Outgrowing Evangelicalism: It’s Not Just for Scholars Anymore

In July, Dan Haseltine of Jars of Clay, posted on his website his experience of being a Christian, a  musician, and why he finds it hard–maybe more than just “hard”–to do that within the world of evangelicalism.

The band’s in a studio trying to finish their latest record–music is down, lyrics are getting polished–and Haseltine has this nagging thought, and stop me if you’ve heard this one before:

What he really wants to say probably won’t be accepted by the evangelical community because his faith experience is moving him beyond mainstream evangelical views. Yet, those outside of the evangelical mainstream, who might actually like what his band is doing, don’t know who they are because of their long connection with the evangelical subculture. This leaves him in a “middle space,” as he calls it, a socio-religious no-man’s land.

Haseltine isn’t worried about what his evangelical audience might think. In fact, he’s relieved not to feel he has to bend his spirit to conform to an ideal he does not embrace. But he’s not angry. He’s just plain tired.

I am pretty weary from years of pretending to be more of something than I am.  I am tired of carrying evangelical expectations on my shoulders.  I have never been so sure of my faith that I was able to find a true home in the church communities where we played most of our shows.  Our particular style of writing and the perspective that we have written from has not been an easy fit into an artistic community that has such a massive agenda and only a single idea of how that agenda gets accomplished.  I don’t fit there.  I may have at one point.  I did grow up as a youth group kid wearing a t-shirt with a picture of Jesus on it.  I did drive a car with a “Christian” bumper sticker on it.  And at one point, I was sure of who God was, and how God operated.  But I am not that way now.  And so it is impossible to write from that old version of myself. I am in the middle space

Yup. That about says it. I used to belong, but don’t anymore. I am growing but my community of faith doesn’t know what to do with it.

Haseltine no longer wants to write songs that are only accepted if they support an evangelical agenda. He wants to write about love, pain, loneliness, hope, and doubt rather than “settle for the Jesus cheerleaders or worship songs that have been loaded with sentimentality but not reality.” (The irony is that what Haseltine wants, and the evangelical subculture that sells and buys records doesn’t, is part of the Bible–in Ecclesiastes, Job, and nearly half the Psalms–but that’s an issue for another time).

For Haseltine, evangelicalism’s boundaries aren’t working–or to put it in scholar-talk, evangelicalism has ceased being an explanatory paradigm for his experience.

I have to believe that if God wanted to, we would be blissfully entrenched in a subculture, happy as clams to just rehash the same words to describe or even impose a right wing, conservative “Jesus figure.”  I imagine if God wanted us to have that kind of perspective, he could have barred us from so many enlightening conversations.  He could have kept us away from Africa or China.  He could have bent our ears away from the music of Depeche Mode, or U2, or XTC or David Bowie.  He could have kept us away from the magnificent artistic expressions of others walking this world in search of meaning.  He could have kept us away from the hard questions.  He could have blinded our eyes to the suffering of the world.  He could have never let “Blood:Water Mission,” with all its orbiting theologians and faithless figures and their coinciding conversations happen.  He could have never let us fall in love.  God could have never let us feel the weight of hard relationships.  He could have kept us from having children of our own.  He could have left us unscathed by the deaths of friends and relatives.  He could have done all of this, and we might be different.  He could have removed our longing to describe these things.  He could have removed the longing for connection that permeates every tone and syllable of a “Jars of Clay” song.  God could have kept us from asking good questions.

Hasseltine is articulating very eloquently what many others write about, particularly younger (post) evangelicals (Rachel Held Evans being a good example). They were raised in evangelicalism or something like it but have been on a journey that evangelicalism was never set up to handle.

Contemporary evangelicalism has a “defensive” DNA going back to the 19th century. It grew to resist liberalizing movements from within the church. It drew boundaries of what belongs and what doesn’t.

Boundaries are designed to protect, not to allow exploration what lies beyond them.

A movement set up to defend doesn’t do a good job of handling pilgrims who want to–need to–move off the beach blanket. This scenario leads to a problem for people like Haseltine: where do I go and what do I believe? That is the “middle space.”

My little world of Christian scholarship parallels Haseltine’s world of Christian art. Wanting to be Christian is not the problem; wanting to speak with clarity and conviction within a paradigm that has well defined boundaries (which is good) but protects them at all costs (which is bad)–that is the problem many post, progressive, recovering (pick your adjective) evangelicals are trying to work through.

Misery likes company, but I still feel for Haseltine and I wish there was a simple way forward–for him and for many others. The answer probably lies in finding communities of faith, with others on the journey, where who you are is an asset, not a liability.

And, if I can give Haseltine and Jars of Clay any advice–don’t assume you are alone. There are many out there, waiting for people like you to put into words what they can’t. They are looking for new vocabulary to articulate their own journey through the middle space. You can help.

Anyway, I hope you have a chance to read Haseltine’s post.

 

  • http://jordantheredherring.wordpress.com Jordan Ross

    Thanks so much for this post, Dr. Enns, and for bringing Haseltine’s post to my attention. You and he describe well the faith space I find myself in as a 25 year old who has graduated from a Christian liberal arts university here in Canada.

    I think you are right in placing an importance on finding communities in which one can be comfortable to work through doubts and explore beyon traditional boundaries. I found such a community one year ago in a small local church and it has been a huge encouragement. I can only hope others in the same place I am are so fortunate.

    Thanks again for writing, I really enjoying reading your blog and especially appreciate its positioning and perspective within the Christian blogging community. We need more blogs like yours.

