gazing removes focus from Christ, His Word, and His work and places it on us.
Man, do we Evangelicals like to argue. Not just among ourselves, but about ourselves.
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been collecting recent articles about Evangelicalism: What it is, its status culturally, its status theologically, its relevance and/or irrelevance to American life, whether it is dying or resurging, and so forth.
I think I will quit. The analyses, op-eds, books, book reviews, videos, conferences, podcasts, and journal articles seem self-generating. Many of them are perceptive. Some are hostile, others friendly. Some are pessimistic, others optimistic.
Self-Evaluation … in Moderation
Self-evaluation can be healthy. “Let a person examine himself,” Paul writes to the church in Corinth concerning the need for a spiritual health-check before sharing in the Lord’s Supper. Being honest about our spiritual needs and building spiritual strength are essential to a close walk with the Lord and Christian fellowship.
This is true for the Evangelical movement at large. It’s good to take inventories of our strengths and weaknesses.
But not constantly. Not with ominous predictions about supposedly inevitable trends. Not with an angry bemoaning of our real or imagined deficiencies. Not with a disturbing self-loathing in which we hang our heads and internalize every criticism leveled against us.
Where Young Believers Go Wrong
Frankly, a good deal of this comes from the lucid and well-educated minds of younger believers. They are quick to see absurdities and failures in our movement and in individual churches, quick to react to them, and quick to express what often are harsh judgments on fellow heirs of life.
However bright and committed these young men and women are, some of them just need to stop it. Quit writing so much and with such a sense of intellectual smugness. They need to get some life and ministry under their belts before they so rapidly critique other and usually older brothers and sisters in the Living One.
I love these young leaders and know some of them. They are so very bright and full of righteous indignation and not a little frustration about a movement that too often fails to meet its biblical mandates. Their assessments often ring true.
But their tone is also often severe. Their disenchantment with some other Evangelicals is so caustic. Their experience is so limited.
As someone who will struggle with intellectual pride until the day I die, I urge them to calm down, quiet down, and just serve. That’s all — serve. Jesus. The household of faith. The unsaved and the hurting.
Ingratitude and Navel-Gazing
Some Evangelicals, and not just young ones, seem almost eager to accept every stereotype of which our movement is accused. But when they embrace blanket charges of ignorance, self-delusion, parsimony, a quest for political domination, or whatever else, they are not being repentant. They are being masochistic.
This is not healthy. It’s morbid. It removes focus from Christ, His Word, and His work in the world and places it on us. It demonstrates a lot of ingratitude toward the Lord of the church.
This needs to stop.
Always in a Crisis — But That’s OK
First, Evangelical Protestantism is in crisis. Divisions concerning many issues of doctrine and practice are crisp and, in some cases, deepening.
Second, Evangelical Protestantism will always be in crisis. There will always be differences, some of them sharp-edged, among redeemed but fallen people.
Third, as the late Billy Graham and, before him, Carl Henry showed, there are core convictions around which the great majority of us can rally and out of which we can evangelize, make disciples, and minister to a broken world.
Fourth, I propose a moratorium on any more books, conferences, and so forth concerning the current state and prospects of American Evangelicalism. Let’s allow the current year to play out and, starting January 1, 2019 — if the Lord has not by then returned — agree to end all such things for the space of one year.
No more surveys. No more polls. No more furrow-browed intonations from our movement’s wise men and women about who we are, where we are, and what we are.
Needs to Meet
This will be impossible to enforce, of course. But for a space of 12 months, can we just plain knock it off? Are not the pressing needs of our nation and our world sufficiently great that instead of occupying so much time, energy, and money staring dubiously at one another, we seek to meet those needs in Jesus’s Name?
We’re already doing that in a lot of ways, yes. But the kind of roiling antagonism that has become the norm in our publications, seminars, and what have you detracts from the real business of God’s kingdom and righteousness.
If there’s obvious sin, let’s call it out. But let’s call the rest of our narcissistic navel-gazing quits.
For one year.