Dead Man Walking

Dead Man Walking October 12, 2019

A further thought: I wonder if these types of trends are accelerating due to what I speak of in this post?

Indulge me.  I want to suggest there have been two events in recent times, which are portentous for what we call evangelicalism.  When a rock is dropped in a pond, waves are set in motion.  We see or feel them in time, based on distance.  These two events, among others, are rocks dropped in a pond.  Their waves are coming, they’re just not here yet.

These two events, I believe, amount to a death sentence of sorts—one handed down, but not yet executed.  My sense is these waves, which picture the ideas and consequences set in motion by those events, portend the death of modern, American, evangelicalism.

Yes, I know the supposed death of evangelicalism or fundamentalism have been foretold many times over the years and we should smile if those of that tradition were to echo Twain, that the reports of their deaths have been greatly exaggerated.  And I should be clear, rarely does any significant historical movement entirely die out.  Obviously, I’m speaking metaphorically and mean by “death,” simply cultural irrelevance and loss of influence.  Additionally, I readily admit I could be wrong.

I also know that movements and traditions are capable of change.  It’s possible that enough leaders and thinkers in that tradition will also see what’s coming, what’s on the horizon, and move people to change—to see and think differently—to act differently.  So, there are many wild cards in play here.  I give no great weight to any prophetic gifting I may presume here, other than to say—it’s also possible I may be onto something.

With those caveats, I will stride forth.  Modern American evangelicalism (and their cousin, fundamentalism) could be considered, in my opinion, dead men walking–but I speak mostly here to evangelicalism.  Alive, yes, but the clock is ticking.  Some evangelicals may read this and respond, “But the gates of hell will never prevail over the church, and the gospel will never pass or be defeated!”  Rah, rah.

Yes, I agree.  But that’s not what I’m suggesting.  The truth is that traditions, denominations, movements, and schools of thought, theologies, do in fact die, or fade into history.  The vagaries of history and events in general can coincide in such a way that leads ultimately to their demise.  If anyone doubts this, simply read some history books chronicling either Christian history or religion in general.

Again, I’m not speaking of the Church Universal, but of historical traditions, splinters, streams, arising in temporal time.  Only pride would ever lead a religious group or tradition, produced by an enormously complex matrix of historical events, to believe (as if similar events could not arise in the future) they were somehow a permanent feature of temporal time–blessed above all others.

Of the two events I speak of, one is well known and one more hidden, one political and the other, theological.  The public, political, and better-known event or stone dropped in the water, was the “election” of Trump.

Of this first event, not much needs to be written that hasn’t already.  This was such a grievous, unwise, small, petty, ignorant, and immature act of hypocrisy on the part of evangelicals, it still staggers the imagination and the slightest rational mind.  After all, what tradition or movement could possibly teach for decades the importance of personal morality, integrity, honesty, and character in political leaders and then turn on a dime and vote for the exact opposite—all to say yes to the devil’s temptation of political power?  This was the first shout of, “dead man walking.”

The second, more hidden, and theological event was the publication of two books.  One book was popular (infamously?) and written for a general audience, while the other is probably less known to the general public and written more for the serious reader or academic audience.  However, both make the same claim, to wit: Love wins, and all shall be saved.  Both books, in their own way, come to the same conclusion.  As to the end of all things, the cosmos, everything and every person—all will be redeemed, even as if by fire.  This was the second call of, “dead man walking.”

The first event revealed the ethical, social, political and intellectual poverty of evangelicalism.  The warning given many years ago now, in general, was either not heeded or misunderstood.  The continued Babylonian captivity to consumerism, nationalism, blind obedience to one party, the practical, entertainment and numbers over spiritual formation and deep theological reflection has led to a number of problems.  Foremost, we now see, a people willing to vote for (or tacitly agree with by remaining silent) an ethically challenged, ignorant clown.