  • John Mark

    I realize that evangelicalism, or the subset, fundamentalism, leaves a lot to be desired. The separatist mentality, simplistic thinking and insistence on a ‘literal’ reading of scripture has moved us (some of us) into a different paradigm of what it means to be Christian, and though it is too early to know where this will lead, there are hopeful signs that a real robust Christianity may ‘emerge’ from all this: pun intended. But I do question some of the thinking, and wonder if the refusal to come under the authoritative/consensual teachings of the church (advocacy of pretty much anything and everything where sex and gender issues are concerned) should not at least give us pause. Growing up in a legalistic church atmosphere, I watched a lot of my peers and close friends test the boundaries, ask questions and endure criticism over silly things such as (this will tell you my age) facial hair on guys :). We had legitimate questions, not so much about biblical interpretation, or racial issues; perhaps not being in a place to be as aware of these things as we might have, but about what it really meant to ‘be’ a Christian. In some cases, however, we just wanted to do what we wanted to do. In Robert Webber’s The Younger Evangelicals he makes some strong statements about the desire for authenticity among the young, but I think his opinion that younger evangelicals (or whatever they prefer to call themselves these days; progressives or whatever, are not committed to truth, or integrity, or chastity (I can’t remember how he words this, he has a list at the beginning of the book) and fidelity to the consensual teachings of the church over time.
    I understand where you are coming from; after all I have read one of your books :) to my benefit. But as a person who has always been the soul of caution, I fear, and I don’t use the word lightly, that in our desire to free ourselves from the evangelical/fundamentalist subculture, we will throw the baby out with the bath water. I don’t view your work as such, and I don’t really know much about Jars of Clay, but I think at least some of what I read among ‘progressives’ is tinged with confusion, and even, dare I say, rebellion. Enlightenment can easily lead to dismissive attitudes toward the unenlightened.

    • Tyson

      I like what you wrote. I also liked this article. On one hand, there is definitely a weariness among those raised in the evangelical movement because of the general inability to ask the hard questions, deal with doubt, and, in some cases, to just think. It will not do as it is, and can feel oppressive for many. On the other hand, the post-evangelical movement is at risk of being only a more attractive “brand” of Christianity for those who are just sick of religion and rules, and want to do whatever the hell they like while still claiming their home in Christianity. In other words, critical thinking is needed on both ends of the spectrum. Maybe a pre-requisite for jumping on the post-evangelical train should be asking the tough questions first. But asking God, not these movement’s representatives.

    • Phil Miller

      Throw out the freakin’ baby!

      Just kidding, there, but I grew up in a quasi-fundamentalist environment, too, and while I can’t say that I am bitter about my past or anything like that, I do think that there’s a certain type of anti-intellectualism that is part and parcel to a lot of evangelicalism. Personally, I was never a rebellious kid. I never had any type of alcholic drink until I was 32, and that was even after attending a large state school known to be a party school. But what happened to me was that I became a campus pastor and started learning more and more on my own, and along that route, things came up. They were things that I would have loved to sit down and discuss with someone without fear, but there was no one in my denomination whom I could really do that with. I mean, I could ask the questions I’m sure, but from people in the denomination, those questions already had answers that we were supposed to accept. So then the problem becomes what happens if you don’t accept those answers? It it being rebellious to simply disagree? I sure hope not.

      The interesting thing to me to see is that many of the people I grew up with have stayed with the denomination and seem to have become more entrenched now than ever. I suppose that’s another thing that happens when groups sense they have some opposition. And please understand, it’s not that I’m enemies with these people or the church I grew up in. I just wish, though, that they weren’t automatically suspicious of me when I tell them I don’t agree with them on certain things.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy

        I mean, I could ask the questions I’m sure, but from people in the denomination, those questions already had answers that we were supposed to accept.

        i.e. The Party Line, Comrade.

      • JTunell

        The question to ask is whether or not we can separate our ecclesiology (study of the church) from our soteriology (study of salvation). To clarify I am not in any way opting for legalism by stating that in order to be saved you have to attend church every Sunday, but I am saying that we need to take a better look at what the church is and how we as believers are to “interact” with it. Scripture tells us that our salvation is rooted in our union with Christ through which our old selves have been crucified with Christ and raised with him (Rom. 6). This union with Christ is so fantastic that it leads the apostle Paul to exclaim, “I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2). If we truly have been crucified with Christ, and we can exclaim with Paul, it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me, we retain our individuality while also holding not merely similarities, but a union with each other through Christ. That union that now exists between us believers is depicted as the “body of Christ.” It is meant for mutual edification, pushing each other toward our chief end, “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” How is this mutual edification accomplished? Through the local church. The local church is not merely a suggestion for believers, but it is a life-spring, a well that nourishes our relationship with God through the gospel (Christ). There is a reason that Martin Luther states there is no salvation outside the church (the same Martin Luther who spoke back against the legalism found in the Roman Catholic church). Sanctification (a necessary part of our salvation, along with justificaiton and glorification) is found in the church, nourished by the church. We cannot just “give up” on the body of Christ, the very thing that Christ calls his bride. The church can and should have reformation, but it is not to be thrown out with the bath-water.

    • Sabine

      While I think this comment picks up on something real, I’m not sure the confusion and rebellion can be avoided entirely. It would be nice of course, to be able to be all rational and balanced about this, but the truth is that not feeling at home in your church and even your faith anymore to an extend that after years of struggling with it, you’re actually willing to leave, is gonna come with a fair bit of bottled up frustration before you can get to that more balanced place. And in my own experience, that just wants out. I feel it’s childish, and more stubborn than I’ve been even in my teens, and I try to hold on to the poor baby’s slippery leg as it’s flying out the window cos I do in fact care about it – but I can’t seem to empty the tub and hold onto the baby at the same time. Or at least not for a bit. It’s good to be aware of that I suppose, and of comments such as this one, but I’m not sure the proces can be turned half way. So yeah, maybe throw out the freakin’ baby for a bit ;) As long as we don’t forget it’s out there and come to collect it again at some point.

