Future of Evangelicalism
On the Dire Need for the Imitation of Christ
With regard to the government, while the media has largely succeeded in marginalizing the Tea Party movement, the basic intuition of the movement is widely felt: that we are now governed by a ruling class that cares little for ordinary Americans and their concerns. Another, worse problem does not fall neatly into partisan categories: that our government is trapped in codependence with public sector unions on the one hand and Wall Street giants on the other. Federal workers now earn twice as much as their private sector counterparts, and Wall Street barons continue to extract hundreds of millions of dollars from their firms even as they destroy billions in shareholder value -- and both public sector unions and financial giants pull the strings of the marionettes in Congress, and both seem perfectly willing to impoverish the nation in order to enrich themselves.
Americans who stand outside these favored circles feel cheated and powerless. Worse still, it is not clear if either party possesses the vision and moral fortitude to navigate the nation through this storm. What if America has become ungovernable? What if the problems that beset us cannot be rectified by a new President, a new party, new policies? What if the problem is us, that we are so sated with materialistic consumption that we no longer hold our representatives accountable; that we no longer vote and legislate on the basis of principle but according to the whims of fashion and self-interest; that we too (and not just our representatives) are addicted to government spending and unwilling to confront the appalling realities of our collected indebtedness and the sacrifices it will require of us; that we have self-segregated into a thousand warring camps, and would rather bicker and demonize than stoop into the trenches of social problems and strive together with every bone, muscle, and tendon to solve them?
With regard to the Church, the intuition is felt especially (though not exclusively) among younger believers: that the American evangelical Church, in spite of all the good it still accomplishes, has lost its way. In the vision of Christian life that has been passed down the stream of generations, something essential seems to have been lost in the exchange. Call it a hunch, buried deep in the inner folds of the spirit within: that Christ calls us to something more than this. God did not become incarnate, endure the indignities and humiliations of the human condition, suffer rejection and persecution, torture and death, so that we might live comfortable lives of suburban complacency, lives more characterized by rampant consumerism than radical obedience, by cultural accommodation than counter-cultural witness, by potlucks and stewardship seminars than the persecutions and sufferings of the saints.
Each of these intuitions, in my view, is correct. And all are related. Christians are existentially committed to the proposition that Jesus Christ is the hope of the world. The Church is the bearer and messenger of that hope. If our nation has lost its hope, it is because the Church has failed to be the Church. If the light of our nation is fading, it is because we are failing to be the light. If our national character has decayed, it is because we have failed to be the salt.
Yet what exactly is the disease that ails the Church, and that eats away at the very bones of our society and culture? Interpreting an intuition is not an easy matter, and evangelicals have separated into competing tribes over their sense of it.
Dr. Timothy Dalrymple is the Associate Director of Content at Patheos, and writes weekly on faith, politics, and culture for Patheos' Evangelical Portal. Follow him at his blog, Philosophical Fragments, on Facebook or on Twitter.