The second event, undercuts the very raison d’être of the evangelical tradition.  What does the verbal proclamation of the gospel, witnessing, sharing—the telling of others about Jesus and salvation mean now, once we remove the specter of hell as an infinite consequence for the failing to “accept” Christ in this temporal, finite earthly life?  When the edifice is built upon the idea the neighborhood is on fire, but the inhabitants are unaware—thus one’s job, one’s whole existence, is to warn them the house is on fire so they might be “saved,” and we find that edifice cracked, well…what then?

Having said that, the proclamation of the gospel, evangelism, and making disciples will go on (lest evangelicals’ shudder at my words).  We are clearly tasked with such.  However, once these books have been digested (along with many others), we will see these tasks in a completely different light–or we should.  Evangelism will become (what it has always been), a lived announcement of the news already announced here:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

The good news isn’t turn or burn.  That’s the message of a sociopath.  The good news, as just noted by Christ in Luke’s gospel, is truly good as it announces a new paradigm, a new Kingdom, a way of life that subverts whatever structures and powers were in place (including our own hearts), that led to the creation of the categories of persons he identifies, in the first place.

It is primarily something lived and not just, “shared.”  One cannot bring such a message without doing something about these very categories making up the audience, the recipients of this good news (otherwise, we are hypocrites).  This is something evangelicals have always reversed, putting mouth before foot, with a view toward a supposed future hell, rather than any present ones.

The good news isn’t about saving people from a future hell of eternal torture, but about the announcement hell has been harrowed and all the gates and locks have been destroyed by the death and resurrection of Christ.  The “how” or strategy of this announcement is in the loving and serving of others, especially our enemies—thus, the Kingdom comes.  What will evangelicals do when they realize the so-called “social gospel,” is really…just…the gospel?

Now, again, I may be wrong about all this.  I probably sound like that bothered, troubled mind, Nietzsche, and his madman:

“I have come too early,” he said then; “my time has not come yet. The tremendous event is still on its way, still travelling – it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time, the light of the stars requires time, deeds require time even after they are done, before they can be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than the distant stars – and yet they have done it themselves.”

Still, I have the eerie sense that just like the character played by Bruce Willis in the movie Sixth Sense, the white (yes, I add white here at the end for accuracy) evangelical tradition, as presently situated, is dead.  They just don’t know it yet.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • PurpleAardvaark

    Not all have gotten the message. There are far too many who continue to crave power at the expense of morality.

  • Al Cruise

    “It is primarily something lived and not just, “shared.” ….” What a powerful statement that’s so obvious , yet so foreign to many. It’s only acts of love lived out that allow Kingdom of God to manifest itself. Not theologies, religions or power structures. Their purpose is only to facilitate an environment to let this process occur.

  • Gary

    I do not mind if the author believes as he does. Or if others share his views. But I don’t.

  • gloriamarie

    I would really like to know which 2 books he means in his second point. I suspect one is Love Wins by Rob Bell, no idea of the name of the second.

  • Patricia Brandt

    Perhaps The Universal Christ by Richard Rohr? A wonderful book!

  • gloriamarie

    Patricia, I haven’t read that one. Is it “academic and scholarly?”

  • Patricia Brandt
  • Danny Dingeldein

    That All Shall Be Saved by David Bentley Hart. If you click on the bold word “other” in the paragraph he is talking about the books, it will take you to the Amazon page for this book.

  • Patricia Brandt

    Thank you. I missed that. That being said “The Universal Christ” is still an excellent book along the same lines.

  • Ron Swaren

    Theodore Roosevelt, a US President from New York, was both racist and militaristic, which Donald Trump is not. Roosevelt, though, is highly regarded as a champion of the Progressive era and for busting up monopolistic trusts.

  • AntithiChrist

    Regarding the Great Commission to spread the Good News, that each and every vile sinner of a human is going to H ell if they don’t love Jesus back, I’m pretty sure everyone has access to that information already.

    These guys can all now retire.