  • Drew Strait

    Well said! Thanks for this.

  • Pingback: A Coming Evangelical Collapse? « Fr Stephen Smuts

  • John Mark

    My comment needs some serious editing, at the very least to clarify that I think Webber got it wrong….perhaps what he said in his book TYE was right at the time, but in my view this hasn’t proven true over the long haul.

  • http://johnwmorehead.blogspot.com John W. Morehead

    Great post. I feel much the same way. I remain in the subculture to work toward reform, but I often feel like I don’t fit, and can’t conform to expectations or I’d be smothered. I guess I’m similar to those in the so-called “Church Exiles” movement of Alan Jamieson’s research. I also think you’re spot on with the defensive nature of much of evangelicalism. It began in a defensive move against fundamentalism, but yet also retained much of its defensive posture toward culture. Today it is perceived by those in and outside its walls as largely defensive, particularly toward “the other,” a long way from the one who told us to love the stranger and the enemy. As to our boundaries, the evangelical community often reminds me of the film “The Village,” a religious-like community that often lives in fear and with express boundaries they are not to cross lest “those we do not speak of” come in and attack us. In my view the film can be read as a parable of evangelicalism as much as anything else: http://johnwmorehead.blogspot.com/2006/07/modern-parable-and-those-we-do-not.html. Keep up the great work.

  • Grandmother

    “My little world of Christian scholarship parallels Haseltine’s world of Christian art.” Scholarship is a world that I (and those who share my “beach blanket”) greatly respect, even if most of us can’t engage in it to the extent that you do. It is a fearsome thing to be caught edging too close to the sand surrounding my little blanket world. Subtle shaming by those who have more smarts and degrees serve to keep the rest of us in a huddled clump in the middle where the Good (strong, committed, dedicated) People stay. But your “little world” of Christian scholarship has given me courage to face my questions in the past year or so that I’ve been reading your blog. I particularly appreciate this link about Hasseltine. By acknowledging the existence of a parallel within Christian art, you’ve opened up room in my mind for the idea that there might also exist a parallel within my particular Christian subculture that has yet to be put into words.

  • http://www.rondall-reynoso.com Rondall Reynoso

    Thank you for your post on Patheos about Haseltine’s struggle with evangelicalism. As a former art department head at an evangelical college that hit up against the Evangelical culture and now as a PhD student at the Graduate Theological Union in Art and Religion I know all to well the issues of the “middle space” or what Wesley Hurd calls “The Critical Zone.” I know the challenge of having to edit my artistic expression because of evangelical culture and of my voice fighting against the evangelical political culture. I agree with most evangelical methodology I am just often lead to different conclusions, at least in praxis and at times in theology proper. It is helpful to be reminded that we are not alone. But, the challenge is to find others locally who identify, who are open to questions without it being a challenge to their entire religious system. On the other hand I still hold to some relatively conservative conclusions which makes it even more difficult because I still make some of the more progressive groups uncomfortable. I don’t have answers yet…We (my wife, children and I) still have not found a church home now that we are back in California. But, at the least it is good to read an article like this that reminds me that we are not alone in this struggle. Thank you.

  • http://craigvick.wordpress.com Craig Vick

    I wonder if this may in part be an example of the grass is greener. It seems to me that the pressures of being a brand are not particular to evangelical bands. It takes courage to be an artist. If I’m near the target than being at home in a subculture is more complex than we might guess. The subculture threatens to define us. If we fight back we’re in middle space. If we don’t fight back we begin to die inside.

  • NW

    “For Haseltine, evangelicalism’s boundaries aren’t working…”

    Unfortunately, Haseltine doesn’t tell us in that long, vague quote of his how exactly evangelicalism’s boundaries are a problem for him, and for that reason we can’t possibly know whether Haseltine is in the process of outgrowing evangelicalism or just leaving it.

  • Ryan

    I think it’s far more helpful to deal with challenges issue by issue, rather than random fire-and-forget snipes at Evangelicalism (often with no clear resolution). A murky post-Evangelical milieu does no one any favors. Sniffling in the corner because you’re not the in crowd is no solution at all. This is what the Reformers (oops, sorry) understood and risked themselves for.

  • TM

    Great post. I can completely empathize with the ethos of Haseltine’s lament.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/8601342@N03/ Gregory Peterson

    “Contemporary evangelicalism has a “defensive” DNA going back to the 19th century.” My happily post-Protestant self cynically thinks that what evangelicalism started to defend in the 19th Century was whiteness. (No, I don’t know what “post-Protestant” means. I just make it up as I go along.)

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      Not just “whiteness”. Wartburg Watch has been covering a “Doug Wilson” with a cult compound in Moscow, Idaho who’s on record defending “a Peculiar Institution regarding certain Animate Property.”

  • http://creativefidelity.wordpress.com Dan F.

    For my part, growing up in an Evangelical subculture with a strongly Reformed theological foundation I was quite happy and free to ask hard questions at my small church. Then I went to an Evangelical Christian college (non-denominational but no Orthodox or Roman Catholic faculty could sign the statement of faith) and smacked into the rigidness of the sub-culture. The slogan was ‘Freedom within a framework of faith’ and I remember writing an angry essay that there was lots of framework but no freedom and no real faith.

    Fortunately, God is good, and I questioned my way right into the Catholic Church where I now, happily (and paradoxically), have more freedom in submission to rightful authority than I had with sola scriptura and deeper faith expressed through the work of living my daily life in obedience to Christ and the Church than I had with sola fide.

    I would suggest to the various ‘post-evangelicals’ on this board that the answer they are looking for isn’t a move forward into some soulless, ill-defined, post-modern Christianity but a return to the heart of the Church, established by Christ before his death and Resurrection and living still in communion with the Bishop of Rome. Put off your cultural and fundamentalist tradition of suspicion and skepticism of Rome. Open your hearts and minds and come home.

    peace and grace,

    Dan F.

    • peteenns

      Can we make a pit stop at Canterbury?

      • http://creativefidelity.wordpress.com Dan F.

        Only if it’s a pitstop. ;) See, for example, Tom Howard.

        • Fr. James

          But if you stay in Canterbury, you can be both an Evangelical and a Catholic

          • http://creativefidelity.wordpress.com Dan F.

            no, you can’t actually. Canterbury let’s you be an Anglican but to be a Catholic is to be in communion with Rome and Canterbury isn’t. However, there is now the option of the Anglican Ordinariate both here and in the UK and growing to other parts of the world. That might make the transition from Canterbury to Rome a bit smoother.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      The slogan was ‘Freedom within a framework of faith’ and I remember writing an angry essay that there was lots of framework but no freedom and no real faith.

      In other words, all the Freedom of the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea. With Christ as Comrade Dear Leader.

      There’s a TV Tropes page called “People’s Republic of Tyranny”, about how IRL the more adjectives about Democracy and Freedom in a country’s official name, the nastier a dictatorship it is. And that holds for a lot of churches, too.

      • http://creativefidelity.wordpress.com Dan F.

        It wasn’t quite as bad as all that but the evangelical sub-culture combined with residence life rules that were enforced in a draconian manner (5 minutes late past visitation lost 2 weeks of being in the same residence room with a member of the opposite sex) really missed the boat on “for Freedom, Christ set us Free”.

    • Don Johnson

      When I heard she became a believer I was pleasantly surprised, but when I heard she became Roman Catholic I was much less so. I simply have no model for why someone would become Catholic, altho I know there are many Catholics that are smarter than me and some that are believers; so I intend no insult, I simply cannot figure it out, it just seems like too big a pill to swallow.

      When I grew up, one of my mother’s brothers married a Catholic and he converted, they had 7 kids they raised as Catholic, today NONE of the 7 are Catholic, some are protestant and some have no faith at all. This may sound like a bad joke but it is true, one of their sons got in a car accident and they had to operate and remove half of his brain to save his life, he then became an evangelical and eventually became a pastor, so he was literally an evangelical pastor with half a brain. But I recalled that it is better to enter the Kingdom lacking something than not enter it at all.

      • http://creativefidelity.wordpress.com Dan F.

        That’s just it Don, it’s the biggest pill to swallow because it means giving up being your own magisterium (aka sola scriptura) and accepting that Christ established authority for his Church so that it could exist and “be One” as Christ is One with his Father. Every move away from the Church, whether the split with the Orthodox or the Protestant Reformation and every schism, heretical or not, in between can be clearly understood through the lense of Authority. Either Christ really did establish Peter as the Rock on which His (Christ’s) Church would be built and promise that the gates of Hell shall not overcome it (2000 years of consistent Magisterial teaching of Orthodox faith) or Christ rose to Heaven and said “good luck, wait for my book (coming out in 20-60 years) and then argue and fight about how to read it so you can be Christians. Majority or strongest wins. If you don’t like it, start your own church. See ya.”

    • cermak_rd

      But there are probably more former Catholics (at least in the US) than there are former Evangelicals, so I’d say something is not working for a lot of people in that tradition either.

      • http://creativefidelity.wordpress.com Dan F.

        Yes, but worldwide there are a lot more ‘new Catholics’. Be careful of assuming that what happens in the US is all that matters.

        More substantively, what’s not working for most former Catholics is that for 40+ years the Catholic Church in the US and parts of Europe moved away from it’s strong defenses of orthodoxy. There’s a fair amount of inside baseball here so I wont’ bore with the details but it looks like the Church is finally waking up to the fact that our beacon of light is the unashamed proclamation of the Cross and the hope that comes with the Body and Blood of Christ. No longer is the Faith only composed of “being kind to animals, recycling, and giving to the poor” as I once heard someone put it. See the renewed emphasis on the Church’s teaching about sexuality for an example. Thus you do see a fair number of converts into the Church these days, not yet reversing the trend but starting to move in a positive direction. A lot of people like myself who are now working to build back up a fully-catechized church, one friend at a time.

    • Houl

      Ahhh, I’ve met your kind before! The “proselytizing-to-Evangelicals” Catholic. Let me just say this; there is a reason the Reformation happened! Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge admirer of the Catholic Church and wish some days that I was one (or Greek Orthodox) but nevertheless, there are important theological differences between Catholics and Protestants.

      If you joined Catholicism just to cement your amorphous Christian identity, then I think you did it for the wrong reason. Especially if in the process you had to compromise many of your personal theological beliefs. For instance, I can never see myself actually believing in transubstantiation, plus not to mention the political issues.

      • PL

        “Especially if in the process you had to compromise many of your personal theological beliefs. ”

        I can’t speak for Dan F., but I personally gave up some of my evangelical beliefs after studying the Catholic Church, the Bible and the earliest Christian teachings. A person may have personal theological beliefs, but it doesn’t mean they are true. Not trying to proselytize here – just trying to clarify.

        • http://creativefidelity.wordpress.com Dan F.

          Good points PL. I gave up myself to follow Christ. Now where did I read that before….?