  • Iain Lovejoy

    David Bentley Hart’s book is good, if rather heavy-going in places and written a lot from his Eastern Orthodox perspective. Another good and theologically detailed book I can recommend along the same lines from a more Protestant perspective is Thomas Talbott’s “The Inescapable Love of God”.

  • davidt

    The delusional Sargent in avatar is promoted as being Christian by atheists and the larger media. We love to point to narrcisism to justify our own narcissism and that tension left and right in social interaction we call politics is playing out. The centeal point of the political left and the political right is the cross. Is it death or is it life? They are both moving away from the cross into their respective narrcisisms. It’s all very superfical and has deep extremely negative consequences. The internet is speeding the process up. We are trapped in our golden calf of literacy. At some point youth will see that regardless and seek authenticity. This is the golden calf just as the Bible was turned into the golden calf. Writing is virtual it has zero aliveness and it does not breathe. Just like math. This virtual madness has over taken much in the church. Not all but a lot.

  • Newton Finn

    It all goes back IMHO to the religion of Jesus morphing into the religion about Jesus. Instead of a laser-like focus on the parable of the sheep and the goats, for example, which makes the path to salvation unmistakably clear, the church got caught up in distractive and divisive Christological debates. Ironically, these debates were settled, at least in large part, only when imperial pressure was brought to bear upon the church, which by then had married the empire that murdered its founder.

  • Maine_Skeptic

    “…both racist and militaristic, which Donald Trump is not…”

    Historians will look back on this president’s actions and behavior from outside the chaos we see daily now. They won’t have lived for years subjected to the distractions and manufactured outrage of Fox News, religious broadcasting, and social media trolls. If we’re lucky, they’ll only count the deaths resulting from his presidency in the tens of thousands.

  • Evangelicals trying to make Donald Trump look good is the reason why your religion is as good as dead.

  • Al Cruise
  • emncaity

    — After all, what tradition or movement could possibly teach for decades the importance of personal morality, integrity, honesty, and character in political leaders and then turn on a dime and vote for the exact opposite—all to say yes to the devil’s temptation of political power? This was the first shout of, “dead man walking.” —

    Dunno. What kind of God could use a scumbag like David, or Saul?

    I’d like to think this is something other than anti-Trumpism dressed up in vestments, and on some points I guess it is. But it’s just poorly drawn.

  • Ocelot Aardvark

    Theodore Roosevelt was the president who helped protect the most scenic, beautiful parts of God’s Creation, our National Parks.
    This is the main reason Theodore Roosevelt is highly regarded as a Champion by Liberals and Progressives.

    Meanwhile, back to now: Your Odious-Obscene-Idol takes great pleasure in his greedy attempts to destroy our
    National Parks and the Environment … for his own personal profit.

  • Ron Swaren

    Really? Are there articles in HuffPost or the NYT on how great he was?

  • Ron Swaren

    Evangelicals randomly flip between parties. Next question.

  • Ron Swaren

    Wait until the chaos of ignoring China’s attempt at dominance comes to fruition, thanks to Barack’s fiddling away.

  • Ron Swaren

    Roosevelt has been noted most as the “trust buster.”

  • Maine_Skeptic

    I’ve noticed that the 45th president’s supporters always change the subject rather than defend his corrupt and incompetent actions.

  • Ocelot Aardvark

    How about cracking open a history book to read up on Theodore Roosevelt’s achievements, especially those associated with preserving the beauty of our natural resources. Or watch a documentary on the topic.

  • Ron Swaren

    Trust buster, too. So you agree that a crude Republican from New York could be a good President?

  • Ocelot Aardvark

    Different time, different man.
    Theodore Roosevelt had honesty and honor.
    Your odious-orange-oaf has neither.

  • Ron Swaren

    The Dems are showing themselves to be legalistic micro managers. Cherry picking “witnesses,” courts and ethical principles—- combined with overt bias in the media.

  • Ocelot Aardvark

    You mean those witnesses who are relevant to the Impeachment Investigation?