  • James

    Evangelicalism is in positive flux at the creative edge. Good thing when you hear things like–40% still believe in a young earth, Christians divorce the same as non-Christians, etc. etc. In my country there’s been a purging down to less than 20% of population in regular services, a move away from the institutional church. So, churches provide ‘house church’ opportunities–like home schooling because the public system is so bad. You wait, they’ll reconnect with the larger body in new ways. Add some old time ‘Holy Ghost’ revival, and the good ship lurches toward the dawn.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    Haseltine no longer wants to write songs that are only accepted if they support an evangelical agenda. He wants to write about love, pain, loneliness, hope, and doubt rather than “settle for the Jesus cheerleaders or worship songs that have been loaded with sentimentality but not reality.”

    In other words, he’s tired of Socialist Realism under GLAVLIT (or National Socialist Realism under Herr Goebbels) and is going over the wall into Samizdvat.

    Boundaries are designed to protect, not to allow exploration what lies beyond them.

    Isn’t there a Dominionist “ministry” called Wallbuilders? As in building walls to keep out the Heathen?

    A movement set up to defend doesn’t do a good job of handling pilgrims who want to–need to–move off the beach blanket. This scenario leads to a problem for people like Haseltine: where do I go and what do I believe? That is the “middle space.”

    My area of expertise is F&SF writing. And my attitude has always been “Go Mainstream Whenever Possible”. I want my stuff to be on the shelves next to Asimov, Anderson, and Piper instead of the latest Left Behind knockoff in a “Just like fill-in-the-blank, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!” Jesus Junk store.

    My little world of Christian scholarship parallels Haseltine’s world of Christian art. Wanting to be Christian is not the problem…

    Being forced to be Christianese is.

  • John Mark

    As is often the case, the comments are as interesting as the original post. If I could be anything else other than what I am I would want to be–I think, an Anglican (by this I am saying conservative, of course). I do hope for some sort of revival in our land; but it may take, indeed, some sort of purging down for this to be a real possibility. Fundamentalism is never, in my view, going to go completely away. Nor will certain manifestations of liberalism. One might hope for a return to ‘classical Christianity’ as did Webber in Ancient-Future Faith.
    I know that Evangelicals have been accused of being racists, and Fundamentalist even more so. My background is not Fundamentalist, so I can’t speak to this–in fact, we did not consider ourselves evangelical in the way the term is used today–but though I would not deny the reality of racism, I am not convinced that this was part of the core agenda of the movement. I certainly have been wrong on many things before; I just don’t see this as a conscious thing in the movement I am part of. One of the things Webber calls for in Ancient-Future (I just read it, though it is now an old book) is humility. Of all the things he advocates, this may be the most needed.

  • Christian

    Honestly, I can sympathize with Dan and with you, Peter, and Jared Byas, and many others.

    It seems the more I dig and the more of the Bible’s truths I uncover, the more I find I’m pushed out of the Christian community. People are afraid of new ideas and afraid to find out they could be wrong. Perhaps it’s a reflection of where your faith truly lies. If you’re that afraid of your views changing, perhaps your faith is in your views, not in Jesus.

    I like to engage myself and others with questions that really challenge others and at times I’m labeled “sacreligious” or even “antichrist”….simply because I want to challenge beliefs and traditions like the Trinity, baptism, Calvinism/Arminianism, futurist eschatology. God can withstand such challenges. And I think we need to engage such challenges to increase our faith in Scripture and ultimately in God himself. But that’s really scary to some people. Why is it scary to dive into the Scripture and ask hard questions. I always acknowledge that where we could end up on a subject is in agreeance with traditional orthodox teaching, but we have to find out for ourselves.

    My membership at my church was actually revoked because I sought dialogue and study on whether futurist eschatology was correct. All I wanted was dialogue! The church is often made up of sheep and cowards. That sounds harsh, but it’s often true. I pray that American Christians become people who engage the Scriptures themselves, challenge paradigms and traditions, and pray continually.

  • Steve Billingsley

    Pardon me if I sound just a bit insensitive but there is more than just a bit of whininess in the tone of this article don’t you think? Is there an evangelical sub-culture? Sure, but guess what, there are sub-cultures that go with every group (and every family for that matter). At a certain point isn’t there a responsibility to grow up, be comfortable in your own skin and own your own journey? The quote about “I have never been so sure of my faith that I was able to find a true home in the church communities where we played most of our shows” is particularly rich, seeing that I am pretty sure that they cashed all of the checks from ticket and record sales. I know that it can be difficult to find a home spiritually, but spending so much time bemoaning where you “used to fit, but no longer fit” is a bit of a waste.

    And those hyperventilating about “Dominionists” and throwing out Nazi-related references need to take a breather and put down whatever it is you’re smoking. It will be alright, I promise.

    • Phil Miller

      You’re right, you do sound insensitive…

      I think it’s particularly difficult to leave something when you’ve been held up as a role model or leader in a group for some time. I realize, for instance, that everyone is in a different place in their spiritual journey, and trying to push someone where they aren’t willing to go can be harmful, too.

      I guess your church has a strict “take it or leave it” policy, then?

    • Houl

      I don’t think the issue is that Mr. Haseltine doesn’t want to “grow up” as you put it. I think he is legitimately struggling with his place in Christianity, especially within the Christian community. To you this may seem “childish,” to me it’s just a man trying to be honest with himself. Perhaps he should just shut up and follow the herd?

  • John Mark

    Best/perhaps most insightful comment: NW. Funniest and also insightful (first part anyway) Steve Billingsley. Made me smile. I’m surprised no one had pointed this out…..

  • Greg D

    Evangelical Christianity must evolve if it wants to be heard and if it wants to speak to a culture that is rapidly distancing themselves from it. Sadly, institutionalized Christianity will always vie for power over the church against the relevant, radical, and zealous ones who genuinely seek to truly reach a generation. But, your Granddaddy’s old timey religion just ain’t workin’ no more. Time to move on in the post-modern world.

    • Christian

      Evangelical Christianity must love if it wants to be heard….it hasn’t done that well in the past 30 years, at least the ones being heard haven’t.

  • Marshall

    Speaking as someone who has outgrown Christian liberalism, boundaries and shibboleths also make it hard to migrate in.

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  • Keith Johnston

    It is reported in Luke 11:46 that Jesus said “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.” It seems to me that there is quite a lot of such activity going on in contemporary American evangelical land. In Mark 7 Jesus had many things to say about tradition as a substitute for the worship of God and the obedience that God desires. I think we that we feel our traditional understandings and traditional practices are sacrosanct and we will not allow even the Bible to judge our traditional understandings and traditional practices. We need to remember that in the New Testament the Pharisees were the bad guys, not the model that we are supposed to follow. I think if Jesus were to appear today, we evangelicals would be among the first to want to crucify him again.

  • Drane Reynolds

    I have posted before on several blogs that I no no longer identify myself as an evangelical. The reality is that the American “evangelical” church is what we used to call “fundamentalism”. The leaders today are extremists; they teach falsely. They are more concerned with American cultural values than the teaching of Christ or of Paul the apostle, or the rest of the NT. Yes, people like Richard Land, James Dobbs, Ralph Reed, and others are not only an embarrassment, but a hinderance to the spread of the gospel. Jesus said, “Love your neighbor” and even, “Love your enemies”. The American church has rejected Jesus in rejecting his teaching. Love even your enemy.

  • Likeachild/LAC

    Check out this article….I resonate with so much of what she says. The mainline church presents a good option for those in that middle space.
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/ellenpainterdollar/2012/09/fed-up-with-the-church-try-a-different-one-maybe-even-in-the-mainline/

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  • Christian

    A couple of comments have been made about it, so I thought I’d ask. What is the reason so many evangelicals are leaving for the Catholic Church? I have a friend that is, but that’s because he wants something meaningful and historical in worship (which shows the state of his heart, or his false understanding of worship). So why the move?

    • http://creativefidelity.wordpress.com Dan F.

      I can’t speak for everyone but in my experience Evangelicals are leaving for the Catholic Church for the simple reason that they are realizing that the claims of the Church are True and the history of the early Church as well as the writings of the Church Fathers give testimony to that truth. Peter is the visible head (steward) of the Church on earth and his successors still hold that title. There have been 265 Popes in history (including Peter) and regardless of the quality of each of them (some of them were quite awful) the teaching of the Apostles has been handed down faithfully to our present day (and the gates of hell shall not overcome it). That is the testimony that many Evangelicals, once they stop pushing against Rome, find to be True. Once you know the Truth, how could you then turn away?

    • Ryan
  • Pat

    “It drew boundaries of what belongs and what doesn’t.”

    And of “who” belonged and who didn’t.

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  • SisterSallySue

    Sometimes I think we 40-somethings are caught in the middle of the post-evangelicalism and whatever it was before. I’m not up on religiously correct terms. I feel Haseltine’s pain…and if I could say anything to him…be real! Write what’s on your heart! Please! For the rest of us who are where you are…please!

    • http://www.thehighschoolsermons.com Mark Humphries

      The cynical side of me thinks this is the evangelical version of the child star strategy for transitioning to a wider market, but instead of a few well placed tabloid photographs of a sexy new look or drunk at the bar we, talk about not fitting in with the closed evangelical loop. I don’t doubt that there is a shift going on. People want cultural freedom, and the general consensus is that you cannot find it in the evangelical sub-culture, so perhaps it’s time to leave home and create the art that interests you, and let people decide with their dollars and downloads.

  • Jeff Kursonis

    Feeling the heart of this person and the way the writer describes Haseltines journey is the most clear way of understanding – outside of any labels that create drama for some – the broader phenomenon that has been happening to many over the last decade or so of people “emerging” out of what they were into some new thing…and it’s not just evangelicals, it’s a broad amorphous social/religious motion of people out of what they were and sometimes into something new, but more often than not, into a state of searching for something new. Many of the people this has happened to have, in their crawling around looking for new way forward, bumped into one another and have found great life and encouragement from trying to move forward together…and unfortunately, their efforts to write about their experiences and organize gatherings locally and nationally have been labelled by certain terms and have become controversial to mostly status quo based institutions and their spokesmodels…what is great about this article is that it allows us to get past the stifling labels and see the real human journey taking place…you just have to realize this is already happening to perhaps more than a million other people of all shapes, sizes and colors and perhaps jump on one of their wagons, or just start walking alongside or at least cheer them on in their pilgrimage (or maybe provide a rest tent with food and refreshments for the pilgrims – I can attest from journeying with them for a decade that many are weary and hungry and really ready for some help :).

  • http://morganguyton.wordpress.com Morgan Guyton

    Not to oversimplify but I think a lot of this boils down to the classic relationship between infinite divine wisdom and finite human knowledge. Every encounter we have with God’s truth whether in the Bible or nature or logic or whatever else is an encounter between our finite capacity for interpretation and God’s infinite reality. To draw hard and fast boundaries is to collapse the gap of mystery between our knowledge and God’s wisdom. Evangelicalism fails insofar as it is an idolatry of our knowledge (e.g. reducing the gospel to 7 fundamentals, 4 spiritual laws, etc). When this happens, the “fear of the Lord” that defines an appropriate finite gaze at the infinite is conflated with the “fear of punishment” that reduces a mind-blowing, mysterious God to a mean, petty tyrant: http://morganguyton.wordpress.com/2012/09/30/the-conflation-of-two-fears/

  • ann

    As a missionary, I wonder if the concept of “evangelicalism” as seen by Jars of Clay is a reflection of white, North American culture, and the limitations that we allow our culture to put on Scripture. Evangelicalism, when I was growing up in an intensely fundamental baptist church, was seen as a loosening of Christianity. Now, as I interact with another culture and their struggles to become biblical without becoming clones of the mainstream white, North American evangelical community, I see that evangelicalism was just a movement…we don’t need to “be” evangelicals, just Christians. God has used both “movements” and individuals to pull his Church back in line with His purposes.