    Or are you just re-babbling the lies of false prophets, Lou Dobbs, Jerry Fallwell Jr, Franklin Graham,
    and hate-talk-show swine, such as Alex Jones or Limbaugh?

  • Ron Swaren

    Good Lord. We are in the middle of a new arms race, worldwide. Dems don’t have a prayer of impeaching Trump, because the Senate will bat down their latest paranoid delusion just like their earlier Russian collusion wet dream got slapped wide awake. I will say though that this keeps them of getting into really deep s***.

  • Questioning

    So its all “Baracks” fault? Somehow in 8 short years, he fiddled away our dominance. It wasn’t like he had anything else to do right? Except maybe pull us out of the worst economic mess seen since the Depression. I think I prefer to wait until the chaos of your paranoia comes to fruition. I wont be holding my breath.

  • Ron Swaren

    Your ideas end up with the US being the doormat. Nearly every tech gadget, nearly everything at Home Depot, nearly everything at Wal Mart is made in China. Just went into the dollar store yesterday. It’s bad enough that Americans on limited income have to buy Chinese stuff—but half the people in there were either illegals or recent immigrants and they are spending US dollars to buy Chinese stuff, too. Then the east Indians apparently have discovered the value of the telephone in harassing us.

    I’d like you name a few things that Obama actually did to strengthen the US. Mainly an apologist. Come on, anonymous, school me.

  • Questioning

    My first reply was deleted, apparently, so I will be brief. First I did not offer any “ideas”. Secondly, the fact that all this stuff is made in China, is largely the fault of American consumers, greedy American companies, and failures within our government. All of this has been going on and building thru multiple administrations for years. It is certainly not due to Barack’s fiddling.

    What did Obama do to strengthen the country? Look it up, if you are “really” interested. Something tells me you are not.

    Finally, there are reasons for my anonymity and it’s my business. If you are put off by that, feel free to not respond to anonymity.

  • Ron Swaren

    I would agree that there are failures within the government. But isn’t renegotiating a fairer trade deal a smart way to do that? We were hearing 25 years ago that the 21st C. would be the Century of China. And now here we are. All they would have to do is is gear up to mass produce cheapo military vessels and Taiwan is annexed. They are already working on Cambodia.

  • Questioning

    Sure a fairer trade deal is needed, but not a tariff tantrum which required us to hand American farmers 28 BILLION dollars to just keep them afloat. That is almost twice the auto bailout and that money will never be paid back.

  • Ron Swaren

    The feds have been handing over obscene amounts to farmers for a long time. Theoretically there is a new cornucopia of $28 billion; I’m not sure what has actually been paid, after trying to look up reports. Is it worth it, though—that is the basic question. I have hardly bought a US made product in years, and now the main way I avoid paying for a new Chinese product is to buy a second hand one.

    One belt, one road—one currency, next?

  • Questioning

    Not sure what has been paid? it’s not that hard to find, just Google “How much money has Trump paid to farmers?” Is it worth it? Ask farmers. Most farmers say no. Ask the national debt. Trump is on a path to raise the national debt more and faster than any other President in history, and all of this while the economy is strong, which he inherited. What has been built over decades cannot be undone quickly. We need to look for other less costly, less painful mechanisms for leveling the playing field. Look, I think you and I would agree on much about China but, you made a statement that it was “thanks to Obama’s fiddling.” That statement was disparaging, dishonest, and unjust, and I hate injustice about as much as anything I can think of.

  • Nimblewill

    Those two books and others like them have validated what I was hearing in my spirit not the other way around.

  • Nimblewill

    When I realized that the Great Commission was being preached and the Great Commandment was barely talked about I realized that the proverbial cart was way out in front of the horse. In my mind we were being taught to build the church without requiring love from the church.

  • Nimblewill

    Anyone ever read Phyllis Tickle. She said this was coming. Every 500 years or so we begin to question authority. The Jews, The Pope, Sola Sriptura,……….What’s next?