  • http://theprozacqueen.wordpress.com ShannonR.

    I read his post and, yes, I can relate. While I’m not sure exactly what ‘evangelical expectations’ are, I’d much rather be ministered to by someone who has experienced doubt and despair, something that seems to be anathema to some Christians I’ve known.

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  • Abraham Sherman

    Considering that his personal “growth” moved him away from knowing who God is and what God wants, let’s take his view of the faith with a huge grain of salt.

    “He wants to write about love, pain, loneliness, hope, and doubt rather than “settle for the Jesus cheerleaders or worship songs that have been loaded with sentimentality but not reality.””

    If he thinks that doubt and pain are necessary “realities” that he should explore in song, he should review the verses in Scripture that command us not to doubt, and to cast our cares on the Lord. The world already offers more than enough languishing and existential affirmation of the less-than-abundant life of the lost. Who is he to say that we don’t need “Jesus cheerleaders” desperately? Who is he to say that the sentiments of the songs are not genuine to the vast majority of those who hear them? Does his wandering away from peace and contentment in Christ dictate that the experiences of others are not real?

    I hope that we are not sliding toward allowing each man his own “reality”. If Hasseltine wants to serve a subset of listeners by affirming their doubt and pain, without an unapologetic focus on where to go to get rid of doubt and find healing, then he is walking away from Biblical commands.

    “(The irony is that what Haseltine wants, and the evangelical subculture that sells and buys records doesn’t, is part of the Bible–in Ecclesiastes, Job, and nearly half the Psalms–but that’s an issue for another time.)”

    Yes, those books often feature doubt and pain, but there is also always ultimately trust in God. They do not affirm doubt and pain as valid states, but point us past them. I don’t have confidence in a songwriter who no longer knows who God is or what God wants to be able to deliver that overpowering hope in addition to the catharsis.

    Frankly, the focus on “evangelicalism” is a bit of a straw man, or indicates a misplaced foundation for his faith in the first place. Evangelicalism, as a subculture, is not the faith itself. Each believer should study God’s word, pray, and seek God personally, and from that Spirit-led state, then seek out others who are doing the same. That condition of honestly seeking God can exist within evangelicalism, and discerning seekers of truth won’t throw out the possibility of genuine faith even when it wears the trappings of what many choose to mis-characterize as a “mindless, unrealistic culture of religious expectations”. Anyone who is critical of “evangelicalism” should look to the genuineness of his own faith and seek God. Who knows, if he gets real with His Lord, he might end up looking “evangelical” in a lot of ways! Or he might look like something more independent. But, trusting that he can know who God is and what He wants had better be a central premise of his faith, or he is the one who has wandered away from the faith, rather than “evangelicalism” having wandered away from him.

    “to describe or even impose a right wing, conservative “Jesus figure.””

    This straw man criticism of evangelicalism is just plain lazy, self-serving, and short-sighted. A person who is seeking to honor God’s character in every aspect of His life will, by necessity, find himself advocating a strict set of values. There is excellent reason to believe that one who is honoring God will promote individual responsibility and respect for life and marriage. But I guess it just isn’t cool these days to be a “political Christian”, is it? Apparently, for some reason we are to yield the arena of public policy to those who do not honor God, or at least refuse to do so overtly. Why is that, exactly? Are we already ceding the debate to those who wish to impose strict secularism and relegate our beliefs to the realm of personal hobby?

    Hasseltine’s glorification of the wandering souls of the world (Depeche Mode, or U2, or XTC or David Bowie), who it seems he thinks are being more “real” than the evangelicals, is more an expression of his individual spiritual state than of the truth of the Spirit. Apparently, because God has not “kept” people from such wanderings, there must be virtue in them. Or, maybe those wanderings are just lost people affirming their lost-ness, without any intention of being found. And they are to be our musical “prophets”? If they don’t know or care enough to point the way out of the wilderness, I will not venture there with them.

    The article presumes that evangelicalism was put in place to draw boundaries against liberalization. Actually, that’s the job of the Bible and the Holy Spirit, and who knows, when people are real with God, maybe, just maybe, that faithfulness can look something like evangelicalism. Or it can look like something else. But we don’t get to dismiss evangelicalism as a mere repressive culture in any case, since it is composed of individuals, and inasmuch as it is monolithic, may it be monolithic under God’s uncompromising character. The idea that boundaries against liberalization limit our ability to explore what is “real” is fallacious. Reality according to the Lord is what we are to conform ourselves to, and it is that direction that we are to point others. Concessionary evangelism, which focuses on worldly “realities” in an effort to put an arm around unrepentant hearts, may win some, but it will not win them into a profound, God-centered faith. Too many of those seekers will become the seed scattered on shallow soil. The boundaries, insofar as they are defined by God’s unchanging character, and focused on honoring that character, should by all means be maintained as immutable, as they are the demarcation between life and death. The culture of God’s character is to be our main concern, and we are to let people encounter that stumbling stone.

    The general impression the article conveys is a too-ready attitude of throwing the baby of faithfulness out with the bathwater of Christian subculture. The “reality” of Christian culture depends entirely on the commitment of each one of us to what is True. Those individuals/parts will define the whole. It’s true that some evangelicals are just along for the cultural ride, but that is between them and God, and does not indicate that the subculture itself is “just” a ride. Going in search of accommodating fellowships who will tell our itching ears what they want to hear is not a solution. Repentance, faithfulness and trust in our certain and knowable Lord is the solution.

    There is a lot of vague and generalized criticism out there, from folks who can’t wait to set themselves apart from mainstream Christian culture, but being outside that mainstream does not make anyone automatically more faithful or “real”, not any moreso than being IN the mainstream does. The dividing questions are “who is at the center of my life?”, and “what direction am I going and encouraging others to go?”

  • WBC

    There is one thing keeping Jars of Clay in the orbit of Evangelicalism: money. What about you? What is keeping you in the Evangelical orbit? The Evangelical church has rejected your main ideas ideas for many years (no Adam, maybe no Abraham, Scripture contradicts itself, etc. etc. etc.). Why do you call yourself an evangelical?

    • peteenns

      I stay for the donuts.

      • Percival

        And for people like me hopefully!
        Incidentally, I just bought Victor Hamilton’s Pentateuch book. Any opinions on it?

  • WBC

    Your ideas have taken you on a “journey that evangelicalism was never set up to handle.” But there is in fact “a simple way forward” according to the wish you expressed above that will immediately relieve all your angst about living in a “middle space.” Just call your ideas what they are. They are liberal. Your ideas have been called liberal for hundreds of years. The only thing new about your ideas is that you are calling them evangelical. Why? Wouldn’t it be more honest to call your ideas what they have historically been called rather than packaging them as evangelical? Why try to bend the boundaries of the evangelical church to fit your beliefs when liberalism already provides a home for your beliefs and has for such a long time?

    • CraigCregger

      BAM! I’d love to hear an intellectually honest response to this.

  • Eruvyreth

    I too am in this middle space….and have been a JoC listener since they first came out. I can respect their music because they DO face the hard questions. My life has never fit the Christian status quo, and their music has fit my life too darn well all along. Keep it up, guys. Please.

  • Joshua

    I think commenters have been making assumptions about Dan Haseltine’s thoughts, choosing sides and making the typical gatekeeping arguments.

    His thoughts are not new; many Christian music artists have vocalized similar constraints. Like Christian bookstores, the so-called contemporary Christian music genre abides by official/unofficial rules, i.e. no cursing, no sexually-explicit lyrics, mention Jesus several times, etc. But as so-called Christian culture, or mainline, white evangelicalism, evolves, so do the rules, i.e. don’t insult President Bush, affirm Republican ideology, make 3-4 love songs about God and your spouse, in that order, per album, etc. Stray outside of those constraints, and you risk offending a large amount of your evangelical demographic.

    Unfortunately, I’d argue that much of the Christian music genre is forgettable songs with stale lyrics, and inauthentic content. Jars of Clay is one of the remarkable exceptions, and their talent testifies to their staying power. However, they’re human, they’re Christians, and they’re artists; and when their creativity strayed beyond those CCM constraints (like, real life), many fans questioned their evangelical integrity. But while their heart may offend some of their evangelical fanbase, their raw talent attracts fans, period. So on one hand, they’re not fully comfortable in CCM culture, but on the other, they’re accepted, but tentatively, in secular culture. No man’s land.

    I could simply say that real art has no constraints, but that would a bit off the point. I believe the issue is that the Christian music genre has always had a sense of inauthenticity. Christian music has told its customers that since God is good, our music is good; so buy it. In other words, Christian music, in catering to the “rules” of American evangelical culture, set up firm restrictions in terms of what their artists were “allowed” to talk about. Moreover, by putting an uncompromising emphasis of the message, it subconsciously allowed its art to be lax in quality and authentic human experience. It was never about questioning whether Jars of Clay is really Christian; it’s about questioning what the so-called gatekeepers of evangelical culture have defined to be “Christian art”.

  • Skyflyer

    Thank you to Dan Haseltine for the courage to share from his heart and for being so honest. Evangelicalism has “pigeon-holed” what (modern) Christianity should look like, how true Christians should worship (specifically in church), with worship bands made up of young, fairly inexperienced Christians, leading men and women who have walked with God through decades of life’s tribulations. Modern evangelical pastors have turned “Church”
    (true believers are in reality “the Church”) into productions and programs, with pulpits filled with charismatic “stars,” motivational speakers heroes and “pretty people. The Bible I read reveals a different picture where Christ spent time with sinners, not polished pretty (self-righteous) people. Perhaps it was because they were were more honest with their human condition or that they had nothing to hide. Jesus knew that He could work with people who had nowhere to hide. I choose to live my life differently, at the cost of being ostracized from the church, because I’ve been down the evangelical road, which parallels the life of a insurance agent, and I’ve found a closer journey with Christ than ever before.

  • Syntyche

    The Orthodox Church is where you need to look—”The Orthodox Church is evangelical, but not Protestant. It is orthodox, but not Jewish. It is catholic, but not Roman. It isn’t non-denominational – it is pre-denominational.It has believed, taught, preserved, defended and died for the Faith of the Apostles since the Day of Pentecost 2000 years ago.” And I would add: it’s evangelistic without being evangelical….come home y’all!

  • Danny

    Aren’t the “post, progressive, recovering, fleeing” evangelicals just creating a new form of fundamentalism? A new list of what Christians should or shouldn’t do. They just replace being a Christian means no drinking, smoking or R-rated movies, with being a Christians means you need to embrace some smoking, drinking and R-rated movies. I get more pressure to drink from my “post, progressive, recovering, fleeing” evangelicals friends than I ever got being in a fraternity at a large state university. The old fundamentalist told me I had to vote Republican and reject all forms of evolution to be a good Christian, now the new fundamentalist tells me I have to vote for Democrats and embrace evolution to be a good Christian. For both groups cultural trends are the driving force behind their doctrinal stances, and once they have embraced a stance they find Biblical passages to back it up.


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